Star Wars: The Clone Wars: “Shadow Warrior”
The Emperor has new clothes and Jar Jar's wearing them.
October 1, 2011 9:03 pmJason Ward
I should start this review by saying I love The Phantom Menace and it is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. This episode is one I have waited for in anticipation since the promotion ramp up for season four began. With The Phantom Menace only four months away from its next theatrical release, The Clone Wars has brought us back to Naboo and reminded us just how great the setting and characters were, as if the Blu-ray did not do that for us anyway. That is not to say this week’s short film is something we have seen before because it was not. The paradigms which are The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith converge in this epic twenty two minute episode as the Gungans meet General Grievous on the battlefield. Naboo being the home planet of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and Trade Federation arch nemesis Padmé Amidala, it almost seems foolish to think it would never be touched by the clone wars, the greatest intergalactic conflict the galaxy ever endured. Seeing the characters from The Phantom Menace during this time period was a pleasure.
This episode is the third redressing of an Akira Kurosawa film The Clone Wars has attempted. During the early days of Lucas’ writing process for A New Hope, Lucas and Kurtz wanted to do a remake of 1958’s The Hidden Fortress but when the rights were unobtainable, the script slowly emerged as an homage to the masterpiece. Lightsaber Lost from season two of The Clone Wars was based on 1949’s Stray Dog. But the connections do not stop there, another of season two’s successful outings in Akira Kurosawa’s playground was the episode Bounty Hunters based off of 1954’s Seven Samurai. Tonight finished what fans may dub the The Clone Wars Kurosawa Trilogy with Shadow Warrior, which in Japanese translates to Kagemusha. Kagemusha is the title of Kurosawa’s 1980 film, which Lucas has a producing credit for, in which a thief is spared crucifixion but must act as a decoy for the Shingen, a feudal state warlord. After the Shingen dies, the thief then impersonates the leader for the remainder of the film. In tonight’s episode of The Clone Wars, Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best) must impersonate the injured Boss Lyonie (also voiced by Ahmed Best). The thief and Jar Jar actually have some threads in common. Both are spared of execution and that second chance at life leads to great experiences and both are clumsy and the least opportune times. At the end of Kagemusha, the thief falls from a horse he should never have tried to ride. When he fails, his back is revealed and the lack of battle scares gives him away as being an imposter. It sounds like something that would happen to Mr. Binks in another life. All that said, Star Wars returning to Kurosawa is always a welcome treat and is essentially Star Wars going back to the well that originally inspired Lucas to transcend the Flash Gordon paradigm.
One criticism often levied against The Phantom Menace was that the audience never saw the citizens of Naboo suffering, they only heard about it. During the newsreel we see Nabooians lined up, sad, and suffering in what appears to be a soup kitchen line. The narrator says that once friendly relations between the surface culture and the underwater dwellers are stressed. Why this leads to soup kitchen lines is kind of hard to figure out but we see the people distressed. I suppose the Gungans supply the Nabooians with fish? Even if they just redressed a Mandalorian citizen from another episode, I still appreciated the effort and it successfully set up an air of desperation to the setting for both sides even though we rarely see any of the land dwellers in this episode.
Our story begins with Padmé and Anakin forced home to help resolve the conflict between the war mongering Boss and the Naboo people. We see Anakin piloting the S-130 Shelter speeder first seen in the dismal Blue Shadow Virus from season one and Padmé has her purple action costume on she wore for the last act of The Phantom Menace. Setting the tone rather nicely, they framed Padmé looking out the window of the vessel, a possible homage to her old days as Queen before she became a woman of action. Anakin radios Jar Jar and says they need to talk and Binks says he knows, there is a lot of trouble on the surface and below. They agree to meet at the surface of Lake Payonga. As they land, the clouds in the foreground are painted a ominous black and grey, signifying the troubles that are sure to lay ahead.
As our heroes set down on the surface, Matt Wood and his sound effects team did an excellent job of using all the creature sound effects we expect to hear in the wooded and watery areas of Naboo. Another welcome surprise was the Bongo submarine from The Phantom Menace, piloted by Jar Jar. During my review for the season four premiere, I lamented about the Bongo’s exclusion from the underwater attack on Mon Cala, but I will accept this as recompense. As Binks pops up and complains about his ears after hitting the surface too fast, a Jar Jar attribute to be sure, it is not hard to miss the nice layer of fog the artist created above the lake that flows around Jar Jar’s underwater craft. Between those tiny details, the sound effects, and the characters clothed in mostly familiar costumes, I feel like I am watching Naboo from the Star Wars films I love. In short, the artists of The Clone Wars captured Naboo to perfection.
