To mark the end of the fourth season of TCW, we organized a little email discussion to talk about what went right, what went wrong, and the unsinkable Darth Maul. Here is an abridged version of our discussion (edited for clarity and length):
Stooge: I can’t speak for James (though I think he’d agree), but one of the reasons I stopped reviewing The Clone Wars was that the quality skyrocketed this season. There are only so many ways to write This was an amazing episode because… Starting with the Umbara arc, I can’t think of one ep that wasn’t a solid A. But that’s just my take. What did you think of this season?
Bryan: For the most part I think you’re right about the quality of Season 4 skyrocketing. That’s why my reviews tend to drift to what film influences I see in the episodes. For a film nerd, this series has been a very gratifying experience. There’s the obvious influences, sure, but even when they’re not aping a specific plot there are touches to the episodes that any film buff can respect an admire.
Mark: Sure, the ‘influence of the week’ is as prevalent as ever, and it still feels like someone says ‘This episode’s our Kurosawa, this week’s our Leone’ episode, but that’s fine – the films have other great movies encoded into their DNA anyway. But season 4 has been an impressive venture as we’ve delved into the underworld even deeper.
Paula: I think this has been the strongest season yet in terms of both storytelling and animation. They have tried to tackle some interesting tales that both expand on existing lore and create new lore, with excellent new characters and great world building. It’s not to say that I enjoyed every episode this season. I definitely had my preferences. But I can definitely appreciate them all from a production and acting standpoint.
Nanci: I wasn’t as impressed by the episodes early in the season, but the second half was really strong. I like that they are using old characters from the films, and focusing on characters arcs instead of big battle sequences (Asajj Ventress, the Krell arc, Anakin dealing with slavery). My only complaint is that, many times, I wish the individual episodes would be longer so we’d get MORE. The season finale ended just when I was getting really excited to see more of Obi-Wan and Ventress. Also, I’d like to see more connections between the episodes, for example, seeing the fallout from the Krell arc.
Kyle (Rogue_Follower, TheForce.net Literature forum mod:) I would also second the opinion that we should have gotten more follow-through with Umbara and the Slave arc. Characters shouldn’t get amnesia when the credits roll. If the events of an episode have lasting effects, that makes that episode more important in retrospect. This season’s episodes were more interconnected than before, but they still have a ways to go.
Glenn: I agree with the consensus that this was the best season yet. Nanci sort of brought up what I consider to now be the biggest limitation on the series: the episode length. The short episode length and long episode arcs result in fewer stories being told and enormous gaps in story lines. Without an over-arcing theme to the series, this is a shortcoming.
jawajames: Overall, I would love to see some of the consequences of these stories played out – we really needed that after Season 3′s Mortis arc, and as others mentioned, after the events on Umbara. We’ve seen Obi-wan taken to a darker, less open place in his undercover story, and how that really rubs Anakin the wrong way on being left out. I’d also like to see some of the repercussions on slavery, on Ahsoka’s greater skills and dealing with attachment.
Paula: I would be curious to know if the parents thought the season was too mature for kids.
Nanci: Paula, I’d like to know that as well! I don’t have kids, but many times while watching I forgot this was a show primarily aimed at that audience – or is it any longer?
Mark: Nanci and Paula make great points, and I’d also love to know what Team Filoni think about that. There’s no doubt, the show hits a lot harder than it used to – this isn’t like The Simpsons, where the visual gags are for the kids and Homer jokes are for the adults. This is undoubtedly darker, which suits the increasingly dark times the stories are set in.
Kyle: TCW seasons have been progressively getting more “adult”. I rarely get the impression that the writers create these stories solely with kids in mind. But the quality is still inconsistent. You get complex moral questions in Umbara and the Slavers arc, but also goofy, aimless droid adventures and zany Gungan hijinks. There’s no thrilling poisoned tea conspiracy or harrowing cake ingredient procurement mission this season, but some stories definitely feel more “kiddy” than others.
Bryan: As a parent of an 8 and 9-year-old, I haven’t had any problems showing this to my kids. I don’t think we’ve seen anything on this show worse than what was in the movies and I think it’s talking down to kids to not give them some darkness.
Was it Guillermo Del Toro who said that children’s stories should have frightening things in them? I think it’s true. There’s nothing wrong with a little intensity for kids.
Stooge: I can’t remember a so-called kids show with such an insanely high body count. Characters get killed left and right on Clone Wars — and though I don’t mind as a viewer (hell, it makes it exciting), I have NOT been watching this along with my kids. (Granted, they’re a bit young.) The “fun” episodes used to be my favorites because they were the ones I’d show to my kids. Seeing Jar Jar kinda guaranteed that it’d be harmless and goofy. But not this year. The lone Gungan-centric episode had a super-creepy witchdoctor and offed one of its heroes. Good times!
