First, a bit of housekeeping: in the past, I’ve tried to keep these reviews mostly spoiler-free, so that a positive review might encourage new viewers to hop aboard. But let’s face it… we’re in the fourth season already. Either you’re watching the show or you’re not. And certain episodes – like, say, this one – are such mixed bags that the only way to properly discuss them is by tackling the major plot points. So, here we go. Spoilers abound.
‘Prisoners’ begins with the fortune cookie telling us that “Crowns are inherited, kingdoms are earned.” Everyone can relate to that, right? And then we get the newsreel, which recaps events I kinda wish we had seen in previous eps. In particular, the assassination of the Mon Calamari king would have been a cool way to kick off the season, especially if the king then floated to the top of the ocean a la my old pet goldfish. This trend continues when Prince Lee-Char informs us that Riff Tamson was behind the assassination. Whatever happened to the “show don’t tell” rule of screenwriting? I understand that every episode requires some exposition, but this backstory wasn’t crucial to the plot, and it just slowed the first half down.
But I’ll say this for the writing: ‘Prisoners’ probably has more solid one-liners than any previous Clone Wars episode. Anakin’s line that getting captured “must be part of our plan” was perfectly timed, and perfectly in-character. And Kit Fisto’s calm remark about the Jedi holding cells – “Ahh, eels. Very dangerous” – reminded me of Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the best possible way. Unfortunately, some of the non-comedic lines, especially the ones delivered by Prince Lee-Char, fell very flat. He’s given some weighty dialogue (“Steady your blade, my friend”), but the actor playing him sounds like a generic Disney Channel teenybopper. I get that he’s supposed to be young, but his voice makes him about as unthreatening as possible. This is actually a complaint I have about a lot of current action cartoons – the main characters always sound like wimps. Not to get too nostalgic, but back in the ’80s, cartoon heroes sounded liked men. (Or Jem, who was truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous.) I mean, He-Man was about as sexless as they come, but he had one hell of a commanding voice. Or compare the Lion-O from thirty years ago to Lion-O in today’s Thundercats. They freaking neutered that kitty.
Anyway. My point is that to pull off the role of Prince Lee-Char, they needed someone who could convey both inexperience and gravitas… and I don’t think they found him. On a more positive note, they sure cast the right guy to play Riff Tamson. He has a deep, sinister voice, even without the (awesome) roar added by the LFL sound effects wizards. And the voice perfectly matches his personality, which is everything a villain should be: smart, tough as nails, and vicious, vicious, vicious. When Riff threatens Padme’s life by ever-so-slightly cracking her helmet, it’s both menacing and believable. Also believable was the solution to Padme’s imminent drowning – or should I say, both solutions. The Force bubble was brilliant, and Jar Jar’s, um, sealant was even better. The whole sequence was exciting, genuinely scary, and showcased all the characters really well.
In truth, most of the characters got a chance to shine in ‘Prisoners,’ including – at long last – Ackbar. I thought he was wasted in the previous two episodes, but he’s positively badass in the final battle. And though I’m not a huge fan of those “epic” Clone Wars combat scenes (I prefer the character moments), I’ve got to admit that the final battle was quite a sight. They pretty much dropped the slow-mo underwater effect (which I thought was very cool) and made the battle very fast and very BIG. There was so much going on that I’m fairly sure I missed some of it. Thankfully, though, Riff Tamson’s showdown was played very intimate and, rather suddenly, somehow morphed into a full-on imitation of Jaws. (Complete with bloody shark corpse!) Maybe it seems obvious in retrospect, but the homage caught me totally off-guard, and I loved it.
Alas, the overall plot – the Quarren joining their undersea brethren to fight off the Separatists – was hardly a surprise. Hell, it was telegraphed from the very beginning of the season opener, so getting there felt belabored. In addition, the Quarren side of this conflict was never fully explained. Why should they be okay with a Mon Calamari sovereign? If I was them, I’d also try to upset the balance of power. But ‘Prisoners’ doesn’t even approach that topic. Instead the Quarrens simply submit to Lee-Char who – as was made perfectly clear – did nothing to deserve their loyalty other than being born into the right family. And, oh yeah, isn’t democracy one of the main themes of PT-era Star Wars? Why is the reinstatement of a hereditary monarchy considered a happy ending?
But when I think about ‘Prisoners,’ I think about cages made of electric eels. I think about Ackbar knocking the crap out of a battle droid. I think about that awesome love letter to Jaws. I think about all the fantastic moments, moments that make the episode’s failings seem small and insignificant. Call me a sucker, but in this case at least, coolness wins the day.
- “Riff” is a great name. It plays off the rift he causes between the Mon Cal and the Quarren, plus he’s a riff on the title characters from Jaws. Nicely done, whoever named him.
- Count Dooku gets some amazing close-ups in this episode. He sticks his holographic face right in front of the camera, so to speak. It made for a very powerful little cameo. (Is it me, or does this show always always do right by Dooku? He’s got to be right at the top of the list of characters who have really benefited from being animated.)
- Ahsoka spends most of the episode trying to hide, yet she never turns off those bright lights in and on her helmet. Get a clue, young Padawan.
- I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the “sonar” sound effect on those underwater battle droids never ceases to amuse me.
- Quarrens have ink! I was seriously waiting the whole episode to see if they’d squirt it, and hot damn, those squidface didn’t disappoint.
- The royal Mon Calamari crown has got to be the silliest looking thing I’ve ever seen.