Star Wars: The Clone Wars: “Mercy Mission”
Welcome to our disaster.
October 8, 2011 5:42 pmJason Ward
I have to admit, as a five year old boy, I watched every episode of the 1985 Droids cartoon series. This was before I owned a Star Wars film at home, and I did not even know anyone with a VCR yet. Just seeing these two beloved characters on television was a special experience. I have very vivid memories of my childhood and the media I watched. I remember watching Droids religiously. However, I do not have one memory of an episode itself, which says something about the quality of that series. I attempted to rediscover the series as an adult and found the experience agonizingly tedious. Tonight’s episode, "Mercy Mission", feels like the execution of a dream George Lucas and Ben Burtt had back in 1984 when they started writing Star Wars for television but faced strict regulations regarding what could be shown on Saturday morning television in the United States. It has taken twenty five years to really see this old idea properly realized. Season one of The Clone Wars had great moments with Duel of the Droids and season three had our lovable droid duo face off against the dastardly Cad Bane in Evil Plans. Both droid centric episodes had fun moments, but tonight’s fifth episode of season four, "Mercy Mission" really conjured the 1985 series and elevated it to a cinematic quality worthy of the Star Wars name.
I imagine by the time weekend is over, many will have rhetorically asked, what does an episode about two droids in a fairytale have to do the Clone Wars? After four years, I can honestly say that you think the Clone Wars us the premise of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you are mistaken. The Clone Wars is an era. After four years we have seen too much that connects to the war by proxy rather than directly to adequately say it this series is about clones and war. It is simply about much more than that. I cannot think of a better example than tonight’s episode to clearly emphasize this point.
In this week’s adventure, "Mercy Mission", the Mid Rim planet of Aleen is facing cataclysmic earthquakes. A clone battalion has been dispatched to provide relief to the inhabitants on the surface. Show regular, Clone Commander Wolffe returns to lead the relief expedition. We have seen Wolffe several times in the series each season, going all the way back to the Malevolence Trilogy. After Rex and Cody, he may be the clone we have seen the most. It is always fun to see Wolffe because he is one of the survivors of this intergalactic conflict where clones are expendable. Not only does Wolffe have one of the best designs on his helmet, but his cybernetic eye gives him cosmetic individuality amongst an army of carbon copies. Fans of the comic series will know that Wolffe lost his eye thanks to Ventress.
Through holographic communication, Senator Amidala is informed by Wolffe that there are thousands of survivors on the surface. The senator is relieved but Wolffe has no such compassion and quickly informs her of his orders, which are his primary concern. We quickly begin to see that Wolffe is not like Rex, there does not appear to be compassion underneath the rough exterior. This “mercy mission” is not where he wants to be, he wants to be back fighting alongside Master Koon blasting droids, not working with them. Yoda, also via hologram puts Wolffe in his place, directing him in his mission. Once Yoda commands him, he quickly accepts the orders given. It really starts to make sense how these guys would kill their Jedi friends on a direct order.
Tonight we were treated to something we usually do not have time for in these twenty two minute episodes, breathtakingly beautiful space shots. Over Aleen, the Republic Venator Class Star Destroyer flies past the camera which pans up with the passing of the ship, clearly positioning the camera free floating space, as if the cameraman was floating out there filming this as it happened. Meanwhile the planet looms in the foreground, huge and filling up over two thirds of the frame. As the shuttle moves into the horizon, the sun rises from behind the planet as the Star Destroyer ascends into the sunlight. The next shot has the Star Destroyer descending into the clouds. I really love these shots because they’re as good as the establishing shots in the filmed saga but they’re not something we have seen before. As the Republic army enters the atmosphere the huge ships are shot from below, really conveying a brilliant sense of power, exemplifying how grand the Republic is during this era. The empowerment carries over from this sequence into the rest of the story and really relays a strong sense of hierarchy between the clones and the life forms on the surface.
After this enormous sense of power is told through the visual language, Artoo and Threepio boarding a landing ship becomes comical unto itself. Immediately, Threepio complaining about being manhandled by the clones is met with a “suck it up shinny” by a clone. This made me laugh despite it being over used in season four promotional material. Fans of the show will also get the deeper meaning because it has been established in Rookies that when a clone is new to battle, the other clones call him a “shinny” and the double entendre is a nice one liner by the writers which works for the casual views and the hardcore insiders.
