Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 1 and 2 – ‘Water War’/'Gungan Attack’
From the first mention of the era of civil unrest in the galaxy in 1977′s A New Hope, fans of Star Wars have dreamed of what the Clone Wars was like. With only two remaining Jedi knights, a conflict in which they played a vast role was mind-boggling. In many ways, the Original Trilogy of Star Wars films took place in the aftershocks of a rich universe torn apart by warfare. But what was that same galaxy like before the Empire? The Prequel Trilogy established a magical universe of Jedi knights fighting to maintain justice as it fell from the grasp, subsumed by the Dark Side. As Chancellor Palpatine ordered the creation of a clone army to fight the Separatist movement, his mad game of galactic chess progressed. The Clone Wars saw conflict on a scale never imagined on screen before. Battles were waged on strange planets utilizing bizarre beasts and new technology against an ever-increasing opposing force. Of course on screen, the actual clone war was very brief, the fight in the stadium on Geonosis and the battle for Coruscant the strongest examples available. Surely there was more to the most anticipated era of the Star Wars saga (aside from the near-mythical episodes 7, 8 and 9).
The animated Clone Wars series has consistently impressed me with its blend of drama and action along with impressive visuals that establish an expansive universe. Lucas had attempted something similar with his prequels, but sadly the result was uneven. The weekly episodic format seems more suited to the kind of story that he wanted to tell and the capabilities of the animation team fit the Clone Wars saga perfectly. The 4th series two-part premiere again wowed me with its underwater battle sequences and nail-biting tension-filled sequences of drama.
Using his pawn Tamson, Count Dooku has stirred up the conflict on the planet Dac. The undersea cultures of Mon Calimari and Quarren have teetered on the brink of war for generations, a state maintained by the ruling class. When the ruler of the Mon Calamri dies and the reigns of control fall to his young son, the friction escalates. It’s not surprising that Dooku is able to easily push the Quarren into war against their fellow deep sea brethren, but it plays heavily into the conflict between the Republic and the Separatist movement.
As the Quarren receive aid in the form of deep sea aquabots, the Jedi and small clone trooper contingent are drawn into the battle which turns to their favor. However, when an army of cybernetically-enhanced jellyfish called the Hydroid Medusa, the nightmarish level of technology from Tamson’s home planet Karkarodon becomes clear. The Hydroid Medusa tip the scales away from the Mon Calamari, but also show that Dooku and Tamson do not share the views of the Quarren who appear to desire a just resolution to the conflict rather than a slaughter. The shark-like Tamson tears through Mon Calamri, clones and droids alike in his attempts to wipe out the opposing forces.
Desperate to reach their craft on the surface to escape an unwinnable war, Padme, Anakin, Kit Fisto and Ahshoka escort Ackbar and the Prince Regent only to arrive just in time to witness its destruction. When reinforcements arrive from the Gungans, it seems that again the tide has turned (as it were), but the enemy is ruthless in its attacks and far more willing to cross a line of violence to achieve its end. The Jedi and Mon Calamri are using more civilized rules that Tamson and his forces do not share. There are several moments as Tamson rips through the water to get at the Prince that are especially intense. It seems that no one can stop him as the Jedi and Mon Calamari alike cannot make any real impact on him.
The animation in this episode (again) progressed from the already impressive level achieved in previous episodes. I had learned that the facial detailing and movements were going to be enhanced in this series, but to actually witness it is another thing entirely. The underwater sequences were just awe-inspiring and the use of light and shadow skillfully blended into the drama unfolding on screen. The savagery of Tamson was wonderfully juxtaposed by the self-assured smugness of Kit Fisto, clearly in his element.
I have to admit that I didn’t like the inclusion of the Gungans, a race that I still find rather offensive at worst and silly at best, but traditionally the Clone Wars cartoon has used them well. The humor was also very effective with Jar Jar, one scene in particular when he suddenly finds himself in the arms of the local Senator caused me to laugh out loud.
Four years running, the Clone Wars continues the grand tradition of excellence in animation and storytelling. I know that Lucas’ plan is to wrap up his tale in 5 years, but I have high hopes that there is another Star Wars cartoon waiting in the wings to continue when this program wraps, perhaps delving into the New Republic era.
In the meantime, Friday nights belong to Star Wars in my house.