Monday, January 9, 2012

Clone Wars: Slaves of the Republic

    The latest three Clone Wars episodes have been based loosely on a comic series called Slaves of the Republic. I’m not familiar with the comic at all, so did a little research when I knew I’d be writing a blog entry for the Clone Wars adaptation. The basic plot is the same: Anakin and Ahsoka go under cover as a trader and a slave respectively, and saves the captured Togruta. The character designs for the Togruta leader and the Zygerrian characters are pretty much the same in both, with the show exactly replicating some of the comic panels. Both the book and the show intend to serve mostly as adventure stories and will be judged, independently, as such.

    This has been an eagerly anticipated arc, with fanboys (and girls) across the internet clamoring to see the characters pushed to their limits and, well, degraded. Ahsoka’s slave costume in the show is more elegant and slightly less revealing than its comics counterpart, but it still made me a little uncomfortable to see a character who’s supposed to be fourteen or so shown off like that. On the other hand we have some serious Anakin angst, and Obi-Wan getting chained to a plinth and whipped, which sounds like high-school fan fiction material gone public.

    The three episodes ("Kidnapped", "Slaves of the Republic", and "Escape from Kadavo") are chronologically contingent but move from location to location. "Kidnapped" is devoted to finding out that a large population of peaceful Togrutas have been captured and where they’ve been taken, which means that the next episode, "Slaves of the Republic", has to pack a lot of story into half an hour.  The third episode, "Escape from Kadavo", is another set-piece action episode that adds some new characters and brings others to the end of their emotional arcs. 
   
    The animation on the whole is gorgeous in these episodes: the stylistic choices are still a little jarring for me when applied to humans, but clones, landscapes, and the many different ages, genders, and colors of Togruta look great on a big screen. We  also get to see a wide selection of aliens, including Hutts and Talz.
   
     Kidnapped focuses primarily as introduction to the main story, and therefore feels a bit long. An extended action sequence shows off the choreography that Clone Wars admittedly does very well: Anakin and Ahsoka’s jumps and flips are cool. They’re set against Obi-Wan being intentionally not cool, stalling for time by getting beaten up by a very hateable Zygerrian. The wolflike bad guy’s motive is pretty much “our planet’s economy is fueled by slavery so let’s keep slavery.” The real enemy, if we’re talking moral lessons, is dispassion toward people and love of money.  "Kidnapped" could stand on its own as a pretty unremarkable villain-of-the-week episode.

    "Slaves of the Republic" shows more attempts at illuminating character through situation. The dialogue ranges from silly (“Tell that to my whip!”) to entertaining (Ahsoka: “Remind me why I’m playing the part of the slave?” Anakin: “I tried it once. I wasn’t any good at it.”) The koan for "Slaves of the Republic", the second episode, is “those who enslave others inevitably become slaves themselves”, which is referenced again in "Escape from Kadavo". It would have been nice if that had been the koan for the first episode to provide a sense of completion, but since the queen does not appear in the first episode, it does make some sense this way. The antagonist’s name is Miraj Scintel (a.k.a. mirage scintillate a.k.a. false beauty, anyone?) She’s the queen of the slavers, so naturally keeps her own unwilling servants. Her appearance is creepy-looking, with her horn/ear/hair and black-rimmed eyes, but she’s definitely got a standard of beauty and her greatest weakness seems to be the pride that Anakin’s flattery gets going. Although Anakin isn’t a slave in name, she’s clearly manipulating him and ready to sentence him to death.   

    Anakin’s attractiveness is as assumed as Ahsoka’s has been in this, and past episodes. He gains the favor of the queen (who is an equal opportunity subjugator, also having female servants) apparently by the force of his blue eyes. The queen is definitely creepy, mixing a Jabba the Hutt vibe with the pinched elegance Mina Bonteri had. Anakin hams it up, presumably knowing how slavers talk from experience, and charms her with flattery and tales of his own fighting prowess.  

    The episode does follow two distinct female characters, Ahsoka and Miraj. When the latter proposes that Anakin stay loyal to her, his reply is “[Our relationship is] nothing. You have all the power.” As a married person, he presumably knows that both partners need to be equal. She is an honest monster, and the episode ends with him maybe thinking about joining her. She’s definitely a strong female character, but also a villain whose main motive doesn’t necessarily stem from femaleness, so I give her points for equality there. She becomes a pawn for Sidious, but then, so does everyone.

    Ahsoka in this episode is pretty much in-character as fearless, feisty, and slightly annoying. The problem I have with her slave outfit is compounded by the fact that the reveal for the queen is the reveal for the audience: we too are supposed to be waiting eagerly to see what Ahsoka’s wearing, and therefore are set up to be as much perpetrators of exploitation as the characters are. Ahsoka refuses to play her role quietly and gets chided for backtalk. There’s an absolute ton in this episode about the uses and perceptions of beauty and how it can be used and misused.

