Star Wars: The Clone Wars: “Nomad Droids”
October 15, 2011 3:49 pmJason Ward
Tonight’s episode of the The Clone Wars, Nomad Droids was an exercise in absurdity. After this episode, it is safe to say the series has done it all with the droid odd couple. There was a kinetic energy to the entire show that worked perfectly. In a few words, I felt like I know what Artoo and Threepio were doing for all those years after Revenge of the Sith. While last week’s episode was a fairytale, Nomad Droids was a Star Wars tale drawing from Gulliver’s Travels, Willow, and The Wizard of Oz. While Star Wars, as a collective personality has a lot of depth, mystique, and conflict, there has always been another side to that personality which is full of eccentricities and absurdities. "Nomad Droids" focused on the latter and it felt fresh and fun even though there was a lot of classic lines reused, a pet peeve of mine, although the writer’s finally did it appropriately.
After last week’s tale, an “adventure beyond their comprehension,” the droid heroes found themselves aboard Adi Gallia’s Republic Star Destroyer, homeward bound, hoping to avoid a Separatist attack, which of course they won’t. They speak to their master via hologram and relay bits of the absurd adventure we saw last week to her. Just as they learn their next job is supervising a senatorial banquet, the kind of boring things Threepio probably loves, the ship is blasted by the Separatist forces. With their main reactor hit, everyone aboard the ship is forced to evacuate and our Star Wars story begins.
As the ship is only moments from certain destruction, with the main reactor hit, we see clones dashing through the halls. The running looked a little awkward, as if the running stance designed for barging into a group of droids was being used. It looked rather awkward compared to the animation we have seen since season three. However, the scene was quickly saved by the kind of homage I enjoy most. Artoo and Threepio in a corridor, in the midst of battle is a definitive Star Wars experience. Threepio’s comment of “did you hear that?” clearly harkens back to the first time we met them in A New Hope. This kind of homage is classy and fun, and much better than the type of throwback lines we saw we have seen in the recent episodes. And most importantly, the homage pertained to the plot and movement of the story while being something Threepio would actually say.
There is a brief scene with Adi Gallia fighting General Grievous. Every time we see her fight Grievous, I have to stop and ponder, if this is it for her. As far as this series is concerned, her fate is uncertain. She was in The Phantom Menace but they used another actor for her in the Attack of the Clones, due to the apparent changes, the lookalike became a new character. So Adi has always been killable since she first stepped into the series. She has fought Grievous before, but she survived and I thought they were feeding her to Grievous as death fodder both times. In this sequence, as she faces off against him, we see her thrown back just Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith. But he is Obi-Wan Kenobi and she is Adi Gallia, a character with an uncertain fate. The droids see this conflict as their opportunity to make a run for it.
I have always loved it when Artoo is a jerk. There is something about him fighting old Yoda, shocking Ewoks, and trash talking Threepio that makes him a heroic jerk. Another astromech droid, just like him is attempting to board a Y-Wing fighter and Artoo just bustles in, pushes him out of the way and takes his seat, probably leaving him for dead. It is very clear how Artoo would have behaved on the Titanic. He is the Billy Zane of robots. Threepio cannot just get in of course; he has to chastise Artoo because a Y-Wing is not an escape pod. Artoo answers by blasting off, throwing Threepio into his seat, officially beginning leg two of all droid tour through The Clone Wars. Like The Wizard of Oz, this is the storm that propels our heroes on their adventure as they seek a place to hide which sends them on a great adventure, again.
