Star Wars: The Clone Wars recap: Hypercube
“Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.”
A present-tense version of For a Few Dollars More’s opening epigraph could easily have been the moral that opened “The Box,” and not just because bounty hunters new and old appeared before Count Dooku on Serenno last night. Because “The Box” was as taut, flinty, and gleefully amoral as the best work of Spaghetti Western maestro Sergio Leone.
Actually, I think you could see “The Box” as a commentary on the Leone oeuvre as much as Sam Raimi’s 1995 meta Western The Quick and the Dead, a film which shares more than a passing similarity to this episode. Both feature a contest of skill among deadly hired guns; both take place in an existential void (The Quick and the Dead in a Western town that purposefully seems like a Hollywood museum backlot, “The Box” in, well, a giant box that would be at home in Cube); both feature cocky criminal masterminds pulling all the strings; and both feature a dozen or so hired-gun contestants who are vividly—and economically—characterized by little more than their respective appearances. You could see Rako Hardeen (a.k.a Obi-Wan Kenobi) as Russell Crowe’s preacher in The Quick and the Dead, a good guy forced to be bad. Moralo Eval is very much Gene Hackman’s sadistic gamesman. Personally, I see the Selkath as Leonardo DiCaprio.
But while Raimi’s film decides to fetishize individual motifs of the Leone canon—pocket watches, clock towers, baroque weaponry, tight squint-eyed close-ups—“The Box” perceives the philosophy underneath: death can come suddenly, unexpectedly, and, if you’re not too careful, on account of your fellow man. Better then to make yourself as indifferent to life and death struggle as the harsh, godless landscapes around you. (Is that not the cold flipside of the Jedi Code, a mantra about freeing yourself from attachments?) And, if you’ve done that, why, as Cad Bane suggested, would you need a mask when your own face can serve that function ever so capably? Even Bane would tip his wide-brimmed hat to writer Brent Friedman for penning a story that works on this many levels.
But existentialism can wait. It was time for a bounty hunter competition. The Lady Luck (or a SoroSuub luxury yacht cousin) arrived on Count Dooku’s homeworld, Serenno, looking mighty battered. And its passengers—Moralo Eval, Cad Bane, and “Rako Hardeen”—didn’t look much better. Maybe that’s why Dooku felt he needed basically another round of job interviews to make sure he really did have the best of the best. So, in addition to our trio, Dooku brought in ten more contenders. Let’s run down this Rogues Gallery, shall we?
NEXT: We run down the bounty hunters set to enter the box. This group has crazier hats than Lady Gaga.
Kiera Swan—Two time winner of the Obsidian Sphere, no relation to the Jedi Order’s nimble Geonosis veteran Bultar Swan. Kiera is a female Weequay, and it’s nice to see some nascent gender equality in that strictly patriarchal society, where the leading jobs seem to be thug, hired muscle, bouncer, and pirate.
Derrown—A Parwan known simply as “The Exterminator,” Derrown’s got to be one of the most striking new aliens we’ve seen from Star Wars in a long, long time. Probably since the Selkath. Part cnidarian, part cephalopod, part the Muppets’ Beaker, the three-eyed Derrown somehow has the ability to perpetually float in midair and pass through ray shields. All the better for kidnapping pesky Supreme Chancellors!
Sixtat—The Outlands Butcher, this male Sakiyan prides himself on sniper skills—not to mention facial tats—that should give Hardeen a run for his money. Also, gotta love anyone who proudly accepts a title like “The (insert intimidating location here) Butcher.”
Embo—A returning favorite, Embo was last seen helping Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka defend a peaceful farming village from a pack of bandits, a la Seven Samurai. Take notice, you Kurosawa buffs! He’s also a member of the alien race called the Kyuzo. Yes, the name of the most taciturn, eminently badass member of the Seven Samurai. His bounties over the last year were second only to Cad Bane’s—I assume because his hat-brim is second only to Cad Bane’s. Actually, unlike Bane, Embo can use his headgear as a weapon, kind of like Captain America’s vibranium shield, if he wore it on his head. Also, Embo’s voiced by Dave Filoni himself, which explains the hat.
Jakoli—A male Rodian known for never bringing anyone back alive. But why couldn’t Greedo have shown up instead? Why?
Bulduga and Onca—Ithorians are usually thought to be peaceful, sluggish herbivore types, more comfortable strolling through the lush forests of their homeworld than doing battle. That was why it was so devastating when the Yuuzhan Vong torched Ithor during the early stages of their invasion of the Galaxy in 25 ABY. But these brothers have apparently proved a legendary bounty-hunting team. Too bad Bane recognized that Bulduga was wearing a hat he liked better—maybe it was his old hat?—and shot him through his cow-like heart to win it for himself. Last year when Joel and Ethan Coen spoke to me about their favorite Westerns of all time, for EW.com, they picked Once Upon a Time in the West as their #1, solely on the basis of its “good hat-brims.” They really need to watch this show.
NEXT: We finish rounding up the bounty hunting field and find out what happened to the fishy Selkath in the 4,000 years since Knights of the Old Republic.
Twazzi—A female member of the Fwenk, a race known for their long-limbed acrobatics. In fact, Twazzi’s limber skill even earned praise from Chancellor Valorum. But since the former Republic executive’s ouster from politics—not certain if he’s been killed in a passenger freighter explosion on Coruscant at this point in the Clone Wars yet—she doesn’t seem to have earned much notice from the current Chancellor, Palpatine. Or has she?
