Sunday, 6 November 2011


The Dark Side of the Force reigns supreme in THE CLONE WARS Season Three, recently released on complete series box set. All images: LUCASFILM ANIMATION/WARNER BROTHERS.




Reviewed by Scott Weller

Always one step ahead of the pack in the entertainment industry, the creative partnership of George Lucas and Dave Filoni continue to build on their sterling animated work for the popular THE CLONE WARS series, now hitting its creative stride in terms of high quality storytelling, as witnessed by a great many of the exciting, memorably action-packed tales of its 22 episode third season, now available in pristine Blu-ray and DVD box set form from WARNER BROTHERS.

Clone Cadets, set in the early stages of the Clone Wars, gets Season Three off to an interesting, if not spectacular, start,

And yet, this new seasons early days started worryingly. The first half of Year Three begins slightly directionless and the story episodes tone are imbalanced and all over the place with regards to comedy, action and drama. The behind the scenes team have pretty much acknowledged that this happened primarily because the it contained stories that were in the production works for Season Two and ended up being carried over to Three and it shows. Though these carried over shows are hardly leftovers, and have their good moments, it’s with the latter half of the season, fortunately, that the true story production and direction for the year emerges. And its well worth the wait, too, with the show back to full strength and all blasters firing as its thematic path is now clear and strengthened for the rest of the season, gaining much needed focus as its dedicated behind the scenes team brings us four superb multi-part adventures that showcase the STAR WARS animated universe at its finest so far, and certainly succeeds in showing us the darker climes the series is heading towards…

George Lucas strikes back as the blue alien Baron Papanoidia in Sphere of Influence.

The animation and production values of the series remain superb, but Lucas (who even gets to play his EPISODE III cameo, the blue skinned alien Baron Papanoidia, in a love it or hate it episode alongside the rest of his family: Sphere of Influence), and his Supervising Director Filoni get their chance this season to add more unique depth to the series, as they explore previously undeveloped facets in the STAR WARS universe that will make their mark on both live and animated realms within their third season moniker sub-title of SECRETS REVEALED. Many of these new season episodes are so big in execution and scale that it’s a real shame there couldn’t have been some kind of cinematic screening festival for them beyond what was successfully achieved with the Opress Trilogy, shown to great popularity in selected multiplexes within the United States. Bigger episodes deserve the big screen treatment, in my book…

Spectacular space battles return for Season Three.
Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and Mas Amedda try to calm the Senators in Pursuit of Peace.

As things start, there are prequels and pre-prequel stories to previous Season One and Two episodes, which could cause some mild confusion to those regular viewers whom have dipped in and out of the show. But, after episode ten, the series positions itself at a certain time frame point after Season Two’s Senate Murders and stays there as it builds up to the tragic events of the live-action EPISODE III.

Back on Felucia, Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano leads the Clone Trooper offensive in Padawan Lost.
And has a memorable pairing alongside Chewbacca in Wookiee Hunt.

The Jedi are more overloaded than ever in their battle against the Separatists, all of whom are controlled by the ultimate puppet master-the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Of our heroes, its really Ahsoska Tano, a firm children and family favourite, who reaps the best rewards of the season: she fights the deadly bounty hunter Aurra Sing (the return of Jaime King) who tries to kill Padme in the episode Assassin, kicks butt in uncovering Mandalorian Corruption and squares off against deadly Trandoshan big-game hunters on their island game retreat of life and death in the acclaimed two-parter Padawan Lost and Wookiee Hunt, a noted tale which also sees the return of the lovable Chewbacca in what is undeniably one of the series coolest and all-time great moments and episodes, finely capturing all that’s best about the Classic and Prequel Trilogy convergences in the animated series. A little spitfire through the series, often inheriting some of her masters bad habits, Ahsoka’s relationship with Anakin Skywalker is now far different to what it was in that first animated pilot movie-almost equals now, and each more respectful of the other by Season Three’s finale scenes. Her characters individuality and character have certainly deepened and developed.

Fighting to the end: Jedi Master Di and his Clones in Supply Lines.

