Star Wars: Clone Wars season one

Hey everybody,
I’m pleased to report that the final essay of my course has been submitted, a 3000-word beast that has taken me the best part of two weeks to hash together, and as a result: I have four month off! Very excited by this. I’m planning to get lots of exciting stuff done, and in particular I’m hoping to get a lot more done on this here blog – foremost, getting back into writing some short stories! I started doing something a couple of months back now, and moving forward with that is top of my list.

As a bit of light relief between studying, I’ve been watching the first season of Clone Wars once again, partly because of encountering Cham Syndulla in Lords of the Sith and feeling like I should try to reconnect with this stuff.

Star Wars Clone Wars

I have to say, all of this stuff is pretty hit and miss for me. I know it’s primarily a kid’s show and all, but it just goes too weird or whatever, and I find it quite hard to watch. While it hasn’t improved with age, I will admit that some of these episodes do bring back some fond memories for me. I’m hardly that young, of course, but it harkens back to a time when we were getting a lot of new stuff that was supported in games like Star Wars Miniatures and the RPG.

The series was launched with a movie that was just awful. The Jedi are keen to gain control of hyperlanes in the Outer Rim, so when Jabba the Hutt asks for the Republic’s help in rescuing his son, they leap to the chance. Turns out the Separatists have kidnapped Jabba’s offspring, and planned to frame the Jedi for it. When the Jedi manage to rescue the little Huttlet, the Separatists modify the plan and think to destroy the Jedi and blame the murder on them. Needless to say, good triumphs in the end…

First of all – Jabba has a child. Secondly – that child is called “Rotta”. Urgh. There are some nice moments in this, but by and large it’s just a cringefest – indeed, I’d forgotten just how bad it was until I watched it again. The worst of these is Ahsoka Tano, the padawan assigned to Anakin. I actually feel bad for hating on her, because she was clearly conceived as a role model for female fans where Padme wouldn’t cut it. The problem is, she is so transparently a Mary Sue character that it really is quite painful to watch at times.

Some of the worst moments in this regard actually come from the series, however. There are at least two moments that I recall vividly where Ahsoka, who is apparently young even for a padawan, tells established Jedi Master Luminara Unduli, and Jedi Knight Aayla Secura, that she knows better than them, and is proven right. It’s not so much that Ahsoka is right in these instances, but that the more senior members of the Jedi Order are dumbed down by comparison. Doesn’t help that Luminara is one of my favourite Jedi, of course, but it really ticks me off that Ahsoka is shown to be so super-wise and stuff. I also hate the fact she’s made out to be the inventor of the Marg Sabl manoeuvre, which tactical genius Thrawn uses in the opening of Heir to the Empire. Seriously – if she’s this good, why the hell isn’t she on the Jedi Council, already?

Ahsoka and Luminara

The battledroids are just annoying, and Jar Jar’s schtick makes me want to leave the room, but as I said above, there are also some good bits in here, too.

I really like the character design we have for both Anakin and Obi-Wan. Anakin’s is of course derivative of Darth Vader’s suit but, in a galaxy where nothing can happen without first being foreshadowed, it’s still a cool-looking design. Obi-Wan’s is a nice amalgam of Jedi robes and Clone Trooper armour, one that seems especially at home on a general in the field. Plo Koon has a similar look in his appearance, and it works really well.

There are a lot of arcs in the first season, mainly three-part, and of these, the Ryloth one (episodes 19-21) is probably my favourite. It does suffer a little too much from the “Mace Windu is a badass” syndrome that a lot of the prequel material has, but it’s overall pretty good.

Star Wars Clone Wars Kit Firsto

In addition, there are three stand-out episodes that I have to mention. First is Lair of Grievous, episode 10, which follows Kit Fisto and his former padawan Nahdar Vebb as they try to track the escaped Nute Gunray (the Viceroy escaped partly thanks to Ahsoka, who was busy acting like she’s the shit again). Nahdar has something of a chip on his shoulder from the off, it seems, and (spoiler alert) it comes as no surprise when his over-confidence leads to his demise. The Jedi find themselves in the lair of General Grievous, and I found it interesting to see how he keeps spare parts and stuff around – it was one of those character moments where seeing behind the curtain adds to the portrayal rather than detracts.

Star Wars Clone Wars Hidden Enemy

The Hidden Enemy, episode 16, is a prequel to the movie and shows Anakin and Obi-Wan attempting to lift the siege of the crystal-planet Christophsis. The episode has some interesting ideas in it, such as the clones showing a bit too much independent thought – one clone turns traitor, informing the droid army of the Jedi’s plan because he believes the clones are enslaved by the Jedi. While I don’t entirely buy that – clones otherwise have a strong bond to their brothers, and I wouldn’t have thought they’d willingly risk their brethren like that, but anyway. It’s also good to see Rex and Cody work together, something of a theme for the series.