Sinrich—A male Snivvian, a race known for their skill with VFX and habitual frequenting of Chalmun’s Cantina at the Mos Eisley spaceport. Seriously, though, Sinrich’s skill with visual sleight-of-hand could rival that of ILM, because he’s invented the Holographic Disguise Matrix, a device that can instantly give a bearer a new appearance. Impressive, most impressive.
Mantu—A member of the Selkath, the fishy people first introduced to Star Wars legend with their appearance in 2003’s Knights of the Old Republic videogame. At that point, nearly 4,000 years before the Clone Wars, the Selkath were a peaceful people known for their staunch neutrality in the Jedi Civil War between the Republic and Darth Revan’s Sith Empire. Their ocean planet, Manaan, was known as the only supplier in the galaxy of kolto, a healing substance that predates bacta. Still, the Selkath’s rigid judicial culture suggested a certain fragility to their way of life, and when a giant Firaxan shark’s underwater shrieks drove them mad, a group of Selkath butchered the human scientists at an underwater research base. After Revan destroyed the Republic’s ability to gather kolto—and bacta was discovered to be a superior agent in medical treatment—Manaan became a backwater, though whether the Selkath as a race descended into madness after the galaxy turned their collective backs on them is yet to be determined. I think they probably did, hence Dooku’s brilliantly loaded coment about Mantu’s people: “How far they have fallen.” Another ingenious line from Mr. Friedman that works so well because of its understanding of both established Star Wars lore and the fact that some backstory is best hinted at rather than spelled out.
The 12 participants would go into a giant cube, known simply as The Box, in which four challenges awaited that would test their bounty hunting mettle. The survivors will then form the team that will kidnap the Chancellor at the festival on Naboo. So this particularly dirty dozen entered the glowing white interior of The Box—it looked like the inside of the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind before Spielberg decided we shouldn’t see it!—to face the first challenge.
The First Challenge
The contestants entered a cubical chamber with a grid-like pattern reminiscent of a holodeck or Troy and Abed’s Dreamatorium. Suddenly, dioxys, the toxic gas that almost proved fatal to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan on the Trade Federation droid control ship in Episode I, came pouring in and the floor became an oscillating array of raised platforms. The bounty hunters would have to fight each other for the high ground, as it were, to stay above the gas. But Obi-Wan noted that their chance of escape was down, not up, and with the filters in his mask protecting him, he scouted out an exit down below.
NEXT: Rest assured, the next challenges up the body count.
The Second Challenge
So Hardeen really saved everyone’s hides—or whatever protective, skin-like membranes his colleagues have. The second time around, not everyone would be so lucky. That’s because the next chamber was a Tetris-like pattern of horizontal bars moving back and forth. Not a huge problem in and of itself, except that each of these bars had the equivalent of a lightsaber attached. Again, Hardeen spotted an exit and led the team out, but not without a few casualties this time.
Casualties: Onca, Kiera Swan, and Sinrich.
The Third Challenge
The third task was one truly worthy of the Lucasfilm name. The four walls of this chamber were ray shielded, and the ray shields slowly moved in to envelop our survivors, while the platforms on which they were standing could suddenly drop out beneath them at any time. About that…the floor was ray shielded too! This time Eval made sure that someone other than Hardeen would be responsible for the group’s salvation. Someone would have to inject himself with an electrolytic serum that would allow him to pass unharmed through the ray shield. Of course, Hardeen did save them all yet again, because he knew that the Parwan, Derrown, would be capable of handling the serum. And so he was! Derrown got them out while only getting slightly singed in the process.
Casualties: Rakoli and Mantu
The Fourth Challenge
This one seemed to be the easiest. A sharpshooting contest! Sixtat, the Outlands Butcher, had this one sewn up. He was three for three! But Sithspit, that fourth target got him. He missed, and the platform under his feet caused him to fall…to his death. Next it was Hardeen’s turn. He was the sharpshooter who had killed Obi-Wan Kenobi, after all. He hit every single mark, but ran out of charges in his sniper rifle. Eval, sensing a threat, decided to kill him anyway, because a bounty hunter needs to be lucky—and Hardeen’s luck had just run out. But as he was plunging to the unforgiving floor below, a fibercord wrapped itself around Hardeen’s wrist. Cad Bane saved him! If Eval was going to kill Hardeen, he’d have to do it like a man, face to face. Dooku, appearing in close-up on a giant screen, agreed. He sent Eval into the chamber to face Hardeen mano a mano. Fisticuffs ensued.
Hardeen quickly subdued Eval, and if he had been willing to finish him Hardeen would have been made the leader of the operation—all the better for bringing it down from the inside. But Hardeen didn’t have the stones. So Dooku, speaking from his giant screen—when are giant video screens not vaguely dystopian?—picked Cad Bane to lead the mission instead. He certainly wasn’t going with the obviously incompetent Eval.
And there we have it. Let the mission begin! What did you think of “The Box”? Who do you think, of survivors Derrown, Twazzi, Bane, and Embo, is most likely to become One with the Force first? And is this your favorite arc of the season or what?
Also, a very special thanks to Ashley Eckstein who co-hosted our viEWer live blog of The Clone Wars with me last night! Next week, please join us at 7:45 pm ET/4:45 pm PT for another live chat with Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, James Arnold Taylor, who will be taking your questions.
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…