New Jedi heroes also come in to make their debut marks. We get STAR WARS DARK HORSE Comics fan favourite Quinlan Vos finally realized (the character was to have been a live-action reality in EPISODE III but didn’t make it in the end, so its nice to see him here in animated form) in the enjoyable mix of comedy and action Hunt for Ziro, where he shows a strong chalk and cheese partnership with Obi-Wan against both the creepy fugitive Ziro the Hutt and the inventive, arsenal packed bounty hunter Cad Bane (back for two important episodes). Others from the noble rank to appear include two episodes for fan favourite Shaak Ti, a one and only appearance by tragic hero Master Di from the uneasy but interesting mixture of comedy and action- Supply Lines- and horned Sasee Tiin in the final part of the tense Citadel saga, of which little Jedi Even Piell also gets to be a main focus of that story, alongside the other returning major movie character of the season: the sneering and ambitious Wilhuff Tarkin. Filoni Jedi favourite Plo Koon makes appearances here and there, too…

Never one to be friendly, Captain Tarkin makes his first appearance in THE CLONE WARS.

Sadly, and once again for an entire season, there’s no individual episodes or story arcs for Jedi favourites Yoda or Mace Windu. Obi-Wan Kenobi, as superbly voiced by James Arnold Taylor, doesn’t get a major tale either, though he does get to appear in numerous episodes alongside Anakin and Ahsoka. The series also lacks a tale where all our main characters can interact and work together-the last of this type was The Zillo Beast Strikes Back from the end of Season Two. Here’s hoping that more of our movie series favourite characters all get major story arcs at some point in seasons to come.

Padme gets into a speeder bike chase against fishy alien Robino in the Pursuit of Peace.
In the thick of the action: the Clone Troopers and Even Piell in The Citadel Trilogy.

And lets not forget the other heroes out there beyond the Jedi, either. Our beloved lady of fashion and action, Padme Amidala, as well voiced as ever by Catherine Taber, gets involved in four stories this year: the two most notable ones being set on Coruscant in the lead-up to Series Two ‘s Senate Murders story, as the Republic faces bankruptcy with the continued creation of the Clone armies and their required military arsenals. Heroes on Both Sides easily proves to be the best of her quartet. These politically involved tales may not be to everybody’s tastes, but most of the time I think they’re pretty good! And, for fans of gritty, no-holds-barred Clone Trooper action with the band of brothers led by stout, combat veteran Captain Rex, there’s the epic three-parter, made in the best old-school Classic Trilogy fashion, set in The Citadel, as well as the intriguing season opening tales full of bravery and blaster-fire set on Kamino and Ryloth.

Captured by Cad Bane, Threepio has a bad time in the torture chamber as part of his Evil Plans.

Accident prone comic of the Prequel Saga, Jar Jar Binks (thankfully re-voiced by Ahmed Best) also returns, using his skills of childish annoyance to help Bail Organa for a key early episode linked to the invasion of the aforementioned Ryloth, home of the horned Twi’lek race, whilst Droid icons Threepio and Artoo have a fun and quirky tale within the crooked streets of Coruscant leading into the events of Season One’s exciting finale Hostage Crisis. The droids, alongside the return of Ziro the Hutt provide the storytelling basis for some fun family viewing before the harder, darker edges of the season kick in.

Psycho bounty hunter Aurra Sing returns-and Padme Amidala is the target!-in Assassin.

But it’s the new and old formidable baddies this year that make the most powerful impressions on the series viewers. The Katie Lucas written episode Assassin proves a fun little number seeing in the aforementioned return of Aurra Sing (whose resurrection from death at the end of Season Two is mentioned but not shown. Though sadly, as there will now no longer be flashback/prequel episodes in future seasons, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to see how she later broke out of prison alongside teenage Boba Fett (who returns soon to the series), before coming back to Coruscant and freeing Ziro the Hutt alongside Cad Bane!).

