When Ahsoka meets a peace-loving Separatist, she learns the war may not be as simple as Dark Side and Light

By Christian Blauvelt
Updated November 20, 2010 at 01:34 PM EST
Lucasfilm Ltd.

“…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If I had to choose a single, underlying theme for the Star Wars franchise it would be Franklin Roosevelt’s great mantra. Think of how Yoda wisely warned that “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Or how, on the opposite end of the moral spectrum, Grand Moff Tarkin used fear as a governing tool to inspire unwavering obedience from the Empire’s subjects: “Fear will keep the local systems in line.”

Last night’s episode, “Heroes on Both Sides,” delved deep into the Power of Nightmares-type scenario of the Clone Wars — that, while there are reasonable, fair-minded people on either side of the conflict, both the Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems are ruled by leaders who’ve encouraged their respective military-industrial-financial complexes to prolong a destructive but profitable war. No wonder the opening “moral” of the ep was “Fear is a great motivator.” Heavy stuff for a Friday night Cartoon Network show, right? Yet “Heroes on Both Sides” managed to be a thought-provoking, dialogue-driven episode that never felt plodding. And, by the Force, its depiction of the Republic’s corporate leaders seizing upon General Grievous’s terrorist attack to increase their own power — and the size of their pocketbooks — felt incredibly relevant.

The title of the episode refers to a line from Revenge of the Sith’s great opening crawl: “War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.” So far, to tell the truth, we had never seen any true Separatist heroes. Throughout the TV series — and throughout the various related Clone Wars books and comics — we’ve only encountered the greedy corporate leaders who banded together to secede from the Republic (and its high taxes) and the fearsome military leaders (e.g. General Grievous, Asajj Ventress) who’ve unleashed campaigns of terror upon the unsuspecting galaxy. We’ve never encountered those genuine idealists who see through Palpatine’s lies and realize that the Republic is corrupt, that it is on an undeviating course to Fascism. Last night we finally did.

A new bill had been proposed in the Senate that would open new lines of credit to the Republic, so they could expand the size of their clone army. To do this, though, the banks demanded an end to government regulation. Of course, Padmé opposed the measure citing both “fiscal responsibility” and “moral responsibility,” two phrases one could expect to hear within minutes of flipping the channel to C-SPAN. The Senate leader of the Banking Clan was surprised by Padmé’s ardent opposition to the bill, going so far as to say “I thought age might temper her idealism.” (Hey, Princess Leia’s Mommy could never lose her idealism!) But realizing that another assassination attempt on Padmé’s life would likely be futile, the leaders of the Banking Clan and Trade Federation reached out to their secret ally Count Dooku about arranging an attack on Coruscant that would convince the waffling Senators that they should vote to continue the war at all costs.

NEXT: Ahsoka (and the audience) learns that there are Separatists who actually aren’t evil!

Padmé, on the other hand, decided to travel deep behind enemy lines, with a newly doubtful and inquisitive Ahsoka, to the Separatist capital at Raxus Prime (the industrial world seen in 2002’s superb Star Wars: The Clone Wars videogame) and meet with her old friend and mentor, Senator Bonteri, a Separatist truly motivated by idealism rather than greed. Ahsoka hoped to learn about politics during the trip, because even she had to admit that her master, Anakin, was viewing the war a little too simplistically. You know, when he’d say stuff like, “The Separatists believe the Republic is corrupt. But they’re wrong. And we have to restore order.” So she decided to join Padmé on her quest for peace.

Bonteri seems like a noble figure, although I’ll admit after almost two and a half seasons of seeing nothing but outright Separatist villainy, it’s hard to accept that she would be willing to support a government that has monstrous military commanders like General Grievous and Asajj Ventress — or even Count Dooku himself. I know, I know. Bonteri is an opponent of the war. But to be involved with a government that has baddies like that at the helm seems a tad unbelievable. I mean, what would she have thought of Malevolence, Grievous’s superweapon-sporting battleship, or Lok Durd’s “defoliator” device, or Nuvo Vindi’s blue shadow virus, or Nute Gunray’s role in attempting to kidnap the galaxy’s Force-sensitive children?

