R2-D2 and C-3PO get their FEMA on while lending aid to the earthquake-stricken people of Aleen.
Mercy Mission
Credit: Lucasfilm

Now this is how you do comic relief!

“Mercy Mission” proved to be an unexpected palate-cleanser after last week’s disappointing “Shadow Warrior.” For one, it gave us more of the most neglected duo in the Galaxy: R2-D2 and C-3PO. This is the most we’ve seen of that Galaxy Far, Far Away’s Laurel and Hardy since last year’s odd “Evil Plans,” which involved R2 getting a droid’s version of a day of beauty. And I have no idea why we haven’t seen them more. By the time of the Battle of Yavin we know that droids have really become pariahs in the Galaxy, after, you know, years of war against goose-stepping, “Roger! Roger!” shouting clankers. But why have Artoo and Threepio become the odd men out for the Lucasfilm animation team too? Use them more often! They’re funny! And they don’t have to try as hard to be funny as, let’s say, a certain alien race that rhymes with Dunkin’.

Just the title “Mercy Mission” should recall the very first time we ever saw Artoo and Threepio. Damn, the very first time we saw anything of Star Wars, period, when Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer cornered Princess Leia’s Tantive IV above Tatooine while it was on what the Dark Lord called a “mercy mission.” No Organa was to be found this time, but the droids were on hand, and so were the clone troopers, pleasing fans of those battle-hardened warriors who inherited not only Jango Fett’s razor-edged cheekbones and mad combat skills but also his New Zealand accent. I remember one earnest commenter last season venting: “How come we haven’t had more of the clone troopers. I watch Clone Wars for the clones!”

“Mercy Mission” didn’t show the clones battling wildly incompetent droids; rather, it focused on their role in a non-combat relief mission: to help out the peppy, diminutive inhabitants of Aleen, who’d just suffered a terrible groundquake. Think of this as the Galactic Republic’s FEMA. Apparently, this was a quake of apocalyptic proportions, as only “thousands” of survivors were left on this world, which oddly enough seemed to please Padme and Yoda. Either the Aleena are very few in number to begin with, these groundquakes were much more localized than Tom Kane made out in his voiceover, or Padme and the little green man have become wildly desensitized. I liked seeing the Grand Army of the Republic in FEMA mode, though. It allowed us to cut through all the laser and lightsaber battles and see the logistical side of the war effort—something that one of the best Clone Wars-era novels, Jedi Trial, also attempts.

NEXT: Toward a definition of non-annoying Star Wars aliens.

Speaking of which, the author of several Republic Commandos novels, Karen Traviss, famously said that the Republic only commissioned 3 million clones, to the outrage of most serious Star Wars fans. But maybe she had a point—if a planet like Aleen in fact does have a relatively small population, maybe not that many clones would be needed to hold it. Many, many of Jango’s progeny probably do spend their days operating load lifters, restocking transports, driving walkers, piloting landing craft, because, galaxy-spanning though it may be, there are only a few major fronts in the war. Maybe the three million total isn’t that far off base.

Interesting to see the Acclamator-class assault carrier, which figured prominently in the Battle of Geonosis as the Republic’s primary capital ship, is now just being used as a transport. Really a glorifed medical frigate. The bridge as it appeared in “Mercy Mission” looked exactly like it did in the stellar 2002 videogame Star Wars: The Clone Wars, all Spartan grays and chrome, like an even more basic version of the Imperial Star Destroyer bridges Lord Vader and company will one day stalk.

When flying down their LAAT/c cargo transports, one of the clone pilots spotted an Aleena flying an insectoid animal, like the Na’vi’s banshees in Avatar. For a citizen of a world that was just decimated by a horrific natural disaster, he seemed overly jolly, smiled at the clone pilot, and all but let out an ululation that sounded somethinglike “Banzai!” As a Star Wars fan, you couldn’t help but echo the sentiment of the clone pilot who said, “Great, it’s going to be another one of those planets.”

