Did you watch last Friday’s episode of The Clone Wars?
Last week I talked about the Bechdel Test, and how off the top of my head I could think of quite a few episodes of TCW that fit its criteria. That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t like or enjoy episodes that don’t meet the test criteria. I very much do.
In addition to featuring Ahsoka’s path to her unknown fate, TCW has given us a chance to see the clonetroopers up close and personal as well, many of them also with fates unknown. The Umbaran arc introduces a great new character with Jedi general Pong Krell, but the story plays out through the eyes of Captain Rex.
There have been some fantastic episodes in previous seasons that feature Rex, Fives, and other members of the 501st. I sat down and watched a few of those episodes this weekend. In the “Clone Cadets” episode, I particularly noted the compassion for the clones shown by Shaak Ti, which aligns more with what we’ve seen from Anakin and Obi-Wan than with the callous detachment shown by Krell.
The core design of both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy reveals that one person’s choices can make all the difference. So even though the Jedi are an Order based on compassion, it’s conceivable that just a couple of bad eggs might poison the dynamics of the relationship between the clones and their leaders. There’s been a lot of speculation about Anakin’s recall from Umbara by Palpatine, but the most important factor, I believe, is that Anakin has to be set apart from the rest of his fellow Jedi in the minds of the clonetroopers before Order 66. This is especially true for the ranks of the 501st, in order to create credibility for his leadership – prior to the black armored suit, still wearing his Jedi robes and wielding his blue lightsaber – of the attack on the Jedi Temple in Revenge of the Sith.
Compared to the rest of the series, “The General” was an exceptionally brutal portrayal of war, but that’s actually what war is. I’m not sure they could have found a better director than Walter Murch, who is known for his work on Apocalypse Now, one of the most famous films about the psychological and moral destructiveness of the Vietnam War. There’s a similar allegory in the Umbaran arc, for both the Jedi and the Republic. Krell cares more about winning than he does about Jedi principles. Some viewers have questioned the lack of specifics about why the Republic has taken the war to Umbara, but I think the lack of clarity is reminiscent of theaters of war that have played out in recent U.S. history. When asked, many people can’t tell you why the United States fought in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. In the prequels, the reasons for the blockade of Naboo and the Separatist secession are equally vague in their presentation to the audience.
Ultimately, I don’t think Star Wars should explain everything crisply and cleanly. Obi-Wan has a few lines of dialogue in “Darkness on Umbara” and “The General” that hint to the strategic importance of the planet. The design and combat power of the Umbaran assets should allow viewers to draw their own conclusions, too; if that technology was to fall into Separatists hands, the Republic would be in for a world of hurt. For Palpatine, there is surely a reason within a reason, just like Iraq or Afghanistan are as much about oil and drug trafficking as they are about tyrants and terrorism. And considering this war is all part of Darth Sidious’ master plan to bring down the Republic and the Jedi, the reason might just be as simple as pointlessly prolonging the war for its own sake.
If you haven’t watched “The General” yet, the episodes are available at StarWars.com. Although the revised website was initially content-shallow, there’s a lot more content being added now; some of the questions I’ve seen about these episodes online actually had been answered by the updated TCW entries even before they aired. The new website still isn’t where the older version was with depth of content, but it’s getting better each time I check back.
Finally, a reminder that this is the week I will be discussing “The General” and The Clone Wars with the guys from the ForceCast. The live Roundtable will be featured Tuesday night, November 8th, at 8:00 p.m. ET. The taped podcast generally goes up on Friday; I’ll add a link when it becomes available.
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