Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 4, Episode 14 – “A Friend in Need” – Don’t Trust Death Watch

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    This was an episode that had a lot of potential. We meet Lux again who realizes that Count Dooku killed his mother and he wants revenge. Sadly the more interesting part of the episode gets hijacked by this revenge arc rather than us being with Padme and the Republic with the Separatists representatives negotiating a peace. All that is left behind to show that Death Watch is horrible and that Ahsoka and Lux probably have a crush on each other, which is interesting but not as interesting as the politics that were left behind.

    The episode was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Christian Taylor.

    The story involves a Peace Conference between the Separatists and Republic that is interrupted by Lux who accuses Dooku of the murder of his mother. Things don’t go as plan though as Ahoska brings him to the Republic and he knocks her out to take her to the Death Watch base as Pre Viszla promised him Dooku dead through the use of Death Watch.

The Pros: Death Watch – These guys are thugs, like Mandalorians always were when they went warrior as we see them subjugate a local planet and take their food before they head out but not before they burn the village and leave the people to die. Viszla is a great antagonist as was his second in command Bo-Katan.

The Conference – “Will you recognize the Separatists as a Sovereign Nation?” This is the question Padme should have been wresting with this episode as it may have been the only way to bring about Peace and don’t they have a right? They have their own government. This was interrupted for a much weaker story sadly.

Okay: Ahsoka – Ahsoka is shown to be true to her friend and also may have feeling for him. This doesn’t make her stupid unlike him though as she fights Death Watch when they destroy the village and calls Lux out multiple times for his stupidity.

The Cons: Lux – His swearing to do his own thing and survive was stupid, especially since he had no allies and was alone outside of Ahsoka. It was this and his tacked on romance with Ahsoka when they were undercover that really annoyed me.

The Locals – They are just kind of there and we never get to know them as people, we only see them as oppressed and they never get the chance to fight back.

  This was an episode that should have been about the peace conference. Lux doesn’t feel fleshed out as a character and the contrived romance as well as making Death Watch outright bad were not good story decisions. So many missed opportunities, what a shame that this was the episode where Death Watch had to return.

Final Score: 4 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 2, Episodes 12-14 – “Duchess of Mandalore Arc” – Shades of Grey and Power Plays

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      The “Duchess of Mandalore arc” is awesome! In this we explore the conflict of neutrality during wartime as well as the benefits and disadvantages of a warrior or pacifistic philosophy as both the Duchess Satine and Death Watch leader Viszla both have reason to believe what they do as sovereignty is the primary theme of this arc and how different factions seek to use that to their own benefit and make Mandalore a pawn.

    “The Mandalore Plot” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Melinda Hsu and Drew Z. Greenberg, “Voyage of Temptation” was directed by Brain Kalin O’Connell and written by Paul Dini and Henry Gilroy and “Duchess of Mandalore” was directed by Brain Kalin O’Connell and written by Drew Z. Greenberg and Brian Larsen.

     The story involves Obi-Wan arriving at Mandalore to investigate the terrorist group Death Watch who rumor has is being controlled by his past lover Duchess Satine. He soon discovers they are false rumors and when the Death Watch leader Viszla is revealed he must protect Satine as she advocates for Mandalore to deal with it’s own affairs and not have an occupation done by Republic Forces. She is later framed for the death of a Mandalorian and must reveal the truth of the recording of her Prime Minister to the Senate that speaks for Mandalorian Sovereignty that was doctored to present that as not being the case.

The Pros: “Duchess of Mandalore” – “Duchess of Mandalore” was my favorite episode in the arc as we got to see Viszla in action see Palpatine working actively against Satine so that Republic forces would have reason to occupy Mandalore (and in turn later the Empire) and how she and Obi-Wan navigate the political minefield using Padme to save Mandalore’s sovereignty, though it doesn’t solve the problem of Death Watch or how Death Watch is out of Satine’s control unless she gives up her pacifism. It’s a powerful plot. 10 / 10

Death Watch – Death Watch is a hyper-nationalist organization that wants to restore Mandalore to it’s former strength that it had in the Old Republic as an Empire. Viszla even wields an ancient Mandalore saber that can counter lightsabers. They are a small and powerful organization that has sympathy among the populace as Satine cannot protect them from the Separatist and just neutralized the Republic.

Mandalore – Mandalore is a once warrior nation that now is a primarily a trading world but it still carries it’s warrior roots through Death Watch and the Civil War it experienced prior. It is a beautiful world too and has a classic feeling to it, it captures both ancient mixed with modern with expresses the Mandalorian people really well.