The trio decides they need to speak to Boss Lyonie and attempt a resolution. We are treated to another Bongo assent to Otoh Gunga, first seen in The Phantom Menace, then in Star Tours II, and now here in Shadow Warrior. The underwater city looks spectacular and flickers with a radiance rarely seen in animation today, especially on television. Kevin Kiner delivers in this sequence with a choral musical sequence nearly identical to the one heard in The Phantom Menace, ensuring the underwater location had the correct essence and character we know from the classic film. Kiner is really stepping his game up this season and I have a growing appreciation of his work.
In one of the Champaign like orbs, the Gungan Council is in progress, apparently no longer led by Boss Nass whom I will presume is in semi-retirement. Boss Lyonie is disparaging the Nabooians who he says treat them as second class citizens and the moment of change is upon them. Rish Loo, a bone through the nose shamanistic Gungan resides on Lyonie’s council, obviously an important figure. This appears to be an homage to Louis XIII (Lyonie) and Cardinal Richelieu (Rish Loo) from The Three Musketeers and Anakin, Padmé, and Jar Jar appear to be our musketeers. Boss Lyonie continues his hate speech as Tarpals looks on, disparaged by the course of action the current Boss has decided upon. The episode is clear to not let us misunderstand that Tarpals learned a lot about cultural relations by the end of The Phantom Menace.
Tarpals secures a moment for our space musketeers to seek an audience with the Boss. During their negotiations, Boss Lyonie appears drugged. Jar Jar whispers he looks “loconut” and Anakin replies “he appears possessed” to his wife. Anakin sensing an evil power in the necklace around Lyonie’s neck, uses the force to rip it from his body and the enchantment is broken. The Boss has no memory of anything that happened other than Rish Loo giving him the necklace to make him a “bombad leader.” Jar Jar reveals the Gungans have ancient mystical powers which are only be used for good, such as “mind over matter” and obviously Rish Loo has perverted those powers for evil. This marks the second time The Clone Wars has delved into magic independent of the force itself.
We cut to Rish Loo’s quarters where he is having a conversation with a holographic Count Dooku. Rish Loo’s voice sounds part Gungan, part Jackie Gleeson as Sheriff Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit, which I immediately loved. We learn that his nefarious alliance with Dooku was to allow easy access for the Federation Army into Naboo. Dooku assures Rish Loo that he is doing the right thing for his people, which gives Rish Loo motivation behind his evil conduct rather than just being evil for evil’s sake, even though it was a little hollow. Yet, Dooku does what Dooku does best and promises Rish Loo influence and power, which he takes hook, line, and sinker. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, the promise seems to as well.
Lyonie is escorted to Loo’s quarters, where he requests to confront Loo by himself. Loo’s desk has neat energy balls which radiate a bright incensed smoke, giving the place a very mystical quality compared to the rest of the underwater city. Lyonie admonishes Rish Loo for manipulating his thoughts and taking them on a path in which he would attack their surface dwelling brothers and sisters. Loo begins to use the necklace he wears to control Lyonie, but thankfully the Musketeers barge into the room and break the trance. Rish Loo signals and BX-series droid commandos drop from the ceiling and a fight begins.
As the fight breaks out and Anakin deflects laser bolts with his laser sword, Padme shoots at the droids with her ray gun. Matt Wood employees Padmé’s ray gun sound effect from The Phantom Menace which is one of my all time favorite sound effects and is rather iconic. If you heard that noise somewhere else you would know that was Padmé’s ray gun sound effect. I was happy to hear it used here. A BX battle droid jumps on top of Padmé, at first appearing to be the luckiest droid in the galaxy, but she uses her silver ray gun to blast him through his droid brains. You do not mess with Princess Leia’s mom if you know what is good for you. Just then Rish Loo takes out a dagger and stabs Lyonie in the stomach and flees in the Bongo, leaving Boss Lyonie for dead.
Inside the medical bay, Boss Lyonie lays in critical condition and his future looks bleak. You only know he is alive because his tongue is not hanging out of his mouth in that classic dead Gungan manner. Anakin wishes Jar Jar to convince the army to stand down and not attack the surface. Jar Jar states they will not listen to him as he fiddles with Lyonie’s ceremonial hat and robe which he has already dropped and picked up more than once. Jar Jar puts the hat on Anakin sees exactly what they have to do. They cannot believe their eyes as the resemblance to Boss Lyonie is uncanny. Jar Jar is a perfect double. Jar is to Lyonie as Kiera Knightly was to Natalie Portman. The way the sequence plays out comedically works, but it was a little funny that Anakin and Padmé have the same realization at the same time but he blurts out that he has an idea. I don’t think girls like that but he has a laser sword. At this moment, with the decoy plan in place, we move away from The Three Musketeers and into Kagemusha territory as Jar Jar Binks becomes our shadow warrior.
