Tarkin at last makes his Clone Wars debut in a thrilling homage to the Original Trilogy.

By Christian Blauvelt
February 19, 2011 at 05:45 PM EST
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There’s only one man other than the Emperor who could hold Vader’s leash: Grand Moff Tarkin.

However, twenty years before he commanded the Death Star, Tarkin was just another captain in the Republic Navy. On last night’s episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the future Destroyer of Worlds made his long-anticipated debut. When EW ran an exclusive clip of Tarkin from “The Citadel” a couple days ago, I mentioned that I had suggested to Dave Filoni that he make an appearance. After all, twenty years before A New Hope Tarkin would be in his prime, pulling the strings and crafting the power plays that would ensure him a prominent place in the Emperor’s New Order. Frankly, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a major character on this show. But enough with my Tarkin obsession for now. On to the episode!

“The Citadel” opened with one-eyed, crabapple-faced Jedi Master Even Piell getting captured by Separatist forces. Piell’s a member of the One Shot Club—characters from the Star Wars movies who, despite only appearing in one shot, have spawned their own storylines in the Expanded Universe of comics and novels and inspired intense fan devotion. It’s a tradition going back at least to the bounty hunters who appear on the bridge of the Executor in The Empire Strikes Back.

Piell carried with him top-secret intel on a new hyperspace lane, the Nexus Route, that could connect the Republic and Separatist capital worlds, Coruscant and Raxus. In Republic hands, knowledge of this route would allow the Jedi to strike deep behind enemy lines. In the hands of the enemy, Coruscant itself could be attacked.

Plo Koon, another member of the One Shot Club, led the Jedi briefing on the plan to rescue Piell. I love Star Wars briefing scenes. What’s so great about A New Hope is how remarkably free of plodding exposition it is. It just drops you into that Galaxy Far, Far Away and lets you discover it for yourself without explaining through dialogue what’s happening every step of the way. That said, my favorite scene in the whole movie, oddly enough, has to be that great briefing Tarkin gives the other Imperials onboard the Death Star. Though just a dialogue scene, there’s such an economy to it and sense of flair. It’s the first real exposition scene in the movie, but it doesn’t feel like it’s just there to help you get your bearings. Not to mention that it also features The Clone Wars’ own Admiral Yularen. (How long before Conan O’Brien’s namesake, Admiral Conan Antonio Motti, shows up on the series?) That Death Star conference sets the template for all future Star Wars briefing scenes, including the one Plo Koon gave last night.

NEXT: Now switch to carboniiiiiiiiite!Master Plo identified the prison Piell was being held in as The Citadel, an impenetrable fortress from which no one had ever escaped. The Chateau D’If, Rura Penthe, or Azkaban of Star Wars, if you will. The only way a Jedi strike team could get through enemy lines would be to freeze themselves in carbonite, thus slowing their life signs to the point of being undetectable. The Separatists would just think that a crew of droids was on board the shuttle approaching the prison. R2-D2 and C-3PO—remember them?—had a nice little moment where “Commander” R2 flaunted his new recruits: battle droids he’d reprogrammed to follow his orders and pilot the shuttle behind enemy lines. Of course, Ahsoka wanted to come too, but Anakin said that this was a do or die mission, and that he’d be too worried about the latter happening to her.

Filoni told me that he intends the Citadel arc to be an homage to the original trilogy. And so far it is, right down to little references like Cody’s comment about carbon freezing, “I don’t want to end up a wall decoration.” We see at last where Vader got that half-baked idea for transporting a frozen Luke to the Emperor—he had done it himself! The actual scene of the freezing wasn’t nearly as charged as when Han Solo took his plunge—I guess the stakes there were particularly high, since that Cloud City facility hadn’t really been tested for freezing humans—but it was evocative nonetheless. Notice how an Ugnaught manned the controls. (“Yo momma so ugly, she put the “Ug” in Ugnaught.” Thank you, Seth Green.)

Commanded by R2, the reprogrammed battle droids flew our carbonite-encased heroes to Lola Sayu, the cracked, purple and yellow planet that’s home to the Citadel. Looks like somebody on the Lucasfilm Animation team is a Lakers fan. Or at least really likes Snoop Dogg’s “’Purp and Yellow.” The warden of this fearsome lockup, with his maniacal rasp, grandiose proclamations, and murderous temperament, seemed like Star Wars’ own version of Dick Tracy’s Big Boy Caprice, at least as brought to life by Al Pacino. Hoo-ah! (Wait…wrong Pacino movie.) Big Boy could easily have spouted a line like this: “Fear. The Jedi spend their whole lives training against it. But at the Citadel breaking Jedi is our specialty. Within these walls they will learn to fear us. And if not, they die.”

NEXT: The Clone Wars proves it really is a PG-13 show.And like Big Boy, the warden is none too bright. Sure, I wouldn’t blame him for not being suspicious after scans showed the Jedi shuttle had no life forms, but, I mean, come on, when it didn’t land, didn’t he raise an eyebrow? Does his species have eyebrows?

