Thursday, March 27, 2014

So Much Foreshadowing! The Clone Wars Season 4 Goes Dark And Adult!

The Good: Generally good animation, Tone, Most of the stories
The Bad: Minutae, Some of the character designs
The Basics: In the fourth season of The Clone Wars, the show virtually abandons its childish tendencies to present a more consistently adult story that continues to lead to Revenge Of The Sith.

For the first few seasons of The Clone Wars (season 1 is reviewed here!), the show from the Cartoon Network did not seem to know what it wanted to be. The show started with ridiculously childish “morals” (themes) and mixed a bit of warlike violence with annoyingly childish quips between Anakin Skywalker and his padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano. Fortunately, with the fourth season of The Clone Wars, the series goes all in and commits to making an adult series. Fans of the Star Wars franchise are likely to enjoy The Clone Wars Season Four because it works steadily toward the darkness that awaits the characters in Revenge Of The Sith.

Not only focusing on Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka, The Clone Wars Season Four starts to illustrate just how bloody The Clone Wars were and how the galaxy of Star Wars became run-down enough to get to the point where Palpatine could reasonably take over. The civil war between the Republic and the Separatists is packed with political intrigue and machinations that are not at all appropriate for children. The on-screen carnage (people getting stabbed, shot, or blown up) is also pretty extensive compared to anything that belongs in a children’s show. Fortunately, that leads to real depth and foreshadows the turn of Anakin Skywalker well. It also begins to seriously imply the dark side of Ahsoka Tano.

Opening with a civil war on the water world of Mon Calamari between the Quarren and the Mon Cala, Padme and Anakin work to bring about a peaceful resolution. While the Quarren want to join the Separatists, Anakin and Padme try to keep the Mon Cala in the Republic and defend them as citizens with the help of Captain Ackbar. Joined by Kit Fisto, the Republic Forces put up a valiant defense against the new Separatist Weapons dropped into the oceans. With Dooku calling the shots on the conquered world, the Republic forces retreat to the underwater caves. Fighting to keep the rightful king of the Mon Cala alive while Dooku’s jellyfish weapons and slave camps lead the Quarren leader to rethink his deal with the Separatists leads the Republic forces to the edge of peril.

Following the incident at Mon Calamari, trouble hits home when there is a fracture at Naboo. With Gungan leaders being manipulated by Dooku and Grievous, Amidala is able to help Jar Jar Binks rally the Gungans against the Separatists. In the process, Grievous is captured and to protect him, Sideous has Dooku abduct Anakin to make a prisoner exchange. This is a very dark episode with a number of on-screen deaths. Despite being a very short arc, it continues the reversals that make it at all plausible that the Jedi could manage to not capture and convict the two leaders of the Separatists.

Elsewhere, the planet Aleen is suffering from earthquakes which are devastating the planet. R2-D2 and C-3PO meet with the aliens on that planet to discover the complex relationship between the race above and the race below. In the process, R2-D2 and C-3PO find a way to save Aleen. Unfortunately, while leaving Aleen, the Republic transport the droids are on is attacked and in fleeing, the two droids have a “Gulliver’s Travel”-style adventure to return home.

After a particularly bloody battle on Umbara, Anakin is relieved of duty and recalled to Coruscant. He is replaced by the overbearing and demanding Jedi General Krell, who has no real regard for the lives of the clones under his command. While some of the clones resist his commands, Krell is actually very effective at achieving his mission goals, even if clone casualties in his unit are higher. Despite some impressive victories, like capturing an Umbarian air base, Krell continues to push Captain Rex and his men into increasingly dangerous situations. When two battalions of clones are set against one another, Krell’s treachery is exposed and his true nature is revealed.

