“Star Wars: the Clone Wars” Season 6: Ranking the Story Arcs

Jar-Jar Binks, Mace Windu, Star Wars, Clone Wars  Season Six

Our Hero and his new partner, Mace. #TrueDetectiveSeason2

My wife and I were previously disappointed when Cartoon Network pulled the plug on Star Wars: the Clone Wars for what I imagine were the worst of reasons, which wouldn’t be out of line with their past history of greedily motivated cancellations. We were surprised and a little excited when Lucasfilm announced that season six would be released on Netflix, not even a month after we finally became official subscribers.

Though many fans put life on hold and held a thirteen-episode Season Six marathon as soon as they woke up on release day, we didn’t complete our own leisurely runthrough till this past weekend. She’s the hardcore Expanded Universe enthusiast who’s frequently taken issue whenever the animators have wantonly disregarded the novels in every other episode. I’m a more casual SW viewer who’s liked many episodes, but I’ve had my own recurring peeves about the series since season one. Together we have our opinions as to how the four arcs in this season worked out. Of those four, I most enjoyed the one that I thought I would give me convulsions, and the one I ended up loathing the most convinced me the Cartoon Network execs weren’t entirely off-base for once.

Ranking these four new arcs from favorite to most anti-favorite on my humble scorecard:

1. Episodes 8-9: “The Disappeared” Parts I and II.

Mace Windu, the coolest Jedi of all time according to movie fans who can’t get enough Samuel L. Jackson in their life, is tasked with investigating high-ranking disappearances on a faraway world whose alien queen who will accept Republic assistance on exactly one condition: it needs to involve Jar-Jar Binks, the most controversial underwater black sheep since Aquababy.

We went into this expecting forty-four minutes of Mace rolling his eyes while Jar-Jar pratfalls his way to victory. While slapstick does save the day more than once, the buddy-cop duo somehow, inexplicably works. Mace finally gets some much-needed lightsaber showoff time, but it’s Jar-Jar and his nonexistent star power who defy all reasonable expectations. He thinks his way through the mystery at hand, he holds his own against rejected villains from Crash Bandicoot, he successfully wields a gun without shooting off his own eyestalks, he punches a guy in the face, he gets the girl, and he rides off into the sunset. And I totally bought into it. David Blaine wishes his production company could make up a magic trick for him one-tenth as impressive as that precedent-defying stunt.

2. Episodes 10-13: “The Lost One” / “Voices” / “Destiny” / “Sacrifice”.

At long last, the Jedi Council investigate the mystery of Sifo-Dyas, the long-lost Jedi name-checked during Attack of the Clones that I honestly thought never existed. When disparate clues begin to coalesce into a possible trail, Yoda becomes point man in the investigation, kicking off a journey across space, time, and possibly a few dimensions that exist only in the mind.

The real star in this final arc is the animation, as Yoda’s vision quest carries him through any number of metaphysical challenges and hallucinatory states. If there’s never a season 7, you couldn’t ask for a more gorgeously illustrated swan song. Special guest Mark Hamill steps into the series for the first time ever with a few lines as the spectral voice of Darth Bane, nightmarish grandaddy of all Sith. We see a few clever nods to meaningful things from the films such as Dagobah, the scary tree cave, midi-chlorians, the “Living Force”, and “the” Sith homeworld. (My wife tells me more than a few planets have been labeled a “Sith homeworld” in the Expanded Universe. Apparently the Sith have more homeworlds than Abraham Lincoln had home states.)

That being said: after the initial kickoff, it was more than a little aggravating to see Yoda spend the final three episodes and millions of miles in space travel looking for answers to all the Clone Wars’ unsolved mysteries, enduring grueling challenges of body, mind, and spirit, and coming away from it all with a single useless takeaway: “Y’all are in for sucky times ahead.” That’s all the wisdom he receives. All the best moments are dream sequences that don’t matter once he’s escaped them. No more insight into the nebulous backstory regarding the creation of the clone army, no senses-shattering new info on Darth Sidious’ true identity, pretty much accomplished absolutely none of his goals unless one of them was a dream lightsaber duel with old man Darth Sidious, which I suppose was fine if you like your sword battles weightless and inconsequential.

This has been one of my recurring issues with the series as a whole: if the Jedi accomplish a single, tangible, important victory against the Trade Federation and/or the Sith, then the events of Revenge of the Sith would be rendered null and void. That obviously can’t happen because Movies über Alles, so for the sake of the SW canon timeline the entire Jedi Order in this era ultimately cannot be portrayed as anything except incompetent, unlucky, unperceptive, helpless losers who win occasional small battles but will never, ever truly defeat a single Big Bad. Watching Obi-Wan and Anakin duel Count Dooku yet again (despite the continuity problems this creates) means nothing once you realize that stalemate is inevitable. No risk, no tension, no uncertainty, no interest. They might as well be classmates in fencing school with a stodgy instructor standing by the sidelines with a whistle to make sure no one gets hurt.

That’s another reason the Mace Cassidy and the Jar-Jar Kid two-parter succeeded: their villain was a recognizable foe from the past who isn’t in the films, and therefore could be defeated for real. That means when they fight, there are actual stakes and a chance of capital-W Winning. Uncertainty and hope make for far better drama than marching your characters dutifully and unerringly toward a depressing, locked-in future.

