Friday, March 14, 2014

Mitochondria in Midi-chlorian Cosplay

A quick glance through the list of episodes for Star Wars: The Clone Wars reveals the fact that the group of writers working on the show in the first seasons is completely different from the group working in the latter seasons. The show went from having writers like Paul Dini, Ben Edlund, Melinda Hsu, and Drew Z. Greenberg to featuring many consecutive episodes by Katie Lucas, George's daughter. Unsurprisingly, this correlates with a decrease in writing quality even as the budget for cgi increased. One might say the nepotism, along with the obvious heavy hand of the executive producer George Lucas himself in the writing room, are things we can look at in the final season as the last dregs of an era for a studio now controlled by Disney. Except Disney also owns Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D which cruises at an even trajectory of mediocrity under the stewardship of Jed Whedon and his wife.

But while the final season of Clone Wars is not the series at its best, it's not really bad, certainly not as bad as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

The first arc, written by Katie Lucas, is rather intriguingly cruel (or muddled), beginning with an episode where a clone executes a Jedi when his "Order 66" switch goes off prematurely. The efforts of another clone, Fives, to uncover the truth behind his friend's psychotic turn are portrayed in the subsequent two episodes as a gentle adventure with an amusing medical droid companion. The grim final episode of the arc sees Fives losing his mind as he finds himself alone possessing the truth, hunted by his friends. It's nice, though it would have been better without so many plot holes, the most disappointing of which is that Shaak Ti, the lovely background Jedi from the movies, is portrayed in her one major role in the series as kind of a sucker.

One wonders how this clone and medical droid make so much progress uncovering the truth right under the oblivious nose of a supposed Jedi Master.

Maybe the best written arc of the season is the continuation of the season two homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, "Senate Spy", written by Melinda Hsu--though this arc was written by Christian Taylor. It featurs the return of Padme's former love, Clovis, who was in the Claude Rains role originally, though he looks more like Cary Grant.

Here he and Padme are caught up in a conspiracy involving a planet of bankers which serves both the Republic and the Separatists. Tim Curry reprises his role as Palpatine and improves on the more uniformly sinister performance he gives in the previous season by seeming at times genuinely wise and good natured--a much more truly sinister villain.

There's also a lot of relationship stuff between Padme and Anakin, better written of course than in the prequels. Not because the dialogue is cleverer, but because it feels more like it was written by one person rather than like a collage of samples from various drafts and pinch hitters.

This arc is followed by an arc about Jar Jar Binks that's every bit as bad as you might imagine. I see no reason to discuss it further except to say I was surprised they didn't try harder given the preconceptions they were obviously working against. I can't believe I watched it.

The final arc, about Yoda travelling with R2D2 to three remote worlds to investigate the deceased Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas' role in the instigation of the Clone Wars, is credited to Christian Taylor but feels much more like George Lucas. Particularly the first episode of the arc which features the voice of guest star Liam Neeson, reprising his role as Qui-Gon. The arc ties up a point awkwardly and quickly mentioned in Episode III about how Yoda learned to preserve consciousness and identity after death. This, apparently, is why Qui-Gon didn't vanish the way Obi-Wan and Yoda did when they died in the original trilogy and it also explains why Vader seemed surprised when Obi-Wan left behind just his clothes and lightsabre--the whole blue ghost routine was new in the Jedi repertoire.

Unfortunately, the arc demonstrates how the people working on Clone Wars, including George Lucas, really didn't understand Yoda as he is in Empire Strikes Back. Although Yoda does leave his lightsabre pointedly behind on one of his trials, a part where he must face both the temptation of war and the temptation of serenity rather blatantly shows the level of understanding the writers have for the two concepts--the temptation of war is a shadowy version of Yoda that wrestles with him, the temptation of serenity is a vision of all of Yoda's deceased friends alive again and his enemy, Dooku, rejoined with the Jedi in a peaceful temple courtyard scene. Yoda seems happy before rejecting it as a lie.

The confrontation with war as a temptation is completely abstract and actually doesn't say anything about what's bad about choosing to go to war. The confrontation with serenity more concretely argues for the danger of lying to oneself and ignoring a real threat.

This kind of fits with the fact that the show was at its best when in raw, inventive, adventure serial mode.

Twitter Sonnet #605

Bleached cornflower necks scrape the fragile plough.
Combing though the soft pink hair goes too far.
White navies wait frozen for the red scow.
Hungry, screaming gulls defeat the white car.
Sepulchral Barnes and Nobles serve frail stone.
Flying dogs sing for the plastic clothespin.
Unclipped clothes recover the laundry bone.
Sleepy shark veins get lost in the false fin.
Mediaeval ice skates crack time's cookie.
A gnomish sky wallows through the fish tank.
Unfiltered food overwhelms a rookie.
Passion's string bunches in the bamboo bank.
Eskimo gibbons raise the igloo roof.
Put your toe in the milk of human hoof.

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