“It’s a big universe out there beyond the few million planets you know,” Padmé tells Threepio at the start of ‘Nomad Droids’, last week’s episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And we got treated to a few of those strange new worlds as R2-D2 and C-3PO take an unintentional detour from the war. Although it feels like they passed through more of a bookshelf of classic children’s literature, only with some odd comments on politics thrown in.
What happened on ‘Nomad Droids’: C-3PO and R2-D2 have a series of wacky misadventures after they evacuate from their Republic cruiser under attack. They affect regime change for some Lilliputians on one planet, pull back the curtain on the Wizard on another, and end up on a pirate version of Battlebots before getting nearly melted down aboard a Separatist cruiser, when they are happily re-united with Commander Wolffe. Oh yeah, Adi Gallia loses her ship and gets captured but then later gets rescued.
Analysis on ‘Droids’: This episode was clearly meant as a throwback to the 80s Droids cartoons from Nelvana, where Artoo and Threepio would end up journeying along from one misfortune to another. The final bits where they escape from the dueling pit aboard the pirate ship (at least these robotic gladiators aren’t being controlled by Hugh Jackman), only to be sentenced to incineration aboard the Sep ship just highlight that ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ sensation that this odd couple frequently had back in the day. Does it fit in The Clone Wars? Not really – the overall war saga isn’t advanced, and even the other characters don’t seem to be impacted at all by the safe return of the droids to the Republic (well, except at Wolffe’s expense.) But sometimes the show can take light forays, and this episode thankfully makes up for the so-so Threepio and Artoo adventure from the previous week, ‘Mercy Mission’. Why is it better? It doesn’t try to bog us down – Laurel and Hardy get into a tight jam, get out, and move onto the next situation, while sometimes remaining oblivious to what is going on around them.
The opening scenes, with Grievous boarding Adi Gallia’s ship, play off of the opening scenes of A New Hope: a ship with firefights in the hallways, and Artoo and Threepio pass through the gunfire to find their way off the ship, although instead of an escape pod, Artoo cons Threepio into a Y-Wing, and then deftly flies it through the space battle before crashing landing (Dagobah style cockpit views) on the planet of Les Petits (actually, the Patitites). If the next race of small people is named “Pequeños” or “Keeblerians” or make some reference to The Littles, but I digress.
Anyway, there’s some interesting political commentary to go along with this particular adventure. Want to explain the current war in Iraq to kids? If you want, you can even stretch the analogy so that the Y-wing to be repaired is oil wealth. Granted, the Patitites genuinely greet the droids as liberators when Threepio accidentally squashes the dictator Great Hay-Zu with Artoo, and they want Threepio to lead them. While recognizing that he could be a leader, Threepio realizes that staying is not a good idea, and so tries to institute some democracy to a people who didn’t have it before, and leaves quickly with a ‘good luck’ and a wash of the Y-wing’s engines as the Patitites start pushing and shoving for political power. Next time, tell them about how to vote. So what’s the lesson here? Setting up a government is a lot more challenging that toppling one. Although Threepio brandishing the twigs as if there were a cudgel and announcing that Artoo knew 47 schools of self-defense (to which Artoo pops open with a “going to shank you with a shiv” stance) was pretty funny. As was the high-pitched music of the fanfare proclaiming the arrival of Hay-Zu. And Artoo walking around for a good chunk of the episode with a big green glob on his front in the outline of the late Hay-Zu.
There’s also some interesting political dynamics on Balnab: this time Artoo exposes the leadership of Balnab to be nothing but a group of pit droids using smoke and mirrors (or in reality, holograms and lightning weapons) to subjugate a bunch of dumb hicks. Once exposed, the Balnab go on a mad spree, the pit droids are gunned down, and their entire shipwreck explodes, likely destroying the Balnab village as well. But the droids walk away, their second regime change this week done. Pit droids aren’t that smart to begin with, so seeing them as conniving overlords is a bit comical, but shows that the Balnab denizens are pretty darn stupid. The leader of the pit droids gets in a good line with, “If you want to order someone around, get your own organics.” This neatly reverses the situation seen in so much of the rest of the galaxy: droids ruling organic life forms instead of the other way round, challenging the viewer’s notion of what is fair. While watching Artoo and the lead pit droid fight behind the curtain for the control of the Emerald City, I wonder where this story would have gone if the pit droid had tried to cut a deal with Artoo. Would Artoo see the injustice of droids serving organics as they see the injustice of organics serving these pit droids? Or maybe Artoo is just an anarchist or someone who just doesn’t like punishing authority figures. But as with most of the droids adventures, Artoo’s pluckiness saves the day (in comparison to Threepio’s lucky klutziness with the Patitites). The political lesson here: Ruling by fear is a lot easier when the ruled don’t know where you live. Or perhaps, more in general: you cannot maintain a rule by fear, because some day you’re going to run into droids luckier than you.
