Saturday, March 10, 2012

Clone Wars Recap S4 E21: Brothers! The Return of Darth Maul!

Clone Wars fans have been anticipating this for over a year now, and this week, finally, the short-lived severed "star" of The Phantom Menace - Darth Maul - emerges from ten years of seclusion to scare the everliving shit out of your kids. And I'm not exaggerating. We all figured it would badass, but we didn't realise it would be a creepy fever dream into the mouth of madness. 

If you've seen shiny-crotched robot leg Maul and think you know how this is all going to pan out, then guess again. The Clone Wars miraculously team managed to keep a major secret about Darth Maul's mysterious bottom half. Join me after the jump and I'll tell you what it is...

Just about everybody in the galaxy is getting the jitters. Shivers. And possibly the willies.

They can all sense it. Dooku clearly has the heebie-jeebies. Asajj Ventriss is watching her shapely back. Something wicked this way comes. Something "sinister."

Meanwhile, Darth Maul's hulking yellow brother, Savage Oppress, is still searching for his missing sibling. He has a magical necklace, gifted to him by surviving Nightsister Mother Talzin and is closing in on his prize. We see him inexplicably choking a poor, terrified blonde woman in a diner before esaping into the night. But it's some dust on the cargo of the nearby docks that provides the biggest clue and he hijacks a space garbage truck (and its reluctant driver) and heads for a nearby junk planet where he believes his brother resides. 

The minor subplot to this episode is that the long absent Anakin and Ahsoka arrive at the diner and search for clues, but it really is very minor. Just throwing that in there now so we don't interrupt the real meat of this episode later. Because when Savage arrives at the junk planet things certainly start to get crazy...

Navigating the garbage truck through the sickly yellow haze of the cluttered and blazing planet, Savage's first act is to eject the truck's owner out of the back of the ship where he plummets to his death. I really felt for that poor bastard, because if the fall didn't kill him, he would have been stranded in gigantic mountains of hostile debris with two broken legs. Clone Wars continues its trend of being increasingly brutal. 

Now, this is where we deviate from previous episodes. The Star Wars saga has a proud tradition of a character realising that they need something on a distant planet, landing their ship there, and walking straight into the thing they need. I'm happy to say that that doesn't happen here. Audiences on the edge of their seats waiting for some Darth Maul action may be frustrated that this episode takes its sweet time getting there, but I feel like the journey itself is brilliant, and will only get better and better on subsequent viewings. It is a true descent into madness, and without realising just how embedded Maul is in the planet, and how broken he's become, his return to action next episode would have far less impact. But we're ahead of ourselves...

Now traversing the planet on foot, Savage encounters his unlikely a guide. Morely - a snake.

For me, the inclusion of a fast-talking, slightly comical/slightly sinister snake is the first sign that, from this point onward, absolutely anything can happen. It's creepy, weird, and an interesting metaphor. The snake has heard legends of the "Horned Man" who lives deep in the junk planet, and assures Savage that he will not make it to him without his guidance. And thus begins their descent into metaphorical hell.

Their first obstacles are the "fire-breathers", gigantic dog-like trash robots who aptly breathe fire. It is only by adhering to the path of the slippery Morely that Savage survives being incinerated as fire rains around him. Next up are the suspicious, nomadic "junkers", squat scavengers (imagine the chubby children of a jawa and a Tusken raider) that eye Savage and Morley menacingly before descending from their vantage points to attack. Savage fends them off with ease, using his iconic double-bladed lightsaber. 

Finally they reach a small abandoned hut, strung up with dead junker bodies, and Savage grows frustrated, assuming his brother is dead. But it's all a trap, and the double-crossing Morley opens a trap door beneath him and he plummets into the darkness. It's all part of the routine - Morley leads people to his master and gets to keep the leftovers. 

By now your kids have definitely shit themselves. Savage runs through dark tunnels, pursues by a shadowy, skittering spider creature. Another henchman, or henchmen? I thought that at first, but no...

