Something furry this way comes! Chewbacca at last makes his long-awaited debut on The Clone Wars.

By Christian Blauvelt
April 02, 2011 at 02:07 PM EDT
Lucasfilm

At last, we have the mighty Chewbacca.

In the epic two-part season finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars last night, everyone’s favorite Wookiee finally made his debut. But “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt” didn’t just offer up a furry guest-star. They featured some of the most complex animation The Clone Wars has given us yet—and a thought-provoking look at whether the Jedi can maintain their ideals when cut off from civilization. Needless to say, it whet our geeky appetites for season 4, which supervising director Dave Filoni promises will “hit the ground running” in the style of the recent action-driven multi-part arcs.

But first, we head to Felucia, neon-colored jungle world and, along with Mygeeto and Saleucami, part of what Chancellor Palpatine declared to be the Separatists’ “Triad of Evil.” (Sound familiar?) It seems battle never ends on Felucia—previously we saw the planet in all its Day-Glo glory when Ahsoka and Anakin had to retreat in “Holocron Heist” and when they helped defend a village against Hondo Onaka and his pirates in the Seven Samurai homage “Bounty Hunters.” This time the alliterative duo teamed up with Plo Koon to storm a Separatist base before General Grievous could send reinforcements.

Anakin brought a little Han Solo swagger to his orders to his men. He followed up “Okay, scouts, find me a way down there, quiet like,” with an addendum for Ahsoka, “Don’t get cocky,” both paraphrased quotes from the scruffy Corellian smuggler. When I recently spoke to Matt Lanter, the voice of Anakin (and star of the CW’s 90210), he told me that Harrison Ford was more of a reference point for him in creating the character than even Hayden Christensen. “The challenge of what Hayden did in taking Anakin from an adolescent to Darth Vader shouldn’t be underestimated, but I felt I had to make the character my own,” Lanter notes about his desire to take Anakin in a different direction from Christensen. “I wanted to give Anakin some of Han Solo’s cocky swagger, since he was part of the Star Wars I grew up with.”

But back to Felucia. In battle, you must expect the unexpected—like a man-sized lizard trying to capture you in a stun-net. That’s just what happened to Ahsoka, who found herself the prisoner of Trandoshan hunters. For the uninitiated—although, really, why would the uninitiated be reading this recap?—Trandoshans are reptilian bipeds, like the bounty hunter Bossk (as in “You just got Bossked!”), who Darth Vader commissions to hunt down the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. They’re also known as enemies of the Wookiees, who they helped the Empire enslave following the end of the Clone Wars. Apparently, Trandoshans also like to hunt even when they’re not receiving a fat Sith Lord-endorsed paycheck. They enjoy satisfying their reptilian instincts by capturing sentient prey and tracking them down Most Dangerous Game-style on one of their planet’s moons, Wasskah. I loved Ahsoka’s under-reaction to the news of being hunted for sport: “Hunt us down? Ugh.” Other than a New York taxi driver, no one’s more jaded than a Jedi. They’ve seen it all.

NEXT: Your recapper imagines a classic Disney showtune in honor of the Trandoshans. It’s been a long night.When the prisoner transport approached Wasskah, the moon hung directly beneath its parent planet Trandosha a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. But cosmic Kubrickian geometry quickly gave way to Merian C. Cooper-style adventure, as Ahsoka and her fellow prisoners (including a Dathomiri witch!), were dropped off on a lush island for the hunt. Before you could say, “Now, they’re bantha fodder!” Ahsoka had met up with other Jedi younglings who had been previously stranded on the island: the Cerean O-Mer, the Twi-Lek Jinx, and the human Kalifa. They’d lost track of “how many rotations” they’d been on Wasskah and looked every bit worse for wear.

Meanwhile, the Trandoshan hunt leader got his fellow lizards psyched for another day of bloodsport aboard his floating base. Didn’t you love how his chair was adorned with a Wampa pelt, as in the abominable snow creature that attacks Luke at the beginning of Empire? By the Force, please let a trip to Hoth be in the Clone Wars’ future! Honestly, I felt like Alan Menken should have conjured up a saloon song like “Gaston” for the Trandoshans. Imagine the hunt-leader rasping, “I use Wampas in all of my decorating!” Speaking of decorating, note the sundry species mounted on the wall: a Rodian, a Gran, and, yes, a Gungan. For the season 2 premiere, “Holocron Heist,” Dave Filoni had wanted Cad Bane’s grungy Coruscant apartment to include a chalk outline of a Gungan but felt it maybe would be going too far. Well, he finally scratched that macabre itch!