And the Pirates of the Weequay-bean: The Weequay pirates sounded well, like pirates. I almost expected an “arrrrr” somewhere. And they are apparently strong enough to pick up and carry the droids – something tells me that Artoo wasn’t designed for one person to lift easily. I did like the sounds of the K0-5D pit fighter – reminiscent of the RA-7 droid speech from inside the sandcrawler in ANH, plus the clacking of the rotating fingers. Not bad for an upgraded ASP droid. Unfortunately, throwing Threepio and Artoo into a fight to the death has been done before, and pulled off way more awesomely in the LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace cartoon. And a hull breach to save them? A little too lucky perhaps. There’s luck and there’s deus ex machina. Pirating lesson: Even when frolicking with a good old-fashioned rock’em sock’em robot, always have someone in the crow’s nest watching for a sail on the horizon.
Having an epic duel going on between Grievous and Adi Gallia is pretty awesome as a background scene while the droids are busy focused on their own escape, and her story with Grievous goes apparently full circle as she later is seen as a captive on his bridge, then she escapes when Plo Koon and Wolffe lead the rescue effort. It’s like seeing Leia from when she gives Artoo the escape plans until she is re-united with them on the Falcon as they escape the Death Star.
Where ‘Nomad’ has gone before: A couple nitpicks with the episode:
- The narrator called their previous adventure “beyond their comprehension” – I really hope not, and yet Threepio tells Padmé that he didn’t get what was going on, despite having solved the problem and saved the day for the grateful Aleena, while Wolffe remained unaware.
- Continuity glitch in the incinerator conveyor belt – as the first RA-7 panics and turns away from the fiery death, it turns and the second droid in line, another bipedal droid ducks or falls out of the way completely, revealing a power droid. In the next shot, the second bipedal droid is magically standing up again.
- Speaking of the incinerator: just seems wasteful to melt down droids as war material scrap – wouldn’t it be better to recycle them part by part, or first perhaps search their memory banks? A functioning droid has to be worth more than the value of its pieces. Although it might be more space efficient aboard ships to just melt down all slag for basic raw materials than try to maximize reclamation of different materials or components. At any rate, it is definitely a fear-inspiring scene for the droids – total annihilation, while alive – and the fact that it is administered by droids themselves almost a spark of sadism there.
- Mrs. Jawa, well versed in biology and evolution, points out the implausibility of such a small race as the Patitites having brains large enough for sentience. My response: It’s Star Wars, earth logic does not apply – maybe cells on that planet are just smaller in general. :P
- Does every race on backwater planets carry droid-zapping weaponry? Apparently so. And yet does the Republic carry it into battle against their droid enemies? Nope.
Overall: So much of a Threepio and Artoo adventure is in the banter between the dynamic duo. Some of my favorite bits of Threepio dialogue: “I have nothing to do BUT read gauges… why, what do the gauges say?” and “Being silent is one of my specialties.” Like other great comic pairs, they may irritate each other, but in the end as things look their most grim when their power cells are depleting, Threepio won’t leave his buddy’s side (or as the goldenrod of a different comedy duo would call his rotund non-speaking pal: “hetero life partner”). This episode would fit well in the Droids stories, but does again I ask – does it fit in The Clone Wars? We’ve had other droid-centered episodes before, such as ‘Evil Plans’ in the third season, which fits into the overall storyline of the show a bit more with their run-in with Cad Bane. Even though this episode follows the previous week’s ‘Mercy Mission’, this was more a one-off side adventure – the things that happen to the droids when no one else is around. While in ‘Mercy Mission’ they had a specific act of heroism to perform, and it came out meh, droid adventures come out better when their goal is just like Dorothy’s or Gulliver’s or Odysseus’ – just to find a way home and out of the chaotic excitement. And that works for The Clone Wars. The story style, of having several vignettes of incredible and somewhat silly situations also works. Lots of cool things and wacky hijinx, but also some odd political subtexts.