Switching gears: What surprised you most about this season? (Did anything?) I was pleasantly shocked at how much I enjoyed the love story between Ahsoka and Lux. I loved everything about that episode — even the Mandos proved to be great villains! And the romance completely worked for me. It was subtle, believable, and ultimately pretty touching. Who knew The Clone Wars could pull that off?
Bryan: I think the most surprising thing for me this season was having Walter Murch direct an episode in the middle of an arc that was as dark and grim as one would expect of a man of his talent. But as far as the show goes, I was surprised by how far they’ve gone to use and abuse Obi-wan Kenobi. My favorite moment of Kenobi abuse? The middle of the Slavers arc. He’s captured, beaten into submission, thrown into the mines from Temple of Doom, and told that any use of force to aid his fellow prisoners would result in more prisoners being punished on his behalf. How does a Jedi deal with that? It was a fascinating moral quandary and I’m surprised by how challenging the sci-fi themes have become.
Paula: I think I was most surprised by how much they stayed away from the Jedi, this year. Even for all the Obi-Wan whump, it felt like things went much more peripheral. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. I want to see more about how the Jedi do and don’t do things that continue to make them vulnerable.
I was also surprised by how much I liked the Umbara arc. I’m normally bored by the battle stories. But I found it fascinating. As for Ventress? She didn’t get interesting to me until she was back on her own again.
Glenn: I think I have to agree with Paula here. Outside of ‘Crisis on Naboo,’ we barely saw any Jedi other than Obi-Wan, Anakin, or Ahsoka. Are none of the other Jedi leading any interesting missions? Since Ambush, have we had an episode where a Jedi was in the leading role and none of the big three made an appearance? (I’m not counting the supporting, non-fighting role of Shaak Ti in ‘Clone Cadets.’)
On the other hand, Dooku had a series high 12 appearances this season, but I don’t think we ever saw him speak with Sidious.
Kyle: Personally, I like the comparative lack of Jedi this season. Perhaps this comes from being a pre-PT fan, but I feel that Jedi should be used sparingly. When you throw lightsabers and Force powers around willy-nilly, they become pedestrian. Ordinary. Boring.
As for what surprised me this season, I was surprised at how much effort they put into developing Ventress. And the clones. Umbara was a very pleasant surprise, because that’s essentially what I had once imagined the series to be: clone-focused, in-the-trenches action.
Mark: What’s surprised me this year amongst other things is, like Kyle, how much I’ve enjoyed the lack of Jedi. Sure, it’s the Clone Wars, but there’s an assumption that because of that it needs to focus on the Jedi and their battles for the Republic. I think there’s a MUCH broader canvas to paint on here, as more than any other war this affected trillions of lives, of people who – like us – went to work to put food on the table for their families and loved ones. Not everyone in the GFFA is a Jedi, a Sith, a trooper or a member of the underworld.
jawajames: In general, moving away from the Jedi has made from some really great episodes. When we focus on characters whose fates aren’t known, it leads to a lot more open play with the stories that can be told with them. Would you have imagined that some of our favorite clones would have ended up in front of a firing squad? Or that Asajj would team up with Bossk?
Also, with multi-part episodes, there’s more opportunities to do small stuff – like when Cad, Morello, and Obi-wan went shopping, which lets you see a larger galaxy and not just hopping from battle to battle.
Nanci: Most surprising to me – how much I’ve continued to enjoy Ventress. I didn’t really like her until the Nightsisters arc of last year, and I continued to enjoy her this season.
Another surprise? That they haven’t even explained HOW Maul died. While I really liked those episodes, I wasn’t pleased by the lack of explanation.
Bryan: I think we got all the implied explanation we need. He was kept alive fueled by his hate and the Dark Side. He was swept up with the garbage and taken to the galactic landfill. What more do you need?
Nanci: I can suspend my disbelief a lot when it comes to Star Wars. (Zonoma Sekot, anyone?) But when a character is sliced in half (because Lucas wanted there to be no possibility of Maul coming back,) I would like a tiny bit more than what was implied. I could take “fueled by his hatred” if Maul was just left for dead or stabbed, or something of that nature. But sliced in half…I guess Zabraks don’t really NEED their lower halves? Heh.
jawajames: If Kenneth Branagh can survive without his lower half in Wild Wild West, Darth Maul can survive a bisection. The better question is how the heck did he get off Naboo? If Sidious didn’t rescue him/hide him from the Jedi, and his ship was captured by the Republic, then he managed to survive, get to safety, and eventually get off world without any help… Unless Mother Talzin…
Stooge: I’m with James on this one: it can all be explained with Magic! Clone Wars has been pretty heavy on the fantasy lately (Nightsisters, Mortis, Gungan voodoo), and the show in general has always been somewhat plagued by plotholes. (I mean, forget how he survived… Why did Maul keep Obi-Wan alive after capturing him? Obviously it was just for fun, ours as much as his.) My attitude is to just forget about these issues and enjoy the ride. The best SW has always been style over substance, anyway.
