Thursday, February 16, 2012

Clone Wars: Crisis on Naboo

“Crisis on Naboo” is the final episode in an arc centered on Anakin’s and Obi-Wan’s relationship. The central plot point, that Palpatine will be attacked at a festival on Naboo, is filled with the political haziness of the Prequels. Obi-Wan has gone through tests of loyalty and a complex obstacle course to prove that he’s the bounty hunter best suited for kidnapping and possibly killing the Chancellor. Of course, the viewer who has watched the Prequels knows that Palpatine will survive. What is more at stake, however, is the moral standing of Obi-Wan, as well as the trust of his protégé Anakin and grand-protégé Ahsoka. The epigraph for “Crisis on Naboo” emphasizes this, saying “Trust is the greatest of gifts, but it must be earned.” This arc has done pretty well so far showing the human side of its characters, and the final episode has a lot to cover if it’s going to continue and deepen that trend as well as have an exciting final action sequence.

The opening scene shows the Council planning their defense of the Chancellor, and gives us a pleasant look at some familiar faces like Shaak Ti and Kit Fisto. It was cool to see Mace Windu being as intense about a defense as the other Jedi in The Clone Wars have been in attacks; I thought that maybe this was more like a job the Jedi would have done before the war started. After his discussion with Yoda in last week’s episode, Anakin is even more arrogant than usual. Initially he sees nothing wrong with the mundane defenses placed around the Chancellor, but Yoda seems to sense something amiss, and chides Anakin for his narrow-mindedness. Anakin can only retort a few lines later with an accusatory mention of Obi-Wan being responsible for his end of the plan. Ahsoka gives him a significant look as he walks away, but I couldn’t quite tell whether it was one of anger or concern. Mace and Yoda share a look, too. The secret about Obi-Wan’s new identity is out, but it seems like something is still being hidden from Anakin.

This scene is another from this arc that effectively illustrates dialogue with multiple layers of meaning. It also, though, leaves questions unanswered, and I wish we had gotten more scenes between Anakin and Ahsoka. I would think that she would be one of the first people he confers with about his feelings, and maybe some scenes where he does ended up on the cutting room floor.

The more adventurous part of the episode starts on Naboo. It is a familiar planet, and its lavish palaces and festivities will be fresh in the minds of anyone who’s watched The Phantom Menace recently. It is interestingly different, then, to see a dark warehouse on that planet become a scene of terror for a worker who happens to get in the bounty hunters’ way. I mentioned last time that Moralo Eval was, despite his name, not particularly frightening. In this scene, though, we get a hint at a twisted side to him when he silences his victim. Cad Bane is also legitimately scary, playing the role of a horror movie villain as the everyman warehouse worker runs desperately toward the light. Embo also has a nice moment where he shows that his hat, if not as stylish as Cad Bane’s, can be used as a weapon. Obi-Wan and the female bounty hunter Twazzi emerge last. I kept tabs on Twazzi last week and, although she isn’t a particularly important character, continued to do so this time. She is the lone female in a group of men, and therefore, even the show not making an effort to set her apart makes a statement for those who want to read into it. Her introduction emphasized her physical grace. This time, she’s lurking in the shadows with the only pacifist in the group, and I was curious to see where fate would take her.

The next scene is a briefing from Cad Bane and another new technology introduced to the Star Wars universe: the “shadow hologram,” a holographic suit of armor that the bounty hunters can step into to disguise their identity. My first thought was: Obi-Wan could have used that to transform into Rako Hardeen! My second thought: Why didn’t he? Maybe there’s a caveat or something, like the shadow hologram would be too easily detectable; we may never know. Another note: Twazzi is the only one who doesn’t get a shot focused on her transformation.

Ahsoka is assigned to protect Padmé and the Queen of Naboo. The scene introducing our heroes to Naboo was pretty, with drab tan colors on the buildings showing off the characters’ brightly-colored clothes. Mace has to take a phone call: it’s Obi-Wan, whose role as sniper makes it easy for him to report on the bounty hunters’ actions.

