Sunday, October 30, 2011

Battle Meditation Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Darkness on Umbara (4.07)

The seventh episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season four finally delivers on the "Battle Lines" moniker  and gave us the best episode so far this season .  The 501st Legion of the Grand Army of the Republic gets into a full scale land battle with the native Umbarans as the local militia employs guerrilla tactics to thwart the Republic forces attempts to conquer the planet.  This episode once again proves that trooper armor is about as protective as an umbrella in a hurricane.
"The first step toward loyalty is trust."
When Anakin is forced to temporarily turn over command of his clone troopers to a new commander, the Jedi Pong Krell, tensions begin to run high as the clones are assigned with a very deadly mission to take the capital of Umbara.

I was getting a strong Gen. James Longstreet vibe from Captain Rex in this episode.  Opposing his superiors plan for the battle but still leading his troops into As Rex says late in the episode, "Sir, if I may address your accusation, I followed your orders even in the face of a plan, that in my opinion was in my opinion  severely flawed, a plan that cost us men, no clone, Men!" During the battle of Gettysburg, Longstreet a Confederate General under the Command of Gen. Robert E. Lee, followed Lee's orders and commanded Pickett's charge even though he opposed the planed infantry assault on the Union position on Cemetery Ridge.  

Rex is a good soldier and a good commander, one of the things that I believe Rex recognizes and General Krell fails to recognize is that a commander must keep faith with his troops.  Krell's view and treatment of the Clones breaks that faith and will lead to a disastrous outcome one way or another.  

Fives is really taking to his role as an ARC.  The ARCS have a reputation as loners and a cockiness born of superior skills.  Fives standing up and being very insubordinate to General Krell shows that some of these ARC traits are really taking hold in Fives and also helps make him my favorite character.  

Fives has a nifty little mine-detector on his utility belt, but that isn't the only tricks that he has up his sleeves.  Fives has a thermal detonator handy to take care of the nasty native plant life.

This episode also shows tremendous growth by Fives, the first time we met him he was still a shiny new trooper and was very deferential to Captain Rex and Commander Cody.  Now we see him really coming into his own and treated as a peer by Captain Rex.  

The scene between Krell and Fives is one of my favorite scenes of the entire series, just tremendously done. I want a Fives Gentle Giant statute and I want it now.  

There is a really interesting little moment in the trenches between Anakin and Rex, that shows just how close to his troops Anakin feels.  As Anakin tells Padme in Episode II, "Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi's life. So, you might say that we are encouraged to love." Throughout TCW you see moments of compassion and care for the Clones by Anakin.  You know that every Clone Trooper Anakin loses under his command he takes personally. You can see just how difficult it is for Anakin to leave his troops fighting on the front lines and return to the safety of Coruscant, this to him will feel like he is abandoning his men. 

Anakin's departure at the special request of the Supreme Chancellor has me really curious about what game Palpatine is playing here.  Is he trying to protect Anakin from a battle on Umbara that he thinks has the potential to actually kill the future Sith Apprentice?  Is Palpatine trying to eliminate Rex one of the closest things to a true friend that Anakin has?  Is Palpatine trying to eliminate General Krell by putting him in a position to die on the battle field?  I don't think this was a simple throw away line.  

The rapport that Anakin has developed with Rex is based on mutual respect and shared experiences.  Rex is a survivor, it seems like very few clones last as long as Rex and few are as good at what they do as he is.  There are many similarities between Anakin's relationship to the Clones and the EU stories of Karen Traviss with Etain Tur-Mukan and Bardan Jusik, who very much viewed the clones as individuals and recognized their individual value and humanity.  

This view of the Clones stands in stark contrast to General Krell, who immediately upon taking temporary command of the 501st, lets his views on the Clones become very clear, "I find it very interesting Captain that you are able to recognize the value of honor, for a Clone."  Krell came about as close to calling the Clones "Meat droids" as you can without using the word.  

While you did see Krell in battle, you didn't see him leading the infantry charge shoulder to shoulder with Captain Rex as you would have seen Anakin do in the same situation.  This combined with his attitude towards the clones lets the viewer see just how disposable Krell feels the Clones are.

Krell displays a very Sith-like philosophy, of ends justifying the means.  It is one thing as a military commander to realize an objective must be accomplished and recognize that it may result in casualties even at a high rate, but it is another thing to work your troops to exhaustion and put them in unnecessary positions that make the casualty rate skyrocket.  Exhausted Clones and poor tactics are a recipe for military disaster.  

