"What you're up against is simply the will of the people, it is up to the King to embrace, bend or break it." ~ Ramsis Dendup
Sometimes the sum is greater than it's parts and sometimes the sum ends up being less than the parts. I can't help but feeling that despite some cool story elements and impressive animation that this week's episode was just slightly off.
"To seek something is to believe in its possibility." Supervised by Ahsoka, the Onderon rebels infiltrate the capital and carry out a series of strikes on targets throughout the city. As the Separatist-aligned king comes under increasing pressure to deal with the growing rebellion, the rebels choose a new leader.
This disconnect may be the downside of these larger four episode arcs. I much prefer story arcs or serialized story telling over the sort of one shot stories that were more prevalent early in the series. These larger four episode story arcs allow for more subtle, yet deeper character development and more nuance to the plots.
When these four episode arcs are cut together into 88 minute movies, the weak episodes or sections of episode feel more natural and are less obnoxious. When the stories are broken up and aired in four 22 minute episodes, these lulls in action or set up episodes become more of an issue.
Onderon's rebels step up hit and run attacks on droids across Iziz. The King Sanjay Rash attempts to pressure his imprisoned predecessor Ramsis Dendup to call off the attacks. Dendup makes the critical point that the rebels are not under his control and that the Rash is responsible for dealing with them. After seeing the rebels in action and confident that they have the tools to succeed Obi-Wan, Anakin and Rex return to Coruscant leaving Ahsoka on Onderon to advice the rebels. Lux develops a plan to use a droid tank to destroy the city's power generator, leaving the droids unable to recharge and thus vulnerable to defeat. Following their victory in destroying the power generator the rebels celebrate and elect Steela their leader.
I really enjoyed the Rash-Dendup scene. The appearance of the once and (likely) future king Dendup gives the audience the knowledge that this wise old leader still exists and promises some sort of stability if the rebels are successful. Dendup also provides a nice leadership lesson with his embrace, bend or break line. Though my favorite part of the scene is the flammable fruit that Rash takes a bit of and tosses into the fire by his throne, very cool animation.
We see some character growth with Lux and Steela as they both seem to be really coming into their own as leaders, while it seems like Saw's growth is more in terms of pure martial skills and less as a well rounded leader.
We also sawed physical contact between Steela and Lux and even Steela calling Lux a "handsome senator" during their celebration. This leads me to my next point.
There was definitely an Endor portion Return of the Jedi vibe to the episode. We have the victory in destroying the power plant, followed by the celebration, and we also have the interpersonal relationship issues that crop up between Ahsoka, Lux, Steela, and Saw.
This was kind of a cool but I think StarWars.com stumbled in terms of the relationships. The revelation that Steela and Saw are brother and sister should not have been made on-line before this episode aired. If you simply leave the characters without last names then you maintain the possibility that their may be romantic feelings between the characters and this plays better not only into the Ahsoka/Lux/Steela triangle but also plays in better to Saw's storming off and Steela's announcement that he is her brother. This is clearly meant t to be a call back to Leia's revelation to Han on Endor, but it didn't work the same way because the Steela/Saw relationship wasn't developed in the same way that the Luke/Leia relationship was in Episodes V and VI. Lux has been on Onderon training, planning and fighting alongside Steela and Saw for who knows how long and the fact they are brother and sister hasn't come up once? If Lux knows they are brother and sister than the line only serves to inform the audience but then it doesn't really serve much point for the characters.
I really liked the assault on the power generator, it was a cool idea to take that out to prevent the droids from re-charging. It was also a featured cool animations for the explosive wave and smoke/electric effect post destruction.
It is interesting to try to draw parallels to the Onderon rebellion and the Rebel Alliance. An EU fan could almost see the Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, Garm Bel Iblis in Steela, Lux and Saw. I wonder if in next week's episode we see Saw strike out on his own personal more aggressive campaign against the Separatists. It also once again shows that in the Star Wars universe the like a strong female leader.
The more we see of this arc, the more I think Luxsoka is doomed and the barring someone dying, Lux and Steela are on a romantic trajectory.
This final scene also has my favorite and least favorite Anakin scenes in a while. The side conversation between Ahsoka and Anakin where he reveals he knows how she feels regarding her attraction to Lux and her surprised response serves a number of important purposes. It makes clear that at this point she is totally unaware of Anakin's marraige to Padme even though she spends so much time with him. This also further explains just how tightly Anakin keeps this secret even if his Padawan isn't able to detect it. The revelation that Anakin knows what Ahsoka is going through also marks a potential depending at the emotional level of the Master-Apprentice relationship. It also sets up the curiosity in Ahsoka's mind about what exactly is Anakin referring to. I would love for a sub-plot to develop throughout season five that Ahsoka is doing a little digging into Anakin and finds out about the relationship with Padme. This would lead to a very important conversation between Anakin and Ahsoka.
There was some early criticism over the performance of Matt Lanter in the series as Anakin. When you hire someone who is primarily an on screen actor for a voice over roll, it is not necessarily surprising that it may take them some time to grow into this new skill. In season three and four Lanter has really improved in his performance as Anakin. In this week's episode however, the speech he gave to the rebels in the final speech came off as very stiff and flat. I am sure they where going for a serious and profound tone, but it just fell flat for this viewer.
I think my biggest criticism of this episode is that the action and battle scenes largely fell flat for me. There where a few moments like the Commando Droid attack that I thought was interesting, but largely the Onderon rebels shooting clankers left me indifferent. I can only see a droid popper go off so many times in 22 minutes before I tune it out. And as cool as Steel's sniper rifle was, when she was shooting Super-battle droids they kept being hit in the same spot and it looked like they kept repeated the same damage animation each time.
The Clone Wars animation has come a long long way, the one area I think they still stumble occasionally is in large numbers of human background characters. Whether it is Mandalore or Onderon when we see multiple human background characters they often feel like Season one level animation instead of being at the same level as the rest of the show, which is terrific at this point.
The episode title has me wondering what it was referring to. Is it referring to Steela, Lux and Saw being the three front-runners for the leadership of the rebels? Was it referring to Steela and Ahsoka being the front-runners for Lux's feelings? Was it referring to the general population of Iziz being front-runners and supporting whoever they thought was going to win in the battle between the King and the rebels?
Finally we got a sneak peak at a new villain that we should see next week, the Droid General Kalani, a super tactical droid. He looks pretty awesome.
Front Runners gets a 7.0. Not a bad episode, lots of elements I really liked in this episode but it just didn't "wow" me. The funny thing is as I wrote this review my opinion of the episode improved as I remember just how much of it I enjoyed.
Direct Link to Watch Front Runners (5.03) on StarWars.com
Next Time on Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Soft War
It's like shooting droids in a barrel.