Friday, September 30, 2011

Clone Wars: Shadow Warrior

Epigraph: “Who a person truly is cannot be seen with the eyes.” As symbolic as it sounds, this is taken pretty much literally. 
Warning: What an episode truly is cannot be seen without spoilers. 
The episode begins with Anakin and Padme going to Naboo to stop a Gungan attack on  the human population of the dry parts of the planet. It’s a pretty couple of scenes; the purple cast in the sky, the Gungan technology, Jar Jar’s clothing, and even the humans’ outfits added to a sense of completeness for Naboo that was perhaps nurtured also by the palette’s similarities to The Phantom Menace. I got the feeling that going to Naboo was, for Anakin, like going home. The ship design seen briefly was cool too; a large transport built along the same aesthetic as the yellow Naboo snubfigters, it features a coning tower and looks like an aerial submarine. 
 Once underwater, the humans learn that the Gungan leader Boss Lyonie (same one we’ve seen previously) wants to start the attack. Clued in by Lyonie’s terrible voice acting, Anakin destroys the amulet affecting Lyonie’s “headthoughts”. It turns out that Lyonie’s aide, Rish Loo, is working with Count Dooku. The workings of the amulet is never quite explained, which I liked: it’s reminiscent of the Force in the original trilogy, back when we didn’t know much about what is was or how it worked. With the inclusion of the Nightsisters in last season of Clone Wars, I’m willing to pass on the amulet as something similar to their powers. The smoking glow-globes in Loo’s office were a cool touch too.

When he sees that the humans are involved for the long run, Loo murders Lyonie and flees. With some protestations ("We don't all look alike,") Jar Jar is talked into masquerading as  the late Boss.
This episode moved quickly from one encounter to another, splitting into Anakin-Loo-Dooku and Padme-Jar Jar- Grievous subplots. It was fast-paced in a good way, if not especially tightly written. The actual shadow warrior plot device -- Jar Jar's disguise -- is pretty much forgotten halfway through.
Yes, Grievous shows up-- and, unannounced, becomes an interesting focal point for the episode. It was as surprising to me as to Jar Jar that it was the cyborg general, not Count Dooku, commanding the droid army reserves. (That means that Sidious’s entire staff-- Dooku, and Grievous, not counting the defected Ventress-- were on Naboo at this point. Didn’t the Darth ever learn not to put all his Separatists in one basket?) 
Now maybe I was just so surprised because I don’t pay enough attention to promotional material-- Grievous was in the trailers. But he is used well here, making me actually care what happens to the Gungans if only because it’s connected to what happens to him. 
Jar Jar’s body-language as he completely fails to not appear afraid of Grievous is legitimately funny. 
As much as I wanted to see Grievous vs hundreds of ninja Gungans, the fight itself wasn’t what ended up making me surprised at this episode. (By the way, how did the Gungans disable the droids, besides knowing that it worked last time in TPM?) Grievous was incredibly outnumbered, but he’s Grievous and they’re Gungans, right? It’s going to be one of those “Mace takes out forty million battle droids” things, right? Except that, first of all, the Gungans attack one or two at a time. Disappointing, when I expected a lot from the choreography. The captain’s death was gritty but still too earnest to break away from the  harmless feel of the recent Clone Wars battles.  Despite the large-scale fights, I think that’s what my big problem has been with TCW lately: the seeming lack of consequences.   No one can die, no one can remember when they’ve turned to the dark side. 
And then Grievous gets a spear through his chest that scrapes sparks off his neck. He’s quartered by Gungans, and suddenly there’s consequences, because now the allies of the Republic have Grievous captive. They can turn the tide of the war. He’s become a vulnerable brain in a clawed shell--heck, the Gungans can dissect him. 
But of course they don’t. There’s this one interesting moment of terror being traded in for the bad guy being dragged away on pikes, and then Grievous just becomes one point in the Anakin/Padme drama that finishes up the episode. 
The fight between Anakin and Dooku was a bit more intense than the beginning of the Grievous fight, with Anakin’s expressions and the silence but for Dooku’s breathing conveying more than witty dialogue ever could. It takes place inside a sculpted fort that reminds me of the giant head sculptures in both The Phantom Menace and the Lego prequels. Anakin is knocked cold and Dooku insists the Gungans trade him for Grievous, knowing Padme will give in. She does, but only after Jar Jar and Lyonie convince her. I’d like to see a story where she didn’t listen to them -- maybe too focused on the idea that she can’t let love get in the way of tactical advantage. But in the end it doesn’t seem to be her decision. The Gungans enact the trade, agree not to go to war, and everything ends up pretty much the way it was before. The consequences are, again, set aside.
Much has been made about the title of the episode being a reference to the film “Shadow Warriors”, a Lucas favorite. While I’ve only read a synopsis of the movie myself, the only homages I saw were the character in disguise and the crucifixion motif.
All in all, Grievous shone, the fights were entertaining, and the episode brought up some interesting questions about the Anakin/Padme dynamic. It was certainly better than the season opener. 
Some side notes: I do admit some bias here...Tarpals was one of the only cool Gungans, sortof a glimpse at what they could have been, and his death makes some part of my brain go “nuuuu”.
In the beginning of the episode, does Jar Jar notice pressure hurting his ears? Was this a last-minute addition after fans complained about it in the Mon Cal arc?
Swimming kaadu! That’s cool. It makes sense that they would do that.
I like Rish Loo’s wasp-shaped, painted speeder bike.
Next week is droids go to Lilluput, but Gungans plus Kurosawa wasn’t as bad as I thought.  At least it had potential.

It looks like we won't have a new Thundercats episode until the last week of October. Pity.


  1. As Grandma always said, never put your Separatists into one basket.

    It seems like the choreography in this season has been lacking. How sad.

    Argh no they can't kill off Tarpals! He WAS one of the only cool Gungans!

  2. This is actually quite educational, given my little knowledge of the series.
    Also, I love your warning in the beginning.

  3. Surfersquid: Ah yes, my grandma did always say that.

    it has been, which is truly unexpected. I want to go back and rewatch, say, "Lair of Grievous" to make sure the old stuff was as redeeming as I remember it.

    He waaaas! Alas.

    @Alex: lol I am glad to be of educational help. :P Most people who read this have little knowledge of the series I think, oddly enough...