Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Clone Wars: Friends and Enemies

With last week’s episode, “Deception,” providing some of the most entertaining stories in Season Four of The Clone Wars, I had high hopes for this week’s “Friends and Enemies.” The episode begins fast, with a nice blend of dialogue and action as the disguised Obi-Wan and his bounty hunter confederates crash into a swamp to hide their ship. Cad Bane has returned in full force and is a very distinctive character: his liquid-sounding voice and air of menace set him apart both from sniveling Moralo Eval and the more measured “Rako Hardeen.” The bright blue of Obi-Wan’s eyes contrasts the alien faces nicely, reminding the viewer that along with being the only human, he is the real protagonist in this mission.

The crash landing on Nal Hutta reminded me of two scenes in the movies. The landscape was green and misty, with flying reptiles batting against the forward viewports of the ship, evoking Luke’s arrival on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. In another quick shot the detail that was put into the ship tearing apart reminded me of the wreck of the Invisible Hand in Revenge of the Sith. And Cad Bane continues to be creepy even when we can only see his hand rising up out of the wreckage.

The Expanded Universe has shown Nal Hutta before, both in videogames such as The Old Republic and The Force Unleashed and in last season’s episode “Hunt for Ziro.” The yellow-green, murky color scheme is the same throughout. “Friends and Enemies” introduces us to a visually distinct city with signposts and structures made of gnarled tree roots. The crowd scenes were especially fun in this episode, with a mix of beings and speeders that make the galaxy seem a lot more alive than it did in the first two seasons. My one question about the establishing shots of the city was this: if this is Nal Hutta, where are all the Hutts? We get at least one of the big aliens crawling along in the background, but otherwise it seems like the city is largely populated by off-worlders. It does makes sense, though, that the bounty hunters would go to a place with a diverse population if they wanted to blend in.

The first appearance of “local security” is more subtle than usual for TCW, showing not telling the danger the bounty hunters could be in if they get caught.  The opening of “Slaves of the Republic,” for exampled, used dialogue that I thought was a bit unnecessary to provide the information that an image of the backs of some intimidating guards does in “Friends and Enemies.”

A pawn shop full of clothing, armor, and weapons provides some nice clutter and Easter eggs – I particularly liked the cameo by a certain fedora – as well as the episode’s secondary female character, a Twi’lek assistant. At first it seems like she’s who’s pretty much there to look shocked when Cad Bane threatens her employer, but she has a moment of fierceness when Obi-Wan offers some credits for compensation as she slaps the data stick away. The one thing that jarred me in that scene was the name of the Rodian shopkeeper. I wasn’t sure I heard “Pablo” correctly until I saw it written out. While the shout-out to Pablo Hidalgo make sense, the names are usually given a bit more of a Star Wars flavor, such as turning Tina Mills into Mon Cal senator Meena Tills, see in the opening episodes of Season Four.

The bounty hunter trio moves from the pawn shop to a place where they hope to buy a ship. I liked the Bith salesman’s breathy language. It’s reminiscent of Geonosian or the background babble in Chalmun’s cantina, and is not so loud or so silly as to take over the scene. The Twi’lek shows up again when Obi-Wan is kicked off the ship by Cad Bane. Her side of the story is told entirely through body language and untranslated speech, but we can see that she’s protective of the shopkeeper.  She’s also distinguished from other Twi’leks we saw in the crowd scenes by her more conservative clothing.

Whatever her story is, she certainly counts as a female character who moves the plot along in a unique way. It’s not often that we see criminals in the Star Wars universe taken down by the civilians that they hurt – and it’s ironic here that Obi-Wan, the Jedi who’s been trying to cover the damages of the people he’s been forced to interact with during the last two episodes, is the one who gets the blunt end of that seemingly heroic act. It’s almost as if the good guys are tripping over each other in their efforts to be good. The local authorities, though, are the Hutts, which means that their justice gives the viewer yet another scene of Obi-Wan getting beaten up.

That dark scene transitions to the crimson light of Chancellor Palpatine’s office. I just recently watched Revenge of the Sith, so it was especially nice to see a scene that shows the trust between Anakin and Palpatine. The Chancellor tells him, “It is possible that [the Council] do not trust your feelings,” gradually sowing the seeds of Anakin’s dislike for his bosses. Anakin, though, is all feelings, openly calling Obi-Wan his “best friend.” Palpatine uses this, encouraging Anakin to follow his emotions and then going against the Council’s wishes by telling Anakin where the bounty hunter trio was last seen. This is a nice example of Palpatine’s penchant for using his power to “make it legal” to the benefit of subordinates whose loyalty he hopes to maintain. It’s an effective scene that accomplishes many goals: showing Palpatine’s conniving ways, Anakin’s emotional turmoil, and the friendship between the two of them.