I’m not a huge fan of Asajj Ventress – I liked her when she was introduced in the comics, but I feel she’s been over-exposed and, almost by necessity, this has led to her coming across as incompetent. It’s like Boba Fett syndrome – the character is interesting, so we see loads of him/her, but because they can never be shown to fulfill their potential, they’re forever shown being thwarted to some degree. In the cartoon series, Asajj is supposed to be this top-level assassin, but it’s even pointed out by Darth Sidious at one point how she has failed many times. Well, at any rate, this has lead to an interesting relationship with Obi-Wan, where the two frequently find themselves together on the battlefield, and it’s almost like some twisted kind of relationship the two have. It can be fun, anyway!

Star Wars Clone Wars Cad Bane

The season finale, Hostage Crisis, is one of my absolute favourites. We’re introduced to the Duros bounty hunter Cad Bane as a group of mercenaries infiltrates the Senate and holds a number of high-ranking officials hostage. I’m one of these who likes the political aspects of Star Wars, so I’ve always felt right at home in the senate scenes. This episode also has a strong link with the movie, as the mercenaries are trying to free Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle who had aided the Separatists in their kidnap of Jabba’s son. I thought the feel of the episode was tremendous, and it felt like something of an event when I first saw it, introducing someone who would go on to become a significant player in the canon.

Overall, the series has some good bits, but some godawful bits as well. I do think it’s worth investigating if you haven’t already done so, as some of these good bits do kinda mitigate the bad! While I have all six seasons on DVD, I’ve only actually watched the first two all the way through (I think, I may have started 3…) but I’m intending to watch all of them this summer, and then make my merry way on to the Rebels cartoon as well. Look forward to that, then! Some of these episodes won’t be a surprise to me as I did used to follow all Star Wars news quite religiously, but I’m still interested to see the totality of what I’ve missed here. What better way to spend my summer vacation, right?!

I think, if I’m going to do this review thing properly, it’s only right to rank these episodes, so I’d say my top three episodes from the series are:

1. Hostage Crisis
2. The Hidden Enemy
3. Lair of Grievous

But what about you guys? Did you love the cartoon, or hate it? Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for season two, which will be coming up within the next month or so (hopefully)!

Tales of the Jedi

It’s Sunday! You know what that means… well, I’m not quite sure where that is going, but it’s Sunday! And it’s the middle of the three-day-weekend! So I thought it might be nice to go for a bit of a feature-Sunday here (this probably won’t become a thing, but you never know!)

So, after my blog on the Dark Empire series, I’ve been feeling pretty bummed out. I think, more than anything, I feel like I’ve let myself down by being so derisive of what is often seen as a modern classic. It’s tantamount to blasphemy, almost! But anyway. I thought today I’d talk about another classic of the early years of Dark Horse comics publishing of Star Wars, the Tales of the Jedi saga. I’m quite the fan of these books, and read them fairly often, most recently in Feb/March this year, just outside the scope of this blog, hence I suppose why I’m writing this now. Anyway!

Tales of the Jedi

Tales of the Jedi began back in the 80s, when Tom Veitch was pitching ideas for Star Wars comics to Lucasfilm. Initially refused, on the grounds that the franchise wasn’t going anywhere, it was only after the success of Dark Empire that the team managed to get some renewed interest in the idea. George Lucas himself apparently got very interested in the idea of a comic series set 4000 years before the film trilogy, and personally approved the storylines for each.

Beginning in October 1993 with Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon, the series would eventually run to 35 comics that told the whole story of Ulic from his days as a padawan, through his fall to the Dark Side, and his eventual redemption, alongside that of the unwilling Jedi, Nomi Sunrider. Further issues would explore even further back in the mythic past of the Jedi and the Sith. A year after the Onderon story began, the next arc of the saga came out, Dark Lords of the Sith. Opening the universe still further with the Jedi enclave on Dantooine, we are introduced here to the Jedi Exar Kun, who would fall to the Dark Side and unleash the terrible Sith War on the galaxy. Dark Lords of the Sith added the author Kevin J Anderson to the production team, who was currently working on his Jedi Academy trilogy of novels that dealt with the spirit of Exar Kun trapped on Yavin IV. With the comic series, Anderson was able to tell the backstory on this, slotting in his ideas neatly with Veitch’s, to create more of a homogeneous feel to the universe. Despite Veitch’s departure from the project before the end, the series was brought to a suitable conclusion at the beginning of 1996 in The Sith War, before Anderson launched into a prequel story set 1000 years before the saga of Ulic, The Golden Age of the Sith. This was a universe still being discovered, where ancient Sith Lords were more like mad alchemical scientists. Featuring stories around Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh, as well as Empress Teta and the Great Hyperspace War, not to mention lightsabers that came with backpack power generators, the universe really does feel like a mythic past in this and the following arc, The Fall of the Sith Empire, which concluded late in 1997. Finally, in summer 1998, the saga of Ulic Qel-Droma began its conclusion with the emotionally-charged Redemption arc. In a series spanning five years, the Tales of the Jedi finally reached their conclusion.

