Friday, October 14, 2011

Nomad Droids Review

After a pair of controversial episodes in Shadow Warrior and Mercy Mission, the Clone Wars really needed to step it up for me in Nomad Droids. Once again, I wasn't jumping up and down after watching this episode, but found it to be more entertaining than the past two. As a second part to a droids duology, Nomad Droids felt very distant storywise to Mercy Mission, and was only connected with it through the common characters of R2, C-3PO, and the Wolfpack clones. Yet that's probably for the best, considering the meaningless plot of Mercy Mission.

Right away Nomad Droids felt very familiar to me. Granted it wasn't the epic "Dual of the Fates" Star Wars that I love, but the flow and situations in the episode seemed organic. It reminded me of the beginning scenes of both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi that brought the viewers into the story from the perspective of the droids. R2 and C-3PO interacted with beings similar to the scavenging Jawas, bloated Jabba the Hutt, and unforgiving imperials. This included a great reference to A New Hope when Threepio threw his hands in the air, imploring his captors, "Don't shoot!"

When the episode started I wasn't sure what was in store. When Padme mentioned a "banquet", I started to worry we might have another overly domestic episode on our hands like Evil Plans. But thankfully the droids' cruiser was timely attacked by Grievous. Even though it would have been interesting to see more character development between the bitter rivals, Grievous and Adi Gallia, it was refreshing to see the dual unfold from the droids' perspective. Some of the shots in sequences like this were similar to Darth Vader's attack on the Tantive IV, with the plot itself foreshadowing the beginning of A New Hope, as R2 coerced Threepio to escape with him. If only a droid operating a gun turret had monotonously uttered something like, "Hold your fire; the scanners indicate that no lifeforms are aboard".

The following sequence with the astromech-commandeered Y-Wing engaging a Vulture droid through the atmosphere was well done from an animation standpoint. With pilots like Anakin and R2, it's quite obvious why Threepio isn't fond of flying. The animation of the surface below was interesting. I liked how the initial shots of the Palitites used perspective to exaggerate their diminutive size. As Qui-Gon said, "There is always a bigger fish", I'm starting to think, "There is always a smaller species" after seeing the Aleenas and Palitites in succession. But Lucas clearly has a soft spot for little people, considering classic species like the Ewoks, Jawas, and Ugnaughts, to name a few.

After an obvious Gulliver's Travels reference with the droids being tied up by tiny people, R2 and Threepio began their streak of inciting political turnover when R2 shockingly fell over the fat Palitite leader reducing him to goo. And they say Riff Tamson's death was graphic? I could have done without this whole sequence, but I guess bizarre is better than predictable. I must admit that it was a little entertaining to watch the Palitites squabble over who should become the next leader, as the droids slipped away.

As the Y-Wing's power started to drain, the droids found themselves wandering onto the equally bizarre planet of Balnab. If you think midichlorians are too scientific, try "Primordial Soup". At that point, I half-assumed they were referring to the plot of the post-Mon Cala episodes with that statement. The first lifeforms that the droids encountered trapped them with a yellow electro-net and carried them off to their leader. Personally I found the voicing of the Balnabians to be painfully slow and annoying, but thankfully they were only one of many pit-stops. What transpired next was straight out of the Wizard of Oz, as a maniacally ambitious pit droid was using a hologram and electro-shock to intimidate the Balnabians into submission. Yet to continue in his vigilante ways, R2 quickly ousted the impostor and nonchalantly meandered away from the huge explosion that ensued in Heath Ledger fashion.

The moments that followed with R2 and Threepio running out of power were quite touching and resonated emotionally with me. I'm glad that the writers put a slow moment in what would otherwise be a frantic episode like this to pace the story and add depth to the characters. The camaraderie between the droids was front and center in the episode and seemed more organic than that of the rushed Mercy Mission.

But just as things started to slow down, the story picked right up again as Weequay pirates found the powerless droids and brought them to their ship, Jawa-style. Even though I was very disappointed that the infamous Hondo Ohnaka didn't show up here, I found these other pirates' ship to be a very cool design. It's definitely too bad it got blown into oblivion. The sequence with the droids fighting each other was very entertaining, it reminded me a bit of the gladiatorial match on Rattatak in the Clone Wars micro-series. Additionally, Threepio's fondness for statistics yielded an interesting tidbit in this scene, R2 has 47 fighting styles.

Things finally came full circle as Grievous, with the defeated Gallia standing behind him in binders, opens fire on the pirates. I liked the scene with the droids landing inside the Separatist hanger bay as one of the droids referenced The Phantom Menace with the line "You're under arrest!". The episode concluded with some awesome action sequences as Wolfpack and Plo-Koon came to Adi Gallia's rescue, slightly from the droid's perspective once again.

