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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

"THE CLONE WARS" SEASON THREE. SWA's TOP FIVE EPISODES. NO 1: "WITCHES OF THE MIST"

The trap is sprung! Asajj Ventress and Savage Opress take their attack to Count Dooku in the superb THE CLONE WARS episode Witches of the Mist.

Well, it was a close run thing, and there were many great tales worthy of consideration in the top five pantheon in general (special consideration mentions must go to Heroes on Both Sides, Altar of Mortis, Citadel Rescue, Padawan Lost, and Monster) but the top episode - Numero Uno - of THE CLONE WARS Season Three (out now as a box set on both glorious high definition Blu-ray and DVD from WARNER BROTHERS HOME VIDEO), has to be the final part of Katie Lucas's epic trilogy of revenge, resurrection and carnage built around the lethal duo of Asajj Ventress and the formidable Count Dooku. An exciting, fast paced tale of drama, action, mystery and magic, which sees in the creation of a worthy new antagonist of brutal power and ferocity for our Jedi heroes: Savage Opress.

Yes, it can only be WITCHES OF THE MIST. And here are the five reasons why it hits the spot as the premiere episode of the season, and easily one of the series greatest episodes...

Dark deeds as Count Dooku trains his new apprentice.

1. Exploring the darker side of the STAR WARS universe. This well structured three episode tale, of which WITCHES is the exciting finale, gives fans a further chance to see the galaxy from the twisted eyes, attitudes and dark deeds of its three primary baddies (two already known and actively evil within the animated series, the other a brand new and terrifying threat whose looming presence looks likely to change the game board long term for the series over the next two seasons). We get to see the weird and wonderful, almost ethereal, nightmare realm of Dathomir, a world of mist shrouded magic and power manipulated and lived through its unique sisterhood-much liked by fans from the Expanded Universe- as well as its colony of Zabrakian warrior males, soon visited by the in-hiding Asajj Ventress in the creation of what will ultimately become Savage Opress. There's also an intriguing look at Count Dooku's duplicitous double life from his powerful Separatist leader/political palace existence on his home world of Serenno, where, under cover of its immense and opulent interior, he trains Opress in his new skills for the Sith (a twisted take on the Yoda and Luke Dagobah scenes from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), unaware that the brutal being is a puppet of the Sisterhood/Ventress and will be used against him. As the drama unfolds, and the final battle begins, viewers are thrown into a striking resolution of action, violence, foreboding and death (poor King Katuunko of Toydaria, brave to the end, ultimately losing his life after having said "No" to Count Dooku from way back in Season One). The intriguing inclusion of Anakin and Obi-Wan's into the story, now aware of Savage Opress's formidable abilities after a Jedi massacre on Devaron (which also sees in a neat cameo from the popular Delta Squad Clone Commandos), is deliberately structured by writer Katie Lucas so that their ultimate attempts to stop the chain of events from happening prove too little and too late. A nice turn for the series which helps to keep it fresh and diverse in its storytelling.

Now an outcast from the Sith, Asajj Ventress prepares for revenge!

2. Asajj Ventress. Abandoned and left for dead by her now former master, the once Sith assassin gains a deepened and more complex characterisation in Katie Lucas's Trilogy of Evil. After a long absence from our screens (and making no appearance at all in Season Two whilst Bounty Hunters take centre stage instead), viewers get to see new facets to the popular female character, brought to life so well in her feral anger and underlying sexual power by Nika Futteman, including a strong sense of isolation, loss and fear, as first seen in her origin tale of part one, firstly with the Nightsisters of Dathomir who are forced to give her up, her early life as a Jedi and then gaining power and anger, resentment and a blood lust need for personal revenge as a talented and powerful orphan once again, now highly trained killer/accolyte, to the corrupt Sith Lord Count Dooku, who ultimately sacrifices her under orders from his own master, Darth Sidious. Down but not out, Ventress's return home to her people on the blood red world of Dathomir is both mysterious and fortuitous as the all-women society join forces with her to launch a revenge mission against Dooku. Their earlier invisible infiltration/attack plan fails, but, with the creation of a new pawn: Zabrakian male warrior-Savage Opress- capable of matching, and going beyond, the talents of Darth Sidious's first successor to Sith power: Darth Maul, payback time has finally arrived for Ventress.

No one's servant any longer, Savage Opress is out for revenge!