As the Republic continues their landing to help the survivors of the quakes, a pilot looks out his window and sees a tiny inhabitant of Aleena riding on the back of a flying mount (called a Can-cel which was designed for Yoda to ride on Kashyyk in Revenge of the Sith). The clone remarks “great, it’s going to be another one of those planets.” While the line is funny, it certainly serves a stronger function. In the filmed saga, Han Solo often times represented the viewer’s inability to suspend their disbelief at the eccentricities and absurdities placed before us. The clones in this episode, dialog wise, work on this level almost exclusively.
The clones step forward and the Aleena step forward and meet on the staging area. The Aleena certainly are not like the Pod Racing Rats Tyerell. These little creatures are the Star Wars version of the natives from a Gilligan’s Island episode, headdresses and all. The little chief steps out and goes into speech which we Wolffe cannot understand. Matt Wood and his sound team deserve credit here as the dialect was as convincing as anything the Jawas or the Ewoks ever spoke on screen. Had their dialog seemed awkward or forced, this scene would have fallen on its face, but thankfully it did not and if anything, it just made the little critters endearing. I did not want them to die and that of course makes the quest the droids embark on later in the episode more effective.
As the indiscernible dialog from the Aleen continues, we understand why Threepio was brought along. Threepio does what he was designed to do and he translates the communication between the soldiers and the endangered Aleen. In classic Star Wars form, the natives love Threepio and give him affectionate hug to the leg and throughout the episode they continue, much like the Ewoks, to misunderstand Threepio’s relation to the broader social structures from which he comes. It is revealed that the droids and the clones are speaking to King Manchucho, leader of the Aleen. King Manchucho says “welcome to our disaster, glad you could come.” The music during this sequence was reminiscent of Obi-Wan’s “well hello there” sequence from A New Hope and that coupled with the straightforwardness of Anthony Daniels delivery as Threepio helps sell the dialog and it gave me a good laugh. The Aleen want to feed the troops and appease the god’s below, something Wolffe and his boys have zero patience for. After all this humor, wisely, the story gives a huge quake to remind us of the imminent danger.
Wolffe wants to leave some equipment behind to stabilize the situation and help the Aleen so they can get back to the front lines of battle. The little people refuse and want the clones to make peace in the ground for them. The clones take some Aleen people with them to get some of the electronics back online. As they are about to enter the building, I liked that the clones had to walk in a squatting stance due to their height. After all, why would they build their dwellings to suit human sized people? It took me back to Yoda’s hovel. Those little details make the world believable and you accept that unique creatures and cultures inhabit this space. While inside, Artoo begins to get the download started, however, another large quake hits. After the shaking subsides, the writers pay homage to Luke Skywalker arriving on Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back as one clone remarks “coming here was a bad idea” to which the second clone replies “I’m beginning to agree with yah.” They have not been too heavy with those kind of homages recently so this did not initially bother me, but I have to say I am not a fan of this writing tactic. I would rather this show create classic lines than refer to established ones reverently.
Back on the surface a tiny Aleen runs back to Threepio and Wolffe as the clone is ordering the installations of a hospital and a kitchen. King Manchucho will hear nothing of it. He is ashamed but peace must first be restored. King Manchucho wants the troops to go underground and he says no to the kitchen. Wolffe is frustrated because this is a relief mission after all. Anthropologically, Threepio offers that perhaps they do not allow eating publically, challenging children watching to consider other customs they might not have thought about it. The Aleen then became chanting, hoping to will a resolution.
Threepio goes to communications center to check up on Artoo. A clone bumps into Threepio rudely and Threepio remarks “impossible clone!” just like he says “impossible man!” to Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. This started to push my buttons but it was justifiable as Threepio was saying something Treepio would. I suppose Threepio cannot give an homage to his own character, and Daniels’ delivery was strong, however, I cannot help but get the sense that they are so conscious of their critical audience, when they do an episode that they know certain portions of fandom will not care for, they attempt to rectify the situation by making connections to the films those fans love. I may be totally off base here, but I would prefer they stick to their guns and tell the best stories they want to tell.
