May 3, 2012

[TV] Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season 4

The continuing saga of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series has certainly proven interesting, if anything else. While not overly compelling, it's just good enough for me to keep on watching the show despite a lack of full commitment. And over the seasons, they have managed to make some progress in terms of tempering more annoying characters like Ahsoka and giving a bit more sense to the tale of the various clone troopers that support the Republic in their war against the Separatists.

There has also been the increasing "darkness" about the show as the stories mature to some extent and the characters are made to face harder and harder decisions. After all, there is an actual war going on and even a children's cartoon can't pretend that war is a happy event over the course of four seasons.

And that really seemed to be the major thrust for this season - that things are just getting worse. Sure, we still don't have a larger meta-plot that could give the show a greater sense of purpose and direction. The war just rages on and on and we as viewers just get dragged along to the next destination. And it's this sense of being jerked around that makes fully committing to this cartoon a somewhat difficult thing given everything else that  has been done to the characters. While on some level you might argue that goal was to make you as a viewer feel how bad things were getting, it's still not quite the perfect emphatic experience.

Synopsis: Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the CGI-animated TV series created by George Lucas and broadcast on Cartoon Network. The fourth season, like the three others before it, is set during the three year period between the second and third prequel movies.

This season started on a somewhat weird note - by bringing us to Mon Calamari to watch the Jedi defend the Mon Calamari from a Separatist invasion force. And while watching three episodes worth of underwater battle sequence isn't exactly boring, the feeling that we've experience a lot of this before can't be helped. And this is primarily because this first arc has strong echoes with the Star Wars: Clone Wars season one episode in the first season where again Kit Fisto (Phil LaMarr) helps the Mon Calamari fight off a Separatists. How many times does this planet need to be saved by the same Jedi? Or should we treat Kit Fisto with the same degree of respect that Aquanman had on The Super Friends?

The next major story arc was certainly a weird one - and the first 4-episode arc that I can remember. Here they introduce Jedi Pong Krell (Dave Pennoy) who temporarily takes command over Anakin's forces. What makes this arc so disturbing is the fact that Krell is a Jedi who does not recognize the humanity of the clone troopers and treats them like so much cannon fodder, which is pretty strange coming from a Jedi. Thus you have Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) and the rest trying their best to follow orders but while trying to find alternate ways of achieving the mission objectives with less loss of clone lives.

Cad Bane in Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Cad Bane in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The season wraps up with two more rather major 4-episode story arcs, the first involving a heavily disguised Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) and the return of the bounty hunters to the spotlight and the last arc involving those crafty little Nightsisters of Dathomir, Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) and a very familiar face from the prequel movies.

The longer story arcs are certainly the highlight of this season and they really add another dimension to the storytelling. At the same time though, a bad story now runs on for much longer, which is sort of how the initial clones vs Krell story felt like. Yes, we get it that Krell is a Jedi with less than noble views. But I don't think we needed to see it stressed as much as it had been and in so many different ways.

And the big reveal at the end of the season? Well, I don't know what kind of a fan clamor there has been to bring that particular character back from the dead. And at the same time, I don't think folks were expecting him to be quite so, um, weird. Sure he's back, but at what cost, eh? He's not quite as bad ass as he used to be when he first appeared in the Star Wars Universe, at least that's how he struck me. And I think I'm coming from a good place here, really.

The general direction really seems to have us focusing less on the likes of Anakin (Matt Latner) and Ahsoka and more on the supporting characters, the side-stories and even a side adventure for the droids. That's sort of a good thing and it really helped let things feel like the story is really moving on with characters evolving and maturing. Plus by moving away from the main characters, it gives us a chance to take a breather of sorts and thus we feel the passage of time more.

And we get to try to tell the clones apart from one another.

For the most part I found the Bounty Hunter arc rather weak - probably because Cad Bane (Corey Burton) never really felt all that scary impressive to me. I think I felt a glimmer of hope when they tried to develop a story for young Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) and his own little bounty hunter troop, although it didn't feel quite there just yet. And I admit part of it may be because of the fact that I'm still bothered that the galaxy's most infamous bounty hunter was reduced to a clone of another guy. That will never fully sit well for me.

Still, this season had a lot going for it in terms of maturing story lines and fairly extensive character development. Thus Star Wars: The Clone Wars may pull out a surprise rabbit for all of us by the time its fifth and potentially final season rolls along. For now, let's give this season a good 4 dark magic tricks by Mother Talzin (Barbara Goodson) out of a possible 5.
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