Welcome to another installment of EUCantina’s weekly opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! Each week, I tackle a specific Star Wars EU event that has garnered a significant reaction from Star Wars fans and offer my own view to further the discussion. Once you read the article, feel free to leave a comment and offer your own thoughts!
This week, I’ll be discussing the recent Savage Opress three-part arc on The Clone Wars. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated episodes of the show’s three year history, this arc both played alongside and challenged what has already been established in the Expanded Universe. So, what’s the final verdict? Were my predictions from five months ago following the Celebration V announcements accurate, or simply deluded thinking from an ever-optimistic fan of the EU? We have a lot to talk about, so let’s jump right in. Oh, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT for all three episodes.
The explosive new episodes are over. Have the secrets been revealed? Well, if by “secrets revealed,” the show’s creators meant “more secrets will be revealed to fans,” then yes. If the motto was meant to actually answer some questions to these supposed secrets, then we are still waiting. But let me start by getting the big reveal off my chest: Darth Maul is alive! You know, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I was a huge fan of Darth Maul when The Phantom Menace first released. It didn’t take a lot to please me, back then. Spikes on the head, crazy awesome tattoos, a double-bladed lightsaber and one of the coolest battles in any of the Star Wars movies? I’m sold. He’s also appeared in a bunch of great stories, like the four-part comic miniseries and Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. He’s definitely been one of the more under-utilized characters to appear in Star Wars, and even the EU. But how do I feel about him coming back from the dead? I don’t know! I just don’t know. I don’t know that I’ve ever been split so evenly between loving an idea and loathing it.
But here I am, going off on a tangent that, sadly, has little to do with the episodes in question. So let’s start with the beginning, and work our way through.
As of right now, I still consider the first part, Nightsisters, to be the best of the three episodes. It’s an episode that starts off swinging, and the intensity never lets up. Asajj Ventress has been out of sight for most of the season thus far, and her falling out with Dooku actually makes the Obsession comic miniseries make more sense than her original reason for being incapacitated in the comic (Anakin forcing her to fall off a building on Coruscant – dumb). So yes, Ventress becomes too powerful and Sidious commands Dooku to kill her. He tries, of course, while she’s in the middle of one of the best lightsaber battles that The Clone Wars has seen yet, complete with a sliding ship that interferes with the combatants. Dooku turns on Ventress, and it’s classic Sith behavior. Of course, we all know that she’ll escape – and she does. The rest of the episode is really a comparison between the two down-and-out Sith. Dooku, who I have never cared for in either the movies or the Expanded Universe, absolutely shines in this episode. We see him as a desperate man, deprived of his favorite toy and strongest ally. Ventress, on the other hand, is desperate enough to return to Dathomir and beg for help from her only family that is still alive. Yes, we get a Ventress flashback – and it does fit in rather well with what we’ve known from her background before. She was trained by a Jedi, and she turned when her master was killed. Yes, there’s some new stuff like being adopted from the Dathomir witches as a baby… but it isn’t going to topple continuity.
What I found remarkable was the portrayal of Dathomir and the witches. Dathomir, with its red tinted backdrops, was actually exactly how I pictured the planet in Courtship of Princess Leia and the more recent Fate of the Jedi: Backlash. The Nightsisters seemed to basically be a bunch of female ninjas, but it wasn’t a bad thing. And they also had some pretty neat bow-and-arrow weapons that seemed energy-based. We only get a peek of the Nightsisters and witchcraft in this episode, as well as any sort of Dathomiri politics, but that’s probably a good thing. Too much exposure would certainly threaten what has been established before. It is interesting that Ventress is able to return to the ranks of the Nightsisters so quickly, after spending what is essentially her entire life away from them. And that, unfortunately, is my biggest problem with not only this episode (which, in the scheme of things, makes it a small complaint) but the arc as a whole. Idiotic plot points abound in these episodes! Characters do stupid things, and basic logic isn’t applied. It’s all done for the sake of telling the story as quickly as possible, because there’s a lot to tell, but there’s only so much disbelief that one can suspend.
The episode draws to a close as Ventress and her crack team – erm, two Nightsister accomplices (why not take the whole coven?) attempt to assassinate Dooku. Of course, the old man takes them down handily with some great Force lightning, and Ventress returns to Dathomir to lick her wounds. The leader of the Nightsisters, Mother Talzin, recommends Ventress train a replacement apprentice that can be offered to Dooku – something that I never expected (obviously!) to work. Clearly, Talzin must be up to something else. Surely, she could not expect such a brazen plan to actually work. Right?
In the second part, Monster, fans were introduced to Savage Opress. In fact, almost the entire episode consisted of Savage and Ventress. This episode, frankly, was the weakest of the three. In fact, I probably would have liked it more as a whole if the episodes were all combined into a 90-minute television movie. My biggest problem with Monster was simply that there were no established characters, no heroes, that made it enjoyable to watch. Ventress spends much of the episode whittling down potential apprentices until Savage is the final one standing, which really consists of a bunch of decent battle sequences, and then puts Savage under a spell. Here’s what confused me: Savage spends most of the episode being a generally good guy, only to get turned into a rage-filled lunatic after ingesting some Nightsister potion. He gets magically beefed up too, offered to Dooku as an apprentice to replace Ventress, and then finishes off the episode by killing some Jedi with a giant pike. Turned to the dark side, apparently against his will, it’s clear to me that they’re setting the character up for an eventual conversion to the light side – although it might end up being a deathbed conversion.
