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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'THE CLONE WARS' - THE COMPLETE SEASON FIVE BLU-RAY


The end is nigh for THE CLONE WARS. Images: LUCASFILM ANIMATION.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS - THE COMPLETE SEASON FIVE (2-disc Blu-ray)

Available now from WARNER BROTHERS HOME ENTERTAINMENT


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Rampaging Sith, heroic droids, outrageous pirates and adventuresome Younglings, plus a lone outcast Jedi’s final destiny are the core of the fifth and final season of the creative extravaganza that is STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, out now on beautiful widescreen HD Blu-ray and DVD from WARNER BROTHERS.
 
Darth Sidious' operatic evil schemes continue to gather momentum...

Keeping up the best incredible action, superb locales and fantasy traditions of the supreme sci-fi saga was never going to be a problem for LUCASFILM ANIMATION. But despite its many bold ideas, half of the season’s storylines ultimately feel too long in duration, whilst several climactic stories have enough plot to warrant extra time but don’t receive it. Additionally, many of our main heroes from the Prequels make few contributions to the storytelling- previous seasons having spread them out better across the episodes. In particular, there’s very little of Sith Lord-to-be Anakin Skywalker in the first half- and he is much missed.
 
Ahsoka and her Jedi Younglings go into battle!

With the enforced wrap-up by the new deal LUCASFILM had with DISNEY, this was the season that had to have the most involvement regarding Jedi Padwan Ahsoka Tano, to the point where I had personal concerns that the show was becoming more like AHSOKA WARS than STAR WARS. Taking the reins of half the season, early on she gets to be reacquainted with former boyfriend Lux Bonteri, becomes a possible spin-off series lead in a Young Jedi series ultimately not to be, and gets to round the season off, and her storyline (at least for now), with the Jedi Temple sabotage series ender. For her considerable fans, there was much to enjoy. But as much as I like the heroine, voiced with spunk and dedication by Ashley Eckstein, it was the other Clone Wars heroes from the live- action films that got this all started in the first place, and I feel slightly cheated if those core characters aren’t in it enough.

The rearrangement of selected episodes due to the aforementioned, premature cancellation is now more apparent than ever in re-viewings of the season, as is the loss of the Padme/Anakin/Rush Clovis storyline-held over for the now cancelled then only partially competed Season Six, a non-appearance in the run that I feel hurt its early balance somewhat. In further hindsight, the overlong story lines throughout the first two thirds of the season are a shame, denying us of the potential for at least one more two or three part story.
 
The Jedi body count grows....

In the continuing build-up to the fall of the once benevolent Republic, Supervising Director Dave Filoni and co. promised that death was in the air, and this season certainly delivers the Grim Reaper’s largest scythe swing yet, mostly via the vengeance fuelled return of bitter Sith Lord Darth Maul, whose season opener prompts what lies ahead- his involvement with the Death Watch terror group and the take-over of Mandalore, causing the Jedi even worse grief, especially sworn-enemy Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the slaying of his best female friend- the Duchess Satine.


Here’s a look back at the key storylines and what we thought of them…

 
To hunt a Jedi. Darth Maul and Savage Opress search for Obi-Wan in Revival.

DARTH MAUL RETURNS…

Brothers in blood, and brothers in spilling blood, Darth Maul and Savage Opress first effort in forging a criminal army fails, but not before bringing down Jedi Knight Adi Gallia (a short but sweet overall series appearance), fighting alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi, when they’re cornered on the almost desert world of Florrum. The presence of Maul in the series is starting to become comfortable, but Revival, a continuance from last season’s Brothers, is not one of the series greatest season openers, though, in some respects, its an improvement on Season Three’s quite sedate Arc Troopers.

As the Maul limelight brightens, poor Savage Opress, who had such a magnificent debut two years back, unfortunately begins to pale, coming across like Lennie Small from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men - a simpleton character alongside the more driven brother in Maul, though Savage obviously retains his statuesque vindictive streak in killing Jedi. Back to fight Obi-Wan, its ultimately his turn to face “The Negotiator”s blade, losing the odd limb to the stunning swordplay of the defiant and singular Obi-Wan- another sign that our Sith wannabe’s time is almost up…

Amidst the Force clashing, the episode thankfully saw the return to the series of fan favourite Hondo Ohnaka, who once more gets some great one liners, being "semi speechless" at events playing out around him with those Sith "tattooed crazies" as they wreak havoc on his junkyard planet.
 