Pre Viszla – Viszla has his own government on the moon where the losers of the Civil War were sent who aren’t pacifists. Unsurprisingly he is sympathetic and a leader of the populace he rules and because of that seeks to empower them as the current Mandalore is vulnerable to outside threats. Minus the hyper-nationalism he is an issue that Satine has not dealt with and his perspective is never dealt the justice it deserves as Mandalore needing an army to protect it’s sovereignty.

Count Dooku – Dooku is the one who sees the big picture and warns Viszla to wait when the assassin fails to kill Satine. He is a player of a long game of making Mandalore another faction that the Separatists control and it is his cool head even after failing Palpatine that make possible that Death Watch will be around for a long time to come.

Palpatine – Palpatine is a smart manipulator in this and would have succeeded if the Assassin had killed Satine. His end goal is control of Mandalore via Republic troops and he has reason to send them as the Separatists are a threat and Mandalore has no defensive force outside of Death Watch which it doesn’t see as representing it to the other governments. Even though his plan does not succeed he never lets on or breaks character with Satine or the Jedi that he was behind any of it. He is truly the Emperor for a reason.

Duchess Satine – Satine is an idealist and dreamer and the events of this arc change that in some ways. She still stands for sovereignty of her world and no involvement of outside troops but she is willing to defend herself. She explores her past with Obi-Wan and confesses that she loves him but afterword they are both so proper and don’t want to risk their friendship as Obi-Wan would never betray his Jedi vows. She respects that though and his call for defense while she calls for pacifism. She is also a nationalist and stands for her people regardless of the cost.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan deals with his romantic interest Satine and we see that though he is committed to Satine he would have given it up when he was a Padawan if she had asked. It’s a great character moment that reveals the humanity in Obi-Wan as well as the fact that he is so committed to the Jedi Code because of that loss. The Code and his being a Jedi is all he has so he can be no closer to anyone beyond as a friend, but he stands with her and helps stop Death Watch’s plot.

Anakin Skywalker – Skywalker is getting closer to the darkside and Darth Vader as we see him justify the occupation of Mandalore since Death Watch is out of Satine’s control, we see him kill the Senate Separatist Spy when Satine and Obi-Wan are unable to do so and we see he doesn’t think about it at all. Killing someone is nothing to him as the ‘Imperial March’ plays. This show really does show Anakin’s descent really well. It starts with taking life for granted and he never lets up on that as the ends of protecting others are always the drive behind it, and it’s hard not to see the times he has taken that choice on the show as wrong, questionable for sure…but not wrong.

A Matter of Sovereignty – Sovereignty is a major theme this episode and the different ways it is sought. For Satine it is not involving outside power, while for Viszla it does involve outside power and a strong military to defend against threats. Neither side is wrong and that is what is debated this episode as we know that the Empire will destroy Sovereignty later while the Separatists may do that sometimes now, but not always. Does Sovereignty involve military strong power or diplomatic soft power, for me the answer is both are needed though the episode falls on soft power primarily as Satine is a pacifist. What this debate means for Mandalore still remains to be seen, the Republic and Separatists aren’t involved yet, but the war is far from over.

Okay: Romantic Potential – The romance feels more realistic than Padme and Anakin but that isn’t saying much. There back story of having to depend on one another for survival when they were younger was really cool and they do have good chemistry but I wanted to see more warmth between them, we only got moments of that.

The Assassin – The Assassin was awesome! He kills a Mandalore informant who passes the real info of the Prime Minister’s recording to Satine and dies in the process and he escapes every attempt at capture and manages to hold his own against Obi-Wan and Satine. We never learn more about the individual and I wish he’d done more damage but he was okay.

    This was a powerful arc, with “Duchess of Mandalore” being a personal favorite of mine as it establishes that Death Watch is not out of the game yet and also that Mandalore is alone for better and for worse to deal with it’s own problems. There is so much potential here as I don’t believe Satine is in control, her almost getting arrested is going to look bad in the public eye, not to mention the death of her Prime Minister. She has no control over Death Watch and they still control a lot of the narrative. This is something the episode doesn’t fully deal with and why I don’t consider this a victory for Satine. There was no middle ground of Republic help which could have stopped Death Watch, while now they have time to recruit and to grow.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 1, Episode 15 – “Trespass” – Sovereignty and Imperialism

Star Wars The Clone Wars Trespass

     I never expected this show to explore issues of sovereignty and imperialism, but it did. This is probably my favorite episode so far of the show and the Jedi don’t actually do much in it. This episode is far more about the species that are in conflict and ways to deal with conflict than characters themselves, and it does it really well. It’s a perfect episode in my opinion.