Ahsoka quickly learned the other younglings’ survival strategy: Keep moving and ignore the plight of others. When she was upset that they hadn’t done anything to aid the Dathomiri witch who was gunned down, ringleader Kalifa countered, “We’re not saviors here. Here, we’re survivors.” Ahsoka wanted them to take action, but, you know, the right kind of action. When Kalifa started using the Dark Side to Force Choke the life out of a Trandoshan (set to perfectly appropriate Maori-esque background chanting), Ahsoka rushed over and gently lowered her outstretched hand: “Kalifa, don’t kill him out of hatred. It’s not the Jedi way.” I love me some Togrutan self-righteousness! Really, though, it was a terrific moment. Kalifa, peering out from behind her Louise Brooks bob, looked ashamed. Ahsoka, though, seemed more empathetic than judgmental. It’s an issue that’s been lingering on the periphery of the screen for some time now: can the Jedi cling to their Code when cut off from the comforting support of civilization?

NEXT: Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Force! (Okay, that was my last Disney showtune reference, I promise!)In Matthew Stover’s Heart of Darkness-inspired Star Wars novel Shatterpoint, Mace Windu very clearly articulates that the Jedi represent civilization fighting back the jungle. So when all you have is jungle, can the Jedi even exist? What he’s really saying, though, is that the Jedi’s distinguishing characteristic—and, by extension, humanity’s—is their ability to rise above the primal, Darwinian impulses of our evolutionary heritage and embrace a concept totally lacking in nature’s survival-of-the-fittest struggle: compassion.

To be honest, I wish so far that we could have seen more Jedi struggling with the Dark Side on The Clone Wars. In a sense, all Jedi are being hunted at this time, whether outright by the likes of Grievous and the Separatists, or ideologically by the Republic’s demand that they lead decanted clones into battle. Show us a Jedi who actually is using the Dark Side, but supposedly on behalf of the good guys. It’d be a way of considering whether the Dark Side ever actually could be used to advance a larger good. Dave Filoni, that’s my pitch!

Of course, the Jedi do have a latent darkness that they go to great pains to deny. Ahsoka objected to Kalifa choking the life out of her enemy, but the problem was really not so much that she was killing, but how she was killing. Out of hatred. Ahsoka gets the same result, but because she redirected the Trandoshan’s attack against him and let him fall to his death, she can feel good that at least she didn’t kill him outright. She wants to have her blue milk and drink it too.

But before they had a moment to catch their collective breaths, Kalifa took a blaster bolt in the back. Before dying, she told Ahsoka to take her place and lead the others. I’m not certain if we’ve actually had another youngling die on The Clone Wars before Kalifa, so her death really demonstrates the extent to which Filoni & Co. are trying to show the cost of war. It’s not all candy-colored blaster shootouts and lightsaber duels. Not by a long shot.

NEXT: Name: Chewbacca. Species: Wookiee. Height: 7’3”. Hair color: yak brown. Marital Status: Married. Occupation: Co-pilot. Hobby: Dejarik.Kalifa’s death was unexpected…and unexpectedly moving. It almost reminded me of 17-year-old Anakin Solo’s heroic demise in Troy Denning’s teen-Jedi-on-a-mission battle epic, Star by Star, the kind of blood-and-guts, Star Wars-meets-Predator-meets-Aliens extravaganza that’s like the visceral adolescent antidote to all that Harry Potter schmaltz. Seriously, I just read Star by Star a few months ago, and Anakin’s death after he’s cut down by an unending hoard of Yuuzhan Vong stayed with me for weeks. I almost felt the same with Kalifa.