Back on Nal Hutta, Obi-Wan escapes his captors with some neat, quiet use of the Force. No sooner could you say “Obi-Wan’s drinking on the job again” than Cad Bane nearly strangles him. After a tense negotiation, the three of them are, as Evalo says, friends, and take off in the ship paid for by the Jedi.

Ahsoka’s appearance comes halfway through the episode and starts off another discussion of trust – Anakin tells her that the Chancellor tipped him off, but only when they arrive on the planet’s surface. She seems to accept this with less consternation than usual.

The bar scene they enter is lively, featuring both Twi’leks dancing on tables and a trio of inebriated aliens (“I love you, guys!”). Anakin darkens the mood fast, performing a double-throat choke on the Ithorian bartender to find out where his quarry went.

As an aside, the stars are especially pretty in this episode: not the original trilogy smattering, but a thick, middle-of-nowhere field of stars. It’s cool to see the out-of-the-way places the characters end up, including a rainbow-lit waystation that reminded me of the ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

Ahsoka is her usual calm, knowledgeable self, maintaining that she’d recognize Cad Bane from his hat anywhere. She pilots while Anakin takes the fight to the prow of Bane’s shoe-shaped ship. Although we’ve seen the main three in action a lot of times before in The Clone Wars, the moving battlefield and the presence of Obi-Wan in disguise as Rako Hardeen make this fight unique. As in “Deception,” the camera works well to make the fight intense. It has an emotional side too: I was tensely waiting for when Obi-Wan and Anakin would have their encounter, and whether Anakin would figure out the ruse.
No one’s holding back in this fight. Obi-Wan very convincingly pummels Anakin in the face in a vicious fight that mostly takes place on the ground, and it had me wondering whether Obi-Wan really had some leftover anger to take out on his headstrong apprentice. The fight ends in a headlock with both of the Jedi crammed up close against the foreground of the scene. Obi-Wan whispers, “Don’t follow me,” just before Anakin passes out, but the Chosen One seems to already have realized something. The shot of Anakin’s eyes going wide was great, both mirroring the focus on “Hardeen’s” eyes in the first scene and making me wonder whether his Master had actually been powerful enough to mind-trick him. I’m still not sure if he did or not, but when he wakes up Anakin has an inkling that Obi-Wan is still alive.

Ahsoka has some cool scenes with her two lightsabers flaring through the foggy air, and the banter between her and Cad Bane reminded me of the flirtatiousness between Obi-Wan and Asajj Ventress. It’s not to my taste to add that element to the antagonism, but along with her driving the bounty hunters away it might be another sign of Ahsoka maturing and being recognized by their enemies as a threat distinct from Anakin. This might come back to haunt her later, if future episodes pit Anakin against  ”Hardeen” and Ahsoka against Bane for maximum emotional content in the fights.

This episode lets the heroes get just nearly close enough to capturing the bounty hunters and finding out about Obi-Wan but not any closer to saving the Chancellor, leading up to what looks like it will be an exciting finale. Given the depth of his grief at the funeral in the last episode, Anakin seems surprisingly grumpy about his intuition that Obi-Wan is still alive – although some of that probably comes because he was just knocked out.

This may be a middle episode in a long four-part arc, but we do get something of a climactic battle. The episode proceeded nice and evenly, with the good balance of conversation and action that we saw in “Deception.” I liked the inclusion of the scenes from the Council’s point of view, showing what Mace and Yoda thought of the situation. The ending is glum, with Anakin leaning on Ahsoka in the murk.

Next week we get Obi-Wan and a lineup of bounty hunters joining Count Dooku in a fight club on Serenno. “Friends and Enemies” made an organic-feeling plot out of the concepts of “Deception” and is still leaving the viewer waiting for a reconciliation between Obi-Wan and Anakin. I give this episode a 7/10.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds like a particularly good episode this week! I do like the sound of things so far - how Obi-Wan is "dead" and going undercover as a bounty hunter. That would be a tough job for a Jedi with morals such as he, I suppose. And the Twi'lek sounds interesting too. Nice to hear that she was well-clothed. Too many Twi'leks walk around wearing practically nothing. D:<

    I still laugh at the name "Moralo Eval", it's very unsubtle. 7/10 is a good score, so I hope CW keeps up these standards and gives the fans a good ending to this arc. :)

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    1. It was good. Not as good as last week - relatively skippable really, except that one Anakin and Obi-Wan exchange- but good.

      I thought it was interesting that they showed Twi'leks dressed in the dancer costumes, but gave the one who was important to the plot more concealing clothing. :)

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    2. Mmhmm, fair enough. But so far season four has had fairly good Nemreviews, so it seems like CW is (maybe) getting better?

      Yeah, that is interesting. And a nice change. c:

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    3. Oh the whole, it has. I briefly noted in the last review that this season has had its share of awful episodes as well. I'm also learning to write about it in slightly different ways. But the animation's definitely getting better, and the current arc and the Krell arc had some great, quiet moments of characterization that hadn't been seen before.

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