Did you notice that I added an exclamation point to the title? That’s because ‘The Zillo Beast,’ while not perfect, is easy to get excited about. It’s the first Clone Wars episode that I seriously wished I could see in a movie theater – and that’s including the theatrical pilot. This is impressive, exciting, big-screen material, and if I was looking to get quoted, I’d call it “Monstrously Entertaining,” or “The Beast is Best,” or perhaps “A Smashingly Good Time!” Thankfully, I’m above some trivialities.
Obviously, the titular Beast (let’s call him Zillo) has a lot to do with what went right. He’s very much in the mold of movie monsters past, especially in regards to his bomb-induced awakening. His design, though, is something new. Zillo looks loose, wiry, and definitely not in the bulky man-in-suit vein. But don’t let that thin frame fool you – it can still do major damage, and watching Zillo’s feet crush some fleeing Dugs is, at the risk of sounding crass, a ton of fun.
I also like the way the Zillo matched the physiology of the other Malastare creatures, especially those long-limbed steeds (“insectomorphs,” apparently) that the Dugs rode into battle. It’s a subtle detail, but by associating Zillo with the planet’s ecology, it becomes a much more sympathetic character. Of course, it helps that the Dugs are so hilariously unsympathetic – they pay lip service to Malastare’s environment, but they’re more than happy to exploit their natural resources for money, political gain, and (I hope) toenail clippers. And when the Dug leader asks Mace Windu, “We’re innocent life-forms too, are we not?” he follows it with a smug laugh, totally amused that he was able to twist the Jedi’s philosophy to suit his needs. Where’s your Force Messiah now?
Speaking of which, this episode had one of the best “conflicted Jedi” stories yet. Zillo not only represents the ravages of war on the environment, but also how it can turn innocent victims into dangerous combatants. Mace Windu, whose only fear is happiness, works well as the one guy on the planet troubled by the galactic war machine. And though Anakin comes up with a compromise to save the day, we see him doing it in the service of the Chancellor, instead of Zillo. Kudos to the writers, who find a way for Anakin to seem slimy while acting heroic, keeping him perfectly in character the entire time.
And y’know who else stays in character? R2-D2! I’ve complained in the past about The Clone Wars not knowing what to do with our favorite astromech, but he’s well-utilized here, exhibiting both bravery and a real camaraderie with Anakin. Plus, he’s not just thrown in for the hell of it – R2’s presence in the action sequences is totally organic, as well as downright cool. The other robits, as Dr. Zoidberg might call them, also get a chance to shine. The battle droids are at their non-comical best, and their mass march in formation is almost as menacing as the kamikaze vulture droids. I don’t know about you, but I can never have enough kamikaze vulture droids.
I wasn’t quite so thrilled with Dr. Boll (no, not this Dr. Ball), but this may be a case of me expecting too much. I wasn’t hoping for a mad scientist, per se… we had plenty of that last season… but I wouldn’t have minded someone a bit more evil. Evil scientists are fun! Vul Isen set a high standard for these characters, I suppose. Still, I think Dr. Boll appears in the next episode, so maybe she’ll show some personality after all.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how amazing the visuals are in this episode. The camera angles, the aerial combat sequences, the “electro-proton bomb” – every frame is simply gorgeous to look at, with plenty of movie references dropped in for us old-school fans. And then there’s Zillo. The shots of Zillo were stunning, and reminded me of all those majestic Prequel Trilogy monsters (and say what you will about the PT, its monsters were top-notch). I’m happy that we’ll see more of the beast, and I was completely surprised by the pitch-perfect cliffhanger ending. The monster is heading to Coruscant! I can’t think of any place worse for Zillo, nor any place better for our entertainment.