I realize the flaw in my argument is that Palpatine, the leader of the Republic, is even more evil, so why should we care about anything the Jedi or the clones do that could potentially further his interests? True. But Palpatine at least attempts to hide his villainy. Dooku, Grievous, and Ventress really don’t.

Still, Bonteri proved to be a rich character, a fine counterpoint to Republic loyalist Padmé. And her son, Lux, proved to be a match for Ahsoka, as well, allowing both to dispel misunderstandings about the “other side.” Their awkward teenage flirtatiousness resulted in one of the funnier moments of “Heroes on Both Sides,” when Ahsoka asked Lux to look at her so he could see that Jedi aren’t scary. When he gave her a top to bottom scan — we saw her from his point-of-view — Ahsoka scowled, “Ugh. Well, it seems boys are the same whether they’re Republic or Separatist.”

“Heroes on Both Sides” may also be the first time we’ve ever seen Dooku in his political role within the Confederacy. When Bonteri called for a vote within the Confederate Parliament on whether peace negotiations should be attempted with the Republic, Dooku presided over the session as apparently the House Speaker. His identity as a Sith Lord seemed about as distant at that moment as it’s ever seemed. Some of the Separatist senators were delightfully alien (and delightful aliens) like that Corporate Alliance representative with the French accent or that slug-headed pol who kept shouting “Nay!” at the top of his strained lungs. Still, the Confederates voted to open peace negotiations, much to the chagrin of the Banking Clan’s representative to the Republic back on Coruscant.

NEXT: General Grievous, like any über-villain, sends his minions to do his terrible bidding on Coruscant.

Then, Grievous finally got to spring his plan. He sent a squad of elite, undercover infiltrator droids to Coruscant to target the planet’s power grid. At first, when the Banking Clan leader proposed the idea, the Trade Federation’s Lott Dod mentioned that Coruscant had not been attacked directly in over a thousand years — not presumably since the final “defeat” of Lord Kaan’s Sith Order at the Seventh Battle of Ruusan and the subsequent reorganization of the Republic during the Ruusan Reformation. A well-timed terror strike would instill just enough fear to the get the Senators to cave in to their demands. When Grievous was prepping the droids for their mission, he warned, “Some of you may not return.” Then he added, correcting his knowing understatement with Dickensian flair, “Actually, none of you will return.”

The droids casually made their way to the Galactic capital, then, posing as cleaning bots, made their way to the Senate District’s main power generator, a boiling sphere of coruscating red-purple energy. It felt like the kind of design George Lucas himself would have approved of and included in one of his theatrical films — a strange geometric form dominating the screen with its sheer visual appeal…and power. The droids made short work of the flesh-and-blood attendants then blew themselves up. (Suicide-bomber droids?) Immediately, power was lost all throughout the Senate District, including in the Great Rotunda itself, just as the vote on the bank deregulation bill was taking place. The eerie red glow of the Senate’s emergency backup lights added to the palpable terror of the moment — Senator Orn Free Taa even screamed “We’re under attack!” — but those shots of the Coruscant cityscape darkened, save for the fireglow from airships downed as a result of the outage, were chilling.

Of course, the bill then passed by a landslide, and it felt like maybe Padmé wasn’t quite right when she said in Revenge of the Sith, “So this is how liberty dies? With thunderous applause.” Maybe liberty dies because of fear. As the Senators voted their way deeper into moral and financial debt, I was reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s axiom, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In short, the denizens of that galaxy far, far away ended up not with the Republic they needed, but the Empire they deserved.

So, Padawans, what did you think of “Heroes on Both Sides”? I found it to be one of the most mature, smart episodes The Clone Wars has given this season. Do you think the Senate would have passed the deregulation bill had the terror attack not taken place? Will Ahsoka break away from her master’s Manichaean outlook on the war? And did you sense some romantic sparks fly between Little Miss Padawan and Lux?

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