“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Recap – 1×05, “Rookies”

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We are entering a new golden age for Star Wars fans. While the prequel films were generally considered to be mediocre, the recent TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars filled in the gaps and told new stories with the same beloved characters, and was fairly well-received. 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. After a brief Easter hiatus last week, this week we’re watching “Rookies,” which is one of the most lauded episodes of season one, and it’s not hard to see why – this is a pretty good one.

Today’s Aesop: “The best confidence builder is experience.” Then a quick recap lets us know that the Jedi are spread thin, and many new clones are rushed into service to support the war effort – but many of them have to join up before their intensive training is completed. Then we’re told that these clones, manning a vital network of tracking stations, “are all that stand between the Republic and invasion!”

We cut to a barren moon, where the clone troopers are just killing time. They’ve got the hologram-radio on, where we hear the radio hostess say, “This next one goes out to the mudjumpers of the 224th, slugging it out on Mimban. Keep your heads down and your seals tight, boys.” I’ve talked about this before in these reviews, but I love those little details that make the war seem more real, and the idea of those wartime radio dedications is just terrific.

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We’re introduced to a few clone troopers, including “Hevy,” a cocky alpha male challenging each of the clones to arm-wrestling contests, and “Echo,” who uses the quiet to catch up on the regulation manuals. All the clones are cracking jokes until the Sergeant enters and reminds them – and us – how important they are to the war. “If the droids get past this station, they can surprise-attack the facilities where we were born on our home-world of Kamino.” That’s sort of an awkward exposition dump, but then he adds that there are some officers on the way for an inspection, so they have to make sure the base is in tip-top shape.

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Now’s as good a time as any to talk about Temuera Morrison, the actor from New Zealand who played Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones, and went on to play the clone troopers in Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and in several of the other Star Wars properties since. He plays all of the clones in this series, and this episode is just wall-to-wall Morrison as a result. And he actually does a fair job of making the different clones sound distinct – they all have the same voice, of course, but they feel like different characters. The animators also add details to distinguish them – Hevy has the side of his head buzzed and tattoos on his neck, another of the clones has some stubble, the Sergeant is going grey – but it’s very odd to remember that this guy was hardly one of the main characters from the prequels, and has probably reprised his role more than any other actor from the franchise (possibly accepting Anthony Daniels as C-3PO).

Cut to Anakin and Obi-Wan on one of the Republic cruisers. Obi-Wan is concerned that Anakin is pushing himself too hard, more concerned with trying to find General Grievous than getting any sleep.

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Commander Cody radios in, says the last tracking station he examined was fully operational, and he and Captain Rex are on their way to the one we saw earlier. Rex and Cody are the two clones we’ve seen the most of so far, having shown up in a few of the early episodes. They sign off, and Obi-Wan reassures Anakin that the tracking stations will let them know if Grievous comes anywhere near this sector.

Back at the tracking station, the base is pelted by a meteor shower. They deflect any meteors away from the base with a shield, but several hit the ground around the station – where we see that one of them is actually a droid ship. A squad of advanced battle droids (a type we have never seen on the show) emerge and take out the guard outside the station. We see that these droids are much more capable than the others we’ve seen, able to hack doors and security systems.

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The droids breach the base, and the clones discover that the droids have disabled the alarm / beacon. They gun down the Sergeant (it happens off camera, but only barely – this show does not shy away from brutal clone murder), and the four remaining clones escape through the vents. The droids arrive at the communications platform, where they hardwire the “All Clear” signal and call General Grievous.

We also discover that Ventress is on Kamino, waiting for Grievous’ impending invasion. Once Grievous destroys the cloning centers on Kamino, there will be no more soldiers for the Jedi’s army. This is actually a fairly solid plan, and they have basically everything they need to succeed. But unbeknownst to them, Rex and Cody are en route for an inspection…

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Cody calls down to the base, and one of the droids puts on a clone trooper helmet, and alters his voice to sound like a clone when he answers the call. For real, guys, why does anybody use those regular battle droids if these guys are around? I get that they’re probably more expensive, but clearly they’re worth the investment. However, despite a solid bluff by the droid, Rex and Cody realize something is amiss… maybe it’s the fact that the droid asked them to leave rather than do the mandatory inspection, or maybe it’s the fact that the droid signed off the call by saying “Roger roger.” We may never know.

The four remaining clones – Echo, Fives, Hevy and Cutup, sneak out of the vents and wind up in the rocky terrain at the base of the mountain, below the facility. Then Cutup gets eaten by a giant eel.

