When The Clone Wars started, who would have thought that it would become a non-stop homage to classic films? This season has seen tributes to Notorious, The Longest Day, a couple of Kurosawas, Aliens, Agatha Christie mysteries, and I’m sure some others that I missed. And of course, last week was all about Godzilla, and I fully expected this week’s installment to be more of the same (in a good way). But Dave Filoni tipped his fedora to another movie monster instead — and unlike Peter Jackson, the Clone Wars crew did it right.
Yes, I’m talking about a certain Mr. Kong, the one whose first name definitely isn’t Donkey. Zillo becomes the King in this episode, starting with the welcome revelation that it’s not just a giant creature who goes smash in the night — it’s an intelligent giant creature who goes smash in the night! In fact, Zillo may be the smartest dude on Coruscant, since it’s the only one who can see Palpatine for who he is. It’s enormous fun watching Zillo zero in on ol’ Palpy, who exhibits some rare moments of fear, and by giving Zillo a reason for its rampage, it becomes an even more sympathetic character. Last week we empathized with Zillo because it was an innocent victim, but here we’re rooting for it because it’s trying to save the galaxy!
It’s not all action, though. There’s a great build-up in the first half of the episode, which consists almost entirely of dialogue – weighty, issue-driven dialogue. But amazingly, it all works. Padme takes over Mace Windu’s job as Lead Defense Attorney for the Zillo, and she’s absolutely terrific in the role. She stands up to both Palpatine and Mas Amedda, and gets rightly pissed at Anakin for seeing “both points of view.” Anakin, naturally, is just trying to please everyone, which comes off as a genuine flaw in his personality. Bravo to The Clone Wars for finally letting a strong character take a stand, and for making the weak character seem like a real shmuck.
Even so, Anakin does get a chance to save the day, in a move that’s both clever and intensely reckless. And to the show’s credit, all the other characters comment on this, cracking jokes at Anakin’s expense. Come to think of it, this episode is a showcase for all the main characters. Obi-Wan actually uses his Force powers, Yoda gets to hop around with a lightsaber, Palpatine is at his slimiest, and Mace Windu delivers the single funniest line of the season. (This episode has the second- and third-funniest lines, as well. I was surprised by how often I laughed out loud.) Plus, C-3PO and R2-D2 are reunited, and as usual, they work best as a pair. They also have their gayest moment yet — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Visually, ZBSB is a another beauty, and though there are some neat references to King Kong (gas bombs!), I was also reminded of the Jurassic Park series – especially during the multiple shots of Zillo’s eye peering into a window. In fact, much of the episode is shot in close-up, giving the proceedings an eerie, intimate feel before blowing it open for the big action finale. The music, too, is rather creepy — and I could’ve sworn that, during the climax, I heard a bit of the “Hero Falls” theme from Revenge of the Sith. Considering Zillo’s fate, it’s a brave but totally effective choice. And in a way, it’s appropriate, since The Zillo Beast Strikes Back is the best Star Wars I’ve seen since Episode III.