R2 released the Jedi and clones from their carbonite cocoons. I suppose they weren’t affected by blindness because they were only frozen for a day or so, unlike Han Solo, who spent the better part of a year gracing Jabba the Hutt’s wall. And who should emerge from hibernation but one Ahsoka Tano. Needless to say, Anakin was furious about his Padawan’s stowaway antics, but, really, what kind of an example has he set? He always disobeys orders. Even Obi-Wan had to remark, “I see Anakin’s new teaching method is ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”

I love some old school Jules Dassin/John Sturges-style prison escape movies. But even better? Stories about folks so badass, they’re trying to break in to prison. First, the strike team had to ascend a cliff face without hitting any electromines. Ahsoka climbed into an air vent, Dr. No-style, to open the front door for them. But, Sith happens. One trooper fell off the cliff and onto an electromine, not only being blown to little clone pieces but alerting the warden to their presence. Then, Longshot was killed when he couldn’t outrun an electrified wall. Amazing how far TV animation has come since the day onscreen deaths couldn’t even be shown on Batman: The Animated Series. The Clone Wars is really living up to its promise of being a PG-13 ‘toon.

NEXT: A portrait of the Death Star commander as a young man.Likewise, the depiction of torture here was pretty intense. There’s been some of this before on the show. Notably, when Cad Bane electrocuted to death Jedi Bolla Ropal in season 2. But the Separatist droids torturing Piell intended to go further than zapping him with a few thousand volts. After finishing prodding him with an electrostaff, one of the droids opened up pincers and said, “Say goodbye to your one good eye.” Yikes! But since this episode was not directed by Eli Roth, the Jedi burst in and rescued Piell before he found himself in Elle Driver’s shoes. Also, I think we had heard Piell speak before, in the hand-drawn Clone Wars series, but I had forgotten that he belted such a thick, vodka-drenched Russian accent. No wait…it’s Georgian. Like Joseph Stalin or Xenia Onatopp.

The mission didn’t end there, though. It turns out that Piell only memorized half the Nexus Route, while his captain learned the other half, lest either should break under torture. Guess who his captain was? Tarkin, of course. Although, in a nice reversal of the prison break onboard the Death Star in A New Hope, this time he was the one being rescued from a detention block.

Now I think it’s time for a little backstory.  Wilhuff Tarkin had already made his mark on galactic history by this point. Hailing from the planet Eriadu, he’d already been a governor in the Outer Rim, and a proponent of a New Order for the Republic. Believing that militarism, authoritarianism and humanocentrism would be the salvation of the Republic, he befriended Naboo’s Senator Palpatine even before Palpy had been elected Chancellor. He was also familiar with Palpatine’s Darth Sidious persona. Sidious used Tarkin to spy on the Jedi order. In fact, as mentioned in Greg Bear’s novel Rogue Planet, Tarkin had even crossed paths with Anakin Skywalker before, when the Chosen One was just a tyke. He knew that Anakin had an affinity for machines, so he planted a tracking device, within a droid the lad had repaired, that would map the movements of all the Jedi within the temple on Coruscant.

NEXT: Anakin and Tarkin team up for the first, but certainly not last, time.He also had been harboring plans for the Death Star—or Expeditionary Battle Planetoid as it was originally called—for years by the time the Clone Wars broke out. I’m thinking that since Tarkin knew of Darth Sidious he may have had some awareness of the fact that the Clone Wars were a sham, a ruse designed to prepare the galaxy for authoritarian rule. Therefore, while he was captured here at the Citadel, who’s to say that he didn’t reveal the location of the Nexus Route? We know General Grievous used a secret hyperspace lane to launch his attack on Coruscant at the end of the war, so maybe Tarkin was his source.

Anyway, once springing Tarkin, the Jedi and clones had a decision to make. Obi-Wan wanted to split up Tarkin and Piell in case one or the other was captured again. Tarkin suggested they stay together, that they’d have strength in numbers, and, as we know, brute force is his modus operandi. He and Anakin teamed up—for the first time!—and made their way through the tunnels beneath the fortress. The episode ended with a verbal sparring match prefiguring their eventual rivalry aboard the Death Star. “It’s when things do not go as planned that concerns me,” Tarkin mused. If only he’d shown that level of concern years later, rather than blindly believing in the power of the technological terror he’d constructed.

Padawan readers, what do you think? Do you also suspect that Tarkin may have actually revealed the hyperspace lanes to the Separatists? Will we delve deep into his villainy or have him presented on the show, like Palpatine, as seemingly a good guy? Could we soon see a prototype Death Star? After all, we know Count Dooku and the Separatists had the Death Star plans as of Attack of the Clones. Also, with the revelation that Chewbacca is going to be in the season finale, could we see Tarkin’s first attempts at enslaving the Wookiees? And what other elements of the original trilogy would you like to see referenced in the next two episodes? Don’t let me geek out alone! Sound off below.

Episode Recaps

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…
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