The Clone Wars review: ‘Overlords’

“The longer we stay here, the stranger it gets,” says Ahsoka Tano in last week’s episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, ‘Overlords’. I think this applies to us as viewers as well as the show tackles one of the most important notions of Star Wars and takes it in a new direction, as well as bringing back some prequel characters (and their actors). And helping to show Anakin Skywalker’s slow slide toward the dark side, he confronts past guilt but in the end, chooses the path of selfishness.

What went right? Holy cow. While The Clone Wars has produced many fine episodes that continued to tell the continuing adventures of Anakin and Obi-wan and others, this one kicked it up a notch by adding to the mythology of Star Wars itself – what does the prophecy of the Chosen One bringing balance to the Force mean? The Overlords apparently believe that it applies directly to them – that balance in the Force is kept by the Chosen One through controlling the two aspects on the planet Mortis inside the Giant Space D8. (gets +2 against other Pythagorean solids and +4 against the Death Star). Is this what the Chosen One is supposed to do? Is Anakin not the Chosen One because he chooses not to take the job? Do the Jedi believe that this is what the prophecy meant? This poodoo just got serious.

My view is that the Overlords, while not getting it right, are at least a little bit closer on the path than the Jedi are about the role of the Chosen One. Father sees a need to keep light and dark, destruction and creation, in balance with each other, while the Jedi in the prequels seem to think that balance will be struck by defeating the growing menace of the Sith. My view of balance is the creating a clean slate, which in the end, is achieved by Anakin: eradicating the Jedi and their Order, then eradicating the Sith, and only leaving behind a Jedi son with little concept of the way things used to be. That’s my theory, so feel free to chime in with your own views.

Back to the visions. Anakin’s mother, Shmi was clearly established as being Son in disguise, but what about Qui-Gon Jinn and future Ahsoka? Was Qui-Gon really the ghost of Obi-wan’s old master manifested through the greater Force potentials of the Gigaoctahedron, or was he just a pulled from the unconscious mind of Obi-wan? It seems Obi-wan knew he was dealing with some sort of vision – not fully trusting it at first. If it was really Qui-Gon’s ghost, Obi-wan shouldn’t be too surprised when Yoda mentions talking to him at the end of Episode III. Future Ahsoka – she seemed more corporeal than Ol’ Glowy, but has she sprung from the mind of her current self, or is she a manifestation of Daughter or Son to help push the characters as pawns in their overlord games. My view is that both cave visions are unconscious expressions of the dreamer. While both expressed some new truths, I don’t think they revealed anything that the dreamers didn’t already know at some level. Ahsoka has chosen fierce loyalty to Anakin and possibly has seen his dark side but ignored it as something that she as a rebellious youth fancies and now her unconscious is letting her know that maybe it’s time to not ignore it anymore before he leads you astray. The Qui-Gon apparition serves a check to Obi-wan living up to the standards as the teacher of the Chosen One, and as being as good a teacher as Qui-Gon once was.

Ahsoka’s character is put in front of a mirror here, and we see the conflict within her. When she was first paired with Anakin, it was in an attempt to perhaps tame Anakin’s wild recklessness by making him responsible for someone as equally rebellious. But it hasn’t worked out quite right, and Ahsoka recognizes the contradictions – she’s fiercely loyal and trusting to her master, but at the same time constantly warning him not to trust others. And yet some part of her knows that Anakin is leading her off the regular Jedi path and that her wildness may become her undoing. Last summer, Ashley Eckstein hinted at some big changes in store for Ahsoka’s character, and now we are seeing her grow again. First it was seeing the shades of gray in the war on her trip to Padme’s opposite among the Separatists, and now realizing that her mentor is not the ideal that she aspires to grow up to be. And with the teasers for this week, it looks like she’s going to be headed for even more shocks.

Finally, in the homage department, the entire scene of the three Jedi in the cockpit of the shuttle as they lose contact with Rex, lose power, and get pulled into the D8 of Doom, reminded me so much of Luke and Han and Obi-wan in the Falcon cockpit as they escape from Tatooine and get pulled into the Death Star. I almost expected Anakin to slap away Ahsoka’s pointed finger, or hear a “What’s that flashing?” reference. Reminiscent without directly copying the scene. Well done.