New baddie Savage Opress cements his reputation as a Jedi killer in Monster.
Mother Talzin of the witch-like Sisterhood of Dathomir makes her creepy mark in Season Three.
Asajj Ventress attacks her ex-master, Count Dooku, in the action-packed Witches of the Mist.
Despite the pleasure of seeing Bounty Hunters in the series, the true villainous show points of the seasons, as ever, remain the Sith, who introduce to us the terrifying and powerful, witchcraft induced, manipulated figure of Savage Opress, brother of the slain (or was he?) Darth Maul from live action movie EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE (which returns to cinemas in 3-D next February), as well as the return of monstrously evil acolytes like General Grievous and Asajj Ventress (whose malicious character undergoes a massive life and career upheaval when she turns against her former master, the nefarious Count Dooku, having abandoned her and left her to die at the hands of the enemy). Then there’s the first appearance of the intriguing alien Sisterhood of Dathomir from the Expanded Universe, now re-devised within the animated universe playground of Lucas, of which Ventress was and returns to be a part of her clan once again, as series writing team veteran Katie Lucas writes three of the best scripts involving both parties later in the season.

Bail Organa's familiar looking ship approaches the mainlands of Toydaria: our first look at that planet in the series.

No STAR WARS saga would be complete without seeing some of its diverse planets and civilizations, of which Year Three doesn’t disappoint for the majority. New worlds seen linked to the original movies include Nal Hutta-home of the slimy Jabba the Hutt and his unique and often repulsive kind, the Trandoshan home of the popular bounty hunter Bossk, and Toydaria, whose short but stout winged species prove a lot braver and honorable than that creepy trader from Tatooine, Watto, ever has been in representing them. It’s here on his home world that brave King Katuunkno buys the farm this season, ultimately paying the price for turning down Count Dooku’s offer of an alliance with the Toydarians. And he isn’t the only one to perish this season, either: there are more demises of popular supporting characters from beginning to end…

The water world of Kamino and its cloners makes its debut in the series.

Additionally, there’s also our first animated look at Alderaan (cue the return of John Williams always evocative and beautiful Princess Leia’s theme), the aforementioned action packed battle on the water world of Kamino, as the Clone Troopers defend their home from a mass attack by the Separatists- an early episode entry, Arc Troopers, which proves a fine showcase for some of the series advanced new animation techniques linked to creating rain and water. Plus, a lively return to the pink skied, mountainous environments of Teth from the first CLONE WARS animated movie, for a superb and ambitious action sequence between Cad Bane and his droid Todo (voiced by Seth Green) against pursuant Jedi’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and Quinlan Vos in Hunt for Ziro.

Shoot like an Egyptian! More trouble on Mandalore in the less than successful episode Corruption.

Despite all this grand work and spectacular renderings, however, there are a few failures. In their enthusiasm and keenness to show us this important world, Lucas and Filoni’s return to Mandalore (after three equally mixed reaction Season Two adventures set there) provides fans with two unintentionally weak tales separately featuring Ahsoka and Padme which greatly disappoint at the aforementioned early part of the season. Not just average episodes leaden with educational morality, they’re probably the poorest the series has ever done so far story-wise…

New look animation renderings for our heroes from the Season Three mid-point onwards.

Fortunately, arriving at just the right time to perk up the rest of the year, new and improved animation character moulds hit the series main characters (most notable with Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka) from the episode Heroes on Both Sides onwards, of which that particular episode takes us on an intriguing journey behind Separatist enemy lines, where we see the multitude of unhappy races over there, caught up in diplomatic negotiations alongside Count Dooku’s traitorous leadership and manipulations, trying to stop the escalating war, and showing us a situation beyond what we normally see with the Battle Droids and other faceless, emotionless armies that march against the Republic. Sadly, this shared and desired peace scenario between the two sides will never happen whilst its battle escalations are amplified by Dooku and his master, Darth Sidious. Heroes, showing the Dark Lords at their most deceitful, is another fine episode for the series which belies any notion that THE CLONE WARS is just for kids- giving viewers an intelligent and thought provoking tale about the effects of war on peoples of all kinds, and the manipulation of power and conflict during such times by evil and greedy, opportunistic forces.

A Trandoshan hunter stalks Ahsoka in Padawan Lost.
The Supreme Chancellor consoles Padme on the current state of the war in Pursuit of Peace.
The Dark Forces of The Son make their mark in fantasy adventure Altar of Mortis.

