Congrats on a spectacular season opener. Your underwater coming-of-age epic on Mon Calamari was just about the best three-parter you’ve ever given us. Dave Filoni & Co. truly outdid themselves, creating a wholly new, textured environment that felt somehow totally alien and completely relatable at the same time. As Star Wars has always done at its best, you made us feel, to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, like we’d just “taken our first steps into another world.”
So what happened last night? Believe me, the animation in “Shadow Warrior” was peerless, as always: moody rain effects, subtle shades of flickering candlelight in Dooku’s lair, intricately choreographed fight scenes. But, exsqueeze me, “Shadow Warrior” sucked. Even despite appearances from Count Dooku and General Grievous. In fact, I can’t think of an episode I’ve liked less since I started this recap a year ago. And I think I know why.
I’m not one of these crazed (anti)fans who considers May 19, 1999, the day The Phantom Menace was released, to be the day my childhood died. Was it a disappointment? Sure. Was it a total loss? No way. I honestly feel the podrace sequence is one of George Lucas’s purest, most visceral Star Wars pleasures—a 50-something-year-old guy reflecting on his boyhood love of all things that go zoom. I’d also say that three-way lightsaber fight at the end might be the most exquisitely choreographed battle of the saga, a last gasp of flesh-and-blood kineticism before the anemic, CGI body doubles for Christopher Lee in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. In fact, I’d go on record saying that I think Phantom Menace is a better film than Attack of the Clones, which feels like the most hesitant and uncertain Star Wars film of the lot. To me, AOTC seems like a self-conscious do-over, an obvious response to the criticism of The Phantom Menace built around actors utterly incapable of channeling more sober-minded material.
Still, there are a few things about The Phantom Menace that are utterly irredeemable and which should have been, let’s say, “retired” from the canon. I think I speak for every Star Wars fan imaginable when I quote Boss Nass: “Wesa no carin’ about da Naboo!” I can understand the impulse that’s led to appearances from Jar Jar and the Gungans on The Clone Wars so far. They’re the white Ronto in the room and probably have to be acknowledged. In small, small doses they’re even tolerable, but in no way should they be anchoring an entire episode like they did last night in “Shadow Warrior.” I actually felt bad for you guys while watching it, because I realized that if a total newcomer were to tune in to the show for the first time, he or she would probably never come back…which would be terribly unfair because it was in no way an accurate reflection of what the Lucasfilm storytelling team is capable of.
NEXT: Five reasons why “Shadow Warrior” failed, plus a few suggestions to see to it that this never happens again.