Then the festival begins. It was cool to see a (mostly) human crowd scene. Although there were a lot of repeated hairstyles and what I’m pretty sure was a gray variant on Obi-Wan’s beard, the crowd definitely gave enough of an impression of people attending the event. There were also enough gaps in the crowd to make me think of the animators, or wonder whether a seat at the festival is invitation-only.

The Festival of Lights is pretty much a fireworks display, with hologram-like shifting patterns of light, the occasional fleur-de-lis, and what at first looked like the opening text crawl. (Now that would be interesting.) There was a cool scene where one of the bounty hunters asked for a Republic guard’s ID number, making both the guard and the viewer think the bounty hunter was the one with authority. If you’ve got masks for your characters, you might as well play with identity.

The Festival is also short, with the bounty hunters attacking almost immediately. Ahsoka takes charge of Padmé and the Queen. The bounty hunters have some smart moves: Obi-Wan’s gun has only one bullet, and Twazzi and Bane put a Republic guard hologram over Palpatine while Twazzi goes undercover as the Chancellor. The architecture of the stage is put to good use, with Anakin and Mace fluidly moving around the stairs and railings. I think I see now why the Jedi didn’t use the shadow holograms: they tend to pixilate into uselessness on dramatic occasions.

Twazzi brings us an amusingly memorable scene of Palpatine punching Anakin, and Anakin’s one look of slack confusion before he understands what’s going on. The real Palpatine plays the same sort of captive he did in Revenge of the Sith, quiet and pliant but with plenty of glares. Then it’s time for the Jedi to make what might be one of their easier arrests, with three Masters cornering Bane and Eval (who still likes speaking in third person).

The lack of a very long action scene makes this episode feel a bit less contrived than the others. Of course we saw some good, long action sequences in the beginning of the arc, so the lack of one isn’t disappointing. Twazzi and the ancillary bounty hunters, though, do seem to disappear.

This is far from the end of the episode, however. Anakin is still protecting the Chancellor, who continues to feed Anakin all the information on how no one else trusts him. And Anakin’s words have reminded Obi-Wan not to trust his shady compatriots, either. Dooku is waiting for the Chancellor on Naboo, seated in fine Vader style at the head of a table. (Also reappearing: Magna Guards and “It’s a trap!”.) Instead of being the blasters-and-bounty-hunters sort of fight we’ve seen so much of in this arc, we get a nice classic lightsaber battle to round it all off. The red and blue sabers clash in a darkened room, and Anakin gets impaled with forks. The actual final sequence is exciting, and the Chancellor is recovered again.

I loved Obi-Wan’s deadpan “We specialize in heroics,” although is immediately followed by Anakin trying too hard with “As long as I live, no harm will ever come to you.” Palpatine’s blessing in return reeks of foreshadowing when Vader and the Emperor come to mind.

I was left happy with the writing in this arc, although something still feels off, and I think it’s the lack of closure between the main three heroes. Their first words to one another are “You look terrible” and “Being a criminal’s not easy work.” Then, though, they launch into the discussion of trust I’ve been waiting for during the whole arc. Anakin seems to care more about whether he’s being lied to than about whether his Master is dead: I guess he gets over the death quick when Obi-Wan is standing there in front of him. It’s a short discussion. Then they work together to save the Chancellor (twice), but don’t get another heart-to-heart. I would really like more quiet moments to show how their interaction has changed; Anakin’s trust obviously has, even if he is comfortable fighting alongside Obi-Wan. It’s interesting to see Palpatine planting the seeds of Revenge of the Sith in this episode, but doesn’t make up for a rather shallow exploration of the friendship that he will eventually tear apart. In two weeks a new Nightsisters arc begins, focusing on Asajj Ventress, Savage Oppress, and Darth Maul. With the focus off the Jedi we might not get another chance for Anakin-Obi-Wan interaction, but the trend of people coming back from the dead continues, and it’s worked out decently so far.

I give “Crisis on Naboo” a 6/10 and the arc as a whole a 7/10 for having unique battles, good conversations, interesting looks at new corners of the Star Wars universe, and not enough “I’m glad you’re not dead!”

1 comment:

  1. Definitely not enough emotional interactions between Anakin and Obi-Wan. It seems so... lacking, from your reviews. But this season has been a lot better than the previous ones, so let's hope CW keeps up these standards and improves. :)

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