Kyle: I think we need more explanation than we’ve been given. Remember, the full “fell down a garbage chute” explanation isn’t in the episodes at all, except by tenuous implication. What we do have, “I was kept alive by my anger” alone, just doesn’t cut it. That’s right up there with how Padme “lost the will to live”. Which is to say, complete rubbish and lazy writing. The in-universe characters should want an explanation, even if the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief.
Mark: I agree, there’s not enough explanation as to how he physically survived. Then again, we never got a final explanation about the red energy shields that separated Ben, Qui-Gon and Maul, so perhaps something caught him mid-air after the camera cut away, so he could go and fuel his rage for 20 years. I’d say that’s a half-decent answer.
Glenn: There’s two parts to the question of survival: 1) Hitting the bottom of the reactor pit; 2) Surviving despite being cut in half. The first part can be explained by garbage chutes and whatnot. The second part is more troublesome. I was just reading in Apocalypse how Ben was lucky that a weapon missed his femoral artery because that would have been fatal. Maul gets his descending aorta transected. No amount of lightsaber cauterization is going to effectively heal that wound. You’d bleed out in minutes.
Stooge: Lightning Round #1! In two sentences or less… what was your favorite episode (not arc) of the season? My fave was ‘The Box.’ Great characterization, great visuals, and pure excitement from the word go — plus it gave Cad Bane the best line of the season!
Bryan: ‘Slaves of the Republic.’ I really loved the way this episode fit together across the board. It really was an Empire Strikes Back of an episode and really bowled me over. My first runner up would be the finale.
jawajames: I have to pick one? The entire season – one episode?
‘Shadow Warrior’ was awesome as a one-shot – it crammed so much awesome in without feeling crammed. Only real drawback was that it was a single episode and not an arc. Next picks would be ‘Massacre’ (technological terror vs the magics), ‘Carnage of Krell’ (Despite the cop-out that Krell was secretly a bad apple, there were some really big issues and tense emotional scenes here – on scale with Joss Whedon) and ‘A Friend in Need’ (Ahsoka getting in over her head, but kicking so much butt she didn’t have time to take names).
(Editor’s note: That’s four, James.)
Kyle: ‘Bounty:’ Asajj Ventress, Boba Fett, Bossk, and Dengar team up to fight alien ninjas on a hovertrain. A bit too predictable, but fun the whole way through.
Runner up: ‘Friends and Enemies,’ which felt a lot like an old school Star Wars adventure.
Mark: Favourite episode in two sentences (*activating non-babble mode*) would be, purely for the sheer craziness and fun of it, ‘The Box.’ Great concept (reminded me of the old Marvel stories), some bonkers action, Morallo Evall who is just brilliant, Rako Hardeen/Obi Wan being such a badass, Dooku coming over all Max Headroom on the big screens and that cool Cad Bane/Hardeen moment.
Glenn: I may have to go with ‘Friend in Need’ because it brought together some TCW characters we hadn’t seen for a while, featured some great action scenes, and furthered the forbidden romance between Lux and Ahsoka.
I think there were a lot of better episodes than that, but the darkness of those episodes makes it difficult for me to pick one of them as my favorite.
Nanci: ‘Crisis on Naboo’ – the final episode of the Rako Hardeen arc. I have a soft spot for Dark-ish Anakin and Palpatine being eeeeeeeeeevil.
Paula: I think I’d go with ‘Friends in Need.’ Good character story with a wee bit of moral questioning thrown in.
Stooge: Lightning Round #2! Who was your Clone Wars MVP for this season? It can anyone… character, voice actor, behind-the-scenes personality, etc.
Bryan: Walter Murch. That guy needs to do more Star Wars.
Mark: Stephen Stanton and Morallo Evall, most fun I’ve had watching a bad guy in ages and just a delicious voice to listen to.
Nanci: I’m going to say Dee Bradley Baker for the Umbara arc. Somehow I was able to tell every clone apart.
Paula: Again, I’m going to have to go with the animators. They’ve managed to keep the original style, but take it up several notches for some great world building and better character movement.
jawajames: I’m going to +1 on Nanci’s comments on Dee Bradley Baker.
Glenn: My MVP is whoever is responsible for the smoke effect that has been used throughout season 4, notably in the Umbara arc and “Brothers.”
Stooge: My vote is for Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was used (and abused) perfectly!
Okay, final Lightning Round: Moralo Eval — Hot or Not?