I’m a sucker for space battles. I enjoyed the shots as the Y-Wing departed the failing Star Destroyer. We follow them through the action. It was a little bit like the opening of Revenge of the Sith, but there was a freshness to it. It was not just riffing on that sequence alone. Threepio practically has a nervous breakdown. But we follow them through the battle, seeing what they see from the droid perspective. I also enjoyed the subtleties of the sequence, that as Artoo pilots the ship through the battle, they shot him off kilter, exactly like they do in The Phantom Menace when he and little Ani pilot the N-1 into battle. It is stylistically comprehensive. However, this time Artoo is outclassed as a pilot by a vulture droid that pursues the duo relentlessly all the way into the clouds below the planet’s atmosphere, finally shooting them down. But not before Artoo does some smart flying, losing the vulture droid in the cloud cover and blasting it to smithereens, getting the last word.
As the Y-Wing crashes, we are treated to the best crash landing by a small ship we have seen in Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back had a crash landing, but they had to shoot that from inside the cockpit for technical reasons and Luke Skywalker went straight into a bog. Here we had the single fighter equivalent of Anakin crashing the Invisible Hand on Coruscant. The Y-Wing tears through thickets of tall vegetation and we see the little bits of the breaking sticks zooming past the ship. Wisely, they colored them a vibrant pink and blue so they look colorful and visually enticing as you watch the shot. Once the ship stops, they do a classic move with Artoo using his sensor scope to survey for life.
It is at this point we are introduced to the Patitites. These are the Munchkins in our story, at least the Star Wars version. At first I thought they sounded like Jawas, and I laughed. Then they sounded a little like the Brownies from Willow, and since they are probably six inches tall, I loved that. But then they had too much to say and the voices lost me as it became a little generic, pitched high, and saying too many things which attempted to be cute but failed to be endearing. Threepio hears the Patitites in the distance. Artoo once again uses his sensor scope and they even through in the sound effect from The Empire Strikes Back, which was a nice touch by Matthew Wood that really helps keep the immersion alive. These sounds are a part of the character.
Threepio grabs a piece of exotic plant life, or a stick as you may call it on your world, and holds it like a lightsaber, ready to battle the Patitites he can sense are stalking the duo. Threepio warns the Patitites that his “counterpart here is schooled in 47 schools of self defense.” The best part is, I believe it. Artoo extracts all his tools and shakes them around like they are deadly knives in a street fight and I could not help but laugh at the inventiveness of this. The Patitites, however, are not buying it at all. They accept the challenge and jump the droids, shocking them into submission.
At first I wondered why Artoo did not just shock the Patitites to death. That seems reasonable in this circumstance. But if you notice, as the Patitites are shocking Artoo and Threepio, they dance upon the droids heads. They appear to be impervious to their weapons. The droids do not stand a chance against the little humanoids and find themselves tied up, just like Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels or Willow and his homeboy, Meegosh. The Patitites, now knowing what to do, call their tyrant leader, The Great Hay-Zu!
Hay-Zu, we learn, sends the Patitites’s children to war, the lucky ones at least. We then hear the trumpets of glory as The Great Hay-Zu is carried by his many slaves to pass judgment on the trespassers. Hay-Zu is hilariously fat. He may have been inspired by Sise From from the old Droids cartoon from 1985. When Threepio meets Hay-Zu, the writer’s took a line from Han Solo, “Your worshipfulness” and let Threepio speak it. In this context, it felt like a Star Wars line but it did not stand out like some lines have in the past. In a hilarious moment, Threepio tries to be diplomatic but Artoo beeps, challenging Hay-Zu’s authority and sending Hay-Zu into a rage. Hay-Zu demands that they leave the planet and orders the pair unbound. Artoo stands before Hay-Zu, trash talking him, forcing Threepio to attempt to shut him down. In doing so, Artoo falls onto Hay-Zu smashing him to death. Hay-Zu’s guts never leave the front of Artoo’s belly. For the remainder of the episode, I found myself looking at the guts and laughing.
