Love… exciting and new… or in the case of Obi-Wan Kenobi, repressed and a little scary. The latest Clone Wars may have been pitched as Titanic in space, but it plays out a bit more like an episode of The Love Boat. Old flames reignite, different plotlines intersect, and romance is simply assumed. All that, plus a Special Guest Appearance by R2-D2 – right after these messages.
Let’s start with Obi-Wan, our leading man, who is now charged with protecting the Duchess. The two of them argue and bicker and scowl, so conventions dictate that they must secretly be in love. Anakin, that scoundrel, immediately presumes that his Master was once “close to her.” (Innuendo? I’m not sure!) On paper, this all makes perfect sense. Anakin is all about the forbidden fruit, so he’d naturally notice Obi-Wan’s private heartache… right? Maybe. But as written for the screen, it all comes across as forced and bizarre. Anakin picks up on clues that simply aren’t there, and the dialogue between Obi-Wan and the Duchess is laced with more spite than sexual tension. Say what you will about Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, but at least they looked all hot and bothered. Obi-Wan and Satine appear to truly, genuinely hate each other’s guts. If this is how Clone Wars characters flirt, then Yoda and Dooku should be going steady by now.
Meanwhile, below decks, Anakin investigates The Case of the Mysterious Open Box. Yes, a giant crate was found opened, and there’s a mysterious metal killer on the loose, etcetera etcetera. It’s stylishly done, but feels like déjà vu all over again. Stalking robots, low lighting, Clone Troopers getting picked off one by one – these elements have become this show’s bread and butter. Then again, maybe the problem is me. The assassin probe (the presumed love child of an assassin droid and a probot, bow chicka bow wow) is modeled on a spider, and weird as this sounds, I’ve always loved arachnids. Centipedes scare the living crap out of me, but I can play with spiders all day and night. So a droid based on a spider seemed, I dunno, kinda cuddly. (As I said… maybe it’s me.)
At least the assassin probes have a purpose (kill the Duchess!), which is more than can be said for poor R2-D2. I’m not sure what he was doing in this episode other than reminding the audience that he’s a major player in a certain franchise called “Star Wars.” Which is fine when he’s useful, or resourceful, or at least played for laughs. Here, R2 is told to scan for baddies, after which the baddies promptly appear and do bad baddie acts of badness. Then R2 is told, once again, to continue to scan the area. And once again, more evil droids pop out of the shadows. Good to have you aboard, little buddy!
The episode does improve in its third act, where Captain Rex has his most badass combat move yet, and there’s a funny twist on the love story between Obi-Wan and the Duchess. (I know her name is Satine, but calling her “the Duchess” makes her sound like a character out of a Marx Brothers movie.) Still, the main villain is pretty dull – he even looks like a stock character – and I’m not sure what’s going on with the accents. The Duchess and her entourage, representing the new guard, all have a quasi-British inflection, while the Madalorian traditionalists speak like they’re from Cincinnati. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Either way, I’m just going to come out and say it: Jon Favreau is completely miscast as renegade ringleader Pre Vizsla. Great director, good actor, but he’s too nice a guy. There’s not a menacing bone in his body, and it comes across in his voice.
And then we get to the ending, which I know some folks loved, but for my money (cable bill, whatev), it felt like a cheat. The peacenik ideals of the Duchess are effectively challenged, but the conflict is resolved without her having to make a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that the show is willing to tackle “grown-up” topics, but this question of wartime pacifism seems to come up in every other episode. And honestly, there are only so many times it can be raised before the audience starts itching for an answer. That’s where I am now. It’s time to take a stand, Clone Wars.