Sith vs Jedi!

Originally planned as a mid-season episode (where it appears on the Blu-ray set, and works better that way) but moved forward to kick- start the season- a decision by Lucas clearly designed to get the series off to a stronger start than the slow-building Onderon saga originally planned, Revival’s action is solid if lacking overall chutzpah.

AFICIONADO RATING: 3 out of 5

THE ONDERON SAGA

Here be dragons!

Serious themes underlie this interesting but overlong adventure. The thin line between terrorism and rebellion is explored, with echoes of 2012’s problems involving America and Syria (and the debate as to whether the super power should be aiding that country’s rebels), and past mistakes linked to the Vietnam war, as the Jedi and Captain Rex become observers to the small but so-effective Onderon Resistance, Che Guevara-like soldiers living in the jungle, against the Separatists, eventually going on to secretly aid them and supply weapons to their cause against a corrupt planetary government that has sided with Count Dooku.

Writer Chris Collins has fun turning STAR WARS history on its head and giving us some notable role reversals- it’s interesting to see Anakin as a rebel rouser before becoming the ultimate rebel hunter as the demonic Darth Vader- a move that adds another layer to our flawed but powerful character’s Jedi backstory.

Its also another slow knife in the back of the Jedi overall, as trust issues concerning them from within the Republic come to the fore- a plot strand gaining greater momentum by the end of the season and series.
 
The Onderon rebels make a fighting difference...

For the most part, this story is a showcase not only for the Expanded Universe popular world of Onderon and the genesis of what will ultimately be the first Rebel Alliance (with some clever design echoes to Ralph McQuarrie’s design work from RETURN OF THE JEDI), but also for Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, mostly on her own for the later episodes, though she has the presence of another rebel fighter, the on the run Lux Bonteri (once more voiced by Jason Spisak), to help both her and the people of the Separatist world in getting their house in order.

Like Ahsoka, the Lux seen here is also maturing-no longer the weak willed youngster and now a man with a mission, still determined to avenge his mother’s death at the scheming hands of Dooku. His romantic pull to the Jedi has now grown distant, as he finds his admiration's swaying towards Steela, a nicely written part, well-voiced by guest star Dawn-Lyen Gardner, makes an impression and proves to be one of the few new standout characters of the adventure- another welcome heroine for the saga’s animated universe.
 
Steela gets some training help from Obi-Wan.

Other pluses to the story include a new version of one of the series Tactical Droids and some occasional nice touches in action sequences linked to the hard to kill Droidekas. It’s also nice to see the return of simulated cloth with our cloaked Jedi heroes when they arrive in the jungles of Onderon. Expensive for the animation team, but worth it.

The final Charge of the Light Brigade-esque sequence showing horses and epic dragons (likely inspired by GAME OF THRONES perhaps?!) in battle against the Separatists (now using EPISODE III red-eyed Droid Gunships) and the corrupt king are nicely handled, as is the next cameo appearance of Hondo ("My, my, is that the time!”, he says scurrying off the planet ASAP after delivering the Resistance’s much needed heavy weaponry!).
 
The lethal Droid Gunships make their premiere appearance.

Steela’s death ultimately proves a shock and is well handled, as is Ahsoka’s almost fatal wounding from an enemy tank-for a moment, just a moment, the audience is worried that she’ll bite the dust.

With a nicely directed first episode, the story ultimately feels too luxurious and padded out- its not until the last episode that the storyline has a genuine sense of threat and high-stakes drama- overall, the Onderon saga, despite evolved animation, fails to match anything like the epic quality of Season One’s Ryloth trilogy.

AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL): 3 out of 5
 
A right of passage for a group of Jedi Younglings in The Gathering.