The Patitites proclaim Hay-Zu dead. They chant in celebration at the tyrant’s death. The Patitites then help the droids weld the Y-Wing for takeoff. But they want the gold one to remain as their new leader. Artoo snickers, obviously saying something sarcastic, offending Threepio’s sense of ability in such an endeavor. The sequence that follows was rather funny. Threepio brings democracy to the Patitites, diverting them from their warrior ways. But Artoo is right. Threepio is not fit to lead as he has the Patitites cheer for each of the three candidates they like best and a fight breaks out about who got the most cheers, since it is not really quantifiable. Apparently Threepio never pays attention to how things are done in the senate. The droids board their Y-Wing and blast off, leaving them to their half democracy. The funniest moment in the entire episode is when they take off and their thrusters blow the Patitites off their feet, leaving them slightly scorched. The heroes are now metaphorically on their way to the see the wonderful Wizard.
While in space Threepio learns that their ship is running out of power, as are the droids themselves. They’re forced to land on the next planet they see. The planet they land on is called Bal-Nab, which has a colony of shipwrecked survivors. Threepio lets us know the planet is in its early stages of development and life is growing in the primordial soups. Needing power, the droids trek on. This part kind of confused me a little, as the planet is in its primordial state, why would they hope to discover power there? Can the droids convert raw material into power? Well since they do not do this, I will just assume the writers were a little less focused on this point or the droids are crazy and had very little choice. But because of the absurdity of all these situations, it is hard to critically hold anything against the droids or the “makers.” But Artoo’s sensor does find life forms and technology shortly thereafter, so it appears the order of operations was a little backwards.
The droids run into some wildlife that lacks intelligence which it appears is being hunted by the survivors of the crash landing on the planet. Suddenly they are being hunted too. Moments later, blue skinned survivors are on neat looking mounts with neat looking helmets that shoot neat looking energy nets at the droids, once again incapacitating them. The mounted denizens of Bal-Nab appear rather dim for being the intelligence of this planet. They have no idea what to do with the droids, but they believe their leader will.
The droids are taken to a canyon where the Bal-Nab habitués have set up residence. A giant being appears via hologram from a pit in the ground. Like the beings they encountered at the last planet, the leader, Albee Dewaw, demands to know who dares come to his planet, as lightning shoots around him. It quickly becomes apparent no one but the droids understands he is a hologram. As Threepio attempts to explain what he is to Albee Dewaw, Albee Dewaw demands silence as lightning and thunder appear around him, much like the way the Wizard from Oz hits a button and giant blasts of fire frame his image. The being who brought the droids to Albee Dewaw says he thought the leader would want to see the droids. Proclaiming that no one thinks on this planet but him, the being is zapped to death by Albee.
While Threepio attempts to appease the tyrant with his diplomatic skills, he quickly begins to fail as Threepio says he can clearly see the leader is a hologram. Artoo hacks the door, opening it up, revealing several pit droids operating levers and computers which essentially puppeteer the Albee Dewaw. The “droid behind the curtain” is revealed to the audience. Artoo requests their help, much like Dorothy would have although he did it with beeps and boos. The pit droids let him know they work hard to control their organics and if they want help, they can get their own organics. It was weird to hear pit droid speak after twelve years of seeing them just click and beep communicatively. I think it is fair to assume he was modified for the pit droid plan to take over the colony.
Artoo threatens to make the organics rebel to which the pit droid boss arrogantly believes to be impossible as that is out of the range of an astromech unit’s ability. They have now directly challenged Artoo who never backs down from a fight. We then cut to Threepio and where the once great leader once stood, we see Artoo shocking the droids as they run around the room. The ruse is up and the pit droids are rushed by their organics whom blast them into oblivion and the entire structure explodes, killing everyone. So far Threepio and Artoo have failed at leaving people okay after alleviating them of their oppressive regime.
As the droids walk back to their ship, Threepio tells Artoo to stop mumbling. Then he understands why, Artoo is almost out of power. In a rare move, we see Threepio truly sympathetic to Artoo and the pair rest under a large mushroom. As Artoo beeps out, Threepio has a touching moment where he says “Artoo, don’t leave me” as the droid temporarily dies. You get the sense that they are really afraid of powering down in this manner and that it is like death for them. Threepio then slowly fades into sleep commenting that he will soon be with his old friend. It seems like they could be there for years and the image was rather bleak.
