September 18, 2010 at 02:29 PM EDT

Image Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd. & TMEW readers, you’ve just taken your first step into a larger world. Okay, no, you’re actually reading a recap of Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ season 3 premiere. Considering it’s one of the highest rated series on basic cable, it’s a shame that Clone Wars hasn’t received more recognition. All you prequel-hating naysayers really need to give the show a try. With bombastically tongue-in-cheek narration and a kid-friendly moral opening each episode, it’s a return to the gee-whiz, B-movie spirit that defined the original trilogy, by which I mean it has more action and fewer monologues about the taxation of trade routes. Clone Wars’ first two seasons found an admirable balance between accessible character-driven stories for casual fans who couldn’t tell the difference between a Gundark and a Kowakian monkey-lizard, and in-universe references to spin-off Star Wars books, comics, and video games for die-hard Jedi wannabes.

Season 3’s opening episodes, functionally titled “Clone Cadets” and “Arc Troopers” respectively, took on the challenge of presenting a story largely from the point of view of the clones themselves. Specifically, a rookie clone platoon, Domino Squad, still in a Republic boot camp under the command of Jedi master Shaak Ti on the storm-swept ocean planet of Kamino. It was a difficult task for Lucasfilm Animation’s writing team, because all the clones look alike, all are soldiers, and they’re all voiced by the same actor, Dee Bradley Baker. How do you make each clone distinct? Mostly, each trooper has one defining characteristic. The clone codenamed “Echo” annoyingly repeats everything said to him. “Droidbait” gets shot down a lot in simulated battles by—guess what?— droids.

Also, it’s always a bit tough to get used to the idea that the clones are the “good guys.” Before long, they’ll be hunting down Jedi. And after that, they’ll slaughter Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle! But by following an arc reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket—think the comparison’s out of order? Last season Clone Wars blatantly referenced Aliens, Seven Samurai, Night of the Living Dead, Godzilla, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious—it was hard not to root for hapless Domino Squad.

Most of “Clone Cadets” took place on Kamino’s version of Star Trek’s holodeck, with the Dominos trying to pass a particularly tough combat simulation, and finding it difficult to overcome their differences and work together. The moral of the episode was a simplistic one—one’s individual talents are meaningless if you can’t learn to work as a team, especially in combat. And, of course, there was no real doubt at any point about whether they would ultimately succeed.

A couple of shots of the clones sleeping in row after row of wall-mounted cubbyholes seemed straight out of Brave New World. I mean, the Republic, that supposed defender of freedom and democracy, has grown, raised and trained these clones for the sole purpose of having them fight and die on their behalf. And what happens if a potential trooper doesn’t make the cut? He ends up like former clone cadet-turned-janitor “99”—an unskilled laborer ignored by all.

“Arc Troopers” turned 99 into a tragic hero. Like the second half of Full Metal Jacket, the episode showed what happened when the cadets got their first real taste of combat. In this case, combat came to them, with Separatist military leaders General Grievous and Asajj Ventress leading an armada against Kamino.

“Arc Troopers” may have given us the single most giddily perverse moment ever to emerge from Star Wars. You know what I’m talking about. That’s right, that moment when Asajj Ventress Force-choked a clone trooper, levitated him in the air, thrust her lightsaber into his chest, and kissed him on the lips. Not even a hungry rancor is scarier than that!

But the episode clearly belonged to 99, who proved himself a true soldier when he risked blaster-fire to deliver ammunition to his fellow clones during the battle. When he was gunned down, you’d have to have been a Sith lord indeed to not be moved.

I won’t attempt a Jedi mind trick on you since they only work on the weak-minded, and EW readers are the furthest thing from that. So I’ll just come out and ask. Star Wars fans, have you come to embrace The Clone Wars? Did you watch the season 3 premiere? Or do you prefer to visit that Galaxy Far, Far Away on a big screen only?

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