Paula: Honestly, I don’t get all that excited by the underworld characters. But if we’re going to have one, I think he’s pretty interesting.
jawajames: Moralo Eval – his name’s an anagram for Amoral Vole. I’m stickin’ with Cad Bane, and you should too, if you know what’s best for you.
Nanci: Moralo Eval is a nice addition. But he doesn’t have a cool hat.
Bryan: Nor does he have a cool bowtie.
jawajames: Fezzes are cool.
Kyle: I would be derelict of duty if I did not agree that Moralo Eval lacks a freakin’ sweet hat.
jawajames: K’Kruhk so needs to appear in TCW.
Mark: The hat point is well made (a good solid bowler would do for Morallo I think, one size too small.) He’s been a lot of fun, but Embo still takes some beating, hope they don’t reveal too much and spoil the mystery around him, like they did for Boba. They’re rapidly eroding any mystique around Fett to the point that pretty soon we’ll know his school report card, high school crush and favourite breakfast cereal.
Stooge: I really enjoyed what they’ve done with Boba Fett this season. Using him sparingly was brilliant (he was even just a cameo in one ep!), making him seem more like part of a larger galaxy instead of its bright, overexposed center.
And to answer my own question: Moralo Eval is HAWT.
Nanci: Moralo fans, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to the bedtime stories with Moralo Eval. They will haunt your nightmares.
(Editor’s note: I wanted to link the bedtime stories but the youtube vids are now private. Boo.)
As a bonus… here are jawajames’ thoughts on the back half of Season 4!
‘Escape from Kadavo’ (final act of the slaves of Zygerria arc) — while Obi-Wan’s part in the story was right on, I think they could have played up Anakin’s role a bit more.
‘A Friend in Need’ – Ahsoka and Lux vs. Mandalorians – this was a great story, and as we mentioned about moving away from the kid-friendliness of the show, the scene where Ahsoka decapitates four Mandos in one swipe (while freeing herself) and then manages to hold her own in battle against a dark so that her team can escape – that’s pretty much passing Jedi trials, right? I almost wish they saved this episode for in between Obi-wan undercover and the final block, just to balance out character screen time.
‘Deception’ – Faking Obi-Wan’s death
‘Friends and Enemies’ – Rako, Morello, and Cad on the run
‘The Box’ – What’s in the box? you could have had red snapper!
‘Crisis on Naboo’ – This was their plan?
I liked the concept of this story arc, and enjoyed the first two parts a lot (Obi-wan taking on the role and being on the lam with Cad Bane and Morello). ‘The Box’ was a cool concept (see also: The Cube), but as a way to weed out bounty hunters, it seemed more random test chamber – considering that Cad Bane offs someone for having a cooler hat before the test, why not simply eliminate the easy kills at the beginning of the test? I didn’t quite get why they all decided to work as a team in the funhouse if they knew that only the best five would be picked. I did like Dooku switching his mind and picking Cad Bane as the leader. ‘Crisis on Naboo’ – quite a bit of neck snapping in the beginning as they infiltrate… And their whole plan is to kidnap the chancellor? Not sure what that would accomplish towards winning the war? Would the Republic surrender because they’ve taken the king? Is it checkmate? (Then again, when the Empire falls after Palpatine is taken out, perhaps it is like chess). If this was Dooku’s plot, it’s bad. but if it is Palpatine’s plot to drive a wedge between obi-wan and Anakin, there’s a lot of personal risk there, like one of the bounty hunters just deciding that dead is easier than alive when kidnapping.
‘Massacre’ – Zombies and voodoo vs grievous. Asajj gains a family, then loses them.
‘Bounty’ – The Train Job. ninjas. Asajj double crosses Boba to restore someone to their family.
‘Brothers’ – O Brother where art thou?
‘Revenge’ – Note to Obi-wan: Maul is a kick in the pants!
Wow. Zombies. Maul as Shelob. Maul with shiny Grievous legs. I really want to know what Mother Talzin’s agenda is – does she want to be a player in the galaxy and is using Savage and Asajj (and thus now Maul) for her own game? Does she what to eliminate the Sith as rivals? Anyway, Asajj gets a chance to be her own character and consider her options for life, and apparently take care of her former co-conspirator. And why save Obi-Wan? Perhaps she feels that she is the one who deserves to kill him (or beat him in even more Obi-Wan torture porn episodes)? Or more likely she realizes that her best chance of beating savage is to have the Jedi on her team. I got some chills when she handed Obi-Wan one of her sabers – while the fortune cookies of the episode first applies to Obi-wan (enemy of my enemy is my friend) – it also can be seen from her point of view… and as we left the season, Maul and Savage still have one of her sabers aboard their ship, and she might want that back.
See you in Season 5, folks!