Cheap animation that didn't belong anywhere on the big screen, an anemic story structure (that can be attributed to the film originating as four separate episodes from the then forthcoming TV show) and oh Lordy, let's not even revisit Truman Capote The Hutt, shall we? Yeah, that dismal film somehow took expectations for the The Clone Wars TV show that was to follow to new lows, and the first four episodes seemed to confirm that these low conjectures were correct. Heavy-handed morals hindered the scripts from achieving organic stories, and the dialogue was distractedly clunky. But then, the fourth episode of the show came. Here was the first 22 minute story from The Clone Wars to be entirely devoid of Jedi, instead focusing solely on a Clone Trooper run outpost that is attacked by Separatist forces.
This was Rookies, the episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that, for the first time in 25 years, told a good piece of Star Wars storytelling in a cinematic environment.
Setting up the plight of these clones as a man-on-a-mission type adventure was a strong choice, while Dee Bradley Baker fully steps into the limelight as perhaps the shows greatest achievement with this episode and many more top-notch half hours of Clone Wars adventures to come. Ya see, Baker plays each and every Clone Trooper in this show, with the voice actor somehow bringing different inflections and vocal mannerisms that makes each of the clones have a distinctive voice separating him from his brethren. These aren't the disposable pieces of cannon fodder from the prequels, but rather, living breathing human beings whose depth lend action sequences actual heft. The few troopers who actually survived the episode (lots of death in this particular Clone Wars installment, including one poor Clone who gets gobbled up by a giant space eel) returning in future episodes, allowing their interesting personalities to get further fleshed out and developed as time went onward. Utilizing the long-scale format of television to advance tangible character arcs??? Well I'll be a shaved Wookie! This shows got its footing!
It's also no surprise to me that this early episode, which seriously showed off the strengths of this shows and all the storytelling promise it had, was one that focused on supporting figures in the Star Wars universe. Oh, plenty would be done with Anakin Skywalker on this program, with him actually being turned into a (GASP) interesting character in several episodes, the kind of person Obi-Wan would look back on fondly in the original 1977 feature instead of the grade-A creep we met in the prequels. But expanding the scope from just Anakin and Obi-Wan to the clones, to bounty hunters to even episodes entirely concentrated on the bad guys helped the universe of Star Wars feel big again. If the prequels turned this galaxy far, far away into one where somehow Yoda knew Chewbacca for no good reason, then The Clone Wars managed to get this fictional realm to actually feel expansive once more.
Of course, like all television shows, Star Wars: The Clone Wars was not without its faults. In between the really cool plotlines, there were those episodes seemingly tossed out to appease Cartoon Network advertisers who wanted to ensure the show had some guaranteed appeal towards children. So intertwined with episodes where Darth Maul is slicing peoples heads off, we got an excruciatingly overlong 4 episode arc about some "hilarious" droids buzzing around on a desert moon. This particular storyline would have been maybe fine as a one-off dealio, but as a multiple episode arc? Dear Lord, just get back to the Mandalorian stuff already!
|(From left to right; Darth Maul, Savage Opress)|
You want the perfect piece of proof of The Clone Wars proclivity for churning out interesting storylines? Look no further than what they did with Darth Maul, a visually interesting character from The Phantom Menace who got no personality to speak of in his brief cinematic appearance. He manages to come back to life in the Clone Wars, thanks to the help of his brother Savage Opress. In his resurrected form, Maul has a lust for power he hopes to gain by cultivating a massive presence on Mandalore. Seeing the numerous character arcs set up on the show (a previously established former romantic interest of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who killed Darth Maul, rules over Mandalore and becomes a target of the vengeful Dathomirian) interlace in this multi-episode arc is glorious to watch, particularly in the way the relationship Maul and Opress is left at the end of the storyline.
Turning a one-off bad guy into a figure of tragedy and spellbinding depth? All in a days work for Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Here was a TV show that got one of the greatest franchises on the planet back to being about interesting stories, and even managed to turn the plot point doldrums of the prequels into something enriching.