Overlord overload? While the story brought us some more pieces of the puzzle to play with, in terms of the larger Star Wars mythology, a few things bugged me:

  • Makeup – in the scenes aboard the shuttle, Obi-wan’s cheeks appear a little ruddy. Is he wearing some kind of makeup? Some sort of Moulin Rouge?
  • The rockslide: Would Jedi, with the Force and lightsabers, really be separated by a large boulder in their path? Storywise it’s important to isolate Anakin, but they could have come up with a better reason for why they couldn’t just levitate or carve their way through. And speaking of rocks, during one shot, the camera pans around some of the levitating crags and we hear a “heavy rock sliding” sound – do rocks make sounds as they float in place? While going for cool, it didn’t make any sense to have the boulders rumbling in air.
  • The Overlords. I loved Father’s appearance – his style reminded me so much of the Sith Lords seen in their semi-Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Golden Age of the Sith comics. But Daughter – her human appearance screamed that she just fell out of a Japanese RPG video game cutscene, complete with that slight glowingness. Luckily we didn’t have to spend too much time staring at her bobbing giant green hairdo. Son – definitely fitting into some of those standard Sith destroyer type looks – I think he could have been more original. Their names kinda bugged me – while their main dynamic is as polar opposites caught in a cycle with each other (light/creator, dark/destroyer), their names don’t correspond to this dynamic, but to their relationship to their progenitor. Although as Sister and Brother, they’d be about as menacing as the Berenstein Bears.
  • Mortis – at first glance with floating rocks and lots of green ledges, it felt a little too much like a sunny video game world. I was waiting for someone to jump up and break rocks with their head to find a hidden mushroom. Fortunately, by nightfall and the storm and the cool glowing tree trunks, it moved away from that and got better. And having day turn to night through Anakin’s actions as he faced Apollo and Artemis really showed Anakin’s nature as well as his tapping into the planet’s Force energy.
  • Guilt – The theme of this episode revolves around Anakin releasing his guilt in order to achieve balance. In the arena test, father instructs the Chosen One to release his guilt to save one of his companions. What does that really mean? The real letting go of his guilt happened the night before, when he testified to his mother’s image about how he felt. His guilt was over the fact that he couldn’t save his mother, so perhaps this letting go of this failure was key to being able to save both Obi-wan and Ahsoka. But they could have made this clearer rather than him just using Mortis’ own Force to augment his power to bring the Overlord children to submit. In the end, the guilt might be released, but balance is not restored. Anakin is given a choice that will lead to more guilt: either abandon the galaxy and his wife to be the Chosen One of Mortis, or be forever haunted because he did not contain such a dangerous situation from potentially wrecking the galaxy.

Overall: All hail the Overlords! On its own, ‘Overlords’ has taken The Clone Wars to a trippy place – we’re no longer just dealing with a galaxy-wide war between the Republic and the Separatists, but, in a vein closer to some episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, we run into nearly omnipotent beings, who toy with the mortals, but also need the one who may be their own salvation. With Daughter as the force of creation and life (green symbolism) and Son as decay and destruction (and maybe a future home on one of Gotham’s buildings), what does that make Father? and is there a Mother in this picture? The overlords all seem to speak in two voices – and we do have another character this season who does that: Mother Talzin. Hmmm. Or is this more of a single dad thing? With trying to keep his kids from destroying the fabric of the cosmos, I bet he’s too busy to date.

We also got some tremendously big returns in the voice talent department – two alums from The Force Unleashed, Sam Witwer (“Starkiller”) and Adrienne Wilkinson (“Maris Brood”) are back to duel as Son and Daughter. And of course, the return of Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn and Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker. So cool that they could bring in the film actors to continue those roles, and a testament to the show’s status as part of the entire Star Wars saga. At first I was a little disappointed in Shmi’s animation – she seemed less old and wrinkly than when we last saw her, but then I felt that Anakin’s mental image of her would have been when he was still a lad in Mos Espa, and so her appearance fits.