We then cut to a surface military staging area where Rish Loo is addressing the Gungan Grand Army. He announces the death of Boss Lyonie and that the army must honor his last order by carrying out the mission to destroy the Nabooians. To carry out this mission, they will march on Theed with the Separatist Droid Army. The Gungan army is clearly unsettled by this notion considering their past. Jar Jar and Anakin hide in the shrubbery discussing how this is bad and Jar Jar seems reluctant to carry out the plan. Anakin orders Jar Jar to address the army but his stage fright sets in. Anakin finally pushes Jar Jar into the staging area. The feeble minded soldiers cannot believe their eyes. There is a great reaction shot of Rish Loo which is reminiscent of Jar Jar on Tatooine when he realizes Sebulba is going to beat him up in The Phantom Menace, which I found insanely funny and had to rewind twice to watch it for laughs. Binks impersonating Boss Lyonie, cancels the order and orders Rish Loo arrested. For now, the day almost appears to be saved.
However, Rish Loo refusing arrest darts off to a speederbike like the one Count Dooku often rides and flees the scene. I am not sure the actual title of the speederbike but they should just call it an escape bike. If you are evil, that thing will get you of any tight spot, apparently. Anakin follows chase and commandeers a Kaadu, the two legged mounts the Gungans ride and the chase begins. The Separatist landing craft sets down right in front of Jar Jar and Tarpals. Tarpals informs Jar Jar that they are in an alliance with the droid army thanks to Rish Loo. The droid commander informs our shadow warrior that their general wishes to speak with the Gungan about their canceled attack. Tarpals understands that Jar Jar is impersonating the Boss after Jar Jar hushes him. Jar Jar arrogantly walks with a bounce in his step ready to tell the general where he can stick it, even pushing past a droid on his way up the ramp. It was hilarious to see Binks get some confidence in this setting. However, Jar Jar enters the room with his head held high and the, General Grievous turns around. This was not who Jar Jar had in mind. This was probably the funniest segment of the Shadow Warrior. Jar Jar gulps and Tarpals has to help him hold it together. The performance put on by the animators during this sequence was phenomenal.
General Grievous and Jar Jar sit at the dimly lit conference table. The general wants an answer for the recall of his troops and Jar Jar fiddles with his chair, raising it, lowering it, ignoring Grievous’ comments and generally making a fool of himself in front of his adversary. It was like watching a fifth grader confronting his angry principal in the principal’s office, refusing to make eye contact in hopes of avoiding punishment. Grievous lets them know he is willing to attack the Naboo without the Gungan forces if need be, as this has cost him a great amount of money and effort to transport his army all the way to Naboo. The shadow warrior agrees and speaks to his companion by saying “General Tarpals, yousa need to do dat. Dat ting. Dat big ting.” It makes little sense but General Tarpals gets it and leaves. It appears he is no longer Captain Tarpals, as knew him from ten years prior, but General Tarpals. After he leaves Jar Jar tells Grievous he has made the arrangements for a Gungan/Separatist attack.
General Tarpals now has time to inform Padmé that Grievous is on the planet. She orders General Tarpals to capture General Grievous at all cost as it can end the war. General Tarpals is visibly afraid of Grievous whom he proclaims is a “bombad warrior.” But he comments that he will do as she says. He lets Padmé know he has always believed in the friendship between their two peoples. Tarpals comes off noble and not as enigmatic as your usual Gungan. In a lot of ways, this works as a great amendment to the The Phantom Menace as it engages the idea that these peoples came together during that strife. It was immensely rewarding to see this character again as he is for lack of a better archetype, Jar Jar’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. He is the one that helps Jar Jar survive the battle during the first invasion of Naboo and really teaches him how to fight. Seeing Tarpals and Jar Jar together again had a bitter sweetness to it.
Just as you wonder what the heck ever happened to Anakin on his Kaadu chasing Rish Loo through the Naboo forest, we cut back to them. Rish Loo activates several small probe droids which gun down Anakin’s Kaadu, killing it instantly. It always bums me out when the mounts are killed in these chases. Anakin never laments the loss of life in this sequence. There is not even a hint remorse that the poor creature was killed. Anakin then pursues the Kaadu murdering shaman on foot.
