The Clone Wars review: ‘Liberty on Ryloth’

Non-Hayden Shattered Glass

Mace Windu is like the Christian Bale of Star Wars… he can do anything in the world except smile. Don’t get me wrong, it works for him. While Obi-Wan and Anakin seem to get their jollies by slicing and dicing through droid armies, Mace knows that just because you’re good at creating carnage doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. So it’s appropriate that his big spotlight turns out to be the most solemn episode yet.

Not that ‘Liberty on Ryloth’ doesn’t rock. Oh, rock it does. This episode has everything: EU references, dancing girls, TSA battle droids (who know the Miranda rights!), Wat Tambor’s shifty eyes, riding beasties, droid commandos, bomber droids, Twi’lek culture, Windu-on-window action. All that plus Orn Freakin’ Taa. There is a lot to love, the difference being that this time around, the action carries some serious weight.

Racin' Mace on AT-RT

Take, for example, Mace riding on an AT-RT. I found this image to be incredibly unnerving. It’s akin to the first time Yoda gave orders to the clonetroopers in Attack of the Clones – before clonetroopers became ubiquitous as good guys, seeing Yoda boss them around was downright disturbing. I had the same reaction watching Mace hop around on a walker, and again when a trooper refers to Twi’lek natives as “Rebels.” These are subtle yet chilling reminders of how the Jedi blindly helped create the Empire. Small details which carry a strong emotional undercurrent… I believe they call that good teevee.

Another dose of seriousness comes in the form of Cham Syndulla, a Twi’lek resistance fighter who is either very concerned for his people or very concerned about last night’s meal. Voiced by Robin Atkin Downes (who, if memory serves, played a similarly Messianic figure on Babylon 5), Cham is pretty much suspicious of all foreigners – Lou Dobbs with lekku, if you will. This allows Cham to espouse a neat little bit of political philosophizing, which I’m sure some folks are going to interpret as a polemic against the Iraq War. But as the story progresses, it becomes a much more idealized message about balancing independence with compromise, which is a nice change of pace from the deepening moral confusion of the Jedi.

Not serious enough? Just wait, I haven’t gotten to the firebombing yet. Yes, indeed, innocent people actually die in this episode. Until now, The Clone Wars has only dealt with the (usually vague) threat of mass casualties. Here, for the first time, we see the destructive price of a galactic civil war. Kudos to the show for really upping the stakes, and continuing to push the dramatic boundaries of a kiddie cartoon.

Bombing aftermath

Fittingly, the villains are also getting nastier, even to each other. Count Dooku, snarling his commands via hologram, is more menacing than we’ve seen in a long while. And though we still don’t understand why the Separatists invaded Ryloth, at least Dooku explains the cruel thinking behind their exit strategy. Meanwhile, poor Wat Tambor has to deal with an insubordinate tactical droid who’s so cold and calculating that it’s genuinely creepy. This dude is the executive assistant from hell.

So is there any fun to be had in this episode? As it turns out, quite a bit, especially in the action scenes. One particular sequence, featuring Mace Windu on a bridge, actually had me holding my breath and trying to remember that it’s just a cartoon. And at the risk of repeating my previous review, the sound design (or in this case, the absence of sound design) is nothing less than brilliant. Mark my words, come this fall, Cartoon Network’s gonna have a slew of Emmys coming its way.

Finally, I have to mention the pitch-perfect denouement. This mini-trilogy had plenty of heroes, from Jedi to clones to freedom fighters. But instead of those deserving folks, the episode ends on a shot of a jubilant Twi’lek child, keeping the focus on those caught in the crossfire. Serious, to be sure, but also undeniably touching.

Well, that’s a lot of praise for twenty-two minutes of cable animation. But y’know what? This show deserves it. ‘Liberty on Ryloth’ is as good as it gets, and I can’t imagine how they’re going to top it for next week’s season finale.

Grade: A

7 Replies to “The Clone Wars review: ‘Liberty on Ryloth’”

  1. Totally agree, Stooge. This was a remarkably strong episode and the ‘silent’ moment as Mace truly flowed with the force was a wonder to behold. Dave Filoni’s direction just goes from strength to strength on this show – and your review does it credit. Nicely done, old bean.

  2. i felt a little letdown in this episode – perhaps because they crammed a lot of plot into it – they could easily pulled this into two episodes: one with Mace and Cham Syndalla allying, and another with the assault on the city. Like you mentioned, this episode had everything (even the Ark of the Covenant), albeit in little slices – and like an all-you-can-eat buffet, you might end up not liking it after eating too much at once.

  3. A fitting end to the turmoil of war. You’re right, Stooge – too often the folks caught in the crossfire are forgotten. I really like the fact that the writers, etc. are pushing the boundaries for the animated series.
    Another outstanding review, Stooge. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  4. Hey when the Battle Droids are loading the plundered treasure on one of the ships, sure looks like the “Arc of the Covenant”.

  5. One thing that really stood out for me was the animated acting performances. The scenes between Mace and Syndulla, especially when Syndulla hears that the village had been bombed, are amazing.

  6. I just hope Cad Bane isn’t one of those characters who works as a promo, but not so much in an episode. Still, they’ve gotta have faith to make him the season finale.

    And I forgot about the Ark! Between that and the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, Lawrence Kasdan should ask for some residuals.

    BTW James, you and I should do a Siskel & Ebert-type show about TCW. We seem to disagree more often than not! :)

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