Further intriguing storylines continue for fans of the mysterious Force, as they get to discover more about its connection to the STAR WARS universe, as Lucas allows the Series recently organized writing staff to explore more of its intriguing facets within the high fantasy story environs of the three part Mortis Saga, where Anakin, Obi -Wan and Ahsoka encounter a trio of distinctive creatures who live in a realm within a different dimension of our own universe, a part of the mysterious, beautiful and dangerous Force-realm, all of whom harness its powers distinctly- and all of whom want to use Anakin-the man who will bring the prophecy of balance to the Force- for their own means: for good or evil. The dying Father wants Anakin to succeed him in keeping order but The Son and Daughter each have their own unique and determined destinies they wish to fulfill…

Anakin is reunited with his late mother Shmi in the Mortis Trilogy...
...whilst Ahsoka experiences the Dark Side and its spiteful powers.

From this eventual conflict, the future shades of Darth Vader emerge physically and literally for Anakin, and which also sees Ahsoka turn evil for a short time-an interesting new aspect for voice artist Ashley Eckstein to play with. Other notable aspects to this trilogy include the Force spirit form re-appearances of popular Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn, and Anakin’s dead mother, Shmi (respectively voiced with the much welcome and surprise return to the STAR WARS folds of actors Liam Neeson and Pernilla August).

Tough decisions ahead for Anakin in the Mortis Trilogy.

The Mortis saga, written by popular TV veteran Christian Taylor, would prove extremely successful with audiences and fans, and the storyline will continue later in the runs of either seasons four or five, bringing us tantalizing new clues regarding Anakin’s eventual destiny as a Sith and developing further his relationship to the prophecy of bringing balance to the Force. But will there be more to this “prophecy” than we could ever possibly imagine?

Anakin, once more as The Chosen One, acts to save Ahsoka in the Mortis Trilogy.

As ever, I can’t recommend highly enough the Blu-ray version of the box set release, so as to get the greatest enjoyment of the series stunning animation and sound quality possible. Look out for all the details in the format, like Count Dooku’s flamed yellow eyes, a la Darth Sidious and Anakin in EPISODE III, in the episode Witches of the Mist, the dense and intriguing foliage of the jungle world of Trandosha and the intricate and diverse reptilian details of its inhabitants in Wookiee Hunt. Or the perfect antiseptic cleanliness of Kamino in the seasons opening two episodes. There’s so much to visually savor and enjoy here.

Lightsaber duels are aplenty this season.

The behind the scenes featurettes accompanying the episodes discs are fine, but they could always, always be a tad longer, and its finally great to see some of the series directors talking about their episodes creations (though don’t expect anything major on the Mortis Trilogy-that’s being held for another time, when the storyline linked to it is ultimately completed), alongside veterans Filoni and artist Kilian Plunkett (whose talks about the realization of characters, weapons and environments are always accessible and fun to watch (though strangely, he does show a lack of enthusiasm for the Hunt for Ziro, which many of the staff working on THE CLONE WARS, apparently felt was a bit too way out story-wise for their tastes!)), whilst the visual archives showing 360 degree turnarounds of the characters, alongside conceptual and character designs artwork and deleted scenes (which, this time round, don’t really show anything too stellar being cut from the episodes) are nice to look at for completism and novelty value. It’s a shame, though, that they couldn’t have put the various US CARTOON NETWORK season/individual episode trailers in the extras package (some of which aren’t shown outside the US), or some more general episodic animation stills from the episodes. Also, some more mini-docs/material concentrating on the voice actors, who do such great work and are as equally important to the show as the animation, would have been fun, as would have been a further look at the development of the music of the series by Kevin Kiner. Some of his incidental music could have been included in isolated tracks, surely?

The future...Darth Maul will return in Season Four.

So, once again, despite a few omissions, there’s something overall for everybody in this special release, as THE CLONE WARS continues to involve, entertain and delight fans of all ages worldwide, and of which, under Dave Filoni’s overall guiding and respectful creative hands, provides the key foundations for ongoing seasons to build further and improve on.

STAR WARS future in this beloved visual incarnation continues to look very rosy indeed…

THE CLONE WARS: The Complete Season Three. Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.


Overall season stories and episodes: 3.5 out of 5
Animation, picture and sound quality: 5 out of 5
Special features: 3 out of 5

Overall box set rating: 3.5 out of 5

With thanks to WARNER BROTHERS UK, and their outside PR associates, for their valuable help in the formation of this review.

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