Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – My Top 10 Favorite Episode Arcs


Star Wars: The Clone Wars” stands as personally one of my all time favorite animated programs, and in my opinion is a benchmark in the Star Wars saga. I loved the characters, I loved the action, I loved the expanded universe, and most of all I loved the opportunity to see unique stories told that you’d never be able to see in a theatrical “Star Wars” movie. Now I understand if casual Star Wars fans would prefer to just stick with the movies, and have no interest in sitting through an animated series with 122 episodes total. Regardless, there’s still so many quality episodes from this series that shouldn’t be glanced over. So I’m going to narrow down my personal top 10 Episode arcs that I highly recommend checking out. Now episode arcs from this series can range between two or four episodes, so this won’t be a traditional top 10 single episode countdown. With that said, if you’re a Star Wars fan of any sort, these are the episodes from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that I don’t think you should miss, because personally I’d place these among some of the best of what the Star Wars saga has to offer.   


#10 The Rebels of Onderon Arc (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “A War on Two Fronts”, “Front Runners”, “Soft War” and “Tipping Points” 


In my opinion, Season five was hands down the best of this whole series, and as you’ll notice on my countdown, most of my favorite arcs came from this season. Things were strong right off the bat with this epic four part premier arc in which Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice Ahsoka Tano leads a band a Rebels to revolt against their corrupt and evil kingdom. While there is definitely a lot of “War” in this “Clone Wars” series, they’ve never looked or felt more different than in these episodes. The best way to describe this arc is if the large scale battles and imaginative creatures of 2009’s “Avatar” became one with the look, feel and characters of “Game of Thrones”. That may sound like a radical combination, but that’s what you get with this arc ... and it’s outstanding for it. Aside from the unique medieval setting, I really love the characters in this arc. Of course we have Ahsoka present to represent our main cast, but I really like all these other one shot characters, some of which I feel could have had their own spin-offs. Actually, this arc introduced the character Saw Gerrera, who years later would be played by Forest Whitaker in the spin-off movie “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story”. I think this is a very underappreciated arc from the series, but definitely a favorite of mine, and one that I think could have passed as a standalone movie on its own.


#9 The Clone Cadet Arc (Season 1 & 3)
3 Episodes – “Clone Cadets”, “Rookies” & “ARC Troopers”)


One of the shows crowning achievements was humanizing the Clone Troopers and making them more than just cannon fodder during the battles. While this arc isn’t the most linier of the series, it was still a poignant example of how this show was going to expand the “Star Wars” saga in new, exciting and character driven ways. This arc follows the journey of a group of clones called Domino Squad who start off as failed cadets in training. We then see their valor, as some give their lives to defend their base. It all comes to a close in one of the shows most epic battles, as the evil droid army launch a full scale attack on the troopers home planet. We have rookie clones facing impossible odds, and it highlights these soldieries as individuals that the audience can care for. Captain Rex in particular is one of the best characters to come from the series, and is a personal favorite of mine among “Star Wars” characters in general. Also the episode “ARC Troopers” features the first paring of the shows two main villains General Grievous and Asajj Ventress, which was nothing short of epic.


#8 The Rain of Darth Maul (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “Revival”, “Eminence”, “Shades of Reason” and “The Lawless


We all remember Darth Maul from “The Phantom Menace” right? He was that really cool looking villain that got killed before he could do anything impactful. Well, one of the best ideas from this series was to bring Darth Maul back from the dead in the season 4 finally, and make him the main threat of season 5. It was a real treat to finally see Darth Maul as this menacing and larger than life villain, which he never achieved on film. His new design was stellar, and his voice was downright chilling. Naturally having Darth Maul as the primary focus of this arc, the writers were able to go all out with him, and his never dying quest for revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi who attempted to kill him back in the movie. Maul and his brother soon spread across the galaxy like wild fire, concurring all in their path. They bring Jabba the Hut and the entire Hut clan down in ruins, they take control of the Death watch clan, assemble their own personal army, and even take over their own planet in which Darth Maul becomes a ruler. Seeing Maul perched on his throne room chair is a chilling image and always stuck with me. His means of enacting vengeance on Kenobi are also really intense, and lead to one of the shows most tragic deaths. The action in this arc is also some of the shows best, and isn’t afraid to feature some really dark material. The violence on display is shocking for an animated program of this sort, and proves that Star Wars: The Clone Wars” wasn’t for little kids. Everything builds to a deeply thrilling showdown between Darth Maul and his former master The Emperor. Seeing these two titans clash is like the best of fan fiction come to life, and it is brutal, but highly entertaining to watch. On a side note, the final episode of this arc titled “The Lawless” is dedicated to the memory of the late voice actor Ian Abercrombie, who up to this point in the show had supplied the voice of The Emperor ... may he rest in peace.