In conclusion, I enjoyed Nomad Droids. It wasn't my favorite episode, but it still contained enough action and references to keep me entertained. If we had only seen this episode between the epic battle arcs on Mon Cala and Umbara, rather than three offbeat stories, I would be that more satisfied with the beginning of Season 4. But for now, it seems the slow part is finally over and the roller coaster ride is about to begin, one that promises fantastic Clone-centric storylines and the intrigue of Darth Maul.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mercy Mission Review

Okay... so this episode was quite different and definitely stands out among the steady line of action episodes that we have scene since the second half of Season 3 began. The pacing and humor of Mercy Mission at first reminded me of the Original Trilogy, especially Return of the Jedi. Then it showed glimpses of Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who. And finally it dissolved into a B-rate Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980s, considering the climax was droids pushing a cover over a hole, slowly.

I thought the beginning of the episode was pretty cool to watch. It was awesome to see Commander Wolffe back in the series. His cybernetic eye and painted phase II armor made him an interesting character. Additionally the return of other Wolf Pack clones like Sinker and Boost were a nice touch. I wish that the episode focused a little more on the clones, but mostly they served as straight men to the droids and Aleenas. Nevertheless, the humor was tasteful for the most part. "Suck it up, shiny!"

The opening shots of the relief ships approaching the planet Aleen and then entering the atmosphere through the clouds were well done. From the first shot of Star Wars depicting the imperial star destroyer eating up the screen, I have always loved set-up scenes like this. The line, "It's going to be another one of those planets", let the viewers know that the clones shared a slight annoyance with the native's antics. The surface of the planet was well animated and contained a fair amount of detail for an apparently desolate landscape.

Moving on to the inhabitants themselves, the Aleenas definitely reminded me the Ewoks. They were of similar stature and demeanor, and spoke a gibberish sounding, primitive language. For once it was actually cool to hear non-basic speakers in the Clone Wars, with even Rodians speaking the common tongue. The interaction between the Aleenas and the droids was very reminiscent of Return of the Jedi, as I almost wish R2 had zapped a few curious natives. The one main difference I noticed with the Aleenas, is that they seemed more comfortable around technology than the Ewoks did. Obviously their species has to have some significance to the Republic, like mining raw materials, for them to have been given technology and qualify for aid.

With witty remarks by clones and droids alike and even an utterance of the cliche "I have a bad feeling about this", I was enjoying the episode as C-3PO fell into the mysterious hole, R2 in toe. The tunnels under the surface of Aleen reminded me of the tree cave on Dagobah. The tree creatures that ambushed the droids were very reminiscent of the Ents from Lord of the Rings, and the conflict between the above-ground and subterranean dwellers of the planet reminded me of a recent Doctor Who storyline. Yet these odd pixie-like entities kept swarming around C-3PO and the sci-fi/fantasy feel started to decay into a Disney aura.

Then the story totally left the genre of Star Wars for me when the pixies accumulated into a large light source that transformed into one of the most annoying characters I have ever scene on TV, let alone in a Clone Wars episode. Orphnee seemed extremely out of place both visually and audibly. Fantasy inspired characters like the Diathim and the Daughter of Mortis didn't bother me, but this was a full on fairy or nymph. And if her look wasn't odd enough, her monotonous, high-pitched voice droned on and on in rhetoric and riddles.

After she left the screen, the droids were left to solve an obvious riddle and then were jettisoned back onto the surface to deduce that the hole needed to be closed. This ending seemed completely contrived and hearkened back to weakly written Star Wars material like the old Droids and Ewoks cartoons. The episode concluded with only one blaster shot fired at a bunch of rocks and completely no character or main story development. The only purpose that it served was to illustrate how clones don't always spend their time fighting in epic battles, and the droids are good at solving commonplace problems. Additionally the music score was pretty forgettable.

In conclusion, I think this was one of the worst Clone Wars episodes to date, rivaling Evil Plans and Corruption. Mercy Mission didn't seem like Star Wars, at least not the epic and engaging Star Wars that I'm used to seeing. Once again the humor at the beginning was fine, but it quickly got old, and was not paced by intermittent action sequenced like it should have been. Hopefully this episode was the worst of the season, because I can't imagine anything that much more boring and useless than this. This also marks two straight episodes, where the most exciting scene for me was an establishing shot of an environment. I might as well be playing an immersive video game, considering the weakness of the plots as of late. Umbara can't come soon enough.