Anakin shows the Queen of Zygerria she's just a pawn of Count Dooku, while an enslaved Obi-Wan toils in the hellish foundry of Kadavo.

By Christian Blauvelt
January 07, 2012 at 08:31 PM EST
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And we’re back!

After a holiday hiatus, The Clone Wars returned to kick off the new year last night with a dark tale of slavery and retribution that ended with something akin to a cosmic joke on our poor, long suffering Governor Roshti. Let’s face it, when he hopefully declared that his people might also join the Republic—to be ruled by the very man, Darth Sidious, who had ordered their enslavement in the first place—it hammered home the admirable, though ultimately futile, heroism of Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan throughout this entire series. No matter how many lives they save, how many people they free from slavery, how many battles they win, ultimately they are going to lose this war. At least Obi-Wan, unlike Anakin, will actually understand that he’s lost.

“Escape from Kadavo” opened with Obi-Wan and Captain Rex wearing shock collars and shoveling fuel into furnaces in a hellish factory alongside the Kirosian colonists they had initially hoped to free. Queen Miraj nailed it when she said that despair would consume Obi-Wan when he finally realized that anything he tried to do to help the people around him would only bring them harm. Then his defiance would become compliance as he resigned himself to his fate. That was a beautifully animated montage, the infernal red light of the furnace contrasting with the cold blue of the slaves’ barracks–the perfect hellscape for breaking the will of a Jedi. In a sense, this was also a dress rehearsal for his 19 years of hiding out in the Jundland Wastes of Tatooine, waiting for the son of his fallen disciple to be the savior he had hoped Anakin would be.

I don’t know, the spice mines of Kessel may be worse, but at least a prisoner there can have some hope of getting high on glitterstim every now and then. And if you’re employed to work the vertiginous assembly lines of the Baktoid Armor Workshop foundry on Geonosis, at least you can hope to take in a public execution by reek, acklay, or nexu at an open air colosseum. Bread and circuses, my friends. Bread and circuses. But on Kadavo, there’s nothing. As Tom Kane pompously announced, “Even Obi-Wan Kenobi must come to terms with a  life in chains.”

Queen Miraj had little time to plan her seduction of Anakin and convince him to fight by her side. That’s because Count Dooku immediately showed up in solar-sail ship to arrange the execution of the Jedi who had been his nemeses for so long. As he approached, Darth Sidious holocommed in and said that “long have Sith Empires been built upon the backs of slaves.” If they were to carry on that tradition for their new order, they would need millions. Sorry, Mon Calamari newly freed from the oppression of Riff Tamson and the Separatists. Sorry, Chewbacca and other Wookiees enslaved by Trandoshan hunters on Wasskah. Savor your last couple years of freedom, because under the New Order your hides are going to belong to one Papa Palpatine.

NEXT: Anakin kills a guy by throwing him off a ledge. Also, he really needs to find a way to repel Force Lightning.

Though he’ll be the bane of all those subjugated species in the future, at this time Anakin still opposes slavery—having been a slave himself and all that. So at the first opportunity he hurdled himself over the ledge of the Queen’s hanging-gardens-of-Babylon-like palace to make his escape. Or not. Actually, he just acted like he’d escaped, then jumped back over and threw the one remaining guard off the ledge to, presumably, his death. Remember that awesome gag in “Slaves of the Republic” when Ahsoka used the Force to nearly fling her captor off a ledge, as she hung over the city in her cage? Well, Anakin pretty much did the same thing. Only he didn’t hold back. What’s interesting is that we saw the guard hit a canopy on his descent, as if to break his fall. But when he landed on the ground, it seemed he only regained consciousness for the briefest of moments before dying anyway. I wonder if the addition of that canopy was a must for Cartoon Network to somehow diminish the violence of Anakin’s act? I mean, the dude ended up just as dead either way. That kind of censorship always takes place with kids’ animated programs—villains or henchmen on Batman: The Animated Series in the 90s only ever fell from buildings if some sort of cushioning broke their plunge—but The Clone Wars has been allowed to be pretty transgressive, with Anakin shown stabbing several baddies in the back with his saber. Why go all PC on us now?

Anyway, Anakin went back to confront the Queen. But who did he find in her audience chamber? None other than one Count Dooku. The Sith Lord had come to rein in his slavers. He didn’t want Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka enslaved. He wanted them—and all Jedi—killed. So he decided to replace Her Majesty with Atai, her prime minister, who’d be a more pliable subordinate. He Force Choked her without even turning to look as she gasped for life. But Anakin charged in, picked up the Queen’s lightwhip and battled the Count. Only problem was that the lightwhip in question couldn’t deflect Dooku’s saber, and Anakin instantly succumbed to an indigo flash of the Sith Lord’s Force Lightning. (A shame that 24 years later, Anakin still will not have learned how to repel Force Lightning when he throws the Emperor down the Death Star II’s reactor shaft.) So even Anakin knew there was no way he could hope to defeat Dooku. And when the Queen’s guards rushed in, the Count made matters worse by saying that Miraj had been killed by “the Jedi,” much like how Palpatine would later shatter whatever was left of Anakin’s soul by blaming him for Padmé’s death. Though, come to think of it, Palpatine was kind of right on that score.

