Yoda once told Luke Skywalker that you have to unlearn what you have learned. Certainly true in order to enjoy last week’s episode of The Clone Wars, ‘The Mandalore Plot’. Even knowing it was coming from Karen Traviss’ departure from the EU last summer, the modern history of the Mandalorian people took an abrupt revision. My first viewing of the episode left me focusing more on picking out what had been kept and tossed from previous continuity than on the actual story. But after letting it all go, I watched it again to see what was actually there.
“If you ignore the past, you jeopardize the future.” is the fortune cookie of the week – while it seems that Satine, the peace-seeking duchess of Mandalore might be doomed to future in danger, it might also be a warning to the show’s developers as well: How much of the past continuity can be paved over before an older generation of fans get frustrated and leave?
The story: The Council of Neutral Systems, which represent a sizable chunk of the Republic that has not joined in the war is led by Satine, the princess-y peace-seeking absolutely-no-name-reference-to-Ewan-McGregor’s-opposite-in-Moulin-Rouge leader of Mandalore, which now looks like a vast desert with a few mammoth cities dropped onto it. Taking Picasso to an extreme, the cube motif of Mandalore makes it look like a Borg unicomplex with some big skylights dropped in it to lighten the place up. All the warrior-types of Mandalore have been exiled to the less urbanized moon Concordia years ago, but a group of dissenters called Death Watch has sprung up, secretly supported by Dooku and causing trouble for Satine’s government. A rumor that Mandalore might switch from neutrality to join the Separatists and a armored Mandalorian attack on a Republic ship have brought General Obi-wan Kenobi to investigate, since he knows Satine personally.
Obi-wan shows up and learns that Mandalore banished all its warriors years ago – apparently he wasn’t ready for the continuity change either, and Satine, sitting in her light-up throne, is angry that the Senate has sent someone to snoop out her loyalties. After learning that the Jedi sent him, she softens and takes Obi-wan for a walk when a bomber blows up a nearby terrace (despite the destruction, it appears that no one is killed.) Obi-wan sniffs out the Death Watch terrorist, who kills himself after talking to Satine in Old Concordian. Some commercials for Legos and McDonalds ensue.
Ostensibly to return the terrorist’s body, Satine and Obi-wan go to the former mining moon Concordia, which is led by Governor Vizsla, voiced by Jon Favreau. While Satine stalls Vizsla, Obi-wan investigates a supposedly closed mining operation, and finds war production before losing his saber and getting captured by two Mandalorian commandos. Satine tries to answer both Vizsla’s questions regarding dining options and comlinks for help from Obi-wan simultaneously, but clearly she hasn’t watched enough Leverage to make it sound natural. She rides out to save Obi-wan and sneaks into the mine and saves the Jedi from an overly complicated plot device involving a slow-moving conveyor belt, smashing blocks, grinding gears, and a hard to find off switch. Once free, Obi-wan easily smacks down the two commandos.
Escaping to the surface, Obi-wan takes out another guard and gets into a firefight with more of the helmeted rocketmen while Satine hides behind a rock. The leader of the Mandalorians orders most of his forces to evacuate, leaving a few to accompany him to fight Obi-wan. After executing one of his soldiers for failing to take down the Jedi, the leader of Death Watch unveils himself to be Governor Vizsla, and gives Obi-wan back his lightsaber to start a duel with his own black ninja lightsaber. Very cool new lightsaber sounds. After some crazy Street Fighter aerial fighting, Obi-wan beats Vizsla, who apparently forgets to have himself executed for failing to kill a Jedi. Nope, he orders three guys to launch rockets at the Jedi, who escapes with Satine down the mine shaft. Back on Mandalore, Obi-wan and Satine are joined by Anakin and the clones and board a ship with some senators for Coruscant, a trip Satine is unwilling to take.
So, what went right with this episode?
- The black lightsaber is fanperson’s dream (and Robot Chicken sketch) come true. Vizsla even mentions that the weapon came down to him from his ancestors who took it from the Jedi Temple – subtle plug for the upcoming The Old Republic MMO?
- Obi-wan getting witty banter with a woman who clearly is at his level (or above). One of the best bits of dialogue, during their walk, regarded the role of peacekeepers – Obi-wan believes that the Jedi are needed at the front lines, while Satine believes that peacekeepers should be working to prevent war from happening in the first place. Their conversation is interrupted of course by the Death Watch bomb attack. Another fine line by Obi-wan is during their escape when faced with incoming commandos: “We’ll have to stand and fight. Or in your case, just stand.”
- Also, several of the native Mandalorians do sound and look a bit like our clones – a nice touch.
What went wrong with ‘The Mandalore Plot’?
- Satine and Obi-wan’s banter, while trying to be clever repartee, doesn’t quite work when Obi-wan is on his way to the rock crusher – while he is usually calm and dry about his need for help, you’d think that he’d actually be helpful to a would-be rescuer over the comm, instead of being lightly sarcastic. Maybe he’s too used to Anakin rescuing him – or he’s not in any real danger, but would prefer Satine to save him so that he can continue baiting her.
- Obi-wan shows some uneven fighting skills here – during his escape, the unarmed Jedi quickly knocks out the two Mandalorian commandos who had bested him before when he had his lightsaber. Maybe he was just tired before from the swoop ride. Putting Obi-wan into a slow-moving rock crusher? Would Mandos really try for the overly complicated easily escapable death scene when they have an incapacitated Jedi?
- The look of Mandalorians and their world – maybe Jango Fett really got kicked off Mandalore because he wasn’t blonde enough. Seriously, everyone on Mandalore looks like they stepped out of Mr. Incredible’s mold – or out of a Nazi eugenics experiment. A race of people who are apparently bomb-proof, though their buildings aren’t. While the cube-city motif of Mandalore was visually intriguing, they had a chance to develop a new culture here, and what do we get? Yet another planet devoted to peace, run by a royal title who talks stiffly and wears an elaborate headpiece. Imagine a cityscape not too dissimilar from Coruscant, and run by a woman, not too dissimilar from Padmé, and with hints of romantic tension with a Jedi. Next time, there might be a pacifist Countess for Mace Windu. The visuals are original and fresh, but the content’s been done before.
Even with suppressing all prior knowledge of Mandalorian culture, starting from the hints in the old Marvel comics and prequel era Dark Horse comics, through their history in the Knights of the Old Republic video games, and their full cultural fleshing-out through the novels and short stories, this episode just didn’t work for me. I really like Obi-wan centered episodes, but ‘The Mandalore Plot’ didn’t thicken. Hopefully the continuation of the Mandalorian story arc will improve – certainly there is a lot of potential with the larger story of the Separatists trying to get the Republic to occupy Mandalore so that its people will turn to support the Sep-allied Death Watch and a romantic relationship between the poor writer and the Parisian courtesan that parallels Anakin and Padmé.