The Clone Wars review: ‘Sphere of Influence’

Greedo and George

What’s the Star Wars equivalent of a Mary Sue?  Is it Lama Su?  Max Rebo Sue?  How about Baron Papanoida?  That’d be my answer, based on this most recent episode.  Of course, Mr. Lucas has never been shy about putting himself in his own stories – “Luke” is a pretty clear play on “Lucas” – but it’s never been quite this blatant before.  Not only is The Baron modeled on The Maker, but all of Papanoida’s family is based on the Lucas clan.  And this hammy bit of casting turns ‘Sphere of Influence’ into one of the laziest episodes yet.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I have no idea how much influence, ahem, Uncle George had on ‘Sphere of Influence.’  I remember hearing that he came up with all the plotlines for Season 2, but that doesn’t mean he had as much input in Season 3.  Still, he was apparently “sitting right next to” Dave Filoni during production, and his daughter Katie co-wrote the episode (and gave her own blue-faced avatar a nice hero moment at the end).  But no matter who’s to blame, Papanoida is the clear focus here… and the episode suffers for it.  We’re never given a sense of who this character is, and as such, I found it very difficult to care about him.  And he has definite Mary Sue-esque qualities, in that he’s seemingly invulnerable, never wrong, and the only reason to root for him is, well, because he’s George Lucas.  I’m sure the Clone Wars crew thought it was fun to see their boss blasting through the Mos Eisley Cantina, John Woo-style – and seeing him in a supporting role would have been a neat little in-joke, like it was in Episode III.  But as a lead character, Papanoida was far from compelling.

The ‘noida Family (snap, snap)

Listen, maybe Papanoida is a fascinating guy, with divided loyalties and layers of deep psychological trauma.  But the plot moves so quickly that we’re never given a chance to find out.  We simply meet his family, watch his daughters get kidnapped (an effective, moody scene), and then sit back as the Bloody Baron goes off to save them.  Bada-bing, bada-boom, wham-bam-thank you Zam.  I get that we’re supposed to care about him because he’s a papa bear whose cubs are in danger, but there wasn’t even one scene of him interacting, in a fatherly sort of way, with his kids.  Even moreso than most episodes, this one was screaming to be a two-parter.

It didn’t help that ‘Sphere of Influence’ was otherwise filled with beloved (or at least memorable) characters from episodes past.  Jabba el Hutto had a nice part, as did Smurfette Riyo Chuchi, and there are cameos by Padme, Stinky the Hutt, Embo the bounty hunter (!), and my favorite, Lt. Tan Divo.  Every one of these characters was more interesting to me than Baron Papanoida, specifically because I had seen them before, and knew what they were about.  This is especially true for Ahsoka, who also made her first appearance of the season.  Even though she isn’t given much to do, Ahsoka is easily the best part of the episode.  She gets to go out on her own, which is great fun because she’s not a full-fledged Jedi, but she knows enough to try.  One scene in particular, in which she botches the Jedi mind trick, was terrific – funny, suspenseful, and totally in character for all involved.

Ahsoka does the wave

And then there’s Greedo.  Don’t listen to the continuity apologists, this was clearly supposed to be that Greedo, the same green guy who does/doesn’t shoot first at Han.  As a character, he worked pretty well, and the animation on his face was excellent.  But his mere presence highlighted the underlying laziness of this episode.  Most notably, Greedo spoke English (or Basic, whatev), and he spoke it to Jabba – as opposed to when he encountered Han, to whom he spoke in Huttese.  Jabba, at the very least, still spoke in Huttese, albeit with a translator droid.  So not only was Greedo acting out of character, it was probably a ploy to avoid subtitles.  It’s possible that the show didn’t want to alienate any younger viewers who may not know how to read, but if that’s the case… why use Greedo at all?  (And why have promo after promo mention Greedo as if he was the second coming?)  If the kids are old enough to recognize Greedo, then they’re obviously old enough for subtitles.  Maybe this seems like nitpicking, but it appeared as if nobody had thought things through for this episode – which is very odd for a show (and franchise) that is normally obsessed with detail.

Here’s my theory: this is a rare episode that wasn’t written for the kids.  It was targeting the older fans, and not the Underoos demographic, which is why it was loaded with famous locales, classic characters, adult situations (including a Twi’lek-on-Rodian makeout scene!), and an unsubtle nod to the show’s creator.  But name recognition only goes so far, and without a three-dimensional protagonist, I simply wasn’t involved with the story.  It’s nice to see a familiar face, but it’s not enough.

Grade:  C+

9 Replies to “The Clone Wars review: ‘Sphere of Influence’”

  1. I agree with a lot of this. Worst episode of the season so far, and I’m sorry, but Greedo speaking English was ridiculous. Might as well just make him another Rodian, because they all look the same. And they missed the perfect chance for some sort of “Shoot first” joke. If you’re going to bring in Greedo, but have him speak English and not even take the opportunity for a good reference to the events in ANH, you might as well not use him at all.

  2. Speaking of alienating younger viewers, what was all that garbage about the trade federation and blockades and treaties? If this is for kids, how come even I was confused and bored? The visuals were gorgeous though, and the Ahsoka stuff was really compelling.

  3. Yes, the trade federation stuff was dull. It worked fine last week, but using it again this episode (and it appears as though we’ll get a similar situation again next week) is overkill.

  4. Nice review. I’m not sure the exact demographic Clone Wars are aimed for, but when you are dealing with kids 5-10, they do not have the reading ability for subtitles.

    Any chance you guys could do a “Clone Wars Review Round-up” for these episodes like you did for ARC Troopers?

  5. I had really been looking forward to this episode for some reason… I thought it was going to be one of those intelligent mystery-style tales with a twist at the end.

    You hit the nail on the head about the characterization — everyone was just plain dull. Even the Neimoidians were dull (and I usually love the Neimoidians!). And as for the plot… not only was the exposition confusing (as stated above), but when it came to resolving everything, it was just a basic rescue mission. With no moral to take away from the story at all.

  6. I didn’t mind the Trade Federation thread this week, because we finally got to see that, hey, maybe they’re really neutral after all. That was pretty interesting… although every time the Neimoidians come on screen, I find myself wishing they would bring back Mar Tuuk. I am, and remain, his biggest (and probably only) fan.

    And Barriss, I agree, there wasn’t much moral to find here. If memory serves, the fortune cookiee pretty much said “Kidnapping is bad.” Who were they trying to reach with that message?

  7. Even though I disagree with this review (I liked Papanoida) this is my favorite kind of episode review that gets posted on club jade. I really don’t need a review of the episode since I’ve watched it. I’m very curious about other people’s opinions.

    I’ve found pretty much every episode this season to be filled with cardboard characters doing illogical things to fulfill flimsy plotlines. In my opinion, this one was the least bad. I’m definitely against greedo speaking english though.

  8. Steve: sorry i haven’t had chance to do a round up yet – this is the busiest time of year for me at work.

    As for ‘Sphere’ – What bugged me most about Greedo was not his lack of subtitles, but the fact that by ANH, he’s clearly not all that smart when confronting Han who pulls a gun under the table on him – so how could he stay alive and work for Jabba for nearly two decades? Here, he manages to kidnap two high profile targets on Coruscant on the side, and weasel his way out of having Jabba kill him for taking side jobs.

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