But he and I were wrong. The Aleena, a cutesy cross of teacup dogs with some forms of rodentia and reptile, have become an Expanded Universe staple…and one I’d be happy to see even more of. I have a theory. Star Wars’ aliens are at their best when you can’t understand what they’re saying. Think about it. Chewbacca: Who has a clue what the walking carpet is saying? Only Han Solo! Another reason why he’s the coolest dude in the Galaxy. Jabba: Subtitling him is okay, since his deep “Huh! Huh! Huh!” laughter is universal. All of the Mos Eisley Cantina aliens. All of the alien bounty hunters. Even the Ewoks—can you imagine how much more annoying they would have been if they could have spoken (and I’m not counting that Ewoks animated series).

I also like the Aleena because they look alien, as opposed to, say, those glorified teddy bears, the Ewoks. The Aleena aren’t nearly as conventionally adorable, but they grow on you. We first saw an Aleena in Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, the podracer Ratts Tyerell, who met a fiery fate in the Boonta Eve Classic of 32 BBY. Even better, he was also a playable character in Star Wars: Racer, my summer 2000 obsession. In the Force Unleashed videogame, we also learn more about Kazdan Paratus, an Aleena Jedi who went mad after Order 66 and attempted to relive his glory days by reconstructing the Jedi temple on former Separatist capital and all-around Galactic dump, Raxus Prime.

NEXT: Threepio travels down the rabbit hole.

You can’t help but love the Aleenas’ attitude: sunny optimism in the face of grim tragedy. At first I was thinking, as King Manchucho hugged Threepio’s golden leg like a lovesick puppydog, why should he be so happy? His people have just lost everything? But, you know, there are times in life when I think Manchucho’s perk is the only way to deal. The more pressing question is why members of the Galaxy’s more primitive species are always drawn to C-3PO. First, the Ewoks revere him as a god, now this? Is it just the trans-species fascination with bright, shiny objects? Is it a subconscious attraction to Threepio’s British accent and thus also an unwitting desire for colonialism?

Let us thank the Force the Aleena found him so endlessly fascinating, because they wanted to show him the Great Seal that had been dislodged. Bring Threepio anywhere near a steep cavern and, of course, he’s bound to fall in—and he did, followed by jet-pack-outfitted Artoo. He’s like Alison Doody in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. His curiosity almost landed him in the great scrap heap in the sky. As the grailkeeper would put it, Threepio chose…poorly. But android afterlife will have to wait. He found himself in some eerie subterranean Fangorn Forest, replete with talking trees—okay, Ents—which still didn’t change my mind that talking trees are creepy. They suggested that the surface-dwellers, the Aleena, had opened the seal, allowing the “toxic” air from the surface to pollute their, um, chlorophyll. (Even talking trees don’t have lungs, right? But how then can they talk?) Season 2 featured a hilarious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious in one episode, so I have to say, I was kind of hoping that this time Vertigo might get some love. Maybe Threepio could have stood in front of a cross-section of a felled redwood and, pointing his golden finger at the tree’s rings, wistfully recollected, “Here I was manufactured. And here I was deactivated. It meant nothing to you. You took no notice.”

Instead of taking time to contemplate his mortality, Threepio finds out from the Ents that they’d have to chat with Orphne. Who’s Orphne, you ask, other than a woman named Daphne who’s decided to change her name after a visit to the Orkney Islands? Turns out, she was the sentient glitter that had followed Threepio and Artoo underground. When she finally materialized, she became a fishy frog-jezebel who stuck her tongue out, amphibian-style, to taste Threepio. He may not have been ripe for eating, but Orphne seemed ready to indulge other appetites as she caressed his bullion frame. Sorry Orphne, but I don’t think Threepio swings that way….

Orphne got the message, of course, and decided to give him a riddle instead: “You can run but cannot walk. You have a mouth but cannot talk. You have a head but never weep. You have a bed but never sleep.” Senator Amidala’s protocol droid may be fluent in six million forms of communication, but he could brush up on his deduction skills. Obviously, the answer was a river, and after R2 seemed to take a leak over another seal, an underground river came roaring up, shooting them all to the surface like in Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The droids replaced the seal separating both worlds—though Threepio initially scoffed at the idea of lifting—then shared a moment with the cuddly Aleena. Artoo, though, looked a little uncomfortable embracing anything cuter than himself.

Little may have actually happened in “Mercy Mission,” but I feel like this is the kind of quirky arc that fleshes out that Galaxy and provides much needed airtime for supporting characters. Was the Force with it, my readers? And, to carry on the Fema metaphor, did Threepio do a heckuva job?

Episode Recaps

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