Star Wars: The Clone Wars recap: Enter Savage Opress
This is the one fans have been waiting for. Although last week's "Nightsisters" kicked off the second half of season three in high-style, it was tonight's installment, "Monster," that delivered upon Lucasfilm's promise from months ago. Since the summer, the House that George Built has been touting Savage Opress, the fearsome warrior (and kinsman of Darth Maul), voiced by Clancy Brown of Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption and Lost fame, to be the new scourge of the Jedi. Tonight we finally got to meet him.
And what a daringly complex new foe he turned out to be! Clancy Brown told me that he carefully avoided making Savage a villain or a hero right off the bat. A smart move because, despite being a franchise that relies heavily on Manichaean notions of good and evil, light and dark, its most compelling characters have been tinged with shades of gray: Han Solo, who would "shoot first" and kill an opponent without giving him a chance to fight back; Lando Calrissian, who would betray a friend to secure his position, even if his conscience later got the better of him; Boba Fett, a freelance servant of some of the galaxy's most notorious scum and villainy, who acts not out of revenge or hatred, but as a professional. Savage Opress may not be as great a character as these, but he shares their occupancy of Star Wars' precious—and endlessly entertaining—gray area.
The lesson of "Monster" is that "Evil isn't born, it's taught." And with Savage that seems to be the case. He's subjected to a systematic process of dehumanization that, in fact, turns him into a monster. The Jedi believe that attachments leave them vulnerable, that their emotions can then be more easily exploited. Perhaps this was true with Savage.
When Count Dooku solicited Mother Talzin's aide in selecting a new, male assassin to replace Ventress, it, of course, turned out to be Ventress herself who would procure the male in question. She traveled to the far side of Dathomir and put several of her y-chromosome-possessing kinfolk—let's call them Nightbrothers!— through three trials. The first was straight-up combat against herself in broad daylight. Most were eliminated here. You have to applaud Cartoon Network for airing an episode with as high a level of violence as "Monster." There's a moment, here, during the first trial, when Ventress grabs out of the air a spear that one of the males has thrown and promptly hurls it back at her assailant, running him through. Considering how, in the '90s, Bruce Timm couldn't ever get away with showing any on-screen deaths in Batman: The Animated Series, it's amazing to see how sensibilities have evolved.
NEXT: Asajj Ventress pits Dathomir's men against each other in the arena. Wait, is this Star Trek?
This first trial proved to be astoundingly cinematic. To be an animator on this show is to also be a choreographer, a designer of the increasingly elaborate fight sequences. But The Clone Wars has evolved beyond merely presenting movement within the frame; now supervising director Dave Filoni & Co. are moving the frame itself, as in those sweeping, overhead "crane shots" of the combatants who were about to engage in the fight.
The second trial raised the bar even higher, taking place at night with Ventress testing how well these male Dathomiri warriors could fight when they wouldn't have their vision to aide them. It was an early test of the Force strength of each of the candidates. What a haunting scene! The warriors were seen mostly in silhouette with only their yellow, glowing, cat-like eyes providing illumination, as one by one, like crewman of the U.S.S. Indianapolis picked off by sharks, they were felled by a fleeting, invisible Ventress. Did you notice, when she explained the nature of this trial to the combatants how, as she spoke, the brilliant streak of a shooting star passed over her head? Beautiful. I also love how one of the commenters on the exclusive clip from "Monster" we ran on Thursday commented that that Galaxy Far, Far Away possessed technology akin to "The Clapper" when that Nightbrother clapped his hands and extinguished the torches providing light.
At the end of the trial, only Savage and his brother Feral remained standing. Not much surprise there from a dramatic standpoint! The third challenge involved Savage and Feral hurdling an oscillating obstacle course of stone slabs moving up and down while fighting Ventress. To quote Luke Skywalker, Feral's overconfidence truly became his weakness, as Asajj defeated him easily. But Savage kept her at bay and declared that "As long as I live, you will not harm him." He offered himself to her if she would spare his brother. That wasn't enough. She needed to vanquish him herself, and only when she had her heel to his throat did Savage finally say, "My life is yours."
NEXT: Savage becomes a savage.
Asajj brought her new male warrior back to Mother Talzin who rather sensually (and creepily) caressed him, calling him a "perfect male specimen." Or as Asajj would say, "A gift from the galaxy." After they had finished fully objectifying him, the Nightsisters then used their Force-induced magic—the same magic that saved Ventress's life last week— to transform him physically and spiritually into a hulking beast. When he awoke, it seemed like he'd lost all of his free will, that he was a slave to the will of the Nightsisters. He became powerless at the very moment that his full power was finally unleashed. And, so, for the final test Asajj and the Nightsisters had him stand before his brother. Though the Jedi may think that attachments lead to the narrowing of perspective and thus to the Dark Side, the Nightsisters' ritual, which caused Savage to lose all of his attachments, including his brother, left him a monster. At Mother Talzin and Asajj's bidding, he killed Feral, choking him like Darth Vader a Tantive IV officer, while grunting "You…big…weakling!" Here Savage's loss of attachment meant the loss of himself.
Mother Talzin, confident her new warrior would serve her (and Asajj's) purposes of revenge against Count Dooku, introduced him to the Sith Lord as his new assassin. Dooku was impressed and immediately sent him to Devaron, home of the demonically-horned race known to frequent Tatooine's Mos Eisley Cantina. He slashed through even his own droid troops to make his way to the Jedi, killing both a master and an apprentice. Dooku was impressed. So impressed that he confirmed to Savage what we had suspected all along—that he had been training Ventress to help him overthrow Darth Sidious, so they could rule the galaxy together. Now it would just be Savage instead of Asajj. Dooku has long been seen as a Sith lord of great cunning and calculation who's also surprisingly naïve—and this is really the first time we've gotten the sense that he's actually working against Master Sidious. As well he should, considering that Sidious has always been gearing up to replace him with Anakin Skywalker!
"Monster" may have largely been a set-up episode, but I appreciated how well it developed its characters and the eerie environments that they inhabit. What did you think, Padawans? Did "Monster" deliver on the months-long hype of Savage? Or are you still waiting to get your fix? Trust, with next week's "Witches of the Mist," you will.
Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…