By Chris Seekell
Well it's that time again, Star Wars fans! Another season of the Clone Wars and another series of my reviews. I want to start by thanking you all so much for reading my reviews from the previous seasons and giving awesome feedback. I enjoy writing about the episodes almost as much as watching them. So without further ado, let's kick off another season!
I decided to review both of these episodes together because they are not independent of each other in any significant ways. The locales, characters, and plots are the same, and the first one was simply set-up for the second one. Even though the visuals and action in the first part, Water War, was some of the best the series has seen to date, I felt it lacked a good climax and the pacing was slightly off. Perhaps the reason it didn't completely hold my interest at first, was because I had already seen a few clips from the episode, and had a good idea of where the plot was going. There was no suspense for me and it didn't have any really intense moments.
The plot itself is nothing new, as it is based on an episode of the 2003 Clone Wars Microseries that depicted Kit Fisto leading scuba troopers against the separatists amid a civil war between the Quarren and Mon Calamari. Interestingly, when the Clone Wars CGI series was first announced several years later, I thought back to that particular episode as one I would like to see done again in the new medium. It took until the fourth season for the capabilities of the animation team to develop enough to pull this off, but I am really glad they waited, because the animation in these episodes was vastly superior to the previous seasons.
Throughout the episodes, I was only taken out of the story by shortcomings in the CGI a few times. One thing that particularly bothered me was Padme's face. The Clone Wars' wooden or plastic style relies on texture and lighting to give a sense of realism to models, but her smooth pale skin lit by the monotone glow of the watery world and only accented by a bright light inside her helmet took away from the realism. Additionally I found her eyes and facial expressions to be a bit less dynamic than that of other characters, especially Anakin and Ahsoka.
But aside from that minor issue, everything else that flashed before my eyes constituted art in motion. The Clone Wars team took on the challenge of capturing the organic and subtle gravity of a submarine environment and resoundingly accomplished this feat. The stoic buildings themselves lent little to achieve the effect of an underwater metropolis, however the fish, bursting sheets of bubbles, and swaying coral made up for this fact. The sound design also played a huge role in liquefying the atmosphere. Additionally the few scenes that depicted the action above the surface, animated water perfectly, from individual splashes that followed characters leaping into the depths to amazing explosion sequences that deftly interwove smoke, fire, and liquid.
The movement of the characters themselves underwater was very well choreographed. The motion of the robotic aqua droids gave them a rare organic feel, and the darting and plunging dance of the Jedi with their luminous blades echoed and built on the exploration of zero-gravity combat in previous seasons. These individual achievements were breathtakingly multiplied in Water War as hundreds of droids and aquatic species converged in one of the largest scale battles the series has seen.
Adding to the mechanics, all of the character designs were striking. The Quarren and Mon Calamari were both depicted well, including the simplified Captain Ackbar who translated well to the CGI medium. Anakin, Ahsoka, and Padme's scuba gear gave a fresh look to the characters and constitute some of my favorite incarnations of the models. Stunning due to both amazing artistry and uniqueness, Kit Fisto and separatist ambassador Riff Tamson's designs also stood out, highlighted by Fisto's ever-moving head tales and Tamson's menacing menagerie of sharp teeth.
But one of the most surprisingly cool designs belonged to the giant cybernetic jelly-fish. When these ingenious monstrosities entered the fray at the end of the first episode, Season 4 officially began for me. They presented a seemingly impossible challenge to our heroes and provided amazing visuals as their ominous tentacles engulfed everything in their path. Furthermore, the electric shock that pulsated through their bodies as they were destroyed presented delightful contrast to the murky waters that surrounded them.
As the heroes were isolated after the city fell in the second episode, Gungan Attack, the plot and pacing went further to garner my attention. A small band of rebels fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds hearkens back to the original Star Wars trilogy and did well to increase the stakes, suspense, and intensity. The building choruses of action sequences were artistically interspersed with verses of great character scenes between the Mon Cala prince and Ahsoka and other military leaders.
The use of the Gungans in the episode was one of the best uses of the species since 1999, if not the best ever, and I was very excited to see Otoh Gunga finally depicted in the Clone Wars. The sequence with the Republic Cruiser emerging from the clouds and the Gungans jumping out of the hanger into the sea was breathtakingly climactic. It also goes a long way to illustrate the good-hearted nature of the species. On Naboo they fought to defend their home, but this time they fought to defend the survival and liberty of another fellow aquatic people.
And finally this brings me to what I thought was the best part of these episodes. When the trident droids started to spin their tentacles I knew we were in for an amazing action sequence, and the Clone Wars crew blew away all of my expectations. The battle amid the liquid cyclones was the most intense sequence in the series to date in my opinion. The combination of whirling water and flashing explosions provided the perfect backdrop to a great fight scene between the Prince, Ahsoka, Fisto, and Tamson. At that moment, all of the hard work that the crew has spent developing the animation finally came together in a fantastic way, leaving me envious of anyone who has seen these episodes screened in theaters.
Moving on from the effects, I thought the voice acting and music in the Season 4 premiere were adequate, but they didn't blow me away. There were a few good scores that included chorals and one that used Ahsoka's theme, but the rest seemed filler and secondary to everything else going on. I though Riff Tamson's voice could have been more menacing and the there was something slightly off about the portrayal of the Prince. But these things were certainly drowned amid other aspects of the episodes.
To name several more things that caught my attention in these episodes, it was great to see that patented Kit Fisto smile a few times. Any of the camera shots that tracked along with vehicles or swimming characters vastly intensified the visual experience, and I wished their were even more of them. It was humorous to see the Mon Cala and Gungan embracing at the end of the second episode as they were being surrounded, a nice touch to give the story more depth. And the scuba clones and submarine speeders were cool designs.
In conclusion I believe Water War was a solid episode that rivals any of the previous season openers, and I think Gungan Attack was one of the best episodes of the series to date, right up there with the amazing episodes of the latter half of Season 3. The sign of a good episode, is that I can't stop talking about it, and that certainly fits the description for the premiere. And what is even more exciting, is the fact that there is still one more episode to go in this arc. If it is as good as the first two, it will definitely make for the best arc yet of the Clone Wars series. This episode was a classic depiction of the Clone Wars, a battle of epic proportions coupled with political undercurrents (literally) and character development.
I can't wait for the next episode, I can't wait for the rest of the season, and I can't wait to continue reviewing these amazing episodes. The season has kicked off with a resounding bang, and this is only the beginning! Thank you so much for reading my review! Feel free to comment with your thoughts on the premiere. Until next time, may the Force be with you!