THE JEDI KIDS SAGA

Having caught the enthusiasm of Expanded Universe fans with the Onderon adventures, the series behind the scenes team lock their sights on restoring the series family audience balance for four episodes concentrating on a group of Jedi children, under the tutelage and guidance of Yoda and Ahsoka, and the trials they undergo to construct their lightsaber and build themselves into a cohesive team of friends.

Thankfully, the overall scripts from Christian Taylor don't play down to the kids and are intelligent and speedy- when I first heard that this was going to be a multi-part plot line linked to a group of young Jedi (and a potential side door opening for a future spin-off), I was dubious at best, but this tale actually turned out to be an enjoyable one, though again not a classic- lighthearted but with lots of adventure, before the darkness of the remaining Darth Maul and Mandalore arc.
 
Yoda is on hand to help...

Through two main arcs fused together, there are some clever moments looking into the lives of the diverse group of Jedi Younglings, alongside some lovely references to the original STAR WARS films-the seeker ball of EPISODE IV being one!- and even giving us more of a look at the important and secret Jedi world of Ilum and its immense crystal berthing caves, as seen in the first Genndy Tartakovsky animated series, though looking a little different visually and in contradiction to the past, especially the way the Jedi find the crystals for their lightsabers, to what was established in the previous animated series before EPISODE III, though also presented in a clever way where both versions can be integrated into the overall continuity.

Meanwhile, the diversity of the Jedi Padawans is interesting – especially pleasing to see the Wookiee Jedi Gungi amongst them. Part One’s finale, where her comrades finally discover their personal power crystals and complete their sabers is effectively done. Sadly, Master Yoda’s guiding role to them in the story is confined to the opener only, though villainous Hondo and his gang of pirates fare better from the second episode and prove a little more wickedly evil this time out.

Again, despite Ahsoka’s worthy presence, a part of me thought that Anakin should have been involved in the story, too, somewhere along the line. It would have given the Jedi Youngling massacre of EPISODE III a dark circular consistency, but his Padawan is now the star of the animated series and the most accessible to youngsters in launching the then planned spin-off (We even get to see a quick flashback linked to the heroine, seeing her as a baby with Plo Koon).
 
The Jedi's loyal droid servant, Huyang.

For part two, and the transfer of the story and action from Ilum to a Jedi star cruiser, former DOCTOR WHO and geek icon David Tennant effectively voices the faithful Jedi Droid servant, Professor Huyang, in the best Anthony Daniels tradition and proves much better in his casting the UK actor than they did with Simon Pegg as bounty hunter Dengar in Season Four, and snagging an Emmy award in the process! His character, one of the oldest droids serving the Jedi Order, is nicely realised into visual life by the animation team, based once again on some very early Ralph McQuarrie concept art for the protocol droid in 1975.

The stories third part becomes a padded out, but thankfully in a good way with a space battle and Obi-Wan battling Grievous, leading to the droid general’s eventual encounter with the younglings, but as this is his final appearance in the series, it's an enjoyable enough example of his continued antagonism and hatred for old enemy Kenobi and all things Jedi.

Hondo and his Weequay pirates make an impression this season.

Back to the kids plot, their travelling under cover within a travelling carnival, in order to rescue Ahsoka from Hondo and his gang, ultimately didn’t generate much enthusiasm from me and felt too lightweight, but their soon rescue of her proves watchable enough. Just when I was starting to think that the storyline was running out of juice by it's fourth episode, a bright and breezy action finale ensues, as Grievous and the Separatists invade Florrum, bringing it to all to an enjoyable close, with Ahsoka getting the chance for a more agile and powerful rematch against Grievous, though once again she only just survives the encounter, with escape thanks to the iconic Slave One, under Hondo’s command, returned to battle glory, fully repaired and guns blazing!
 
The Jedi celebrate their adventure.

So, for a four-episode duration, this was overall better than expected. The right of passage idea was a good one for the series but again a shaved off episode from the plot wouldn’t have hurt it too much. An overall success with family audiences it may have been, but I don’t personally think it would have been overall strong enough as a format to have separate series legs. Nonetheless, an interesting oddity for THE CLONE WARS series. Furthermore, some intriguing production design across this adventure will certainly inspire further great action figures and merchandise, like the wooden Wookiee lightsaber and the new Jedi Republic cruiser.

AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL): 3 out of 5
 
Unlikely heroes gather in Secret Weapons

THE DROID SAGA

Small size, big ambition!

Heroism comes in all shapes and sizes in the next four-parter, as heroic STAR WARS favourite Artoo Detoo and a group of multi-coloured Astro Droid, led by an ideas above his station general and an over-eager droid, have to infiltrate enemy lines, steal a vital piece of Separatist technology, then come back in one piece!

I acknowledge that the writers must have felt that a whole storyline involving a group of bleeping/blooping Artoo’s on their own, with no real speech patterns, might be less dramatic than normal- hence the additional need for two quirky love ‘em or hate ’em new characters to exchange humorous dialogue around them, but I disagreed with their actions- Artoo and chums had enough character appeal to win over audiences and prove perfect for an overall visualist series, whilst pursuant baddies and other supporting characters around them could easily have shored up the narrative in other ways. Obi-Wan and Anakin may have been worthy of use in the adventure somewhere before their ultimate final episode appearance, to help the droids on and off, speeding the plot further along.
 
A fight for survival in A Sunny Day in the Void.

That said, the actual first episode, Secret Weapons, has a good plot from Brent Friedman and proves quite snappily paced, as our heroes infiltrate a Sep cruiser and steal a viral data chip, but the inclusion of the aforementioned new characters, the dedicated pit droid pilot WAC-47 and the even smaller, miniature alien Colonel Meebur (as in amoeba) Gascon often irritate, coming across as unwanted rejects from the STAR TOURS ride- another example of THE CLONE WARS family friendly factor. I have no problem with that for the most part, but the creation of this duo was perhaps a bit too far and too zany for my tastes, of which I felt that the series was starting to lose its sophistication a little bit.

Artoo, with his heroic reliability and talents in holding onto secret knowledge, does get some crowd-pleasing action, though- in another one to one battle against a member of his own kind: a lethal Tactical Droid, in another exciting sequence- taking it out with flying pyrotechnical skills.
 
Clone Commando Gregor is back in action in Missing in Action

Part two unfortunately sees things take a nose dive in story quality, as the droids crash their shuttle after a run-in with a comet storm (again very STAR TOURS!), finding themselves on a desert planet and lost in a wilderness, amidst lots of story padding. Some of the building mild comedy moments equally fell flat on their face in one of the most disappointing episodes yet in this normally high quality series. I thought that the previously considered fan dispiriting episodes of Threepio and Artoo last season were far better than this one.

Thankfully, the situation picks up with part three, Missing in Action, and the discovery of amnesiac Clone Commando Gregor, missing believed dead, who, thanks to the gang, regains his memory and helps them escape on an orbit parked Republic cruiser.

The idea of this lone clone commando brings weight to a story that really needed it, though his supposed “death” in the firefight against overwhelming Battle Droids and Super Battle Droids is a waste. Additionally, part three’s inclusion of a few nice Classic Trilogy aliens is a welcome bonus, including a memorable appearance from a Sullustian cook who uses Gregor as a kitchen slave.
 
The biggest explosion created for the series, as seen in Point of No Return.

The final part of this all too long adventure, Point of No Return, ends the story with a great big bang, literally- nicely directed by Steward Lee and starting with a brief hint of mystery as the droids arrive to find the Republic vessel empty, and on automatic control, leading to Artoo once more in action, against the first appearance of small but lethal Buzz Droids in an excellently realized sequence, the enemy literally in their thousands, causing havoc as our heroes have to prevent the loaded with explosives ship from destroying a top secret meeting of Jedi and Republic forces, with Anakin, Obi-Wan and Tarkin amongst its populace (the latter in a nice little role, with greater prominence to come the season), resulting in one of the most spectacular explosions ever witnessed in an animated or live action series.

AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL) 3 out of 5
 
Dark Forces conspire in Eminence

MAUL AND MANDALORE...