In the end, ‘Overlords’ just broke so much ground in terms of going to play with the mythology, that I bet that this story and probably the rest of the arc will lead to more discussions and debates than any other storyline so far with the show. Anakin should be haunted by his actions here – it’s more proof that he is not the selfless Jedi he thinks he ought to be. While he is powerful enough to save his friends, he is not strong enough to give up his life to save the galaxy. Is his love for Padme the sole reason he turns down the job, or is it that the job frankly sucks compared to what he has – power, fame, friends, love, a fast starship, and plenty of chances to be the hero and kick butt. Of course everything I’ve poked and prodded at in this episode could turn out entirely different, based on the continuing story arc on Mortis – we got two more episodes to go! Artoo, we’re not on Dantooine anymore!

Final Grade: A-

Editor’s Note: Because the review was longer than normal, James’ usual summary of the episode was cut out to leave room for commentary. If you’re interested in James’ recap of the episode, please let us know and we may put it into another post.

10 Replies to “The Clone Wars review: ‘Overlords’”

  1. I liked this episode because it was so… different. Clone Wars is OK, but too often it just feels like generic Star Wars, with nothing to separate it from everything else. With this arc and the Nightsisters arc before it, it’s finally starting to feel like its own beast.

    Also, there’s been quite a bit of discussion on the SWRPG boards about how Overlords changes the nature of the Force. You see, people always say “oh, balance in the Force must mean a balance between the light side and the dark side”. And Lucas has always said that it doesn’t work like that, which people have never quite understood.

    But then when you actually watch the films, there is never any mention of a “light side”. There’s “the Force”, and then there’s it’s corrupted version, “the dark side”. Which means that eradicating the dark side would be creating balance.

    However, Overlords has introduced into, if not movie canon, then pseudo-movie, George-approved canon, the idea of balance having to be between light and dark. Is this now a complete turn around on what balance of the Force actually means? Is the idea of a light side something George has embraced? Has he changed his mind about what the prophecy actually was? Does this change the interpretation of Anakin’s actions in the films?

    Who knows? But it’s interesting to consider.

    (Also, I’m really glad you cut out the episode summary. I never used to read them anyway. This review was a much more enjoyable read for it.)

  2. I’m… waiting to see where this goes before making up my mind about the Prophecy business. At the moment, it feels… fitting, but a huge, huge retcon of what was heavily implied by the movies. Given Uncle George’s personal involvement and oversight in the series, I’m as confused as Josh above as to what this ultimately means for the mythology.

    Still, at least it makes the prequel Jedi a little less dumb by giving them a bigger, more mythologised meaning for it; neither the Council’s indifference nor Obi-Wan’s hysterical ranting about “destroying the Force” made any sense for me. Hey, the Jedi are a numerous and massively powerful order, the incumbent Force-sensitive power in the Galaxy for over a hundred generations, with the Sith believed extinct and other Dark Side users marginalised to irrelevance. Obviously ‘bringing balance’ means cementing that position forever! Uh…

    Other comments on the actual episode: agree with the notes above on the Daughter’s appearance and the weird non-resolution of Anakin’s guilt issues in the arena.

    The ending seemed a little unclear to me – we were apparently meant to understand Anakin’s refusal as selfish, that he wasn’t willing to give up his adventurous life for this apparent destiny; but in practice it read as Anakin being unconvinced by the Father’s appeal, and choosing instead to return to the ‘real world’ and continue fighting the war in which he’s heavily involved.

    Oh, and the visions in the cave: they certainly could be projections of the characters’ internal thoughts, and Qui-Gon could really be Qui-Gon. It seems odd that those visions would be fundamentally different from Anakin’s though, especially given that the scenes are intertwined and the episode doesn’t offer any other explanation for the visions in the cave while Anakin’s is explicitly the Son in disguise.

    My money’s on the Daughter being behind Ahsoka’s vision at least, but Qui-Gon… well, it could be the real deal and Obi-Wan’s ironically mistaken it for a trick (leading to a nice alternative reading of the end of RotS, where “…Qui-Gon!” could now be seen as understanding that his vision really was his former master). I’m wondering, though, whether it was meant to be the Father’s projection. The vision is all about Anakin’s role in maintaining the Balance (constrast Ahsoka’s warning against the Dark Side) and… it could just be my imagination, but I swear I can hear Liam Neeson’s distinctive intonation mixed in with the Father’s voice when Anakin confronts him. Not later, though.