As the spider finally attacks him we witness a shocking reveal. The spider-creature IS Darth Maul, his severed - and emaciated - torso poorly stitched onto a ramshackle robot spider body, chaotically constructed from junk. If you've wondered why a surviving Darth Maul hasn't returned already, then this is your answer. He frequently stumbles over his make-shift legs - barely able to stand at times. He is gaunt and wild and he has lost his mind.

Sam Witwer (hero of the Autobots) does an incredible job at voicing Darth Maul who has a heart-wrenching range of shrieks, growls, mutters and weeps. The animation is also a triumph, the half-lit jerky movements of the skittering spider body as it moves in close to Savage and then retreats up walls is effectively unnerving. There are clear character shots of the spider-body model on a white background, but I've decided not to post them as Maul is far better enjoyed in the context of the show.

Maul may have lost it, but the prompts from his brother are making the memories slowly return. He remembers that the Jedi did this to him. And he vows his revenge. Holy crap. NEXT week's episode is going to be great!

The epilogue to this week's show is a moody grey scene on Corsuscant where a solemnly meditating Yoda is interrupted by Obi Wan. They both sense it and Yoda gives voice to their fears. Darth Maul has awoken and he wants a stern word with Obi Wan  about his missing lower half.

Wait! What?

That's the one thing in this episode that I'm not as willing to go along with. How can Yoda pinpoint Maul with such accuracy, but he can't identify Palpatine - the most powerful and evil Sith ever - who is probably in the next room? I guess Palps is actively masking his intentions while Maul clearly isn't it, but still... that force thing is mighty fickle!

What did you think of Maul's return? Let me know before watch the finale next week!


  1. I went into this episode excited about the return of Darth Maul, but at the same time I saw the teaser, so I thought there wouldn't be any surprises.

    But yeah.. holy shit that was awesome. The last 10 minutes is up there as some of the best 10 minutes of the Star Wars universe. It was so intense and raw... and not a letdown in any way humanly possible.

    It's painful knowing that there are Star Wars fans out there that refuse to watch this, or that just haven't taken the time. The last few episodes have been absolutely amazing.

  2. Hiding from 'Force Scans' has always puzzled me as well. Didn't I read somewhere that Yoda used the cave on Dagobah, and its dark energy, as a sort of shield to mask his good Force-ness? Perhaps Palpatine did a reverse of that by being surrounded by so many Jedi on Coruscant? Speculative, and reachy, but sometimes you gotta reach in the Star Wars universe. ;)

    When I was in the hospital i didn't have much in the way of viewing options, but I did have the Oprah Winfrey Network. But as luck would have it, she did a 2-hour interview with George Lucas that night. It was interesting. Went over some shit I had not seen before, the most interesting thing being something he told his kids. A bit harsh, but saying to them, in order to motivate them to fend for themselves, 'I'm're not.'

    1. This episode was insanely good. Started out with Savage choking some lady and me going "whoa - that's surprising" and then that insane junk planet and the talking snake and good grief.

      And I could barely look at Maul, such was my level of discomfort. Good show, Dini. (Wait - he's still running it, right?)

  3. Oh good grief, why do I get Paul Dini and Dave Filoni confused? They're both hat-wearers, right?

  4. Spider Maul was so super rad!! and I actually went "YAY!" out loud when that snake guy was killed (please let him stay dead)

    The one thing that really bugged me is that diner. Everything in star wars universe feels alien so this place just feels wrong. But that was just a small section of the ep so no real biggie. I did like how the writing team went "Oh how do we remind people that Yellow Maul is and evil son of a bitch... how bout he just kill some chick at a diner or somethin" and to cover a plot hole about why that happend and the repercussions "Just bring in some space cops saying that shit happens all the time don't worry about it"

  5. I think that chick he choked in the diner over-cooked his eggs.