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‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 4 Premiere’: I Recommend The Calamari

by on September 15, 2011

A second look may more than double your appreciation.

Amazing success! Three years ago Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuted to spectacular ratings. But, with a fourth season on the horizon, can it continue to prosper? The toonzone council has dispatched a reviewer to the planet of S’Creena to observe the developing situation…

A few years ago, I reviewed a pair of the opening episodes for Clone Wars. Overall, I felt, the show got off to a good start, and I thought it would only improve. I’m happy to say it has made good on that new hope, striking back against some of the less inspired spin offs and marking a return of the franchise’s former glory.

Clone Wars has succeeded due to the way it retains the action-packed, kinetic visual style that is the Star Wars trademark while also exploring the kind of slightly darker stories that couldn’t fit into the six films. In the past three seasons we’ve been treated to the opinions of less extremist Separatists, clones disillusioned with the Republic war machine, political thrillers across the high rises and back alleys of Coruscant, and of course the Jedi’s reaction to the seemingly never-ending conflict.

It’s a cocktail of these elements which make up the season premiere. On the planet of Mon Calamari, the Mon Cal king is found stabbed to death by an unknown assassin. When the king’s inexperienced son is put forward as the new leader, racial tensions between the fish-like Mon Calamari and the squid-like Quarren erupt. Both sides request outside intervention, with the Mon Calamari calling in Anakin and Padme whilst the Quarren are goaded by an ambitious shark-like agent of the Separatists.

As should be obvious from all the fishy aliens, this episode is set primarily underwater. The galaxy far, far away has long been known for its planets of a single dominant climate, and here it’s a water world. This might sound a little boring, but it provides the perfect opportunity for the show to display what it has learned both in terms of writing and visuals.

Back when the show premiered the CGI was obviously high budget but was criticised for being somewhat limited, with some commenting that the cast especially resembled wooden marionettes. These criticisms were not ignored, with revised character models being created which boast a greater range of facial animations. Again, whilst the older seasons were no slouches themselves, I was surprised to see how many subtle and fluid emotions are now coming out of the characters. It’s especially key in an underwater setting like this, where the characters need to dive and swim. The ocean stage also shows off just how incredible the wider design element of the show has become. The opening sequence is set in an underwater senate, a dynamic contrast to the Coruscant senate that long-time viewers will undoubtedly be familiar with. Beyond that, the sweeping underwater cities are a marvel of construction and lighting

Of course all these visuals need to convey a story. By this time the show has become quite comfortable telling multi-parters, most consistently trilogies, and this premiere makes use of this format. The focus for this episode is on the inexperienced prince and how both sides react to him. The Quarren of course have no faith in the boy, and their fears are fuelled by tension over a constant line of Mon Cal kings of their shared home and by the scheming Separatist agent. The idea of a shark baddy underwater is a bit stereotypical but is used well here, giving him an ‘in your face’ fury in his conversations with other characters that gives way to bloodthirstiness in the battles. It’s an interesting combination of the two most common types of Star Wars enemies, scheming humanoids and primal beasts.

On the Mon Calamari side there is likewise a lack of respect for the heir. Whilst Anakin is annoyed by the prince’s attempts to respect his people and lead from the front despite lacking any military experience, the best exploration comes from the boy’s relationship with a loyal military commander, Ackbar. Yes, the famous fish is present in these episodes and has quite an interesting character. Although he respects his monarch-to-be, Ackbar is infuriated by politicians who are pushing the boy into roles he’s not ready for even as he fails to appreciate the odds they face. It’s an interesting way to handle things, especially as it would be easy to simply portray Ackbar as a constantly forgiving father figure with boundless positive encouragement for the prince. Instead he tutors the boy in the reality of politics and warfare, and it’s endearing to see his pupil respond.

The more regular characters don’t get too much focus here, but this is acceptable since we’ve had several other stories that explore them, including obviously the films themselves. It is interesting to see how Ahsoka has developed. When the show premiered by way of the theatrical movie, she was largely reviled as a useless kid appeal character. Across the past three seasons she’s grown into a capable Jedi in her own right, and that’s the character we see here, supporting Anakin but also more clearly being an independent who can take command and defend herself. It speaks of something I’ve come to appreciate about the show: Although it may not always fit in perfectly with the established prior canon, it’s a show that so gets the fun Star Wars atmosphere and tells such interesting stories that it becomes easy to overlook the minor continuity issues. Coming from someone like myself who is usually a stickler for canon consistency, that says a lot about how consistently entertaining the show is.

The underwater setting allows for some fairly unique battle scenes, with the Mon Calamari natives being aided by modified clone troopers and battle droids. The natives understandably take the lead on their home turf, leading to a dramatic chase to get the prince to safety. This is a moment where all the aforementioned elements really come together to set the scene perfectly. I was drawn into the story, forgetting that I was watching fictional characters generated on a computer. That’s exactly the result any good story should strive for and one that many other action animation shows on TV need to try harder for.

As a season premiere this episode works well. It’s light enough to ease returning viewers back in whilst still aptly displaying the growth and development of the previous seasons. The cliffhanger might not be the most ‘I’ve gotta see what happens next!’ that the show has offered but this is a good start and does leave me wanting more. The Clone Wars rage on, and it seems the true victor is the audience.

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