The droid duo approach the seal, but a quake knocks Threepio into the hole and we get the “I have a bad feeling about this” line. I love this line but I did not appreciate it with so many other homage one-liners just moments before. I’m okay with “I have a bad feeling about this being in every episode,” but we do not need all of these throwbacks at once. It became a little overwhelming. In fact, I stop thinking about what was going on and I started to think about what it was referencing when this technique was used. For me, it often breaks the immersion. It is making me read the footnotes and I am missing the point. Three re-used lines in twenty two minutes is excessive. Three re-used lines in four minute period is over the top. The Clone Wars is a great show but its insecurities are showing.
As we watch Threepio fall down the proverbial “rabbit hole,” I both liked it and disliked it at the same time. I liked the fairytale motif and the use. I did not like that the fragile protocol droid fell down the hole with little consequence to his brittle design. As much as I love Attack of the Clones, the sequence with Threepio holding on flying objects is the thing I hate the most in any of the prequel films. This instance is no different. Threepio’s arm fell off when he got knocked over in A New Hope, yet he can jump down holes here. A clone is rough with him and he comments it will leave a mark, yet this scares him but is of little consequence. But this is the burden of the fantasy fan and as a fan, one must be willing to suspend disbelief to enjoy a fairytale with our two favorite space robots.
Just as the use of light thoroughly impressed me, the pixies fly around the droids taking the visual eye candy up another notch and it was an impressive use of color against all the darkness in the sequence. The droids come to an underground wooded area and a flying lizard moves past making this ecosystem seem plausible. The only way to describe it is to call it a neon Dagobah. The use of environmental fog is used in this sequence just as well as it was on Naboo in Shadow Warrior. But in this instance the use of neon corral plant life and neon urchins gives the environment uniqueness to such an extent that if we saw this place again, I think the audience would understand where they were.
Up on the surface, one of King Manchucho’s tribe members alerts him to what has happened to the droids. He attempts to inform Wolffe but without a translator it does them little good. Frustrated the Aleen dash away and the clones go about their business. Meanwhile underground, the pixies fly around Threepio irritating him, as if they are simply pests until finally Artoo turns on his extinguisher in an attempt to repel them from the golden rod, in that charming way only Artoo can.
Feeling safe, Threepio backs up into a tree, only it is not a tree. But a tall stick figure, with neon markings and glowing sad eyes called The Kindalo. The Kindalo are tall and menacing, the total opposite of the Aleen. The Kindalo asks why the droids have come to their land. The voice reminded me of the stone faces from Labyrinth that shout “beware” over and over again at the heroine of that story. I appreciated the way they were animated. Rather than moving naturally, it appears as if they were animated to replicate the creepy hyper realistic movements of stop motion. The Kindalo tell the droids to leave them to rest and return to where they belong but first they want to know why the surface dwellers have disrupted the peace? Threepio informs them the quakes did that, but his comments fall on deaf ears. The Kindalo comments that the seal keeps out the foul air which poisons and destroys them. We learn that the Kindalo believe the surface dwellers destroyed the peace by attacking the sacred place.
While this episode was created for season three, as mentioned, it was assigned to season four. This season is airing concurrently with the release of The Phantom Menace. A major theme of that film is symbiosis between everything from The Nabooians to the Gungans, apprentices and masters, to the Force and Midi-Chorlians. This theme has been apparent in every episode of season four so far and this episode continues to highlight those symbiotic relationships. I am beginning to think this was not by accident and while it is subtle, I appreciate the careful thinking on Lucasfilm’s part. On Aleen, they are dependent upon one another through this air filtration of their habitat.
The Kindalo suggest the droids to speak to Orphne who may guide them on their quest to close the seal. On the surface, King Manchucho has no choice but to take his people to the seal and begin their sacred chant. They sing their cute little jam over and over and we wipe back to the droids below the surface. As the droids approach Orphne, the various wisps of light flying around Threepio converge to make a chair blossom from the ground and a she emerges, a reptilian nymph. With a tongue rivaling Jar Jar Binks, she shoots it out of her mouth and it slaps onto Threepio attempting to taste him but she figures out she cannot eat him. Disappointed he is not edible, she decides she will speak to him.