Luckily for the droids and the pacing of this episode, they flew in a Republic Y-Wing, attracting the attention of some pirates that probably used to work for Hondo. Not only did they find a ship, but two valuable droids. Kevin Kiner then does a great musical cue that sounds like something out of A New Hope, a cue I hope he reuses in the series from here on out. We then cut to the pirate ship, which I thought was great looking. It was just a fantastic design overall and really captured the design of Star Wars in a special way. It did not feel like it was trying too hard. Artoo then wakes the golden rod up. We see that Threepio recharges via his navel area. As nerdy as it sounds, I always wondered how and where that happened. Thanks to this episode I now know; another mystery solved. It is probably a mystery no one cares about but me, but that is okay with me because I’m glad I saw it.
The pirates are like something out of Kubrick’s A.I. as they have droids battle for fun and bask in their destruction. Wisely, they have brought back the droid design from the Mos Eisley approach in A New Hope. I always liked that design and wondered why we never saw it again. Here we see that these droids are actually pretty tough and do not just bonk probe droids in the head. This one, fighting under the name Maximo has a flame thrower and devours the droids he meets in the arena. He picks Threepio as his next victim and only Artoo stands to defend the droid that is surely going to be pummeled.
As Threepio is lowered into the arena to meet his demise, the pirate ship runs right past General Grievous’ Capitol Starship. Grievous orders the battle droids to use the pirate ship as target practice for no reason other than the fact he is a jerk. This idea made me laugh a little. The circumstance is over the top, sure. It was really easy to just have Grievous show up, but it made me laugh and that was the point of this episode. As the ASP droid is about to kill Threepio, the ship is pummeled with firepower and the droids and all the pirates are sucked into the vacuum of space as the hull is pierced. The pirates die but luckily for our droid heroes, they do not breathe. The droids then float out in space and onto the Separatist vessel. As Threepio is confronted by battle droids, he says “we surrender, we surrender” just like he did in Return of the Jedi. Once again, this dialog homage works unlike the lines in the previous weeks.
We then learn they are to be melted down for the General’s war machine. We see droids blasted and burned alive that were just on the pirate ships with the duo. Just as our droid heroes are about to be incinerated, Plo-Koon arrives with the Wolf Pack, saving the day. We learn that Adi Gallia has survived too. So it appears she will not meet her death this week but it appears the ongoing feud she has with the General will eventually be her undoing. The droids are saved by Plo and the Pack. They are returned back to their Republic family, or back to the Star Wars equivalent of Kansas for robots. Plo commands Wolffe to hear all of Threepio’s grand story. Against Wolffe’s will, he is forced to listen to the prissy droid tell his story. While we saw the droids dismissed by Wolffe last week, now the droids have come full circle and they are in a place of power which is their reward.
This episode was delightful and funny. It nailed the characterizations of Artoo and Threepio perfectly, using every mannerism in a way that was spot on and classically humorous. It took three episodes with the droids alone to finally nail it, but when they did, it was a bull’s eye. I loved small details such as the droid “Wizard” pretending he has no idea what droids are in a lame attempt at hiding the fact that he is in fact several small droids operating him. It also did not beat us over the head with the Wizard of Oz motif or anything else for that matter. For an episode about robots, the story unfolded rather organically. The story was just one thing after the next, grounded in causality but it never dipped. It did not feel too brief, and it told the story of one of Artoo and Threepio’s greatest adventures. It was worth it. After this we move into darker territory and the mood of the season is going to shift dramatically. All of this on heels of Darth Maul’s return just shows how diverse this series is. Many fans want a one note series but it is far from that. This episode is the last laugh before things get serious. Next week we begin moving into the heart of darkness with the clones. I for one appreciated the droid adventure and give this episode a solid and firm 8.0.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10