NEXT: Ahsoka’s still in her Flashdance outfit! But that doesn’t mean she’s any less of a fighter. Also I ruminate on the nature of Anakin’s tragedy.

Luckily, Ahsoka, who’d been freed from her cage but was still wearing her one-shouldered ‘80s dancer/slave outfit, flew their commandeered ship up to the palace. And Anakin, clutching the Queen in his arms, jumped out a window to hop aboard. Still, he couldn’t save Miraj, and she ended up dying in his arms, just like his mother. But not before saying, “You were right Skywalker. I am a slave. Just as you are.”

What makes Anakin’s fall to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith so interesting is that, even though he’s experienced a lot of misery in his short life, it’s ultimately not his history of trauma that dooms him. His is not a tragedy of circumstances, but a tragedy of character, in which he’s doomed by his own flawed nature, the cracks in his soul. Nothing that happens at the end of Revenge of the Sith—Mace Windu’s death, Anakin taking the name Darth Vader, the raid on the Jedi Temple, the slaughter of the younglings, the duel on Mustafar, Padmé’s death—had to happen. Anakin willingly chose for all that to happen. His fall is deeply human. It’s an expression of how unwilling so many people are to ever be happy. Personally, I find tragedies of character infinitely more interesting than tragedies of circumstance; give me Macbeth over Romeo and Juliet any day. And it’s one of the things that makes Revenge of the Sith such a rich film.

So I wonder if the persistent hero worship we’re supposed to buy into on The Clone Wars ultimately waters down that tragedy. When we see yet another individual Anakin’s grown to care for die in his arms, I fear that Lucasfilm is trying to mitigate Anakin’s future actions by, in fact, chalking them up to his history of trauma, as if excusing all that he’s going to do. Admittedly, they haven’t done this consistently on The Clone Wars, but that degree of perfunctory psychology here, I think, has prevented me from fully embracing the Zygerria arc. Give me the end of “Voyage of Temptation” when Anakin stabs the Mandalorian senator in the back because he’s threatening to blow up the ship—conveniently sparing Obi-Wan and Satine the tough choice of having to kill him themselves, like any strongman should. That was a perfect moment showing just how willing even a Jedi like Obi-Wan could be to defer responsibility on the hard decisions and more than just a little bit of a metaphor for the enabling of fascism’s rise. I fear that the Zygerria arc, by contrast, has diminished that level of complexity.

NEXT: Here comes the cavalry!

Still, it was interesting to see how, once again, Anakin had no regard for the enslaved Kirosian colonists when he came to rescue Obi-Wan on Kadavo. Yeah, he told Ahsoka they would be rescuing everyone, sure. But he was so hellbent on rescuing Obi-Wan first and foremost that he was willing to see the rest of them killed as collateral damage. And they almost were. When the slavemaster electrified the walls and started retracting their platform, the colonists would surely have plunged to their deaths. Luckily, Anakin had an ace up his sleeve: a Republic fleet led by none other than that Scotsman himself, Admiral Coburn! Anakin was just counting on Coburn being able to position his ship underneath the colonists’ platform in time for their rescue. When Ahsoka realized they’d be taking everybody with them, she declared, “We’ll need a bigger ship.” Glad to see some Spielberg-Lucas synergy at work!

Ahsoka went to protect the colonists, while Anakin went after Obi-Wan and Rex. This whole affair has really brought out the Togruta pride in her—I love the way she keeps calling them “my people” even though she’s hardly spent any time with them. Up near the commander’s citadel, Anakin commandeered a laser turret and used it to destroy the other defenses surrounding the facility, allowing Plo Koon and his squad of Z-95 headhunters (Star Wars: X-Wing and Tie Fighter fans rejoice!) safe flying. And Obi-Wan and Rex broke free, cornering the slave foreman in his command center—a command center that looked suspiciously like the bridge of a Klingon Bird of Prey, raised captain’s chair and all. With the foreman cornered, he sneered that no Jedi would kill on unarmed man, right? Rex immediately threw his electrostaff like a javelin across the room impaling the baddie before announcing, “I’m no Jedi.” Message here? Don’t make a clone wear a shock collar and shovel fuel.

The colonists were saved, Master Plo’s forces blew up the facility, and Governor Roshti indicated that his people might join the Republic. Which means the circle will be complete when they’re all enslaved again. Boo!

Anyway, I enjoyed the Zyggeria arc aside from those few reservations, but I’m not quite certain it required three episodes to tell. However, in just two weeks we’ve got ourselves Mandalorians and bounty hunters, so color me excited. What did you guys think of “Escape from Kadavo”? And are you as excited as I am for Katee Sackhoff leaving behind the 12 Colonies to don some Mandalorian armor in the weeks ahead?

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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