Let me take a brief moment to discuss the design of Orphne. It is a great design unto itself. The purple eyes and the emulated hair style are all well done. But I’m not sure it fit well into the Star Wars aesthetic. It felt like something I had seen before, perhaps in Legend of Zelda video game. I also did not appreciate her super speed. She forms magically out of tiny wisps of light, I think she is special enough at that point and it did not fit the dreamy nature of her voice actor. There was simply too much going on with too little time to appreciate or make effective use of any of it. She spells out the environmental situation to the droids and claims to not be a destroyer by nature but that sealing the breach is what they will do at all cost.
During this sequence the writers really began to lose me with this character’s dialog and it was not until the end of the scene that I begun to appreciate it and regain patience for it. Orphne recites a riddle that is very simplistic and at first seems like she is talking about the droids themselves. The riddle reads:
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
After several references to what might appear to be a droid’s inorganic existence, she asks Threepio to ask himself who he is and then she vanishes. Threepio feels doomed, confusesd and asks Artoo playback the riddle. Threepio attempts to solve it but bloviates about it for too long, wasting precious time so Artoo solves it himself. He squirts water onto the floor and like the end sequence from The 5th Element, the symbol on the floor lights up and shows a river as he activates it with water. Threepio “solves” the riddle and proclaims “a river!” after Artoo has already sprung into action. Moments later a giant blast of water shoots the two droids to the surface, reminiscent of the end sequence of Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where the rising water delivers the heroes to safety, away from doom. I liked hearing Artoo scream as he was blasted in the air much like when he was shot from the bog in The Empire Strikes Back (I apparently do not mind if Artoo recycles dialog).
As they are cheered upon their return, by the tiny inhabitants, a noxious gas appears from the great seal. Many of the recently chanting and cheering Allen start to fall sick. Threepio recalls what they have learned and tells Artoo they must close the seal. Artoo tries to pull the seal closed but cannot do it himself, this will take a team. Threepio helps him by offering a golden leg to push. The seal appears way too heavy for these two to actually move, but I am okay the droids suddenly gathering the strength of a mother with her baby stuck under a car as they move the seal. They earned it. The Aleen cheer them on and thank them. Of course, if two droids can do it, it is probably save to say that a few Aleen could have done it themselves since there were supposedly thousands of them. But then I suppose we would have not had this great adventure.
The clones show up and ask the droids if they completed their computer repairs. Threepio informs them they have had an adventure and the clones reply with “get a load of this one” and eye roll them underneath their helmets. That is the life of a droid. But as they ready for departure, a young Aleen walks up to Artoo and hugs him. The Aleen know what the droids did for them and the duo finally get their deserved sense of gratitude. They truly are the heroes to these people, not the powerful clone army, but the lowly servants of the powerful.
I found the ending to be an ironic and funny complement to Threepio’s character. After this great adventure, he is somewhat actualized. He wants to tell their story to Padme and he promises to relay Artoo’s heroics to her as well. This flies in the face of post memory wiped Threepio who is “not very good at telling stories” and then by the end of the saga tells the greatest story ever to the Ewoks. This was a fitting end to this fantastic fairytale set in the Star Wars universe. It was literally a fairytale in theme and that it actually had fairies in it even. This was Star Wars with a twist of Willow and a dash of Jim Henson’s fantasy interwoven into the mix.
There was a lot to like in this episode from the eccentricities to the lighting. The surface dwellers were endearing and adorable, while the subterranean dwellers were exotic and menacing. I did not appreciate the usage of classic lines or Orphne’s design which was more fitting for the Nintendo universe than Star Wars. Still, I appreciated the episode and I think it will stand the test of time and remain appreciated. I would say it was the second best episode of the season so far, behind Shadow Warrior. They captured the spirit of the 1985 Droids cartoon but without the tedious nature and "Mercy Mission" managed to be funny. I rate this episode a strong 7.5 and would have easily bumped it to an 8 had Orphne been a better antagonist. After "Evil Plans", the last droids centric episode, "Mercy Mission' only improved and I hope a droid centric arc becomes a season tradition in the years to come.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10