3. Savage Opress. Launched in an impressive blitzkrieg of pre-publicity by LUCASFILM and CARTOON NETWORK, Darth Maul's brother Savage Opress certainly impressed in this final part of the Ventress Trilogy-a potent tool for revenge, almost Frankenstein's Monster-like in his creation- in both story development and ultimate visual execution, created in the tale by the exiled Sith assassin and her lethal female Nightsisters, used against Count Dooku at the right time and place once safely ensconced to the Sith Lord's bidding. Movie actor Clancy Brown brings his superb vocal skills and range experience to the role of Opress, which, in early contrast to Maul, at first sees him as an intelligent and almost noble Zabrakian living alongside the rest of the surviving males of his kind within a colony on the far wilderness of Dathomir. Easily the best the tribe can offer with regards to intelligence and fighting ability, Opress's former skills are soon curtailed and the latter amplified, made more pliable by Ventress and the Sisters, as he is transformed into the lethal killing machine we see at work by this finale episode, easily taking on two sworn enemy Jedi Knights - Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi- with fearsome ease, but in the process ultimately killing King Katuunka of the Toydarians, whom he was supposed to capture and bring to Dooku alive.  From that failure, Opress faces the wrath of his master and his dreaded Force lightning as his activation as an assassin against Dooku by Ventress finally emerges. But neither puppet master anticipates the raw power, ultimate individuality and anger of Opress, who breaks away from the machinations of each of them and goes on the offensive. Followed by a rematch with the Jedi and ultimately an escape back to the Sisterhood, the dark warrior, injured and weary of his existence- an abused character audiences feel partially sorry for- soon finds solace in being given a new direction and purpose to his life: to search for his lost brother far out in the depths of space. More on that "brother" later...

One of several deadly three way lightsaber duels which take place in this terrific episode.

4. Lightsaber duels. There's been some terrific duels across all three seasons of THE CLONE WARS worthy of the STAR WARS name, but this episodes conflicts are absolutely superb and thoroughly exciting. From Anakin and Obi-Wan getting the crud almost kicked out of them by the superior strength of Savage Opress on Toydaria, to the three-way duel between Opress, Dooku and Ventress, followed by Ventress's solo attack against the count, who proves too powerful and agile, mentally and physically, to beat, and then the finale of Jedi and Opress fighting again and then separately escaping the wrecked enemy cruiser, all tremendously well choreographed and animated, directed with style and imagination by series regular Giancarlo Volpe, thrilling to watch and highly memorable. Prequel movie Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard would be done proud seeing how his legendary lightsaber duel work has been built on to such high standards in this format.

He doesn't look happy! Darth Maul will return Spring 2012!

5. The return of Darth Maul. Who wasn't shocked and surprised by the final scene of this episode, when manipulative Mother Talzin revealed to a bruised and beaten Savage Opress the existence, far out in the galaxy, of his previously believed dead brother, the one and only devil-like, Jedi killing machine Darth Maul. We all thought that Obi-Wan had decapitated him and sent him down that Theed City power shaft to his final death, but, perhaps recognising that the character was killed off way too early in the Prequel Trilogy and would have been a tremendous recurring villain, George Lucas obviously changed his mind on Maul's fate, instead deciding to miraculously bring him back to the Dark Side from the Afterlife (Maul's return in Season Four of THE CLONE WARS next spring also handily ties in with the big screen re-release of EPISODE ONE in 3-D cinemas in 2012. Convenient, eh?!) How he is ultimately resurrected is something I'm so far not privy to. Will he be a clone? Half man, half cyborg? A rebirth via Mother Talzin's incredible witchcraft? Or has Darth Sidious used the power and knowledge of the slain Darth Plagueis to bring death back to life? We'll just have to wait and see, but let's hope its not done in a manner that hurts the prior drama of EPISODE ONE, Obi-Wan's original heroism in defeating Maul or stretch believability to its absolute limits. Lucas surely doesn't care one way or the other what people ultimately think of the characters return- he created Maul and the STAR WARS universe- and presumably wants Maul back for lots more drama and cool action (most likely an epic encounter between the brothers and Obi and Anakin!), but lets hope Dave Filoni, the writers and the animation team can also give such a big scenario some worthy accompanying story dignity at the same time.


Season Three of THE CLONE WARS is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. A Season One to Three box set is also available in both formats.

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