We're back to The Clone Wars with "Front Runners," which is the second part in an ongoing story of Jedi-fueled rebellion on Onderon. The fight of the Onderon people against the Separatists continue, bringing us more time with Saw and Steela Gerrera and a fair amount of action sequences, plus more than a few throwbacks to a number of battles in the saga. As always, spoilers and video await you!
Telling a story in 22 minutes isn't easy, but the talented writers of The Clone Wars were great at pulling off an entire tale in one or two episodes during the first two years. Having since decided spreading out the story is better, we get the benefit of Lucasfilm Animation creating richer backgrounds and better character designs (as they're being amortized over a few episodes) but lose the speedy storytelling (and additional stories) of previous seasons. Oh, and we'll probably never get figures of these designs, either.
If you haven't seen the episode yet, jealousy abounds! We also get to see some droids get blowed up real good while we essentially stew in the juices poured by last week's installment.
Also, is anyone else really bored with the current The Clone Wars story arc? I think the problem is all the recent multi-parters. In seasons 1 and 2, if you didn't like a story, you would be treated to a different one inside 2 weeks. Now... we're stuck here for a month. Sure, we had 4-parters like the "Legacy of Terror" arc, but that went all over the place and radically changed its tone each week. It started with "Landing at Point Rain," which followed Anakin and Obi-Wan and Ki-Adi-Mundi in a multi-pronged attack on the planet's surface. Then we got "Weapons Factory" showcasing Ahsoka and Barriss Offee doing their thing underground. And then we got "Legacy of Terror" introducing zombies, followed by a pretty swell "Brain Invaders" which built on the promise of the previous episode. Each installment had pretty distinctive looks and feels, different color palettes, and emphasis on adventure, suspense, terror, and horror, respectively. Even if you missed one of the four episodes, you were caught up to speed in the first two minutes and generally speaking, each episode can stand on its own with a fairly satisfying beginning, middle, and end. I didn't get that sense this week, or last week. (Heck, even Droids generally managed to feel like the story could be over each week.)
In "Front Runners," there's a lot more going on in the backgrounds. We're seeing expertly-designed fruit stands, colorful quasi-ancient Mediterranean garb worn by the people of Onderon, plants, pots, and all sorts of stuff to make the city of Iziz come to life visually. It's impressive, although it's also very dim and very dusty, which adds a murky sense of realism rather than some of the more animated palette of earlier episodes. Of course, the power goes out and we're in the dark for a while, which makes it even murkier. No doubt, we're getting longer story arcs like this one just so Lucasfilm Animation can stretch out the use of the assets (characters, backgrounds, etc.) and exploiting their animation investment to the fullest extent. It just lacks the punch of the Geonosian arc, and-- like last week's episode-- could probably be edited down into an snappy introductory sequence.
The actions of the Gererra siblings are in the forefront of the action this week, and boy howdy, is there a lot of action. There's plenty of combat this week, which is a hallmark of a great Star Wars story. Of course, it is by-the-numbers based on what we saw last week, as Saw (the guy with the chin beard thing) helps take out a Federation Tank and Steela (the girl with the nifty hair) proves herself a most able sniper, the latter of which is easily the most likable new character in this arc. Which is handy, because now Ahsoka gets to feel like a jerk for maybe, sorta, kinda being jealous that there may (or may not) be something between her and Lux. Or so is the feeling I think I'm supposed to have, the mostly combat-driven show dares not teeter into anything overt like hand-holding, because that could lead to more dangerous things like dancing, a well-known gateway activity to the Dark Side.
One of the dangers that The Clone Wars faces is that as a series that threw chronological storytelling to the wind, the show's earlier seasons trained us to get ready to move forward quickly. Staying in the same story starts to seem like a drag, while staying in the same city, with the same characters, doing basically the same activities just goes to show how efficient last week's episodes was and giving us a ton of new information in 22 minutes. The big takeaway from this week? Ahsoka is jealous that Lux might like Steela. Saw is jealous Steela got voted as leader of the rebel group. King Sanjay Rash is probably going to be jealous that any role he had as a puppet ruler of the planet is about to be mechanically eliminated next week by Dooku's droid general, Killanee.
I think two stars ** is about right. From a technical perspective, the episode is great... it just doesn't do a whole heck of a lot to advance the plot beyond what we already knew last week. The bulk of S05E03 could probably have been whittled down to the opening of next week's episode, and you wouldn't have missed much story... it's sort of like last year's Pong Krell storyline, where a 2-3 episode tale got spread out to 4 full half-hours focused largely around Clones and a jerk of a Jedi. This series soars on variety, and we're not getting very much right now.
Next Week: "The Soft War!"
See you then!