‘Shadow Warrior’ is a fantastic episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars – while only a half hour long, the story covered so much ground, and really captured the feel of Star Wars. It makes me wish that this storyline was spread out across two episodes, with the first half of the story (the Gungan plot) separate from the capture of Anakin and the prisoner exchange.
’Shadow Warrior’ summed up: Rumors that the Gungans plan to attack Theed jointly with the Separatists bring Padmé and Anakin to Otoh Gunga. Recognizing that Boss Lyonie has been mind controlled by Minister Rish Loo, they break Loo’s magical hold, but Lyonie is seriously wounded. Because of their physical similarities, Jar Jar is persuaded to impersonate Lyonie and cancels the attack and implicates Loo in manipulating him. Loo escapes, with Anakin giving chase. When the Separatists arrive, Jar Jar continues the ruse to stall Grievous. After Grievous pieces it together, he gets ambushed by the Gungan army, and is captured, but General Tarpals is killed. Using Loo to lure Anakin into a trap, Dooku kills his Gungan accomplice and uses a squad of Magnaguard droids to capture the Jedi. In the end, Padmé agrees to trade General Grievous for her beau, and the Gungans and Naboo reaffirm their friendship.
Gungans FTW! The Gungans pwn the Jedi-slaying Grievous. Wow. Sadly, many people’s perceptions of the Gungans were based mostly on Jar Jar’s character in The Phantom Menace and while Jar Jar has gone from outcast to senator, he’s still a bit of a clumsy not-too-bright fellow (who is even luckier than Han Solo). But the Gungans as a whole, while they talk in a pidgin Basic, they aren’t simple swamp-dwelling primitives – they have some of the best technology in the galaxy, and here they put it to use to smack Grievous up. Of course it helps that their droid-busting weaponry works wonderfully against a cyborg. And they also have a tradition of magic, as well. I’d like to know more about that! Gungan magic users brings back some memories of the old Ewoks cartoons with Teebo learning from Logray. Back to Gungan tech – why hasn’t the Republic sought out Gungan energy balls for use on the battlefields EVERYWHERE? And now we know they short out lightsabers, too. The Gungans here were awesomely defined – some smooth acrobatic moves as they close in on Grievous, contrasting to the stiff dominoes of his deactivated battle droids. And what’s this: a patrol of Gungans riding kaadus underwater in an establishing shot – beautifully animated. We still need some fish, though (but we do see/hear some of Naboo’s creatures among the grasses as Anakin and Padmé land near the lake.)
Alas for General Tarpals: While I knew his death was likely (thanks a lot generic season 4 teaser inserted into the season premiere!), it was still a shock. And Grievous got a shock out of it too, right in the ticker. A movie character gets whacked, but his noble sacrifice means the capture of Grievous. Unfortunately, his death is made a bit meaningless by the end of the episode, as Grievous is traded by the Naboo for an unconscious Jedi and his lightsaber. As in The Phantom Menace, the Gungans take the brunt of the casualties as part of following Padmé’s orders. This was one of my gripes with the story – while Tarpals’ sacrifice allows Grievous to be captured, he gets released five minutes later. While Jar Jar and Boss Lyonie agreed that Anakin needed to be rescued, I wonder how the regular Gungan on the street felt about the prisoner swap that allowed Tarpals’ killer to go free to continue the war. If this episode had been broken into two parts, the exchange could have still happened, but Tarpals’ death would have had more meaning. At least he got a bigger bang than Echo. (Side note: Glad to see that it wasn’t Jar Jar’s clumsiness that led to this Gungan hero’s demise, as hinted at in “The Death of Captain Tarpals” from Star Wars Tales.)
Another reason to break the episode into two parts would be to play up the scenes between Dooku and Anakin a bit more. Dooku reveals that coming to Naboo brings the war full circle, and reveals “The Sith control everything. You just don’t know it,” similar to Dooku’s talk of the Sith with Obi-wan in Attack of the Clones, full of half-truths. The fight scene here fits the characters well, with Dooku moving Anakin around like a nerf with the Magnaguards to help herd him through the corridors until Anakin slips up. In both fights (Grievous vs Gungans, Anakin vs Dooku and the guards) , the real key is attacking in superior numbers to keep the solo fighter unable to protect all sides. Once Anakin is disarmed, Dooku reaches out with the dark side, giving Anakin a triple attack: levitated, choked and zapped with Force lightning. Combined with throwing objects at him in the Force at the start of the battle, you can see where Vader learned a lot of his tricks used later. The fight was good, but overall, as a plot counterpoint to create the ability for Grievous to be freed, felt a bit wasted here. Maybe if they also played up the Padmé’s debate to trade Grievous for Anakin, they could make a whole episode out of the last act. Having Queen Neeyutnee point out the suffering that the war has caused for the Naboo would certainly bring a different focus for Padmé, who already feels that taking Grievous out of the war would make it shorter.
