By Christian Blauvelt
November 06, 2010 at 09:00 AM EDT

Image Credit: TM 2010 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ third season keeps taking us to some pretty unexpected places. I, for one, never imagined that an episode would hinge upon Anakin and Padmé’s party-planning skills. But that’s what “Evil Plans” offered up. Don’t worry, it was a lot cooler than that description would  make out. Actually, “Evil Plans” worked for me because of three key factors—it saw the return of Cad Bane, it beautifully realized the “used future” concept of the original film, and it centered around C-3PO and R2-D2, the Laurel & Hardy of that Galaxy Far, Far Away. That C-3PO finally had his moment to shine—and believe me, he does shine with that gold plating—on The Clone Wars was particularly satisfying to me.

If I were to make a list of the many reasons why A New Hope is a great film, at the top would surely be how the first act of the story is seen from the point-of-view of our beloved droids. It’s a device George Lucas borrowed to great effect from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress: depict a great mythology from the perspective of the lowliest beings who inhabit that world. It allowed Lucas to introduce us to his universe without lingering on tedious exposition, so that every moment we felt like we were discovering it for ourselves. If we were puzzled as to what exactly was “going on,” that made sense because so were the droids!

C-3PO, though, has always been a favorite character of mine, and not just because I relate to his fussy personality. The fact that his face is a complete blank allows us to read whatever we want into him. That means the emotion he does express, through Anthony Daniels’ supremely dry, English schoolmaster voice, seems all the more comically exaggerated.

In “Evil Plans” we got to see 3PO in his full capacity as a “protocol droid.” In the movies, he’s functioned largely as an interpreter (“I am fluent in more than six million forms of communication!”), but to see him instruct Anakin and Padmé on the finer points of etiquette—down to his disapproval over an ice sculpture in the likeness of a Gundark—was a real pleasure.

Let’s face it, 3PO is not a droid who functions well without human supervision. I mean, when he wanders off in A New Hope he gets lost in the Tatooine desert, and in Empire he gets blasted by a stormtrooper patrol and nearly ends up as scrap metal.  But Anakin and Padmé sent 3PO and R2 off to pick up some groceries for their party, and before you could say “We’re doomed!” 3PO had been swindled by a merchant, then droid-napped by none other than Cad Bane!

Oh, Bane, how you’ve been missed. Supervising Director Dave Filoni has compared our new favorite Duro bounty hunter to Angel Eyes from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (right down to an ingenious fake movie poster he included with the season 2 DVD set that has Bane striking a badass pose worthy of Lee Van Cleef), and I’m inclined to agree. On The Clone Wars, we’ve actually seen Bane do all the things we only imagined Boba Fett could do in the original trilogy.

Well, 3PO wasn’t the most formidable “bounty” Bane could have landed to begin with, but once R2 was conveniently distracted by a droid day spa, it was as easy as shooting Ewoks in a barrel. I’ve been amazed at how far this show has been willing to depict torture, going so far as to show Bane electrocuting a Jedi to death last season. He zapped a few thousand volts into 3PO—with the assistance of apparently the same droid torture specialist who would later find employment in Jabba’s palace. (By the way, the crosscutting between the near-torture of R2’s day of beauty and the actual torture of 3PO’s ordeal was inspired—almost as great as when Padmé gives birth to Luke and Leia at the very moment Anakin is being re-born as Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith.) As usual, a haughty tut-tut was 3PO’s only comeback. “I instruct on appropriate etiquette,” he snipped, “which in your case, if you don’t mind me saying, is sorely lacking.”

Of course, it wasn’t really 3PO, Bane was after, but, you know, the competent one of the duo, R2. Amazingly, though, nobody came to the droids’ rescue; in fact, they weren’t even missed! So when Bane had downloaded what he needed from R2’s hard-drive, he wiped the droid’s short-term memories and sent them on their way. Only now he had some Senate building blueprints to serve up to Jabba.

As far as the animation goes, this may have actually been the most impressive episode of the season thus far, mostly because it reverted back to the “used future” aesthetic that distinguished Star Wars in the first place—the idea that this is a lived-in universe with dirt, grime, and rot, with little of the sterile, white-on-white décor that usually accompanies cinematic representations of “the future.” Was that a panhandler we glimpsed briefly in one shot of that Coruscant market?

So, what is thy bidding, my readers? Did you also enjoy that 3PO (and Anthony Daniels) owned the spotlight this time? Or was it Cad Bane who made the episode for you? For that matter, who do you think is the coolest character on the show?