Back at the negotiation table, Grievous becomes tired with Jar Jar’s antics. He accuses the Gungan of being quiet to which Jar Jar replies “mesa more of a deep thinker.” The writing of the character was executed very well, and Ahmed Best really brings a lot to the voice over work here and they never had a joke fall flat. This episode was a Jar Jar fan’s treat. The writers appear to relish at the chance to write for this character and the audience only benefits from this. Moments like the ones in this episode really make me question how anyone can hate such a goofy, lovable, fool. But the gig is up and Grievous realizes that Jar Jar is not Boss Lyonie at all. Jar Jar locks the door while Grievous pontificates about the extent of his power and Jar Jar runs down the ramp at breakneck speeds before falling on his face like you knew he would. We then have a great cut to Tarpals that takes us back to their interactions from The Phantom Menace. The interplay between these two was not forgotten. This editing style is subtle but it shows that a clear study of the film saga took place and it is spot on. It almost makes me wonder if Ben Burtt and Lucas edited this sequence themselves. Shadow Warrior is not a generic version of Star Wars, this is Star Wars in the most precise way possible.
Tarpals manages to shut down the army. How he does this is not explained. But since they were supposed to have forged an alliance, I am willing to suspend my disbelief at the ease of the situation. As Grievous steps out, he watches his army fall down, deactivated once again. General Tarpals pushes one down and they fall like dominoes. Once again, the theme of the human spirit triumphing over technology plays out as a thematic motif of Star Wars mythology. This episode successfully repacked a motif going back to A New Hope and The Phantom Menace but did so in quick and fresh manner which it did not dwell upon. General Grievous looks on in utter horror and aggravation.
General Tarpals steps forward and Gungans enclose the parameter. As they do this, the storm we have seen in the distance since the first shot finally arrives and it begins to rain with thunder and lightning, setting the stage for a battle of the generals. Grievous laughs manically and approaches Tarpals. They stand, general to general, ready to fight. The droid general ignites his lighsabers and the Gungans throws their energy balls at him which he deflects like baseballs. The Gunangs poke him with electro staffs but he easily defeats them, even grabbing one and choking the Gungan warrior out with claws of his feet. One on one, they clearly no match for the droid general. Finally only the two generals remain and they fight man to man, or amphibian to cyborg, if you will. Captain Tarpals is fatally stabbed in the stomach with a sphere. Grievous asks “how does it feel to die?” To which Tarpals responds, “not die, sacrifice,” as he sticks his electro staff into Greivous’ biological remains. Grievous shorts out and is pummeled with Gungan booma balls. The Gungans are tough bunch. The Gungans then skewer every limb of the droid general and slide him across the grass while he cries out in agony. The writers and artists of The Clone Wars have managed to make the Gungans defeating General Grievous realistic, believable, and exciting. This sequence was executed perfectly. Anyone that eye rolled this fight before they saw it has another thing coming.
Unfortunately the next shot is of General Tarpals lying in the grass with a spear through his heart. The hero from Jar Jar’s first battle, lays dead, a casualty of the clone wars. We are once again reminded that while we know certain characters must live to make it to Revenge of the Sith, other characters have fates that were unresolved and we never saw Tarpals at Amidala’s funeral. I never thought I would see Tarpals die on screen twelve years after his big screen debut, let alone at the hands of General Grievous. If such a fun character had to die, I am glad it was by General Grievous’s villainy. Many will chalk this up to another stupid loss for General Grievous, but killing General Tarpals was no small feat. The writers managed to successfully send Tarpals off with a noble death, a worthy death, in which he died heroically with bravery on the battlefield in front of his troops, for peace. Stronger characters like Boba Fett had worse death sequences. They could not have done a better job. Tarpals looks up at Padmé and Jar Jar and then passes.
We then wipe to the exterior of an ancient Gungan temple, Loo’s secret labratory where Count Dooku is hiding out. Darth Sidious appears via hologram. Almost as if to answer some fans questions about why Grievous is used if he fails so often, Sidious remarks “General Grievous is a critical part of my plan for the clone wars” I buy it. He is a good bad guy, he inspires fear and hate and that is what Palpatine uses to his political advantage. But the writers mess up and end the sentence with “the clone wars.” This does not sit right with me. You never hear someone in a World War II movie say “this is important to winning World War II.” Even Yoda in Attack of the Clones was less specific in his usage. Sidious orders Count Dooku to capture Skywalker and make a trade, Skywalker for Grievous. Dooku is not so sure they will go for it. But Sidious remarks he has no doubt Senator Amidala will not go for the trade. This is perhaps the first insight within the television show that he knows they are secretly married or at least involved in a romance. By Revenge of the Sith he certainly knows and it appears he already knows this here. I also liked Kiner’s use of the Emperor’s leitmotif during this sequence. These little musical pieces really give these sequences the feelings they should have as shown in the film saga. Tyranus talking to Sidious felt like it did in Attack of the Clones, thanks to this subtle detail.
