After an inessential movie, and a patchy, but sporadically impressive first run, Clone Wars returned for a second season and has vastly improved (and also managed to cram in fan pleasing appearances by Bossk and Boba Fett).
While being ostensibly aimed at a younger audience, and certainly having plenty of fans among the Ben 10 constituency, it seems the Star Wars saga just can’t get away from a (mostly) healthy seam of nastiness. Most startlingly, we have our central character Anakin Skywalker playing bad cop and secretly torturing information out of insectoid Seperatist bigwig Poggle The Lesser, in a clear foreshadowing of the monster he will inevitably become. In another episode, Duchess of Mandalore, he impales some dude through the back with his lightsaber. Hardly the actions of your average protagonist in a kids’ cartoon, and it’s played for laughs too.
For the most part, it’s a regular kid’s show with regular kid’s show plots. The Zillo Beast and Brain Invaders employ standard tropes for pulp space opera, that shift the series away from the source movies, but closer to the original inspiration. Formulaic and familiar they might be, but they look great, and have a wide eyed, “everything but the kitchen sink” charm.
A common discussion point on the Star Wars movies is in which order should they be first viewed (the obvious answer being the release order. Duh!). However we now have fans of the TV show who have seen none of the original movies. As long as they don’t push the foreshadowing too far, or ever employ flashbacks/forwards, the series could be watched as a prelude to the movies, as they would not reveal any of the saga’s pivotal plot points. Anakin would merely be the brave (if rash and occasionally troubled) hero of The Clone Wars, with Obi-Wan as his loyal friend and brother in arms. When the series was over the films could be watched, with the appropriate backstory told, but with none of the characters’ fates revealed.
The central problem of creating tension in plots that centre on those whose fates are known (at least by older audiences) remains, but has been somewhat minimised by concentrating on new or marginal characters. In Weapons Factory and Brain Invaders, padawans Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee, seem to be genuinely in peril. Ahsoka in particular, originally loathed by fans as a hybrid of Wesley Crusher and Hannah Montana, is coming into her own as a worthwhile addition, and Anakin’s (negative) influence on her is revealing itself. I still don’t know about her outfit though. She’s supposed to be a Jedi warrior, not Christina Aguilera.
Something that has always bugged me about The Clone Wars is that so far everything we have seen of it has been a war, (singular), between The Republic and The Separatists. Calling them “Wars” always implied that there were several separate conflicts going on. During the Mandalore trilogy of episodes, we see a gathering army of the Boba Fett armour wearing mercenary badasses. This is exciting to aging fanboys such as myself because Fett’s initial backstory, sketchily intimated the the Empire Strikes Back novelisation, was that the Mandalorians were warriors that fought The Jedi during The Clone Wars. Could there be a a separate conflict within the larger one in the coming seasons? Yes please!
Some fans were not happy about The Mandalorians showing up, as it didn’t quite jibe with some of the existing spin off novels, which is a bit like being upset that Owen Lars turns out not to be the brother of Obi-Wan Kenobi after all, but I see their point. Lucasfilm has always been cagey about the place of the old Marvel Comics in the current continuity, and who can blame them when you consider it involved six foot tall green rabbits, telepathic pink hamsters and the invasion of the manga goths. But I have a lot of affection for some of those stories because I grew up with them, so when I see an episode like The Deserter, it takes me right back to The Alderaan Factor. This, and light hearted one off stories like Lightsaber Lost, remind me of some of the issues of that series, as well as the slightly grungier videogames but truthfully, they’re much, much better.