We do get some interesting gems out of this episode, like the fact that apparently everyone knew who Darth Maul was. You know, for being extinct for a millennium, it seems like everyone knew Maul’s name. Count Dooku, I could understand. Mother Talzin, though, surprised me. Geez, Palpatine, way to keep things like the existence of your Sith Order a secret! But hey, women are apparently still the dominant force on Dathomir, subjugating the men to live off in some enclosed town just waiting to be sold off to a high bidder. A bit more than the “men are our slaves” approach that the books took, but it doesn’t really take liberty with established canon. I liked it. What I didn’t like was that all the men were Zabraks. That just confused me – where are all the male Dathomiri?
Witches of the Mist
The final part, the oddly-titled Witches of the Mist, was… well, it was both awesome and convoluted. Even after a second watch, I don’t understand why the show’s creators ruined the Savage/Dooku dynamic so fast. I loved seeing Savage in action, especially as such a unique fighter. He’s all muscle, no refinement. In essence, he’s the exact opposite from almost every other lightsaber duelist we’ve seen on the show so far. The Dooku moments with Savage were great, and we see Dooku in almost a Yoda-like role. I loved it; it was such a great moment for his character. From Savage, I expected more. Sure, it was unlikely to expect such fluid and beautiful fighting choreography like Darth Maul had, but it was almost cooler to see the contrast. The three-way duel between the Sith was also really great, and the episode made it clear that, even with Ventress and Savage together, there was no way that they could defeat Dooku (but we already knew that). Still, to finish the story with Ventress on the run and Savage on a quest of knowledge, the Separatists end the arc in a very bad position. Looks like it might be time for General Grevious to make a comeback, because there’s not many other well-known villains they can use at this point.
Here’s what I didn’t like: the Republic Commandos. What a waste of time. For such a hyped moment out of Celebration V, I expected a lot more than a single line of dialogue. There was nothing to suggest that these characters were even Republic Commandos, if not for those of us who could recognize them by their armor. It was a scene meant to placate Expanded Universe fans, and they were sadly under-utilized. I would have loved to see them actually recover the Jedi bodies, or accompany Anakin and Obi-Wan to Dathomir. Instead, they do their delivery mission and fade to obscurity. Speaking of Obi-Wan and Anakin, their entire subplot in this episode was built around my aforementioned idiocy. They flew their starships right into the hanger. Remember in Revenge of the Sith, when they had to at least blow up the shield generators? And come on, this is Count Dooku’s ship. You think he’d have a little more security. I mean seriously, no one saw their ship coming? Sure, all of that COULD have happened… but it would have taken longer to tell the story. So it gets left out, for the purposes of telling the broader story. But it comes across sloppy.
Oh, and hey – Darth Maul is alive. Banished to the Outer Rim, apparently. And he’s also (apparently) the brother of Savage Opress, and is going to teach him the ways of the Force. I don’t know why, but Maul never struck me as a family man in any of his appearances. Literally all we see of Maul is his head, so we don’t know if it’s actually him, or if this is some other misdirection from Mother Talzin. Does he have legs, real or otherwise? No clue, and don’t expect to find out until at least the final few episodes when he’s likely to make his first appearance. Oh and hey, Obi-Wan knew his name too. That’s… ridiculous. Also ridiculous? That the Jedi Council knew he came from Dathomir. Their reasoning? They just know. Idiocy again. What was cute, though, was Mace Windu’s “Zabraks are from Iridonia, but Darth Maul was born and raised on Dathomir” speech. It’s what I figured the show would go with, so I wasn’t surprised. Still, it was a nice touch to see them basically outright acknowledging continuity fans. Don’t want to rile up the base too much.
I think we’ve now come to the point where most Star Wars fans have reached a comfortable coexistence with The Clone Wars show. For fans of the EU that hate it, they simply ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. For fans who want to experience as much Star Wars as possible, and don’t cling so hard to canon, The Clone Wars has really come into its own as a good show. Is it going to always mesh with canon? Of course not. But from these episodes, it’s clear that the show writers are willing and able to abide by it as much as they can. We’re at the tail end of Season 3, and we’ve made it through Mandalorians, Nightsisters, Asajj Ventress’s past and now Savage Opress and the apparent rebirth of Darth Maul. And through all the worrying and complaining, there’s still no reason or need to throw out all the comics, books and information we’ve retained from before. It all still fits together. So at what point, as fans, do we stop ragging on the show and just let it tell its stories – for us, as well as the younger generations? I think that time has come.
March on, Clone Wars. Keep giving us episodes like these (minus the idiocy that abounds for the sake of quicker storytelling), and I’ll never stop sticking my neck out for you.