     “Trespass” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Steven Melching, Henry Gilroy and Scott Murphy.

    The story involves Anakin and Obi-Wan exploring a Republic base that has gone silent on a moon that the Pantoran claim sovereignty over. Things soon get complicated as Obi-Wan and Anakin make contact with the native Talz who destroyed both the Separatists and Republic Forces on the planet. They ask the Pantoran to leave but it is soon escalated as Chairman Cho seeks to take the planet for his people, believing it is his and uses Republic Law to justify his actions.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is great and starts out like a horror film. Clone Trooper helmets are on pikes when our heroes first reach the base and it is the same in the Separatist base where the droid heads are. The premise starts out as a monster of the week type deal but we soon see the Talz are sentient and negotiate with the Jedi and tell them what happened leading into the greater political struggle of the episode.

The Pantoran – The Pantoran are a pretty prideful species but not stupid. Through Senator Riyo we see the need to understand others while Cho is an imperialist who wants to take advantage of the war to establish Pantoran control over it. From here the story unfolds as he is willing to die for his belief in Pantoran superiority and dominance over the planet which he thinks is theirs by right and Riyo who is tired of the war and the fact that they are fighting when there are bigger threats like the Separatists to deal with.

The Talz – The Talz are a tribal people who have three eyes and are great fighters. With spears and mounts they manage to take out every enemy they face on their world but show that they can hold back and negotiate with

Chairman Cho – Chairman Cho is a nationalist and leader of his planet until the Assembly takes away his power after they lose nearly everyone to the Talz. He believes the planet belongs to Pantoran from the beginning of the episode and is willing to die for it. He is racist and an imperialist and an interesting character as we see that he believes these ideals enough to die for hoping to be a martyr for Pantora.

Senator Riyo – Riyo is the diplomat and I wonder if she’ll carry on diplomacy as she recognizes that it is good to fight and good to live. I think she’ll be smart though as she had Obi-Wan and Anakin as mentors who teach her what she needs to do for lasting peace between the Talz and Pantora so war does not return.

Captain Rex – Rex protects Chairman Cho up until the end and is in a difficult position. He never attacks the Talz, only defends as Cho and his men are the ones who are attacking. He is a difficult position this episode and he loses most of his men. I feel bad for him this episode, he is just a pawn of the Jedi and the Pantoran.

Anakin and Obi-Wan – Anakin and Obi-Wan are the first to meet the Talz and negotiated a peace until Cho started the war. They stay out of the way and just seek to protect Cho and Riyu and refuse to negotiate a new peace since it was the Pantoran who started the war with the Talz so they need to negotiate the peace. In this way the episode is far more about Cho, Riyo and the Talz rather than the Jedi.

Imperialism and Sovereignty – Cho represents entitlement through other people’s lands expressed through Imperialism. The Pantoran “discovered” the planet and ignore the native life there up until Cho is killed and Riyo is in charge of negotiating the peace. In the end they respect the Sovereignty of the Talz, which is what the Talz had been defending the entire time.

  This is one of my favorite episodes of the series and shows that the show can explore powerful and major things through the eyes of complex characters and events. It didn’t even involve The Clone Wars really, it was an internal conflict between Pantoran Imperialism and Talz sovereignty that was being resolved. This is good television and storytelling at work.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1, Episode 19 – “Arena” – The Dilemmas of War and Power of Mercy

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   “Arena” is the first of a few “Star Trek” episodes I’ll be reviewing this week. On Facebook I did some “Trek Requests” and this was the episode requested for “The Original Series.” The other two episodes will from “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine.” I’ll save which ones they are until I review them. Suffice to say “Arena” was very enjoyable though it still has the same problems I noticed when I first watched the episode as a young child.

    The episode was directed by Joseph Pevney with the teleplay by Gene L. Coon and story by Fredric Brown.

    The story involves the crew of the Enterprise arriving on the outpost Cestus III which is under attack from the Gorn. A dying survivor tells them how they were attacked leading Kirk to pursue the Gorn ship until they are stopped by the Metrons who transport Kirk and the Gorn Captain to the Arena where they can face each other using the resources on the planet so the conflict between the two ships will no longer be happening in Metron space. From here the story unfolds as Kirk must MacGyver his way out the situation and learn what bigger purpose he it being put up to by the Metrons.