Rish Loo then flies to the lab with Anakin taking the bait. Dooku waits there with several magna guards ready to strike. Rish Loo’s usefulness having been used up, is murdered by Count Doou. Dooku then arrogantly dusts off his shoulders in a fantastic moment of evil and arrogance. Anakin angrily demands to know why he brought the war to Naboo to which Dooku responds the war really began her all those years ago. Anakin asks if he was involved to which Dooku responds the Sith control everything he just doesn’t know it. They are not explicitly stating that the Count was a part of that original plan. Just that the Sith where, which is not exactly news to anyone since the Jedi attended that battle to draw out the Sith attacker. Dooku probably came aboard shortly after those events judging from the dialog in the films. The two break into combat but Anakin is outnumbered by the several magna guards which appear from behind the shadows. They shock him with their staffs while Dooku uses his force lightning to shock him into submission. I especially liked the way the lightning went through Anakin’s teeth like it did Luke’s in Return of the Jedi. Another subtle detail I noticed was that smoke actually comes off Anakin’s back after he is shocked, much like Luke in his shocking sequence in Return of the Jedi. These little bits bring the sequence together and give it the amount of detail the filmed saga had and it really takes the series up a notch in terms of production value. Through this electrocution beat down, the magna droid and Dooku have subdued Anakin into an unconsciousness state and the Separatists are ready to make the exchange, Skywalker for Grievous. By the end of the scene, Dooku is winded, grasping for air, really showing how alive the acting has become four season into the production of this series.
Back at the medical area of Otoh Gunga, Boss Lyonie appears to be recuperating from his stabbing. I could not help but notice the only time we see a female Gungan in this episode, she is a nurse. I know the films set the precedence that the Gungan Grand Army is male, but we have been introduced to characters in the first season like Pepi Bow that female, with battle skills. A cameo from such a character, even if silent, would have been appreciated. Jar Jar convinces Amidala that Anakin is their friend and they must make the exchange and the Boss agrees. She knows it is not the right move, but her love for Anakin allows her to give in. The secret marriage of the two heroes clearly has huge ramifications on the war itself.
We then wipe to a large grassy field. Grievous waits, in bondage by two blue orbs around each hand and one over his head. The General appears frustrated at being disgraced in such a diminutive way. A pivotal moment happens. A knocked out Anakin is dragged right past Grievous. The two never see one another even though they are just feet apart. Revenge of the Sith is pretty explicit that aboard the Greivous’ flag ship, The Invisible Hand is their first meeting. Continuity was preserved while the two were able to engage in the same battle without it seeming like the writers had their hands tied. I have to admit, a promo image had me a little worried. I almost understood how the Expanded Universe fans must feel when their continuity is overruled by this show. For me, overruling the film continuity is the only deal breaker this series could make and thankfully they stayed true to the intentions of the film saga. The episode ends with Jar Jar commended by the Queen of Naboo while Anakin and Padmé gaze into one another’s eyes regretful of their actions, but happy to be alive.
This episode was nearly perfect for a twenty two minute standalone episode. My critique is that certain characters central to Naboo were left out. Where was Captain Typho? He is strangely missing from the series even though he is the Queen’s official protector and from Naboo. I would not have minded seeing Captain Panaka either as his character just completely disappeared from the visual saga. Original characters to the show like Peppi Bow were also missed as was Sio Bibble. Still, for the story they told, they used the characters they had wisely and I would not want any of those characters shoehorned in. The music and visuals was spot on and they managed to capture the aural and editing style of The Phantom Menace perfectly. The comedy worked and this was Jar Jar’s best episode since season one’s Bombad Jedi, a personal favorite of mine. In fact, this episode had a lot of the spirit of season one of The Clone Wars but it managed to execute it in the quality and standards we have come to expect. For a standalone twenty two minute story, I rate this a solid 9.0. I would not want to say on this story for two weeks and making this a one off made for a great short story about the death of General Tarpals which is a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythos.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10