“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Recap – 1×01, “Ambush”

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Earlier this month, the entire series of Star Wars: The Clone Wars hit Netflix, and since it’s not a show I’m terribly familiar with, I’m going to watch and review every episode, all the way up through the brand new sixth season, which aired exclusively on Netflix. This week, we’re diving right into the first episode, “Ambush!” It’s basically 22 minutes of Yoda vs. battle droids.

Spoilers after the jump.

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The first thing we see after the title card is a little phrase appear on screen: “Great leaders inspire greatness in others.” This is something that happens at the top of every episode of the show, and usually sums up the theme of the episode. It’s like the moral of an Aesop fable, but at the top of the story instead of the end. Then we’re into the narration, which catches us up on what’s up in the universe – namely that the Republic and the Separatists are competing for the allegiance of neutral planets.

Yoda wants to win the allegiance of the Toydarians (Watto’s species from The Phantom Menace) so he plans to meet up with their king on a neutral moon. But before Yoda arrives, Ventress shows up and holo-skypes Count Dooku in. He says he knows the Jedi want to build a base in the Toydarian system in exchange for protection – so Dooku wants to show that the Jedi can’t even protect themselves.

As Yoda’s ship is flying in towards the planet, a droid ship jumps in and tries to shoot it out of the sky. Yoda sends the ship to retreat, but takes a few troops in an escape pod to complete the mission on the surface.  They launch all the pods, but the droids only manage to miss Yoda’s pod. When the robot manning the guns is called out for being a terrible shot, he shrugs and says, “Ah well, it’s my programming.”

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Rant #1: Now’s as good a time as any to address what I have always hated about the battle droids: I hate dumb villains. I’ve never understood why so many kids movies have silly / inept villains. The ones we remember as the best villains are the ones that were played straight: Scar from The Lion King, Hopper from A Bug’s Life, Voldemort from Harry Potter. These are all genuinely cunning and dangerous villains, despite being in a “kid’s movie.” Yet in the Star Wars prequels, Lucas created the battle droids, which are all just terrible soldiers. Why am I supposed to be intimidated by them? I realize this show just inherited these characters, and I’m not going to keep calling it out every time the show points out how dumb they are, but it happens all throughout the episode, and it does end up taking away some of my enjoyment of this episode.

Anyway, Yoda and his troops arrive on the surface, and call the king. The king says Dooku is trying to sway him over to their side, and Ventress suggests a contest – if Yoda is the warrior the king claims he is, then she’ll send her best troops to capture him. If he escapes, the king joins the Republic. If Yoda is caught, the king considers joining the Separatists. The king says no – he didn’t request Yoda’s presence so he could test him in battle – but Yoda accepts the challenge, and adds that he’ll arrive by nightfall. That seems pointless if the guy you’re trying to convince is already in your corner, but we’ve got another 17 minutes to kill, so Yoda springs the obvious trap for no reason.

It’s worth pointing out that the king isn’t entirely neutral, or threatening to give away his allegiance like Jabba was last week – the king didn’t even need Yoda to compete, and tells Ventress he wants Yoda to have a fair chance. Ventress promises (read: lies) that she “would have it no other way.”

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Out in the coral jungle (which, by the way, is an awesome environment I haven’t seen anyone else do in sci-fi before), the droids send in a ship of soldiers, and the clones prepare for battle. Yoda leads the troops away from the droids – and the rendezvous point – in order to lose them in the jungle. The droids send in tanks, but they’re too big to follow (there’s a bit more droid shenanigans here), so they send in the infantry. The troops and Yoda ambush the droids, and Yoda gets separated from the troops. He takes down a squad of droids by hopping around and jumping on their backs, drawing fire towards each other.

Rant #2: Look, I have no problem with the idea of a tiny Jedi master who can hop around and swing a lightsaber like a maniac. I even don’t mind the idea that he’s also a super-wise master. The part where they lose me is where they made it the same character who, in Empire Strikes Back, said, “Wars not make one great.” The big twist in that film is that Luke was expecting to meet a great warrior, and instead met a zen master. But Attack of the Clones, for some reason, said, “No, don’t worry, he’s still a great warrior. In fact, he’s actually super-badass! Look at him lightsaber all over that guy!” If it had been any other character, I wouldn’t have minded… and to be fair, I did think it was awesome when I saw Yoda fight Count Dooku when I was 14. But I was wrong. That scene was dumb, and at the end of the day, Prequel Yoda is someone I have a really hard time reconciling with Original Recipe Yoda.

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That being said, if I was making a CGI Star Wars cartoon for kids, and I had inherited a character with as much potential as parkour Yoda, I would absolutely include parkour Yoda. Why wouldn’t I?

Yoda finds his troops, and takes down another group of droids with the Force. More droids show up, and the troops retreat. One of the troops is  injured, so when they find a network of caves in a valley,  Yoda insists that they rest. The troops are low on supplies and ammo, and are ready to admit defeat, but Yoda says they shouldn’t give up. He asks to see their faces, and when they point out that they’re clones that all share the same face, Yoda says that in the Force, each one is very different. He knows each of them by name, and knows their personalities – and their weaknesses. One is too focused on the enemy, but needs to focus on his allies in battle; one relies too much on weapons, but Yoda says the mind is the greatest weapon of all; one charges thoughtlessly into battle, but only by surviving the war do you succeed. “Clones you may be, but the Force resides in all life forms.” This is some old-school Empire Strikes Back Yoda we’re seeing, and it’s nice to see him back for a change.

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A column of tanks roll into the valley, and Yoda tells the troops that they’ll know when it’s time to help him – then he hops in front of the tanks, sits down and closes his eyes. The droids surround him and call Ventress, but when she hears that he’s “just sitting in front of the tanks,” she gives the order to shoot him. Hardly sporting.

But it’s too late, because Yoda charges into action. He takes down a tank from the inside, and we only hear him brutally slaughter the droids within. He pretty much takes down an entire company of droids solo – and despite my earlier-referenced distaste for super-Yoda, it’s a very well-choreographed sequence (much better-done than the fights in the film last week).

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Ventress sends more droids, but the troops manage to destroy them, using their last rocket to blast a mountain and cause it to collapse on the droids. They meet up with Yoda, and keep going towards the rendezvous point with the king.

Meanwhile the king calls Dooku and says he’ll still be joining the Republic. Turns out Yoda didn’t get that fair fight Ventress promised. Dooku orders Ventress to kill the king, but before she can bring down her sabers on him, Yoda stops her with the Force. He asks her to surrender, but she causes an avalanche, so Yoda is forced to catch the rocks with the Force, while she makes her escape. The king says negotiations with Yoda are not necessary – Toydaria and her people are at the Jedi’s service. The Republic reinforcements arrive to pick everyone up, and they fly away to safety.

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And with that, the first episode of the series ends. Next week, join us for part one of a three-part story as we watch “Rising Malevolence!”

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