3. Episodes 1-4: “The Unknown” / “Conspiracy / “Fugitive” / “Orders”.

Clonetroopers! We used to be big fans of Clonetrooper stories, though my wife’s enjoyment was mortally wounded when the showrunners began tossing out all the hard work of Karen Traviss and other Clone Wars novelists who spent years fleshing out their ranks and building three-dimensional characters, only to see their labors discarded because the animators couldn’t be bothered to read or appreciate any of it.

Here, season six commenced with old friend Fives as our viewpoint character, struggling to deal with a fellow soldier who’s apparently gone mad and won’t stop shooting Jedi on orders that seemingly exist only in his head. After a bravura opening skirmish set in zero-G and the suspenseful tease of telltale signs heralding that fateful event known as Order 66, we were along for the ride for the first two episodes and couldn’t wait to see what came next.

And then came the crippling problems of the other two episodes in this arc. To wit:

1. Another of my recurring issues with the series: nine out of every ten Clone Wars episodes end with “…and Sidious silently wins again and nothing is gained at all and the status quo is totally reset. The End.” This arc is no different. Yes, we get that Palpatine will never, ever, ever be outed and defeated in this series, for much the same reason that neither Sgt. Rock nor Hogan’s Heroes would ever defeat Hitler. That’s why they never fought Hitler: there would be no chance and no point, only dry inevitability, unless you were Quentin Tarantino and had a vastly more interesting alternate timeline in mind. But Tarantino doesn’t run this show, and so anytime Palpatine rears his head, you know exactly who wins at the end.

2. In order for Palpatine to win this arc, Fives — one of the few remaining credible Clonetroopers with a name to call his own — has to look like an idiot and, of course, neutralized.

My wife’s two cents on this part, and then some:

Consider: We start off with a clone going crazy and killing a Jedi. It takes four episodes of the Jedi being lied to by the Kaminoans (I’m guessing Jedi can’t read the Kaminoans for veracity?) before Fives dies in the dumbest cliched way that so many characters tend to die before they can reveal important information – the old “I’ve got something really important to tell you, but, instead of actually telling you, I’m going to spend ten minutes protesting how I’m not crazy and you don’t understand and give me a chance to explain before I get shot by people who don’t want me spilling the beans” routine.

But Fives got out enough about a conspiracy backed by the Chancellor that it should have been considered when [in the later episodes] they found out that Dooku was Tyranus. In the young adult Boba Fett books, young Boba knew that Dooku and Tyranus were the same person. He also understood that the fact that Dooku equaling Tyranus was a big deal because Dooku is fighting the same Clone Army that he himself helped to arrange.

In the end, he only told Chancellor Palpatine who, of course, already knew.

But the fact that the Jedi don’t stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute, why did Dooku (as Tyranus) recruit Jango Fett to be the template of a clone army that he himself is now fighting against?” Wouldn’t that require some thought, especially where the trustworthiness of the clone army is concerned? That whole idea of Yoda saying, “We have to trust the clones because they’ve saved some of our lives” just floored me. One of them recently went bonkers and killed a Jedi, told Anakin that there’s a plot afoot with the Chancellor involved and now they find out that the creation of the army has Dooku’s fingerprints all over it…but, no, we have to trust the clones.

…so yeah, once again the Clonetroopers are ruined, thanks to Clone Wars.

4. Episodes 5-7: “An Old Friend” / “The Rise of Clovis” / “Crisis at the Heart”.

Padme travels to Space Switzerland to apply for a loan on behalf of the Republic so they can afford to continue buying war supplies. The application process includes forms and an interview with the bank manager and heavy scrutiny from the board of directors who have a few questions about some line items, and later we learn Padme apparently applied for a variable-rate loan instead of a fixed-rate loan so the board can raise interest rates anytime they feel like it, which to me implies that the loan contract must not have been written with proper legal consultation if it provides no structured guidelines for loan interest determination, which would serve the basic customer-service function of protecting the best interests of the applicant instead of creating loopholes for such blatant fiduciary malfeasance, to say nothing of what this says about Padme’s own sense of fiscal responsibility if she didn’t even think to retain her own legal representation or at least an accredited financial adviser who could review the boilerplate with an impartial eye and assist with interpreting any potentially misleading ambiguities embedded in the contract language so that ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Too much of that is me not kidding. The same team that brought you Yoda’s transcendental LSD trip in the final arc also thought animation was the perfect medium for a cautionary tale about predatory lending and dull office meetings. Someone spent untold thousands of dollars telling a story that might be better suited to PowerPoint, flashcards, or a Rifftrax short. The saving grace of this morass is when characters begin to “follow the money”, which reminded me of The Wire and allowed me to daydream about quality programming for a while instead of paying attention to this.

Did I mention there’s a love triangle? Yeah, you can never get enough of love triangles, except I completely can. The bank manager is a young, longtime, evil acquaintance of Padme’s. She doesn’t trust him, but she really needs the cash because the clones need to buy real laser refills instead of having to make pew-pew-pew noises that they hope will be loud enough to scare Battle Droids into surrendering, so she trusts the dork anyway, and then is totally shocked when they’re alone together in his apartment and he tries to make a move on her. I’m guessing her upbringing as the erstwhile Queen of Naboo kept her so sheltered that she never learned the important lessons about how far icky boys will go if you believe every single thing they say despite all shrieking klaxons to the contrary.

But there’s a cool James Bond snowboarding chase scene, so that’s a plus. On the downside, the federal government, I mean the Republic, ends up taking over the banks, so Sidious silently wins again and the status quo is totally reset. The End.

See you next season?

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