The inherent problem with The Clone Wars is that the main characters are never in any real danger. We’ve all seen the movies, and we know Anakin’s not going to die. We know Obi-Wan’s not going to die. We know Padme’s not going to die (I mean, we know she is going to die, but not until her iddle-widdle heart gets broken and she loses the will to live). Thankfully, the Clone Wars writers also know this, so they load the cast with vulnerable secondary characters… most notably Little Miss Spunkadelic, Ahsoka Tano.
I’m gonna come right out and say it: I like Ahsoka. I like her non-whiny attitude, how she notices Anakin’s affection for Padme, and that she can be witty without being hammy (as opposed to, say, Obi-Wan, who never met a smirk he didn’t like). And – this is gonna sound cruel – I like that she can die a fiery death. Not that I’d want her to, mind you, but the very possibility of it happening adds some much-needed tension to the show.
With that in mind, I’m happy to report that ‘Storm Over Ryloth’ puts Ahsoka in peril right from the get-go. She’s leading an attack against a Separatist blockade and, as luck would have it, falls straight into a trap. Then she refuses to retreat, and soon enough, ships start exploding, clonetroopers start dying… and Ahsoka realizes she made a mistake. But by then, the kamikaze vulture droids (yes, kamikaze vulture droids) are raining down, and all hell breaks loose. It’s a taut, exciting space battle, and it’s beautifully executed – probably the best first act I’ve seen all season. And it sounds as good as it looks – the effects editors really went the extra mile. Even on my craptacular TV, this does not sound like a kiddie show.
The episode also marks the triumphant return of Admiral Pornstache, though he quickly gets the crap kicked out of him by an incoming ship. This might seem dramatic, but for those of us paying attention (and granted, there aren’t that many of us), it’s not a big deal. Y’see, Admiral Pornstache is actually Admiral Yularen, who can be seen in the background of A New Hope. So there’s little doubt that he’ll live to shave another day.
Ahsoka also escapes the line of fire, but she’s pretty depressed about how many soldiers were lost – and there’s some impressive, expressive character animation here. I genuinely felt bad for Ahsoka, who looks like she’s doing everything in her power just to keep from crying. Anakin also has a nice moment, as he tries to console his Padawan while simultaneously instructing her in the ways of command. It’s a fine message, though I couldn’t get past the question of Why the hell did they give a fourteen year-old such a tough job? Anakin was nearly twenty when he got his first assignment, and that was just to protect a scantily-clad Senator. Is putting Ahsoka on the front lines, by herself, really the best strategy? When I was fourteen, I could barely remember my locker combination. And it didn’t help that Ahsoka was totally out of her league, having gone up against my favorite new Sep, Captain Mar Tuuk.
Here’s what’s different about Captain Tuuk: he’s a Neimoidian, yet he seems to possess a working brain. Put another way, this dude rocks. He’s intelligent, patient, and – get this – actually studies his enemies instead of letting them surprise him. (See: General Grievous.) Plus, I love how he had some sort of Patton/Rommel relationship going on with Anakin. I half-expected him to stand up and shout “Skywalker, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” According to the episode guide, the original script had Captain Tuuk getting killed off, but the producers liked him enough to keep him alive. Smart move!
Speaking of tactics, while it’s true that Ahsoka’s main strategy was taken from the EU (and I do hope that Tim Zahn got thanked in the credits… they were squished way too small for me to read), the rest of the episode clearly modeled itself on the OT. (This is a good thing.) The visual cues came fast and furious, and though I doubt I noticed every homage, I caught unmistakable references to:
- The Rebel hangar on Yavin.
- The escape pod jettison.
- Troopers running in the Death Star.
- Rebel pilots reporting in.
- “Prepare for ground assault.”
- The hologram disappearing as it’s hit by an asteroid.
- The A-wing colliding with the Star Destroyer bridge (very cool.)
Less cool was the lack of exposition. Maybe it’s me, but I never understood what exactly the Separatists were trying to accomplish. All we’re told is that the Confederacy is starving the citizens of Ryloth… with no explanation given for why anyone would commit such horrible, horrible cruelty against such sexy, sexy aliens. The StarWars.com webcomic indicates that it all started as an internal squabble between Separatist leaders (I think). Here’s hoping it was vague on purpose, and that their motives will be explained eventually.
The other problem with the episode was that, after washing out as a squad commander, Ahsoka is sidelined, while Anakin goes off on a Hazardous Solo Mission™. Everyone seems very concerned for his safety, but… c’mon. It’s Anakin, folks. As I said before, we know he’s gonna get out of it alive. (Though his plan, it must be said, is awfully cool). With that suspense thrown out the window, we’re left wondering about Ahsoka, and whether she’ll crack under pressure or redeem her earlier blunder. Guess which happens.
All in all, this was a very sober installment, especially considering the non-stop WTFery of the previous two episodes. Still, with a great new villain, a killer first act, and loads of stylish details, ‘Storm Over Ryloth’ is a solid intro into the final arc of the season.
Next week: Now entering… the Twi’lek Zone!