Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clone Wars Recap S4 E01-02 : Water War & Gungan Attack.

(I promise this is the last bit of Star Wars for a little while!) Normally, I'd post a Thundercats Thunder-recap on the weekend, but that show has taken a hiatus for a few weeks, partly in order to accommodate the return of The Clone Wars, and hopefully so that they can think of something for Tigra to do.

The Clone Wars season four begins with a double-episode, incorporating Water War and Gungan Attack. It's very appropriate that in this weekend of Star Wars over-saturation that our heroes are seen battling at the bottom of the sea. These episodes also mark the animated debut of my favourite, all-inspiring, trap-detecting, space lobster admiral Ackbar (although he's but a captain here) who will always be proof that anybody can achieve anything. Yes. A lobster became and admiral in space, folks. Get off your couch and accomplish your dreams!

I'm a big fan of The Clone Wars and have enjoyed seeing the series mature and develop over time. The show is constantly stretching the boundaries of what can be done in animated television, especially visually, and there's just nothing else out there that can hold a candle (lightsaber?) to it in that regard. How did these new episodes hold up? Join me after the jump!

This time it's more of a review than a recap, and as we plumb these depths you will understand why. I didn't love it. And it kind of pains me to say that because I was all amped for its return.

What I will say though is that visually it's incredibly impressive. There's a lot of style to the underwater world and the action scenes are huge in scale. Every frame is jam-packed with information. Check out this shot of new shark-headed villain Riff Tansom and all of the chaos that's behind him:

And it all has a function. Those tubes in the background are a fast transport system which are put to good use in one of the most tense and effective action sequences where Tansom viciously head-butts the glass with his jaws, trying to take a bite out of teen Jedi Ahsoka. In fact, I should say that Riff Tansom is the other triumph off the episodes, as he is a truly frightening and visceral villain, with zero remorse, who graphically tears apart many an unsuspecting good guy. He's a real threat, and probably the most engaging element of these episodes.

The concept is solid. If you're a fan of Gendy Tartakovsky's original Clone Wars micro-series then you'll recognise the central conflict. The Mon Calamari (lobster people) aren't getting along with the Quarren (squid people) and it's throwing their planet into civil war. The Quarren are being egged on by the unscrupulous Count Dooku who has committed a droid army, and sure enough the republic send Anakin, Ahsoka, and a shirtless Kit Fisto to help even the score for Ackbar and Co. When the good guys still manage to get their asses kicked, (mostly thanks to a new contraption called a "Hydroid Medusa"!!) they throw all caution to the wind and enlist the help of everybody's favourite cannon fodder, the Gungans, now spurred into action by Jar Jar Binks.

If I'm coming across as kind of bland and non-committal this morning, it's because that's really all there is to it. It's all a big battle that looks great but isn't overly engaging. There's a ton of action, but it feels sluggish in the water. And as much as I love the inclusion of Ackbar, there are no memorable character moments for anyone - it lacks that breezy, swash-buckling Star Wars swagger - there's no banter, in fact the dialogue is mostly leaden inspirational statements about hope and bravery. It just didn't move me. The Mon Calamari prince at the centre of this dispute even sounds like a Disney hero - one of those young, starry-eyed "if you believe it, you can achieve it" kind of guys. Han Solo would be rolling his eyes. 

I'm sure The Clone Wars creators are very proud of these episodes and, from a technical perspective, I'm sure they have every right to be. I figure we'll be hearing about their breakthroughs with the water effects and just how challenging it was to get all of Kit Fisto's tendrils moving. This is also going to look pretty breath-taking on Blu-ray. But I need that basic character interaction too, and I need to see real character arcs. 

Ackbar, despite being center stage, is all background here. There are no defining moments for him - no difficult decisions - no change of direction. He's a noble, lobster-of-action, but that's all we get. The series is best when it finds that balance between character and action. If you're going to go backwards and fill in the gaps between the movies, then tell us something about this characters. Something of import that we didn't already know.

I was disappointed to realise that this is actually a three-part storyline, so there's yet more underwater action next time. That said, at the end of the episode we also saw a montage of what to expect for the rest of the season and it all looks pretty great. I remain a solid fan and look forward to this journey.


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  2. lol "Mon Calamari (lobster people)" ? how do you not not get that calamari=squid ? lol ackbar more closely resembles a squid than a lobster... he has no claws dude!