    Waiting with bated breath for tonight’s continuation…

  3. Good comments!

    @Josh: definitely Clone Wars is becoming its own beast, and holding its own as part of the SW saga. another concept of balance besides light/dark is the concentration and consciousness of the Force. is it highly concentrated in the hands of a few strong wielders who are consciously shaping it, or is it more spread out among the billions of lifeforms who are influenced by it but not seeking to control it.

    @SDGlyph: Qui-Gon as Father’s projection? Hmm… it could be possible. While Son and Daughter can only transform to disguise themselves as physical beings, Qui-Gon is shown to be more on the noncorporeal side of things, which could be outside the realm of Son and Daughter’s abilities… but who knows, it could be part of Father’s abilities. But it seemed to me that the Overlords really only care about yanking Anakin’s chain, and not playing mind games with non-Chosen Ones. A planet strong in the Force might just cause Force visions to happen, much like the cave on Dagobah.

    A new idea regarding the Overlords’ concept of the Chosen One: what if their Chosen One is more than just being super-Force-powered… but is also not being fully Jedi. The Force wielders claim to be more than just Jedi or Sith, and Father might need his replacement to be more than just a regular Jedi or Sith. Could Yoda or Mace Windu or Obi-wan have saved two companions in the arena? Probably, if they were determined to do so. But they’d also be willing to sacrifice an ally if it was their wish (Obi-wan is willing to die to save Ahsoka) and they would be unlikely to bend Son and Daughter to obey their will and prostrate themselves. Being Father’s replacement might require the mindset that Anakin has – and that could be why he is their Chosen One – because he is not the Jedi that the others are.

  4. My friends were poking fun at the rockslide as well. “Come on! They’re Jedi—moving rocks aside is what they do.”

    I’m not sure how I felt about the extra mythology in this episode. It was a gorgeous one, though, and the voice actors were impressive (such good sports of Neeson and August to come back!). At this point, I feel overwhelmed with how much stuff keeping being added to explain what the Force is and how it relates to the prophecy about The Chosen One.

    Feels all a bit ridiculous and far-reaching, way beyond what was originally presented in the OT. I guess I’m just not interested in that side of Star Wars, but thought integrating Ahsoka’s future into everything that happened was very intriguing…

  5. Your critiques were right on. The mythological implications were pretty interesting… but the whole “guilt” theme didn’t work at all for me. At best, it was underdeveloped. (And Shmi did look weird, though I liked your justification for it.)

    As for Qui-Gon’s ghost, I thought it made a lot of sense in the overall continuity. Obi-Wan was a bit surprised when Yoda mentioned him in Episode III, but he also sorta seemed to know what Yoda what talking about. (I would have been much more, “Dude, what?”) This helps smooth that scene over.

  6. @Erika: Far-reaching and a perhaps a little ridiculous because it was so far-reaching. As one friend put it ‘fan fic’-y because it plays with such a thing only hinted at and takes it in a different direction that what we previously knew, and with a giant griffin and gargoyle, in magical world inside a giant space wedgie, to boot. But then again, the PT pushed the notions of the Force beyond what the OT had said (even without bringing up midichlorians) – the show would not live up to being Star Wars if it merely rode off of the existing work, instead of adding to the saga.

    @Stooge: Maybe if Sybok had been there to help Anakin release his pain ;). and you’re right about Obi-wan in Ep3: he’s not all that surprised when Yoda reveals he’s been talking to Qui-Gon. Like maybe ‘Whew, I’m not the only one talking to ghosts’

  7. Rebecca:

    Here’s my recap:

    An ancient Jedi distress call is received and Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-wan are sent off to investigate. They arrive at the rendezvous point but are unable to find Rex’s cruiser escort though they temporarily contact the clone captain, who assures them that he is at the right location. The Jedi shuttle conks out and reboots, and just as Anakin exclaims, “This is really strange,” we dive into the rabbit hole. That is, if the rabbit hole was a gigantic octahedron in space that pulls them into an opening crack of white light. Don’t go towards the light.

