“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Recap – 1×03, “Shadow of Malevolence”

It’s a golden age for Star Wars fans. While the prequel films were generally mediocre, Star Wars: The Clone Wars filled in the gaps and told new stories with the same beloved characters. 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 watching “Shadow of Malevolence,” where Anakin leads a small elite squad of fighters against a massive doomsday weapon and try to blow it up and kill one of the enemy generals. For real guys, it’s nothing like the Death Star.

Spoilers after the jump.

Today’s intro is “Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego.” Then a recap about the Malevolence attacking the Republic, and some exposition about Anakin leading a counter-attack against the ship. Anakin briefs his troops on their attack, and their goal – they’re going to try to take out General Grievous, and bring a quicker end to the war. Plo Koon expresses concern that even the highly trained clone pilots of Shadow Squadron won’t be enough to break through Grievous’ defenses, but Anakin is confident that they’ll be able to do the job.

Cut to the Malevolence laying waste to a Republic warship. One of the droids manning the cannons makes an offhand comment that he “still can’t seem to hit anything” (battle-droids SUCK, you guys), and Grievous smashes it. Count Dooku’s hologram scolds him, saying that those battle-droids are expensive – and dude, Dooku, you are clearly paying too much for them – and that the Jedi are never that harsh with their clones. Grievous counters that the compassion that the Jedi show for their clones is a weakness. Dooku plans to exploit that weakness by targeting a medical station treating 60,000+ wounded clones, and destroying their main method for healing their troops.

Back with Anakin’s fleet, Anakin gets a report that Grievous is attacking medical transports, and realizes that Grievous is going to target their medical base. Anakin is going to take his ships on a shortcut, but Plo Koon says that the journey will be treacherous – if they lose even one ship, they may not have enough for the attack. Plo Koon is coming along to help escort the troops. They try to order more reinforcements from Naboo to protect the medical base, but it’s not clear whether or not they’ll get there in time… They begin the evacuation, but it goes slowly, and some patients can’t be moved at all.

The Malevolence has to fly a course around a nebula, which takes them a lot longer, but Anakin leads his forces straight through the nebula to try to beat the Malevolence to the target (despite the misgivings of Ahsoka). The nebula renders their scanners all but worthless… and when Anakin mentions that this was an old smuggler’s route called “Balmorra Run,” Plo Koon freaks out and says they have to turn around and bail.

Then a bunch of giant space mantas show up and try to eat the ships. Plo tells everyone not to shoot or the mantas will panic, and the squad struggles to navigate their way through the nesting grounds of these giant scary manta rays. This is actually a pretty cool sequence – as they made a point of mentioning earlier, if they lose even one ship they’re in deep trouble, and when one ship (belonging to a clone named “Matchstick” – apparently there are still matches in Star Wars) gets grazed and nearly goes down, and another loses its R2 unit, it really makes the stakes feel much more real. Plus, the staging overall is just really well-done.

There’s also some great humor to lighten the mood, as Ahsoka comments that one of them “looks hungry,” and Anakin says, “Nah, he’s just smiling at you,” and voice actor Matt Lanter does a really nice job at making him seem charming, but with just a touch of nervousness behind the words. I’ve said it before, but man, cartoon Anakin is WAY more affable than movie Anakin. They make it out of the nebula, and Plo tells them that the mantas won’t follow. Meanwhile, we realize that there’s no way in hell that the medical station will get everyone evacuated.

Anakin and the Shadow Squadron are doing a status report, and everyone seems to be all right, but Plo points out that they can’t take any more unnecessary risks. They’re close to the station, but then the Malevolence jumps in out of hyperspace in between the fighters and the station. Grievous launches fighters to deal with Anakin’s squad, and the Malevolence fires on the medical transports. The ships are left defenseless, and Grievous blows them out of the sky, effectively killing hundreds of clones – and they were the ones lucky enough to be in “stable condition.”

The droid fighters engage Shadow Squadron, and as I’ve said before, these scenes are really where the animation gets a chance to shine. Despite his fighters being in the line of fire, Grievous fires the ion cannon at the dogfight, and Shadow Squadron bugs out. Unfortunately, Matchstick’s ship took too much damage, and it goes down, and takes out another ship in the process. Three other Shadow units got caught in the ray and lost power, so Anakin is down by almost half of his ships.

Despite this, Anakin still charges in with the old plan of trying to bomb the bridge of the ship. Ahsoka says that they need a new plan, but Anakin says that they can make it. They have to fly along the surface of the ship, and several gun-towers fire at them as they pass by – it’s basically a more open version of the trench scene in A New Hope. Another ship goes down, and Ahsoka points out that Anakin can make it, but everyone else is getting shot down.

Plo Koon notes that damaging the weapon may cause an overload when Grievous fires on the medical station, and Anakin reluctantly changes tactics. As Grievous charges the cannon, Shadow Squadron fires their torpedoes, and do just enough damage. Grievous fires, and the weapon explodes, all but completely crippling the ship. The Malevolence loses both its primary ion cannons and its hyperdrive, but still manages to limp away to Separatist space as the Republic reinforcements arrive.

Anakin’s forces dock at the medical bay for some R&R, and Plo Koon compliments Anakin for his leadership skills. The head of the medical station tells Anakin that he can’t take the lives he saved lightly, and he says he doesn’t… but he also can’t take the lives he saved lightly. It’s a nice reminder that Anakin really doesn’t like death, and a cool way to see it implied as an asset, rather than the weakness we know will be his downfall.

Anakin stands at the edge of the hanger staring out into space (literally), and Ahsoka joins him. And that’s our awkward family photo ending!

Next week, we’ll pick up with the third part of this trilogy of episodes, “Destroy Malevolence!” where they try to… well, yeah, destroy the Malevolence. Spoilers, I guess?

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