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Villains of the universe unite, whether they want it or not, as the resurrected Maul and Savage Opress awake from space deep freeze by bloodthirsty mercenaries Death Watch, where, together, they hatch a grand scheme to incite terror on the Republic via the conquest of Mandalore and the thousands of systems within its neutral empire. Death Watch think they have the advantage, but Savage and Maul, enjoying this new fertile ground in which to thrive, are dangerous beyond belief.

Now, finally, the show is getting back on top form with Eminence, and what form this episode is-easily one of the series greatest, featuring some fascinating input from Lucas, who ultimately came up with the idea of the Maul alliances. The story has the kind of epic scope and character battles that STAR WARS fans imaginations could only enjoy in playing action figures, video games or Top Trumps cards. Cleverly not having a Jedi hero in sight within its 22 minute duration, the series diverse range of villains get the spotlight: Bounty Hunters, Sith, Death Watch, the Hutts and the first appearance of the popular Black Sun criminal empire- quite a considerable challenge to bring together, pulled off with aplomb by writer Chris Collins. Skillfully directed by Kyle Dunlevy, it was one of the fastest episodes of the series, of which so much was happening.
 
The Hutts are attacked in Eminence.


Zipping through the universe in the best tradition of the STAR WARS movies, it was great to see the volcanic planet return of Mustafar once more (a true hotbed of evil prior to EPISODE III, for a quick takeover of the Black Sun organisation and a quick series of beheadings), action on Nal Hutta, as Savage kills a Hutt, then onto Tatooine and making Jabba’s Palace a battle damaged wreck. Plus new alliances with the ambitious alien smugglers, the Pikes.

Caught in the battle to protect the Hutts, popular bounty hunters Dengar (thankfully silent, and without Simon Pegg!), Suki, Embo, and all have a great piece of the action pie, as do the Mandalorian pilots, Katee Sackhoff’s sexy Bo Katan and her flying warrior women, letting the explosive fireworks fly.

A terrific visual palette makes fine use of the established environs and characters of the last five years whilst Kevin Kilner provides suitably menacing music moments, like the variation on the EPISODE I Sanskrit choir theme for Duel of the Fates, for Maul and Opress on Nal Hutta.

Eminence was a very satisfying episode and a major highlight.
 
Death Watch controls Mandalore in Shades of Reason.

Revenge and destruction the renegade Sith way continues apace with Shades of Reason, as the Death Watch take control of Mandalore through a clever ruse but under-anticipate the power and pure evil of Darth Maul, as a new colour co-ordinated civil war breaks out between the mercenaries.

A bone crunching, teeth smashing lightsaber duel between the soon late Pre Vizsla (Jon Favreau) and a back to form Maul proves to be another one of the series finest action sequences. But there’s even better to come…
 
A spectacular duel between Pre Vizsla and Darth Maul in Shades of Reason.

Continuing the fine work of Eminence, the aforementioned clever takeover of Mandalore is well handed but it feels too rushed in places-Chris Collins scripting here doesn't quite feel as sophisticated as his first episode’s evil empire battles.

Continuity-wise, its good to see government baddie Almarec back, once again voiced by Julian Holloway, plus some further nice moments of action savagery for Savage Opress to swing his lightsaber blades during his penultimate appearance. And goodbye Pre-Vizsla, it's been nice knowing you. But that's what happens when you underestimate the Sith.

Finally, the kind of epic Mandalore adventure we've been waiting for and deserve- the sins of the earlier, weak Season Three adventures on their planet almost forgiven (with The Academy’s young students getting a respectable finale appearance with the following episode), things in their domed universe will never be the same again...
 
The true Revenge of the Sith in The Lawless.

And so the chessboard pieces are assembled and the game begins. The prior season trailers skillfully whetting our appetites for the end move: The Lawless, presenting the incredible duel between Darth Sidious and Sith Throne pretenders Maul and Opress. There can be only be two Sith at any one time, and Sidious makes that fact all the more clear to them, delivering one hell of a staggering backwards lightsaber whammy that slays Savage Oppress and leaves Maul a quivering, electrified wreck begging for mercy by episodes end. The choreography and animation moves of their three-way duel, a reverse of the heroic drama of Jedi versus Sith in EPISODE I, are stunning.