I really enjoyed this series. The core of the saga, which follows Ulic on his journey from Jedi apprentice to Sith apprentice, through being stripped of his Force powers and finally to his redemption, is really nicely done. Despite the fact that Ulic falls to the Dark Side in a misguided attempt to learn its secrets and thus to defeat it from within, I still think this is a much better tale than that eventually told by the Star Wars prequel movies. It’s also a lot better than the execution in Dark Empire of Luke’s fall, but I won’t go over that again.

There are all sorts of things in these ‘early’ stories, perhaps most notably the idea that anyone can be trained to use the Force, back when the idea appeared to be more in terms of a mystical religion than a biological phenomenon. Satal Keto and his cousin Aleema are described as “bored aristocrats” with no particular affinity for the Force, and yet through the power of the Sith amulets they find, they are able to control the mystical energy field. Hm. Personally, I prefer this view as being much more, well, sensible. But anyway.

The key to success with any Star Wars story, for me, lies firmly between boldly-drawn characters and epic situations, and the whole saga has that. Even what are, I suppose, the bit-players are really compelling characters, including Shoaneb Culu, the first Miraluka to appear in the universe (perhaps more famous examples include Jerec from Dark Forces, and Visas Marr from KOTOR2). The series is made increasingly rich as we follow first Ulic and then Nomi on their very different paths through the Jedi way. From the beginning, we have incredibly compelling situations, as Ulic, his brother Cay, and the Twi’lek Tott Doneeta travel to Onderon to help mediate in the Beast Wars. Some epic storytelling, including incredible reversals, launches the galaxy-spanning epic. By the time we’re introduced to Exar Kun, the figures of Ulic Qel-Droma and his companions already have something of a celebrity feel about them. By the end of the series, we feel like we know these characters as well as the films of the original trilogy.

I don’t often mention the art when I’ve looked at comic books in the past, largely because I’m not really that much of a connoisseur. However, I have to say that I absolutely love the art of Christian Gossett, who drew most of the Dark Lords of the Sith arc, and whose art was, for many years for me, synonymous with Star Wars comics.

Of course, having grown up with the Bantam books, and the Jedi Academy trilogy were among the first that I’d read, when I eventually got into the comics and started to read these stories, they really were like reading the long-lost history of the galaxy. Reading about Exar Kun’s exploits when I’d only previously known him as a disembodied spirit wreaking havoc on Yavin IV, that was particularly gratifying. Somehow, the names of these characters and locations have a mythic feel to them, too – Ulic Qel-Droma, Nomi Sunrider, Arca Jeth, Vodo Siosk-Baas, Satal Keto, Freedon Nadd, and of course, Exar Kun himself. While we have the classic Yavin IV location, which explains what those jungle temples the Rebel Alliance were using were all about, we also visit Dantooine, but also have new locations such as Onderon and the Dxun Moon, the Jedi training centre on Ossus, and the Sith ‘homeworld’ of Korriban. All of these things are so intrinsically part of Star Wars lore that I can’t help but feel like it’s part of something really special.

Aside from the Jedi Academy trilogy, the events and situations were most strongly referenced in the later Dark Empire stories, where Leia takes refuge on Onderon to escape the Emperor’s attempted kidnapping of her son Anakin. In later media, the novel Darth Bane: Rule of Two features a trip to Onderon in a sort of pilgrimage to find the tomb of Freedon Nadd. The Sith stronghold of Ziost plays a significant part in the Legacy of the Force novel series, while Korriban, as a sacred world to the Sith Order, features strongly in pretty much any story where the Sith are prominent, either by name or an actual appearance. Perhaps the greatest homage was paid by Lucas himself, however, when he modeled Darth Maul’s twin-bladed lightsaber on that of Exar Kun.

Before the advent of BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic reinvigorated interest in the ancient history of the Star Wars universe, Tales of the Jedi sat apart from the rest of the canon, which centred around the original trilogy and, as the prequels came out, ventured no further into the past than forty or fifty years before A New Hope. But now, there’s all sorts of stuff going on at that end of the timeline, including even earlier stories, Dawn of the Jedi.

Ulic Qel-Droma
Ulic Qel-Droma
Nomi Sunrider
Nomi Sunrider
Exar Kun
Exar Kun duels Vodo Siosk-Baas
Cay Qel-Droma
Cay Qel-Droma
Arca Jeth confronts the spectre of Freedon Nadd
Arca Jeth confronts the spectre of Freedon Nadd

It’s a really great series of comics, and I can heartily recommend you take a look!

Buy it from amazon:
The Golden Age of the Sith
The Fall of the Sith Empire
Knights of the Old Republic
The Freedon Nadd Uprising
Dark Lords of the Sith
The Sith War
Redemption

Tales of the Jedi: Omnibus 1
Tales of the Jedi: Omnibus 2