A lovable Jedi becomes One with the Force. Major spoilers ahead!
The end is near.
I know. It’s sad. Star Wars: The Clone Wars has become one of the most cinematic shows on TV—each episode a model of craftsmanship, storytelling economy, and emotional resonance. And, as I’ve said before, actually one of our most political series. This marks our second to last recap for the season that’s redefined a good series as a great one. Last night’s episode, “Citadel Rescue,” also saw the end of a visceral, rock-‘em-sock-‘em, Dirty Dozen-style three-parter featuring possibly my favorite Star Wars character ever: Tarkin.
When we returned to our heroes, Jedi Master Even Piell, Russian-tinged accent dripping thicker than borscht, contacted the Jedi Council about the rescue they had been promised—a rescue that would have to involve an entire fleet group to penetrate the fortress world of Lola Sayu. Yoda said they should head for an island for the rendezvous, but, to paraphrase the aged Master, careful timing they would need.
Meanwhile, prison warden Osi Sobeck had to explain to Count Dooku why he’d been out of touch: “I was hoping to surprise you with good news.” Proving that turning to the Dark Side doesn’t rob you of a sense of humor, Dooku replied, “Good news would indeed be a surprise.” He’s got the body of a geriatric Sith Lord and the wit of…a geriatric Sith Lord. He then went on to reiterate the importance of capturing Piell and Tarkin so as to extract the location of a secret hyperspace route that would enable the Separatists to attack Coruscant by surprise. Dooku needs to realize that if he wants to get any job done, he has to do it himself. Never trust your minions to get it done—especially if they’re doing their best Al Pacino impression.
NEXT: What Oscar Wilde and Walter Sobchak have to do with The Clone Wars.Walking along the lava rivers of Lola Sayu during their escape from the fortress, our heroes were attacked by wave after wave of droids. Weren’t you at least a little touched when R2’s reprogrammed battle bots saluted their commander before they sacrificed themselves? That said, my favorite moment? When Anakin actually picked up Tarkin and carried him on his back while rappelling down a cliff-face. (He ain’t heavy, Father. He’s my Grand Moff.) Of course, much as the Separatist droids might try and try to succeed, they always failed. How might Oscar Wilde have put it? To lose a group of prisoners once might be deemed a misfortune. To lose a group of prisoners twice, carelessness. And if you do so more than that, you’re a battle droid in the Separatist army. (Thank you, thank you. I’ll be opening for Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes at the Mos Eisley Cantina on Life Day. No cover. Two “blue milk” minimum. And tell the barkeep you’re friends with “Dr. Evazan,” if you want a good table.)
This being The Clone Wars, though, we got a little bit of political commentary in between the killer shootouts and dogfights. Ahsoka rolled her eyes at Tarkin, when the Captain questioned Piell’s direction. Anakin was quick to speak up on Tarkin’s behalf: “Captain Tarkin feels the Jedi should be relieved of the burden of leading the war effort….the Jedi Code often prevents us from going far enough to achieve victory.” Obi-Wan quickly added, “A rather simple point-of-view.” Obi-Wan’s right. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak, there are rules. This ain’t ‘Nam. This is the Clone War. (I dedicate that reference to fellow Lebowski-fan, Dave Filoni.) Anakin warned Tarkin that crossing the Jedi council could have consequences. But Eriadu’s finest sniffed, “I needn’t worry about my career. I’ve fallen into favor with the Chancellor. He shall support me.” Ooh, so Anakin has a rival for Papa Palpatine’s favor. You’re not going to let that past you, are you, Ani? Of course not. Not to be out-namedropped, he added, “Oh, I happen to know the Chancellor quite well myself.” Not as well as when you start asking stuff like “What is thy bidding, my master?” but there you go.
Sobeck (Holy Sith…Sobchak?) finally needed to play the wild sabacc card up his sleeve: anoobas. This doesn’t mark the first time Star Wars has gone in for hellhounds. See the Dark Empire comic series for another breed of ferocious space canines: battle neks. Anoobas seem similar to neks, with a little bit of a Klingon targ mixed in. Apparently, they’ve made some appearances in the Expanded Universe and are supposed to hail from Tatooine. (For a planet that’s supposed to be such a backwater, Tatooine really has had a massive cultural impact upon that Galaxy Far, Far Away). I loved how the first time we saw them only in silhouette, because everyone knows that what you don’t see is scarier than what you do. Hence the creepy power of the dianoga in the trash compactor in A New Hope.
NEXT: Even Piell can’t keep an even keel. Death of a Jedi.The Lucasfilm animation team really was at the peak of its powers in “Citadel Rescue,” using computer animation to replicate tracking effects and swooping overhead shots—the kind of techniques that really only can be realized on a computer. Take that great sequence last night when the anoobas are approaching the Jedi. Filoni & Co. built tension to a fever-pitch, Kurosawa-style, cutting between the blurred, speeding anoobas, and the still, motionless Jedi awaiting their onslaught. A perfect contrast of dynamism and stasis, achieved as if editing live action footage. Next season, Oscar winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) is confirmed to direct an episode. No wonder!
