Friday, March 16, 2012

Clone Wars Review: "Crisis On Naboo"

By Chris Seekell

After a fairly good trio of episodes, I was anticipating the conclusion of the Bounty Hunter Arc to at least match the level of the prior episodes. But unfortunately for me it did not. There were a few cool moments in "Crisis On Naboo", but the overall story lacked cohesiveness and relevance. It felt a bit rushed and forced, similar to "Shadow Warrior". It also had dropped plot points, like the previous arc concluding episode "Escape From Kadavo". But ultimately this episode suffered from a lack of both originality and suspense. Everything transpired the way I expected it to, and whenever there was a deviance, it was for the worse and not the better. I knew nothing about the plot save a short description, yet I felt like I was watching the episode for the second or third time. It only mildly entertained me, and there were no laugh-out-loud or eye-popping-awesome moments.

The plot situation was very reminiscent of "Escape From Kadavo"; in the previous episode, Anakin and Queen Miraj had formed an interesting relationship that challenged both characters. Yet in the concluding chapter, Dooku was thrust into the story, and he bulldozed over any of the subtleties in the other characters' development. The same thing happened in this episode; there was an intriguing and evolving dynamic between Cad Bane, Moralo Eval, and Rako Hardeen. Initially Eval was in charge, and Bane was skeptical of Hardeen, but thing moved in different directions until the end of "The Box" where Bane was supplanting a jealous Eval and beginning to trust Hardeen. However this whole story was interrupted in the final episode. There was no closure in any of these three characters' relationships, and they all ended up back to square one, with Dooku casting them aside and re-enacting the abduction plan himself upon learning of Obi-Wan's intrusion, with the possible compliance of Palpatine.

This episode included a few good Bane and Embo moments, but I would have ratherred that the conclusion to the Bounty Hunter Arc had not brushed off the title characters to give us a redundant and pointless lightsaber duel at the end. Perhaps for members of the audience who haven't seen the films, the plight of Palpatine was more suspenseful, but to me it seemed like an irresponsible and meaningless charade that only served the purpose of justifying action sequences. The only thing that I can fathom, is that Palpatine has endeavored to pit his current apprentice Dooku and future apprentice Anakin against each other repeatedly until Anakin becomes powerful enough to defeat Dooku. That explanation justifies an episode that would be utterly pointless otherwise.

But even if the plot fit into the grand scheme of things, there is still that pesky Anakin line from Revenge of the Sith declaring that his "powers had doubled". Now I believe that Dooku's comparing of Anakin and Obi-Wan at the end of the duel rectified the situation. He incited a competitive desire in Anakin by hitting him in a weak spot, his brotherly rivalry with his former master, and it now seems natural that Anakin would refer to this next time they met. But just when one door closed, another opened. The line that Palpatine spoke in Revenge of the Sith about Dooku being a Sith Lord, which led to the brilliant Obi-Wan line, "Sith Lords are our specialty", makes no sense now. Just like how the fight between Anakin and Dooku has been diminished by its frequency in the Clone Wars series, now Palpatine's kidnapping has been diminished. That whole scene aboard the Invisible Hand has effectively been rendered a complete rematch, with no references by the latter to the former. Anything that was added to the overall story by the events of "Crisis On Naboo" does not compare to what was taken away by the same token.

If there is one thing that unsettles me, it is stories that climax weakly and too early, only to crescendo again in an unrelated way. It caused the episode to feel rushed and off-pace. If Dooku had to be used, I wished he had interceded immediately when the bounty hunters' plot had failed, and honestly that was what I was anticipating. But instead, there was an odd lull between two points of intensity in the last third of the episode. The point of stories that take place in a timeline with a fixed future, is to illustrate character development and illuminate the plot; this episode did neither. Did we really have to see Anakin disagreeing with Obi-Wan or being prodded by the Chancellor again? It would be much more interesting to see how the Chancellor was manipulating other characters, like Tarkin or Mas Amedda. Another opportunity that this series has is to show us straight battle action, devoid of overall plot, but filled with the development of minor characters. If we are going to see a pointless battle or duel, I would rather it not involve the main characters. Sure, the choreography of the fight between Dooku and Anakin was decent, but it had such a been-there-done-that feel to it that undermined what was happening on screen.

I could ramble on about plot for a while, but moving on to other elements, I enjoyed the animation of Naboo and Theed. It was cool to see Sio Bibble in CGI-form. I find it interesting that Naboo has taken a more active role in this series than Tattooine. The design of Padme's outfit was also interesting to see, I'm glad that they are taking a cue from the prequels and changing her wardrobe frequently. I found it a little odd that Mas Amedda joined Palpatine on this trip to Naboo, since Mas seems to have no ties to the planet. Perhaps I would rather see what he was up to when he wasn't with Palpatine, than that redundant scene of the Chancellor talking to Anakin.

The action is this episode was adequate, all of the sequences with Bane and Embo were classic and despite its plot shortcomings, the duel between Anakin and Dooku was executed well. The issue I took with the action is that it didn't mean anything and wasn't very suspenseful or intense. Perhaps if the lightsaber duel had been intercut with the bounty hunters' attempted abduction, the episode would have flowed better. The stand-off between Eval, Bane, and Obi-Wan was too short, and the intercession of the other Jedi was unnecessary from a story-telling point of view. It would also have added to the episode if there had been a speeder chase between Hardeen and the bounty hunters that preceded their altercation. It was just awkward how Hardeen walked up to Bane and Eval when they were in possession of the Chancellor.

In conclusion I didn't care for this episode. It had both a flawed plot and pacing, lacked suspense, and was ultimately pointless. There was very little humor, and the action scenes were merely adequate. I am slightly disappointed how this arc concluded; it started with bounty hunters, and it should have ended with bounty hunters, but instead Bane was sent back to prison and we got yet another Dooku-Anakin duel. For me, this arc finale sits between "Duchess of Mandalore" and "Escape From Kadavo". It had dropped plot points like Kadavo but the diffusion was not as great as with Mandalore because there wasn't that much at stake to begin with. I'm really hoping that the Maul Arc proves to be intense and relevant, because I can't imagine a season ending on a note as low as this.