Not sure what to make of Rish Loo. While his name and position as a top minister allude to historical Cardinal Richelieu, or more likely, the fictional version of him as the villain from The Three Musketeers, he’s a bit more disloyal than the cardinal, hoping to be put into power when the Separatists take over (maybe they’re following Richelieu from the 1993 film version). As we know, minor bad guys in Star Wars have a history of getting real-world inspired names: Nute Gunray, Lott Dod, Mee Deechi & Halle Burtoni. In the meantime, seeing an evil Gungan is a treat, even if he’s some sort of Cajun witch doctor. Not sure what exactly the Gungans were hoping to gain by attacking Theed – were they planning on subjugating the Naboo or just looting Theed or what? It’s the same issue as with the Quarren in the Mon Cala arc: what do they hope to get out of their Separatist alliance – and apparently Rish Loo didn’t watch the Mon Cala arc to learn how well the Separatists keep their deals with their collaborators. Oops! Sworded! I did like the look of Minister Loo’s quarters, with the smoking light globes lending to the sinister lighting of the bubble.
The impersonation plot. We suspected going in, that ‘Shadow Warrior’ would at least reference Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha (literally translates as ‘Shadow Warrior’). I had first figured it might connect to the absent Boss Nass, or possibly with the hint of Tarpals’ demise, someone replacing him, but it turns out to be Jar Jar filling in for Boss Lyonie. While the concept mostly works for a story, the nitpicking side of me wonders that just because Anakin and Padmé think Jar Jar resembles Lyonie, would Gungans see the resemblance. I wonder if all humans look the same to Gungans. It was fun to have Ahmed Best voice Lyonie, then voice Jar Jar trying to sound like Lyonie. Still, if Rish Loo had looked closer, he might have been able to unmask the impostor.
Not sure what to make of the Gungan military over this – unless they weren’t all that psyched up to go to war to begin with, you’d think that some of them would voice their confusion at the sudden change of orders: “War’s canceled, boys. I was possessed, but I’m all better now. Mr. Nose Piercing’s the bad guy!” – or they’re not too bright. My guess is that they were like Tarpals: not keen on the fight, but had to obey the boss. Jar Jar gets an awesome line with “Meesa more of a deep thinker.” And compared to Grievous, he is, since it takes Grievous an awful long time to realize that this sitdown isn’t going anywhere with a Gungan leader more interested in adjusting his chair than talking battle strategy. While the story idea of impersonating a wounded leader comes from Kurosawa, the result is quite different. But it works here for an episode – having Jar Jar maintain this charade for more than a few days would fall apart, since he would be unlikely to stay in character. Refer to the Critical Fumble chart for the likeliest ways of him breaking cover.
Overall: I really enjoyed this episode because it had a good balance of what makes Star Wars awesome: some good action, some exotic locales, a little comedy, and the good guys sticking with their friends, even if it will cost them in the end. We’ve seen the Gungans and their underwater city before, but with the animation here, Gungans can move like ninjas and not just in standard battle lines. Other cool bits of animation: Padmé plugging a commando droid in the head after it tackles her, and Anakin’s kaadu tearing up the turf with each step as they race after Loo. I’m gonna say it: Anakin spends most of the episode looking for the loo. While the episode hits a common The Clone Wars problem of what’s the big picture motivation here (why do the Separatists want Naboo? And why go to the effort of trying to get the Gungans to ally with them? What do the Gungans plan to do after they attack Theed, already hit hard by the wartime economy?), trying to answer that would frankly bog down the episode. So it’s better off focusing on the story at hand: Jar Jar acting like a leader, Gungans lacking the smackdown on Grievous, and Anakin foolishly rushing in. RIP Tarpals. Yousa bombad.