    They wake up with the dead shuttle parked in a nice green ledge. Hopping out they discover they’ve landed in Myst or Pandora or Marioworld (actually Mortis) with floating boulders and a magic green-haired princess who greets them , asking Anakin if he is the One. Deriding their hostess Daughter with “We thought the planet was strange – how ‘bout this one?”, Anakin nevertheless follows and the three set off on a cliffside path and marvel at the rapid seasonal cycles of this Force-heavy place. A rockslide separates Anakin and Daughter from the other two, and Daughter trudges off, telling Anakin to wait. Either she’s angry at her brother for the rock fall, or at Anakin for touching her. Obi-wan and Ahsoka return to their parking spot to find that their shuttle has been towed off. As night falls and the flora withers, they turn to find the red-eyed bad-ass, Son, mad at them for not waiting. Son forces their lit sabers into the off positions and warns them to take cover from the lethal storm, before turning into a megabat and flying off. Meanwhile, all-alone-Anakin spots a monastery on a nearby peak and heads for it. If I saw that giant building on top of a mountain, I’d think it was a tower or castle or Camelot or something, but to Anakin, it’s a monastery.

    One commercial break later, he’s charging into the monastery with dramatic music and sits at the foot of an old reposing man, who wakes up and promises to tell him the truth – tomorrow, but feel free to stay in our guest room. In the crystal-filled cavern, we get some tilted camerawork letting us know that things are going to get kooky, and Obi-wan wakes up to a ghostly vision of Qui-Gon. After revealing that the residents here believe Anakin is the Chosen One, Qui-Gon gets Obi-wan to relax and put away his saber and warns that if Anakin is the Chosen One, he will learn it here. And if he’s not, he’s going to need some help, since balance eludes him. In the monastery’s junior executive guest room, Anakin wakes up to find his mother in the flesh. This freaks him out just a bit, and he continues to back away from her until he finally releases his guilt at not saving her, and lashing out in vengeance at her killers. When he mentions that he is married, Shmi warns that love is a prison and that his wife is a poisoner. Realizing that the disguise no longer works, Shmi transforms into a beastie with Son’s features and disappears. Ahsoka also gets a visitor – her ghost is Christmas future… or at least, her future self, who warns her that her wildness is caused by her master’s taint of the dark side and that if she wants a future, she must leave Anakin.

    After his encounter, Anakin confronts Father in the hall, who awesomely extinguishes Anakin’s saber blade with his bare hand, and reveals that he is neither Sith nor Jedi, but a Force Wielder, and his role is to keep his nearly omnipotent children in check from destroying the universe by keeping them here in a sanctuary / prison, but has reached out when he heard that the Chosen One had been found. By this point, Anakin suggests that the One is a myth best left to the Wachowski brothers to explain, but Father says he’ll let the Jedi go after Anakin takes the test on the next day.

    Standing in the center of a giant taijitu (yin yang symbol), Anakin is given his test – he can release his guilt and choose to save one of his two companions: Obi-wan is held in the claws of Daughter, in the form of a white griffin, while Ahsoka is in the clutches of the gargoyle-shaped Son. Anakin, like Captain Kirk, chooses to not believe in the no-win scenario, and after Obi-wan hints to tap into the planet’s Force potential, the Chosen One opts out of the zugzwang and pulls both Daughter and Son off of his comrades. After slamming them into the walls of the arena, and then grabbing them again, he forces them to kneel before him. Pleased that Anakin was strong enough to save both his master and his apprentice, Father reveals his reasons to him alone: the old overlord is dying and the Chosen One is needed here to replace him in keeping the light and dark forces of his children safely in balance. Father gives Anakin the choice to take the job, but warns that if he leaves, his selfishness will haunt him. Not willing to give up his life as a Jedi hero and husband to become a jailer to two demigods, Anakin rejoins his comrades in the returned shuttle, and blasts off, with notes of the Imperial March lingering on the end of the scene.

  8. I just noticed this, but at 21:44, when Obi Wan says “Ready to get out of here?”
    Anakin, looks right, then looks at the audience/viewer, very quickly, as if to say, he KNOWS his destiny, and was either thinking about Father’s words, understanding the truth, hence the Dark Side theme that follows. Either way, he was winking to the audience, why else would he look straight into the camera? Pretty Cool

  9. thingy status? not sure what you mean here.
    They aren’t Jedi or Sith by philosophy, and Father seems to indicate that perhaps his powers are even beyond what the Jedi or Sith know in terms of using the Force. Perhaps it is a different kind of magic. Perhaps the best way to think of them is as magic or superpotent beings in a fantasy land, not bound by the regular understanding of how the galaxy far, far away works…

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