There's no Help the Aged sticker needed for old guy Sidious, as he completely annihilates his prey in the finest Dark Side moment of the Prequel Saga in animation form. It’s finally great to see the character in the flesh after years as a hologram, whilst Ian Abercrombie’s final episode for the series shows the actors excellence in capturing the pure evil and menace of the character, alongside a cruelly playful streak which we’ve come to expect over the years.

Despite my unhappiness with Maul’s overall return last season, he’s once again well placed in Season Five events and Chris Collin’s supercharged final episode- his slaying of Duchess Satine securing his animated wickedness- so its another great shame that his final fate as the planned tool of Sidious' will is now likely never to be revealed.
 
A last reunion for the Duchess Satine and Obi-Wan.

Things are just as bad for our venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi, unable to get the Jedi or Republic’s help, his unlucky streak linked to Mandalore continues, going off on a failed solo mission to rescue the captured, soon dead in front of his eyes, Duchess Satine. Likewise, Anakin’s once trusty, now seriously run down and literally falling apart vessel, the Twilight, comes a cropper- soon disintegrating in the flames of battle against a fraction of Death Watch controlled by Maul, with their nifty red-coated insignia.


The ultimate love of Obi-Wan’s life she may have been, but I wasn’t the greatest fan of the Satine character in the series, though the aftermath of her shocking death is sensitively handled, and it's a genuinely sad moment when Obi cradles her as she tells him that she’s always loved him. Aw, bless…

Epic ground and air battles within the city blaze on, intensified with Satine’s passing, and prove an equal animation triumph opposite the Sith duel. With the end of the series approaching, we’re also now denied the final fate of Mandalore. We assume the Republic forces did indeed go on and take the world as Bo Katan, now revealed as the late Satine’s sister, predicts to a departing Kenobi-let’s hope a comic series or novel wraps this all up. But, with all the unresolved plotlines brewing, is it still wise to consider the series as fully cannon to the live action movies?

(Note: Eminence and Shades of Reason are presented on the Blu-ray in slightly extended Director’s Cuts…)

AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL): 4.5 out of 5
 
The outcast Ahsoka in To Catch a Jedi.

AHSOKA THE FUGITIVE!

Finally, Anakin Skywalker is back in the series, and once more in partnership with Ahsoka, for the beginning of the series final tale: a tense and vital sky-battle conflict of which our Padawan shows how much she has grown in her abilities and attitudes as a Jedi, saving his life in an exciting opening sequence.

Kevin Kilner’s music for the series and his themes, especially for Ahsoka, re-emerge here and for the rest of the four-parter, alongside some of John Williams iconic work, too. The scores sound bigger and grander, too, in a reunion with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (something that Kilner himself mostly paid for out of his own pocket!). The nods to the visual universe of the live-action films also continue, as the series animation seeing gets ever nearer to EPISODE III- notice the first appearance of the new Jedi Star fighters, the return of the Buzz Droids and the environments of the Cato Neimoidia bridge planet.
 
Captain Tarkin confers with the Jedi Order.

After vitally re-establishing our main duo’s relationship, we then make a welcome return to the galaxies main seat of power-Coruscant- though we've now reached a point where its becoming a police state, with rebellion by the people against the never ending civil war now reaching critical mass- the Jedi bearing the main brunt of hostile public opinion and rising unrest, leading to the Jedi Temple’s sudden bombing and a CSI-like forensics investigation (right down to a droid version of David Caruso’s iconic Horatio Caine) swiftly underway (I liked the severed hand of the suicide bomber-another entry to the long list of lost STAR WARS character body parts!), though it isn’t long before the possibility of it being the handiwork of a rogue Jedi, at first ruled out, soon starts to see the cold light of reality…

Charles Murray script shows maturity and builds on the kind of storyline last seen with Season Two’s Coruscant intrigue drama (where the lights went out), and building on the planets almost police state atmosphere-a plot element to EPISODE III that didn’t quite make it to the screen. Its always nice to see a bit more of the Jedi Temple, too, despite the doom and gloom of the intriguing funeral service they give to their fallen comrades, and a nice cameo appearance from Jedi Master Cin Drallig-voiced by Robin Atkin Downes: a deserved tribute to the Prequel series excellent Stunt Coordinator, Nick Gillard.
 