Krell's view of Clones is not unique to this character, the obvious parallel is to Quinlan Vos who in the EU has a reputation for treating is Clones like battle droids. I think some of the problem for the Jedi is in how to view these beings that were created in a test tube in the Force.  I believe Master Yoda expresses the correct view of the Clones in the first episode of TCW, but I am not sure that all Jedi are as enlightened as the Grand Master.  Another issue that plays into it, is the war itself and the guilt over all the death that the Jedi are taking part in must be weighing heavily on all of their souls, if not pushing them towards the Dark Side, then definitely making them harder less empathetic individuals.  How does a Jedi keep perspective in this situation? Are they all doomed to lose themselves in the darkness, like Depa Billaba in Shatterpoint, even without the execution of Order 66, did participating in The Clone Wars doom the Jedi Order? 

It leads me to wonder if General Krell is broken, was he at the Battle of Geonosis (off-screen), or did the loss of his fellow Jedi at that Battle cause him to lose his way as a Jedi?  Or perhaps simply being involved in the Clone Wars for too long made the General reach his personal shatterpoint?  I am not sure which, but I am fascinated to learn the back story of Krell because I believe he is a broken Jedi.  Some viewers think that we saw a change of heart by Krell at the close of the episode, but I think they are reading too much into this, while he maybe heartless and a poor tactician, I don't think Krell is stupid and his almost compliment to Rex was more for moral and to diffuse the tension caused by his near execution of Fives, then for any change of heart.

Visually Darkness on Umbara was just oozing with greatness.  A few things I want to touch on, the AT-RT's, the Z-85 Headhunters, the Umbarans and their tech, and some character animation touches.  

The AT-RT's were just great in this episode, with their reverse articulated legs and the fluidity of their motion, they looked like frogs jumping out of the LAAT ships onto the surface on Umbara.   

Every time I saw the Z-85 Headhunters on the screen I smiled, this is awesome.  The Headhunter (usually Z-95 variety) is a common sight in the EU (Mara Jade fans) and along siw the ARC-170 is a precursor to the X-Wing line of starfighters.  This is one of the continuity weaving touches that I love to see in my Star Wars both in TCW and in the EU.  

The Umbaran's had a fairly simple design, but I am very curious about the helmets they were wearing and the gas the helmets contained.  Clearly Umbara has enough oxygen in it's atmosphere for the Clones and the Jedi to breath it without their helmets or masks on.  Previously I don't believe we have seen Umbaran's having to wear any such contraption.  Are they being retconned as having to breath a special gas mixture like the Kel Dor, or methane breathing species?  

I enjoyed the Umbaran Hover Tanks, which reminded me of paired tuning forks, and their electric discharge had a resonating musical feel to it.  They also had a fairly strong resemblance to Tie-Interceptors.  

But that wasn't the Umbaran's only piece of interesting tech, the Millicreep droids, looked like some kind of insect/crustacean hybrid that could creep around and electrocute Clones with its tendrils.  A thoroughly icky looking droid for those of us that don't like bugs(that means you Han).  

There was also the Sarlacc Pit's little cousin, the Vixus.  Cue the chorus, "little shop, little shop of horrors, little shop.."

Finally on the animation front, we had some interesting touches on the characters.  Different paint schemes on some of the Clones, new armor for Rex and Fives, we also had some interesting touches to General Krell.  The bullfrog like chin on General Krell was an interesting touch and shows how are the facial animations of the show have come from its early wooden days.

Ratings:  Darkness on Umbara gets 8.5 kick butt ARC Troopers.  As much as Jedi always symbolize Star Wars, the Clone Troopers and their story is why I love this show and what really engages me as a fan.  Plus they get all that nifty kit.  

Next Time on Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The General (4.08)

"The path of ignorance is guided by fear."
General Krell orders Captain Rex and the clone troopers of the 501st Legion to conquer a heavily fortified Umbaran airbase, and will not accept anything less than victory. It is an almost certain suicide mission, unless the clones can use their ingenuity to defeat their new enemy.


  1. was it me or did krell have 4 doublebladed lightsabers (2 on each side)? also i'd like to see more of him in action with those blades, maybe get his butt kicked then rex to his rescue

  2. Perhpas this empisode is set up to give some context to Order 66. I can see Krell in a position where he needs the Clones' help and they let him die.

    As opposed to the Dark Side take on Krell, I saw his attitude torwards Clones an extention of Jedi non-attatchment.