The battle with the anoobas was fierce and visceral. Finally, we got to see Tarkin in action, picking up a blaster and shooting for dear life. Ahsoka wielded her twin blades against the hoard—as Sam Witwer pointed out to me a few weeks ago, notice how Ahsoka’s fighting style is now identical to that of Starkiller, Vader’s later apprentice, in The Force Unleashed. Piell ended up mauled. But before becoming One with the Force, he had just enough strength to tell Ahsoka the nature of the secret hyperspace route leading into Confederate territory.
The whole idea of the secret hyperspace routes has been a terrific MacGuffin. You know a MacGuffin, right? While Alfred Hitchcock may have joked that it’s “an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish highlands,” it’s really the term for a plot device that seems critically important but is really just used to instigate the action. The “secret hyperspace routes” remind me of the secret treaty the Nazis are trying to extract from Albert Basserman in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, or the code concealed within a tune in The Lady Vanishes. In the case of The Clone Wars, the hyperspace routes may in fact be critically important to the overall Star Wars mythos…but more on that later.
Piell died after he divulged his secret to Ahsoka. “Whether you were meant to be on this mission or not, you are now the most important part of it,” he gasped in his last moments. Ahsoka carried his body back to the group. It was touching to see how they all took a moment to honor Piell’s life, when Anakin and Obi-Wan committed his body to the lava. When you consider all he’s witnessed just during these episodes it’s hard to believe Tarkin would then later callously say to Vader, “The Jedi are extinct. Their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that remains of their religion.” But men are capable of many things.
NEXT: A realization that we’re closer now to Revenge of the Sith than Attack of the Clones.Yes, I realize Piell’s death here contradicts vast amounts of Expanded Universe lore and renders almost completely irrelevant the first Coruscant Nights book. Help us, Leland Chee, you’re our only hope! If you don’t already know Chee, he’s the Keeper of the Holocron at Lucasfilm—the guy in charge of continuity. Well, he’s got quite the task now ahead of him…how to reconcile Piell’s death on Lola Sayu with the fact that he was already established as being killed by stormtroopers after Order 66. I say…that other Piell was a twin! That’s the way to solve any continuity problem.
Meanwhile, the Jedi battle group led by Saesee Tiin and Plo Koon made its way to Lola Sayu for the rescue. Seeing those four Venator-class Star Destroyers flying through the cobalt vortex of hyperspace was a beautiful sight. Remember how we never got to see any shots of a starship flying through hyperspace in the prequels? Thankfully, that’s been more than rectified on the show. When they emerged, Master Tiin led the starfighter attack—a nice shout-out to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars show, where Tiin flew a starfighter at the Battle of Coruscant. I also believe that this battle marks the debut of the ARC-170 fighter on The Clone Wars. (Please correct me, if I’m wrong.) That means we are indeed closer now to Revenge of the Sith than Attack of the Clones, as Dave Filoni mentioned to me recently. The end of the war is in sight.
When flying toward the Separatist blockade, Tiin ruminated, “There have not been battles like these since the days of the Old Republic.” Dave Filoni, I’m begging you. Please include a flashback at some point to the Old Republic era. You’ve teed it up, man, now swing! I mean, I want ancient Sith Lords—Exar Kun, Naga Sadow, you name it. You can find a way to tie it in to the Clone Wars. That’s what MacGuffins are for!
NEXT: Ahsoka has Alderaan’s blood on her hands.Tiin was right, of course. This turned out to be just about the best space battle Clone Wars has yet given us, full of immediacy and urgency. It had the painterly fireworks of the best space battles in the Star Wars movies and the synapse-searing intensity of a Viper dogfight on Battlestar Galactica. And it had a Wilhelm scream. ‘Nuff said.
Back on terra firma, R2 proved his metal…excuse me, mettle…by dislodging Sobeck from his STAP at the island where he’d set an ambush for the escapees. Sobeck was undeterred, though, succeeded in picking up Tarkin and, declaring “If I can’t have the information, it will die with you,” almost dumped him into the lava before Ahsoka stabbed him in the back. Oh, foolish Padawan. Alderaan’s blood is on your hands.
So is much of Coruscant’s. Remember, Piell told Ahsoka to give the hyperspace routes directly to the Jedi Council. But Tarkin decided he was going to give them to Palpatine.
So now it all makes sense. Tarkin gave the routes to Palpatine, who used them to orchestrate General Grievous’s attack on Coruscant…and his own kidnapping. To instill such fear and insecurity in his citizens that they would gladly turn to an Emperor to solve their problems for them with an iron fist.
Tarkin left Anakin with a handshake. “I wish more Jedi had your military sensibilities. Perhaps I can inform the Chancellor of your valor,” he said. Anakin was sold. “If we aren’t willing to do what it takes to win, we risk losing everything we try to protect.” (Note that that was the message of 24 for eight seasons. Jack Bauer=Darth Vader?) But the future Vader forgets that a victory is hollow if you sacrifice your principles, or as Obi-Wan said, “If we sacrifice our code, even for victory, we may lose that which is most important: our honor.”
Where else on TV can you find a debate about ethics that nuanced? And can we please, please, please see Tarkin again as quickly as possible? Like, I don’t know, when he’s trying to enslave Mon Calamari? Or get his grubby mitts on the Death Star plans? Were you shocked to see Piell offed? Can you possibly wait three weeks for Chewbacca on the season finale? And does anybody in their right mind still think that this is a kids’ show?