The Pros: Cestus III – Cestus III is a warzone. We see that chemical weapons were used on Federation troops and the Outpost is a wasteland we also hear about the slaughter of women and children but due to the nature of the episode we aren’t able to confirm it. It is war and like war there is a fog. Luckily through quick thinking by Kirk, he and Spock are able to fight back though the red shirt is killed. It’s a very strong start to the episode and shows just what is at stake and what motivates Kirk in his desire to stop and destroy the Gorn vessel.

Sulu – Sulu is in charge of the Enterprise at one point when Kirk and Spock go down to Cestus III and he does a great job protecting their ship and keeping the Gorn at bay until Kirk and Spock are able to be beamed back aboard again. Sulu was eventually made Captain for a reason, the guy is great in a crisis.

Spock – Spock not being emotional is good as he points out that Kirk doesn’t know what happened or why they became under attack, what he misses is that the enemy has never communicated with them at all. Spock is implied to be right though on not destroying the vessel when it is found that the Outpost might have been placed in Gorn Territory and that it will be a situation for diplomats to handle.

McCoy – McCoy sees the consequences of fighting the Gorn too and makes an appeal to civilization to the Metrons to stop the fighting of Kirk and the Gorn Captain. They are ignored but when they are shown the fight the Gorn Captain says the Outpost was in their territory which changes McCoy over to Spock’s perspective of not attacking first.

Captain Kirk – Captain Kirk shows what he is famous for in this episode (no he doesn’t sleep with the Gorn) he MacGyvers a makeshift gun that defeats the enemy Gorn Captain after he’s exhausted all other traps against the Gorn…and after he shows Mercy which impresses the Metrons who appear to him and which later leads to a Kirk Speech where he tells Spock that in 1000 years maybe they will be an enlightened species, so they’ve got a little time. Kirk’s humor, passion, anger (the destruction of the outpost) and compassion (sparing the Gorn Captain) are on display here and show why he is one of the most popular Captains in “Star Trek.”

The Gorn Captain – The Gorn Captain has a great design and he is clearly alien. For him mercy is giving Kirk a quick death and any intrusion into their territory warrants a threat. The Captain is strong and powerful and is only stopped by a diamond fired from a gun. It’s a shame the Gorn weren’t used more as they have a great design and are one of the more intriguing lesser used species in “Star Trek” along with the Tholians.

The Message – The message is that mercy is important when you’ve defeated your enemy and to not leap to conclusions in war. The message is kind of wrong in regards to the outpost though as we never see the Gorn communicate with the Enterprise and to reason with another to understand a person you have to talk to them. The Gorn do not talk to the Federation as far as we can see until the Metrons force their captain onto the planet. Also, if there were women and children slaughtered on Cestus III than the Gorn involved were evil. There is nothing that can justify the killing of innocents and that is where mercy can be missed, as we have no guarantees the Gorn wouldn’t do it again elsewhere. The core message of not rushing to judgement is important though as the Outpost wouldn’t have been built if the Federation had known it was Gorn space (assuming the Gorn are telling the truth, just like have to assume the Federation soldier was telling the truth about women and children being slaughtered…we don’t know fully yet in either case).

Okay: The Metrons – Another God Species trying to teach the “lesser” species a lesson about compassion towards one another and mercy. I really don’t like the transcended species trope as it simplifies the issues and in most cases the folks like the Metrons stand by while real life atrocities are going on so all their talk of Enlightenment usually doesn’t mean much in regards to their actions outside those who enter their sphere. Still, one of the earliest uses of this trope so I’m putting them down as okay and not a con.

The Cons: Pacing – The episode is really slow. It starts out strong when Kirk and Spock are on Cestus III under fire but most of the action on the Enterprise is passive watching of either the Gorn ship or of the Gorn Captain and Kirk fighting on the planet. This episode should have been 35 minutes ideally or given us more character moments like when Kirk and Spock were discussing the attack and what might have lead to it and what must be done. Those were the strongest moments in the episode outside of Kirk’s ingenuity.

  This is classic “Star Trek” and well worth watching, even though it isn’t my favorite episode and I do take issue with the Metrons approach to life, the pacing and that the Gorn are just presented as bad guys if we only take how they react to Kirk and what happened on the outpost. There was the potential for much more complexity this episode than we got, though I really like the idea and watching Kirk MacGyver his way out of a situation is always fun to watch…and the horror of Cestus III really raises the stakes in the episode and kept me interested even with how slow the episode felt at times.

8 / 10. Solidly good.