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“What the hell was that?!” shouts Hevy, and also everyone watching the show. Just then, they see the inspection team land, and try to warn them. Rex and Cody are greeted by a “clone trooper” (a droid in clone armor), who says everything is fine and it’s time for them to leave. It’s clear that the droid is just trying to emulate human hand gestures, but his movements are stilted and awkward, which adds a nice touch.

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The remaining clones send a flare into the sky, and Rex shoots the droid-clone in the face, his suspicions confirmed. Then a bunch of the droids pop out and ambush Rex and Cody.

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The droids blow up the ship, stranding Rex and Cody, who manage to escape and hide when the explosion goes off.

Rex and Cody are approached by three more clones, and demand they take their helmets off. They do, and Rex and Cody are reassured – until an eel shows up and tries to attack them all. Rex kills it with one shot, and the clones are understandably impressed.

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Rex calls them “Shinies,” because their armor is shiny and new. While they talk, Rex pats Echo on the chest, and leaves a handprint of the eel’s blue blood (which is helpful in telling these characters apart, since the shinies all wear identical armor, and obviously all have the same voice).

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Anakin and Obi-Wan are concerned that Rex and Cody haven’t checked in yet, but there’s no reason to worry just yet – after all, the station is still broadcasting the All Clear signal…

Rex and Cody lead the clones to the front door, where they use the intercom and pretend to be one of the droids – Rex actually pretends to walk awkwardly and jerkily as he approaches the camera,  just keeps saying “Roger roger,” then bends down to “take off his helmet” and holds a droid head up to the camera.

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All in all, it’s a fairly well-handled ruse. The droids open the door, and the clones open fire. They take back the communications station, and we get to see Rex and Cody in action – they’re far more capable than the Shinies, but the rookies still manage to get in a few good shots.

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Then they look out the window and see a Separatist fleet moving past. They realize that the droids took the base to allow the invasion to pass undetected.

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Grievous learns that the All Clear is still being broadcast, but the droids aren’t checking in. He leaves nothing to chance, so he sends down droids to secure the base. (Good job, Grievous! I’m legitimately impressed at how well thought-out this plan was.)

The clones realize that the transmitter has been sabotaged, and they can’t take it off the All-Clear setting – and they don’t have time to fix it, because a new squad of droids is en route. They’re not the cool new commando droids, but with an army of several dozen against 2 clone soldiers and 3 rookies, it won’t matter.

Rex and Cody know they can’t secure the base for long against those odds, so they decide to destroy the base instead – the Republic will take notice when the All Clear signal suddenly goes dark. They don’t have enough thermal detonators to do the job, but Echo says that have  lots tanks of liquid tibanna – a highly explosive fuel they use to heat the base during the half of the year when the moon is freezing cold.

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Rex gives a quick speech that they’re not fighting for the Republic today – they’re fighting for all their brothers on Kamino. Then they prep for battle. Hevy grabs a two-hander gatling gun, but Cody tells him a “big gun doesn’t make a big man.” Hevy greets the droids at the door with gatling laser fire, and it’s totally awesome.

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The clones fall back to the communications room, where they have the liquid tibanna all set – but the remote detonator won’t sync up. Hevy inspects it to get it fixed and the other clones start falling back into the ventilation shaft again. Hevy can’t get the remote to work, but he doesn’t have time to set up a work-around – the droids are in the base and on their way.

Hevy closes the vent behind the other clones, and hides around the corner from the droids. The other clones realize Hevy stayed behind, and Hevy radios them that the remote won’t work, but he knows what he has to do. The droids see him and he gets into a firefight, and gets wounded.

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He staggers over to the tibanna, but drops when he takes a few more hits. The droids surround him, but he reaches up and hits the detonator attached to the tibanna tanks, and the base goes up in a fiery wreck.

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Obi-Wan and Anakin get word that the base is destroyed, and realize what’s going on. Grievous is pissed, and even more so when a fleet of Republic cruisers comes out of hyperspace right on top of him. He takes his own fleet into retreat, and the Republic sends gunships down for the remaining clones.

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On board the fleet, Obi-Wan and Anakin give Echo and Fives a medal, and Rex tells them they’re not Shinies anymore. The rookies feel like they failed their mission, but Cody tells them that, if it weren’t for them, the Republic never would have learned about the invasion until it was too late. Rex recruits them for the 501st, and that’s the end of the episode!

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The advantage of the format of this show is that we can have a one-off story about these side characters, and this is an episode that uses that to its advantage – I really enjoyed this one. Next week, we’re watching “Downfall of a Droid,” an R2-D2 themed episode. See you then!

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