Ahsoka: framed for murder!

Anakin’s friend, his pupil, now under suspicion- her duties and honour to the Jedi and the Republic incredulously in doubt, Part Two ramps up the tension and suspicions gathering around poor Ahsoka with the arrival of the snidey Tarkin and her being framed for the murder of the bombing suspect in prison via a powerful Force choke worthy of Darth Vader. With Anakin powerless to help her (as well as Obi-Wan also pretty much excluded from the plot), Ahsoka soon has no choice but to prove her innocence on her own, making a desperate escape amongst atmospheric dark clouds and rainfall from the Clone prison facility in another one of the seasons best action sequences, dodging pursuant Clone forces (including EPISODE III’s Oddball!), outrunning mastiffs and avoiding stun blasts the way Princess Leia couldn’t, culminating in a cornered, and heated, exchange of words between her and her master (showing shades of the Darth Vader theme about him as the resentment of his Padawan’s situation grows) as she makes a jump, in the best Harrison Ford/THE FUGITIVE tradition, into the labyrinth of crime that is Coruscant’s immense level 13:13 underworld.
 
Anakin wants the truth from a cornered Asajj Ventress.

The concept of trust and Anakin not wanting to lose a loved one are obviously vital elements of his psyche by EPISODE III and this all acts as a nice prelude to that. His search for his on the run Ahsoka in Part Three becoming another intriguing role reversal of his later hunt for the remaining Jedi in the form of Darth Vader. Getting deeper into the mire, with an enemy that seems to know her every move, her brief team-up with the liberated Asajj Ventress adds to the intrigue within 1313.


By part four, the evidence against Ahsoka gets worse and worse, framed still further, and overwhelmingly prescient enough to see her severely punished. The return of her friend and war comrade, popular Jedi healer Barriss Offee, seemed a given after their successful pairing in Season Two’s Geonosis arc. So, by making her a baddie, proved a surprising yet sensible idea by Murray and the writing team, though the clues of what was to come with her had been subtly signposted during the early stages of part two.
 
Ahsoka faces trial!

Captured, the show trial of a Jedi, one so loyal as Ahsoka, shows us that the series has now gotten back its sophistication, and its nice to see Padme return to the series after such a long absence (a shame she couldn’t have been slotted into the story a little earlier), this time squaring up to Tarkin and defending the Jedi within a John Barry/ Ralph McQuarrie court-room area production design tribute set that goes all-out to be immense and impressive.

Portraying justice’s seemingly incorruptible guardian, it must have been a difficult job taking over from Ian Abercrombie’s excellent vocal performance as Sidious/Palpatine, but Tim Curry handles the reins well, and I think he would have made a bigger and more pleasing impression with fans if the planned and voice recorded Season Six had been animated in its entirety…

As one fight for justice begins, another goes on in and outside of the Jedi temple, with the thrilling lightsaber duel between Anakin (two sabered once more, whilst getting some pre-Vader aggression off his chest!) and the revealed Barriss outside the confines of the Temple- intriguing to see the temple guards with their white double lightsabers getting caught in the drama.
 
The true enemy revealed!

As a healer, Offee’s actions, once revealed, seem out of character at first but are ultimately understandable in the long-term and with the backdrop of EPISODE III looming- her end statement of the Jedi having been used by the dark side, and as living weapons, proving painfully accurate.

And so we come to Ahsoka’s final scenes. Poorly treated and abandoned by the Jedi Order, her distinctive braid removed from her with her arrest for sedition, Ahsoka’s higher-powered superiors (even friend and mentor Plo Koon) are arrogant enough to assume that she’ll return to them after her ordeal. Or her “trial” as they now like to call it. Think again- anybody who's suffered that kind of abuse and emotional torment, even a young Jedi, is going to say stick it, and if it was Anakin in his Vader persona he'd have probably killed ‘em all for it!
 
Goodbye, Master...