  
#7 The Lost Padawan’s Arc (Season 3)
2 Episodes – “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt


One thing that “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” absolutely got right was introduce us to new original characters to go along with the familiar favorites. I my opinion it was Anakin Skywalker’s young apprentice Ahsoka Tano who stood out as the shows big break out character, and personally one of my five all time favorite Star Wars characters. She went through various peaks and vales through the series, and it just made her a more well rounded individual then the others. One of the brightest moments in her journey came in the season three finally, in which she’s kidnapped by a group of hunters that aim to use her and several other captured young Jedi for sport. Now stranded on a foreign jungle planet, she has to utilize all her strength and growth to survive, as well as inspire her captured companions to fight against their oppressors. You could almost describe this arc as “Predator” meets “The Hunger Games”, and it’s awesome! The battles, particularly the climax are some of my favorite action highlights from this show as a whole. More than anything, this is a great turning point in Ahsoka’s journey. It’s the moment where she really matured from the annoying and overly enthusiastic young Padawan she started as at the beginning of the series. Her relationship with her master Anakin is also developed in a small but very effective way at the end of the arc. Another small highlight is that this arc features a special guest appearance from Chewbacca, who aids our hero’s during their escape. It’s a short yet memorable and highly entertaining story arc from the series that shouldn’t be missed.           


#6 The Gathering Arc (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “The Gathering”, “A Test of Strength”, “Bound for Rescue” and “A Necessary Bond


Now here’s a surprisingly fun series of episodes that are very different from what the show usually produces, but it also feels like classic “Star Wars” at heart. Ahsoka Tano leads a small group of kids aspiring to become Jedi on a sacred rite of passage, where they face their flaws, and forge their own lightsabers. During the mission, the group is attacked by pirates lead by Hondo, who aim to steal the Jedi’s force sensitive lightsaber crystals, but end up taking Ahsoka prisoner instead. With the other adult Jedi’s out battling General Grievous, it’s up to the kids to embark on a wild adventure across the galaxy in order to save their friend, and earn the title of Jedi. Of all “The Clone Wars” arcs, this one appealed to my inner child the most. I remember being a kid and imagining myself as a Jedi going on exciting outer-space adventures of this sort. Now having a series of episodes revolving around a group of kids may seem obviously aimed to appeal to young viewers, but it’s all handled with a very mature direction. The young Jedi cast is surprisingly likable, all with distinct personalities, each learn valuable moral lessons, and they just make for a memorable group of characters. Of course having Ahsoka Tano present in this arc as a main character is always a plus. The pirate Hondo is voiced by the exceptionally talented Jim Cummings, and the character really shines in this arch as both one of the most charismatic and funniest villains the series has ever produced. Yet another stand out character from this arc is the robot Huyang who is brought to life by “Doctor Who” himself David Tennant, who actually won an Emmy Award for his voice work on this show. On a side note, the closing episode “A Necessary Bond” marks the final appearance of General Grievous in the series, and it’s one of his best battles. It’s consistently fun, there’s great action, the cast is terrific and “The Gathering” itself works great for building on the lore and mythos of the Jedi. 