    (I’ve written before about how I want to see Ahsoka show some lack of confidence  in order for her to be more relatable and have more depth. I’m not sure that it’s wrong that in the same vein I wanted to see her react somehow to the queen praising her.  Is it wrong that I think Ahsoka should be proud of her beauty only when it’s mentioned because she’s being seen as an object of slavery? Maybe that would be okay if it was the only time in which she was perceived as attractive and her lack of confidence was an issue before, but judging by Lex Bonteri and her own actions it’s not. She shouldn’t be okay with becoming a slave just because it flatters her: that’s exactly what’s happening to the Zygerrian queen.)

    Ultimately, the flattery that matters to the queen is not about beauty but power. She is flattered by Dooku in that he backs her up with the power of the Seperatists. On the other hand she holds a double standard and sees the Jedi as weak for the way they have “forsaken their ideals and become a slave to the Republic.”

    The episode is either food for thought or such a confusing mish-mash of ideas and themes that I can’t pick a clear one out. Oh, Clone Wars. It’s a dark episode: we get Anakin Force-choking a queen strong enough to tell him to stop “misbehaving”, and we get all of the characters forced into situations they don’t want to be in but can’t escape. Anakin isn’t literally chained, but he can’t leave the oddly friendly company of the queen without Ahsoka and Obi-Wan suffering for it. Miraj handing Anakin the means to kill her only emphasizes how much he can’t. Obi-Wan is in a similar position: too important to be killed, Togrutas suffer instead if he acts up. Miraj says that commitment is a form of slavery, and for part of the episode, it seems to be. (My confusion over Miraj’s motive and perspective might be based on her voice acting or direction: no matter what she’s saying it’s in the same smooth tone that Clone Wars females tend to adopt, so that it’s hard to tell what she derides and what she respects. Although, as someone both enslaving and attracted to Anakin, maybe she doesn’t see a need to differentiate between the two.) Here’s another case of where I’m not sure whether there’s a lot going on under the surface or if the show just isn’t written very well enough for there to be something obviously sensible going on on the surface.

    There’s a lot here that could lead to Anakin’s fall to the dark side, the most obvious being the Force-choke. I’ve compared his time in slavery to his fall before, and the Zygerrians’ slaves could be treated similarly to the clones in that story. The episode ends with all of Our Heroes captured. In Empire Strikes Back fashion, their fate is uncertain.

    "Escape from Kadavo" begins very dark, with Obi-Wan in slavery in a setting that reminded me of the spice mines of Kessel. It’s a chilling idea, a sort of alternate look at classic characters that is what I’ve always wanted out of Clone Wars: it was interesting to see how Obi-Wan deals with having to call someone else Master, and to see what Anakin did and might have gone through as a child if he hadn’t been rescued. (Rex gets similar treatment.) The dialogue is filled with cackling, Flash Gordon-type excessiveness.  Miraj uses the word “compliant’ to describe what Obi-Wan will become shortly before a nice conversation with Dooku in which she refuses to apply it to herself. She’s become attached to Anakin, either because he’s a symbol of her power or because his eyes are just that blue.              

    Ahsoka gets rescued by Anakin, and later shows off her own skills with a hero catch when the Togruta are falling to their deaths. She’s been more annoying.

    Miraj’s eventual defeat reminds me of Darth Vader’s at the the end of Return of the Jedi; both that a third person is involved, and that her redemption comes very late. It’s interesting to think that Anakin would probably never notice the parallel. In this way, the queen very much reminded me of a classic villain.

    "Escape from Kadavo" was entertaining. This was a fun episode, with lots of Jedi jumping, alien atmosphere in the Zygerrian city, and clones and Plo showing off.  It’s nice to explore new corners of the Star Wars universe once a week. Of the Slaves of the Republic arc, the middle episode both had the most going on and was the most muddled. (While I’m being positive, I love that the episodes are up on starwars.com shortly after they air.) The Zygerria arc has something for everyone, whether you’re in it for action or drama, Anakin, Ahsoka, Obi-Wan, or Rex. It also has everything that should be expected from Clone Wars: cliche or overdramatic dialogue, plot holes, and logically shaky politics. "Escape from Kadavo" was my favorite out of the three episodes. Overall, I give them a 5/10 and think that the anticipation was the most amusing part.

2 comments:

  1. I don't really understand the appeal in seeing characters degraded. It just seems like lurid sensationalism (and is creepy with Ahsoka involved).

    Clone Wars has turned into high school fan fiction.

    Also why does everyone have to be so ridiculously attractive? It's completely unrealistic. Then again Clone Wars is not a show that tries to go for realism I guess.

    "Here’s another case of where I’m not sure whether there’s a lot going on under the surface or if the show just isn’t written very well enough for there to be something obviously sensible going on on the surface." I vote for the latter. This is another case of the show trying too hard to appeal to all of the demographics it wants to snag.

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  2. Attractive people make more consumers buy media, that's just a fact. I wouldn't blame them for making their characters look cool: it's bringing it up as a major or assumed point that I'm trying to point out as giving it that cheap, "fanficcy" feel.

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