Bringing this important character arc to a so far on-screen end, it was only right that one of her creators-Dave Filoni- would handle her all-important finale, in a script of emotion and subtle pain-the fade to black sign-off and the use of her distinctive theme being a striking end note to all that had gone before: her fate now up in the air and undecided- a hoped for brave demise during ORDER 66, or at the hands of Darth Vader a scenario so wanted by many adult fans- now unlikely to happen. Think of her rather than being permanently taken off the chessboard, as simply being put to one side for a future key strategy. Such is the inevitability that she’ll return somewhere in the STAR WARS universe, most likely in novel and video game form, and with renewed vigour, or with the possibility to make a key appearance in STAR WARS: REBELS...

With the DISNEY takeover deal being made as the season was coming to its behind the scenes completion, the overall destiny of the series was tragically stopped shy of going into the opening events of Revenge of the Sith, with no renewal planned beyond Year Five. The long-term goals for our characters are for the most part scuttled. It’s disappointing that, when Lucas quit, he didn’t secure the series future with Disney for at least one more full season wrap-up.

Still, this climactic Jedi tale, alongside other elements of the previous four seasons, proved a major step towards the dark intensity of the final Prequel chapter and overall proved a very satisfying end to a mixed bag season.

AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL) 4 out of 5

SPECIAL FEATURES

As with the previous releases there are accompanying short but sweet behind the scenes featurettes (“Video Commentaries”) on each episode, featuring vital contributions from Dave Filoni but also, finally, a lot more from the series dedicated voice over cast talking about their characters, including Sam Witwer (enthused about Maul with CELEBRATION host David Collins and Filoni in a STARWARS.COM talk, originally done for the launch of Revival as a season opener), Jim Cummins on his contributions as Hondo Ohnaka in the final season, and actress/businesswoman Ashley Eckstein on the way that Ahsoka’s character has developed so much and now come to such an important crossroads. Plus, featurette’s on the Onderon rebels designs with Kilian Plunkett, the creation of the sometimes bizarre Astro droid arc with writer Brent Friedman, and a look into the evolving series sound design with Matthew Wood and David Accord. The featurettes include some nice footage from the aborted STAR WARS: 1313 game and the newest form of the STAR TOURS ride that began operation these last few years. One of the most interesting things coming out of the videos, though, is the fact that George Lucas was working on story ideas and charging up ILM for the new STAR WARS Sequels far earlier than we thought was early!
 
Supervising Director Dave Filoni and friend. Images: LUCASFILM.


At nearly two hours duration, the final Jedi Temple Archives area remains a fascinating and always too brief behind the scenes look at the shows artistic range, with spotlights on individual character animation renderings, episodic animatics and final scenes comparisons, production art (including unused character pieces and lovely mood setting illustrations by Dave Filoni) and some very good, mostly animatic, deleted scenes, including the reason why Anakin didn’t go off with Kenobi to fight Maul in Revival (something I always wondered about), a little bit more on the Sith three-way duel from The Lawless, and an alternate finale to The Wrong Jedi, with a more bitter Ahsoka’s departing the Jedi Order.

Surprisingly though, there’s no mention or previews of the remaining, now completed episodes of Season Six, which is a bit of a lost opportunity. Perhaps this was due to contractual reasons with WARNER BROTHERS and CARTOON NETWORK?

SPECIAL FEATURES RATING (OVERALL): 3.5 out of 5



A FINAL WORD ON THE FINAL SEASON

Starting off with a relatively weak batch of opening adventures compared to previous seasons, this unexpected concluding run of THE CLONE WARS redeems itself by year’s end with eight superb episodes, showing DISNEY what a big mistake it made in not continuing the series towards its planned seven season run, and how we often took this landmark, innovative series too much for granted with its ground-breaking animation and bold storytelling. It may have now departed the airwaves, but its quality legacy within the STAR WARS universe and in television animation will certainly not be forgotten by its millions of dedicated fans worldwide…

The upcoming 2014 STAR WARS: REBELS series now has a helluva lot to live up to!


AFICIONADO SEASON RATING (OVERALL): 3 out of 5




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