#5 Yoda’s Journey Through the Force (Season 6)
4 Episodes – “The Lost One”, “Voices”, “Destiny” and “Sacrifice


This season finally arc marks the end of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and it’s a suitably poignant swan song for the series as a whole to go out on. In fact, the final episode of this arc titled “Sacrifice” is widely considered by fans as probably the absolute best of what the show has to offer. After making a frightening discovery of the origins of the Jedi’s very own clone army, Yoda goes on a spiritual journey across the stars in an effort to find answers. Instead he finds himself facing various challenges and tests from several different mystical creatures. He learns more about the force, and discovers even more hidden secrets about the universe at large. This was a surprisingly touching series of episodes, complete with terrific character moments, genuinely deep moral values, sensational animation and it builds on the lore of Star Wars like few others before ever did. One of the many highlights is that Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill supplies the voice of a guest villain called Darth Bane. The biggest highlight of all comes at the end when Yoda comes face to face with The Emperor, which leads into an awesome dual. Obviously The Emperor's real identity isn’t revealed to Yoda until the movie “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, but this was a great warm up to their theatrical showdown. Also, after the tragic passing of Ian Abercrombie who previously supplied the voice of The Emperor, he was replaced in this season by the great Tim Curry, and he absolutely shines in the role. This is the arc in which Tim Curry was given full rain to take a legendary Star Wars villain to new heights, and subsequently, it's one of his greatest villain roles. While not my absolute favorite of what “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” has to offer, it’s still a powerful series of episodes that closes this amazing TV show on a high note.


#4 The Slaves of Zygerria Trilogy (Season 4)
3 Episodes – “Kidnapped”, “Slaves of the Republic” and “Escape from Kadavo


Now here’s a very different kind of story arc that took me by surprise, and features our hero’s in a unique situation. The entire civilian population of a city is taken captive by a ruthless clan of slave traders called the Zygerrians, who are also in direct service to the shows main villains. All four of our principle main hero’s Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Captain Rex go under-cover on the Zygerrian home world in an effort to free all the slaves, but end-up becoming prisoners themselves. It’s an exciting premise that features some of the shows finest action, and it’s interesting to see Anakin Skywalker battle his personal demons in this situation. This is also a rare case in which all four of our main hero’s are present for one arc. The Zygerrians also make for a memorable group of villains, as their both ruthless but also kind of interesting. Their evil queen for example takes a liking to Anakin Skywalker, and puts him to a test, she’ll set all his companions free if he willingly surrenders his life to her. I especially like all the little throwbacks to the original “Star Wars” trilogy, particularly the opening Jabba the Hutt sequence from “Return of the Jedi”. We even have Ahsoka put in an attractive slave dress that’s less skimpy then Princess Leia’s original gold bikini. Memorable battles, individual character highlights and a situation that breaks away from the familiar Clone Wars formula make this my personal favorite arc from season 4. 
  

#3 The Holocron Heist Trilogy (Season 2)
3 Episodes – “Holocron Heist”, “Cargo of Doom” & “Children of the Force”)


While this series was credible for bringing back many fan favorite villains like Darth Maul and Boba Fett, it was actually the show’s original villains that stuck with me the most. My favorite of the shows rouges gallery by far was the new bounty hunter Cade Bane, who personally is my second favorite villain in the entire “Star Wars” saga behind Darth Vader. In the season two premier arc, we saw just how devastating he is as both a threat, and just a plain cool villain. Now we’ve seen past bounty hunters put up a good fight against Jedi, but Cade Bane was the first to inflict nuclear size damage to the Jedi order as a whole. He broke into the Jedi’s sacred temple, ruthlessly killed several members along the way, strategically outsmarted our hero’s, kidnapped several force sensitive children and aimed to brain wash them to become servants for the evil Emperor. While our villain definitely shines, our main hero’s Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano are still very involved and have their own meaningful character arc’s incorporated into this one. The middle episode “Cargo of Doom” features some of my favorite action highlights of the show, including Walkers in space, and a massive brawl in a zero gravity room. The best moment of all is a confrontation involving all three of our principle characters Anakin Skywalker, Cade Bane and Ahsoka Tano. It’s here we see how one bounty hunter can have total dominance over two armed Jedi, and all while using nothing but his ruthless intellect as a weapon. It’s just a solid season premier that further develops our main characters, thrills us with creative action set pieces and more than anything shows off one of the franchises greatest villains in all his glory.    