Kalifa’s death left Ahsoka to look out for O-Mer and Jinx on her own. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge, though, how meticulous the animation is in these episodes. When fleeing Kalifa’s final resting place, Ahsoka hid behind foliage and scrambled up branches covered by moss and insects. Filoni told me that to create the complexity required for Wasskah, they built the jungle environment in its entirety first, then staged the action scenes within that pre-existing landscape, as if they had shot a live-action film. He acknowledges the difficulty of animating a jungle setting—that’s why there’ve been so many barren, rocky planets along the way!—but damn, you wouldn’t know that from these episodes. And yet, unlike Avatar, the jungles of Wasskah don’t ever look like a screensaver because, counter-intuitively, the animators embraced stylization over any absurd attempt at photorealism. Look also at the detail in the dust the Trade Federation dropship kicks up when landing at the beginning, the wisps of clouds covering Felucia’s twin moons, the mist and streaks of sunlight cast through the dense jungle canopy on Wasskah. This is tremendous visual art.

But it was all just building up to the most kinetic crash-scene the series has given us yet. Ahsoka, O-Mer, and Jinx decided to attack the transport on the beach head-on when it unloaded its next set of prisoners. Needless to say, their attack—Ahsoka dodging blaster bolts from the pilot in the cockpit, while the others wreaked havoc on the fuselage–resulted in the quick destruction of the transport. This was no ordinary explosion, no clichéd fireball. The transport seemed torn apart by the stress of its own angular momentum as it spun in place through the air, disintegrating bulkhead-by-bulkhead until all that remained were shrapnel, sparks, and smoke. Also, George Lucas has always known when to silence his orchestra and rely on sound effects alone, and Matthew Wood really seemed to understand that less-is-more approach in his design of the crash-scene’s soundscape.

It turns out, though, that there was only one prisoner aboard the transport: a Wookiee named Chewbacca. Roarrrr! Peter Mayhew who first brought the walking carpet to life 34 years ago, was brought in to consult on his movements and gait. I can’t help but think that inquisitive tilt of Chewie’s head—an always ingenious way of showing that he has an internal life–when he first met the younglings, came from Mayhew’s suggestion. Also, doesn’t the word “Wookiee” make any sentence it’s a part of inherently funny? Like the hunt leader’s great line: “So now the younglings are organized, bold, and… they’ve got a Wookiee.”

NEXT: Let the Wookiees win!Ever tech-savvy, Chewie immediately set to work repairing a transmitter he and Ahsoka recovered from the wreck that he could use to contact Kashyyyk—his homeworld, located in the same system as Trandosha and Wasskah. But in escaping from the rubble, they took fire from a sniper, who they quickly captured to use as bait for their pursuers. Tired of “the Wookiee way”—sitting by while Chewbacca repairs the transceiver—Jinx decided to use a Jedi mind trick to force their prisoner to call down a speeder. They’d attack the pilot, then fly the speeder back up to the floating base themselves, defeat their hunters, and hopefully find a way off that rock.

The plan looked a little shaky to start, but it definitely got a much-needed boost when a war party of Wookiees—who’d gotten Chewbacca’s message—showed up to aid their countryman and his new friends. Tarfful was there and possibly Itchy, Chewie’s father. (Leland Chee, we need some Wookiee IDs!) And they were flown in by Sugi, the bounty hunter who’d helped Anakin and Ahsoka defend that peasant village on Felucia from Hondo. This time, though, she was working for a price: “Make it quick, general. We’re charging by the minute, and if my ship gets damaged it will cost you extra.”

They did make it quick, because the next thing we knew, Ahsoka had made it back to Coruscant to be reunited with her worried-sick master. Anakin babbled on about how he’d let her down, but she replied that it was his training that allowed her to survive and help others survive too. It was a moment of mutual respect and affection made all the more poignant in light of what we know is to come.

Not a bad end to season 3, huh? Did you get your fill of Wookiees or do you still want to see more? Honestly, is there any reason why Chewbacca shouldn’t make regular appearances going forward? And who else would you like to see pop up when season four premieres in September? Until then, this is Darth Blauvelt signing off.

May the Force…well, you know.

For more on what’s next on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, check out our full Q&A with supervising director Dave Filoni, in which he talks season 4, Katee Sackhoff’s guest appearance, and the return of Savage Opress and Chewbacca.

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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