Sunday, April 6, 2014

Resurrecting Preposterous: The Clone Wars Season Five Takes A Long Time To Build To Watchable!

The Good: Generally good animation, Tone, Fills out the larger Star Wars universe well.
The Bad: Some of the arcs are utter duds, Light on character development until the end.
The Basics: The Clone Wars Season Five is a poor season of television until the last half of the season when it fleshes out the Star Wars universe in a (mostly) interesting way.

It might take a long time, but the Cartoon Network show The Clone Wars finally went somewhere. The show, which struggled for four seasons to find a tone and storytelling consistency was troubled by conceptual problems and stories that seemed to distract from the known inevitable – which was that the series had to lead into Revenge Of The Sith (reviewed here!). The concept of Anakin Skywalker, who was the subject of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, having a Padawan learner of his own was fundamentally a departure from the main story of the prequel trilogy. Conceptually, it served only to make Anakin Skywalker’s indignation in Revenge Of The Sith over not being made a full member of the Jedi Council more palpable and realistic, but it was otherwise a big departure from the known Star Wars mythos.

In a similar fashion, The Clone Wars - while utilizing creatures, droids, and ship designs common to the Star Wars film sextet – further diverged from the Star Wars universe by upsetting many of the basic tenants of the series. The animated television series was actually packed with Sith characters: by the fifth season of The Clone Wars there were six Sith or ex-Sith alive and kicking ass and using lightsabers fighting throughout the galaxy. The Clone Wars Season Five picks up the thread of Darth Maul’s resurrection that largely confounds the whole idea that the Sith apprentice was killed at the climax of The Phantom Menace (reviewed here!). Season Five of The Clone Wars ended up not being the conclusion to the series (there is a new sixth season on Netflix), though it closes on the closest note possible to the other inevitable imperative of the series: Ahsoka Tano parts ways with the Jedi. The risk of making The Clone Wars and introducing such an important character as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan was that the character had to be gone (one way or another) before the end of the series; otherwise her absence in the final prequel film becomes a huge continuity problem (albeit a retcon issue) for the diehard fans.

The fifth season of The Clone Wars, unfortunately, fleshes out the larger Star Wars universe before it finally narrows to a point in the season’s final arc. Along the way, the journey goes from pointless (opening with a Darth Maul arc seems self-defeating as viewers have to know that he cannot survive the series!) to unpleasantly boring (there is a droid arc that seems especially juvenile) right before it climaxes well with a powerful arc that starts cutting away loose ends before refocusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Ahsoka Tano.

With Darth Maul and Savage Opress cutting a swath of destruction across the outer rim, motivated by a desire to get revenge on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Maul tries to draw out the Jedi. Maul, after asserting dominance over Opress, lures Obi-Wan to the Florin System, where there are pirates who pledge themselves to Maul and Opress. Obi-Wan receives a distress call from the bounty hunter, Hondo. Aiding Hondo gives Obi-Wan an out when his fellow Jedi master is killed and he is cornered by the two Sith.

The immediately dark arc is followed up by a four episode Onderon rebellion arc. Ahsoka is left on the planet Onderon after the planet’s inhabitants fall to the Separatists. Aiding the young rebels, Ahsoka helps a brother and sister rally the people of Onderon to resist Separatist rule and fight back against the droid army of the Separatists. Training the rebels, Ahsoka and the rebels fight to rescue the deposed King and retake the planet, which puts Ahsoka at odds against her emotions (as she develops an attachment for one of the rebels in a doomed romance).

Ahsoka then takes a group of Younglings to the planet where they must get the crystals to make their own lightsabers. After facing the trial that nets the kids their crystals, their ship is attacked by the pirate Hondo. Ahsoka is kidnapped and held hostage by Hondo. But Hondo’s attempt to get the Younglings’ lightsaber crystals is foiled by the Younglings and then an attack by General Grievous.

The next mission is taken on by Colonel Gascon, a small sluglike Republic leader, and a team of droids, including R2-D2. Their mission is to capture a Separatist encryption module, but in trying to complete their mission, they crash land on Abufar. After days in the desert, the small team meets up with a clone trooper who has lost his memory and in their escape, the team discovers a Separatist plot to bomb an important Jedi strategic conference.

The season finally gets good when Darth Maul and Savage Oppress are rescued by Deathwatch. Together they assemble their own crime syndicate and, visiting Nal Hutta, they are attacked by the bounty hunter holdouts loyal to the Hutts. Assembling an army, Maul and Oppress make their move, but Pre Viszla inevitably betrays the Sith on Mandalore. Usurping Duchess Satine, Pre Viszla takes leadership as Prime Minister and declares the Mandalorian systems independent of all foreign rule. When Maul kills Pre Viszla, he installs Almeck as the new Prime Minister of Mandalore. When the Jedi converge on Mandalore, Maul gets his chance for revenge. The dark episode sees the death of Satine and Savage Opress, which seem like they would have motivated later character arcs for Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul (given Kenobi’s love for Satine and Maul’s allegiance to Savage). Sidieous and Maul confront and that, too, seems like it was going somewhere, though the failure of Sidieous to kill Maul seems to diminish his character and the concept of the Sith.

Cato Malodia is under siege when the Jedi Temple on Coruscant is bombed. Investigating puts Ahsoka in a crisis of faith as she cannot believe that a Jedi might have been involved in the bombing. The bombing is soon revealed to be the work of a terrorist (who was not a Jedi) using nanotechnology. But when Ahsoka interrogates her, the terrorist is killed and Ahsoka is framed. Despite Anakin believing in his Padawan, the Jedi Council releases Ahsoka from the Jedi order in order for the Republic military to put Ahsoka on trial. Ahsoka goes on the run while Anakin looks to find the guilty parties who framed her. Unfortunately, Asajj Ventress turns up and that complicates things for Ahsoka.

Unfortunately, the fifth season of The Clone Wars lacks emotional resonance. The Youngling and droid story arcs are especially juvenile and they make for an erratic season because they precede an arc that involves the most on-screen deaths of major recurring characters in the series. The stories oscillate between violent and adult and silly and troublingly young. The fifth season of The Clone Wars might finish strong, but it is a long way for viewers to go and the good portions of the season are entirely dependent upon seeing the prior seasons of the show.

The animation in the fifth season of The Clone Wars is good, but the technology has not improved in any recognizable way from the prior seasons. In the end, the season is a fair conclusion to the story of The Clone Wars, even if the fifth season is not the climax.

For other seasons of The Clone Wars, please check out my reviews of:
The Clone Wars
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 1
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Volume 2
The Clone Wars - Season 1
The Clone Wars - Season 2
The Clone Wars - Season 3
The Clone Wars - Season 4


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

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