#2 The Mortis Trilogy (Season 3)
3 Episodes – “Overlords”, “Alter of Mortis” and “Ghosts of Mortis


Before this arc, I had been passively enjoying the series, but it was this arc from season 3 that turned me into a devoted fan of “The Clone Wars”, and things haven’t been the same sense. In this arc, our three Jedi hero’s find themselves stranded on a mysterious planet that seems to have been created from the force itself. While on this strange world, they meet three mystical beings that put Anakin Skywalker through a series of challenges to determine if he’s “the chosen one”, and a series of internal struggles ensue along the way. Not only does this arc develop our characters further, it also enhances and explores the mythology of the Star Wars universe. The setting of this strange planet is arguably the most imaginative and atmospheric setting of the saga as a whole. The three mystics also make for fascinating characters with unique capabilities that we’ve never seen before. Their abilities also lead to some fascinating action sequences that are both visual spectacles, but I also care about the individual characters, which makes these battles all the more engaging. The villain of this arc is only referred to as “the Son” and he’s one of the shows stand out foes. I especially love the internal journey our main characters go through, as Anakin struggles to find his path, and his relationship with his apprentice Ahsoka reaches new heights. There are also several little surprises along the way, including Liam Neeson reprising his role as Qui Gon Jinn. The best moment of all is a scene in which Anakin looks into the future and see’s all the devastation he’ll cause as Darth Vader. The animation and designs in this arc is stunning, I love how it explores the lore of the series, and it was the first time “The Clone Wars” broke away from the familiar took full advantage of its expansive potential.           
  

Of course I had to draw the line somewhere, but before I reveal my #1 favorite here are some individual episodes that deserve an Honorable Mention ... 

Hostage Crisis” (Season 1)

The Deserter” (Season 2) 

Bounty” (Season 4) 

Carnage of Krell” (Season 4) 

Death Trap” (Season 2)




#1 The Final Journey of Ahsoka Tano (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi” and “The Wrong Jedi


As I stated above, Ahsoka is personally my favorite character from this series, and I think she’s earned the right to be called one of the great classic Star Wars characters. Her journey took many exciting twists, and the most impactful moment of her character arc by far came in the Season 5 finally. Rather than go for a big action spectacle, or have our hero’s face a larger than life villain, this season finally chose to center its attention on the struggles of someone meaningful, and broke away from the shows more familiar formula. After a terrorist bombing, Ahsoka is framed for the crime, as well as a subsequent murder. Thus she’s forced to go on the run to prove her innocents, while being chased by the very troops and Jedi she fought beside. With no-one left to trust, Ahsoka is forced to make an alliance with none other than her arch enemy Asajj Ventress, which is an awesome paring. Obviously set-up’s like this have been done in other shows and movies, in fact there’s a scene in a sewer that’s lifted right out of “The Fugitive”, and three of the episode titles “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi” and “The Wrong Jedi” are all clearly named after the classic Alfred Hitchcock crime thrillers “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Thief” and “The Wrong Man”. However, everything from the direction, to the atmosphere, to the visuals, to the mystery plot, to the riveting chasses, to the emotional connections with our characters are all dialed up to eleven in this arc. There’s a great sense of passion in thisone, which is consistently felt through the voice acting, the writing and especially the musical score. Of course the action, particularly the light saber duals are among some of the series best, but the focus always goes to the characters first. This is when action is at its best because I feel for the characters, and wanted to see Ahsoka get through this situation. The whole arc just felt refreshingly different from past episodes, and wasn’t afraid to take risks. Even the twist reveal of the villain is very poignant, and a frightening hint of what’s to come. Admiral Tarkin also works very effectively as an internal threat for this arc. 
Finally, this arc closes on one of the best on screen character moments the series ever produced. Seriously, to call this ending my absolute favorite moment from the TV series is an understatement, because in my personal opinion I think the closing scene from “The Wrong Jedi” is one of the five greatest, and most emotional highlights of the entire “Star Wars” saga. This concludes my countdown of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite animated TV shows. If you’ve never seen “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and have no interest in sitting through all 122 episodes, I hope my countdown at least provided some good options to check out. It may not have been perfect, but when this series was “good”, it really was some of the best of what “Star Wars” has ever offered. 



The End      

2 comments:

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