When the Separatists make inroads at the peaceful planet of Krios, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka are dispatched to investigate. Slavers have captured the entire population of Krios, which makes Ahsoka’s homecoming a pretty horrible one. When Obi-Wan Kenobi is captured by Count Dooku’s slavers and taken to Zygaria, Anakin becomes bound to the queen of the slavers to find where the Kriosans and other slaves have been taken. When Dooku inevitably cracks down on the Queen, she realizes she has been a pawn for the Sith and works to free herself and her people from the Sith. This is a smart arc that alludes to Anakin’s past and brings up new darkness in the character. Since Attack Of The Clones, Anakin has had a reasonable sore spot toward slavery in the galaxy and this puts him direct conflict with slavers and his guilt over his mother’s death. Anakin’s darkness is hinted at well when he goes more than a little angry and badass on the slave traders.

A peace conference between the Republic and Separatists breaks down when the son of a Separatist leader declares that his mother was killed by Dooku and that the Separatists are an illegitimate regime of murderers. When Lux turns on Ahsoka after she saves his life, they end up in the company of the Mandalorian Deathwatch. When R2-D2 is conscripted to repair the Deathwatch psychopath’s droids, he and Ahsoka lay the groundwork for escape.

Returning to Coruscant, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin, and Ahsoka track a bounty hunter who threatens Palpatine. In the pursuit, the bounty hunter kills Obi-Wan, which sets Anakin off. Kenobi, of course, is not dead: he is working with Mace Windu and Yoda to uncover a plot between the bounty hunters and the Separatists. Kenobi disguises himself as Hardin (the bounty hunter) and goes to prison. There, he is approached by Cad Bane who engineers an escape plot from the prison. Cad Bane, Hardin, and Moralo Eval crash and work to get armed and a new ship. Palpatine sets Anakin against the bounty hunters, even as Obi-Wan Kenobi works to procure a new ship and escape Nal Hutta. After an encounter between Anakin and Raako Hardin, Hardin is able to get inside Dooku’s bounty hunter stronghold on Sarenno. There, the bounty hunters that Dooku has assembled are set against each other in a lethal contest within a game cube. The survivors of the box are used by Dooku to hunt Palpatine at a festival on Naboo. With Ahsoka put in charge of protecting Amidala, Anakin takes point on Naboo in protecting the Chancellor while Obi-Wan as Hardin tries to undermine the bounty hunter’s plan. This arc hinges on Dooku not being able to sense Obi-Wan Kenobi, which makes unfortunately little sense.

Asajj Ventress resurfaces at the climax of the season with an arc that sets her against the Sith. Ventress renounces her Sith training and rejoins the Sisters Of Dathomir. Dooku sends Grievous to kill Ventress and his droid armada attacks Dathomir. With the battle going poorly, the Sisters resurrect their dead to create a zombie army to combat the droids! Ventress manages to survive the holocaust on her world and ends up in the company of bounty hunters. The season climaxes with the return of Savage Opress . . . and Darth Maul!

The final arc of the season hinges entirely on having seen the third season of The Clone Wars (reviewed here!). Ventress’s fall from grace and the return of Darth Maul are obliquely referenced in the fourth season episodes, but are not really appreciable by those who have not seen the prior season.

The animation in the fourth season of The Clone Wars is decidedly mixed. The space battles and settings are appropriately epic and most of the character designs are wonderful. Ahsoka is no longer a girl (her outfit is changed to one that uses a keyhole cut to accent her breasts, which would be disturbing if they kept playing her so young) and the rest of the characters generally look smoother and more realistic. The only real problem with the animation in the fourth season of The Clone Wars is that all of the bald characters look like clone troopers. That’s a problem when Obi-Wan impersonates a bald human bounty hunter for several episodes.

Adult fans of the Star Wars Saga will find that the fourth season of The Clone Wars is one of the few arguably essential ones of the franchise. Despite still having themes up front, The Clone Wars matures in its fourth season to be worth watching!

For other works in the Star Wars franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars - Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
The Clone Wars
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 1
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 2
Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars - Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi
Caravan Of Courage - An Ewok Adventure


For other movie and television reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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