This premiere is a bookend on either side of one of my favorite episodes from Season 1 entitled "Rookies". Rookies tells the tale of a new batch of shiny clones, fresh out of their training and guarding the Rishi Outpost, a listening station designed to prevent a Separatist attack on Kamino, where we all know that Clones are grown and trained.
The first episode of the premiere is called "Clone Cadets" and follows these clones during their training. Although they're reluctant heroes in "Rookies", in this episode they all get wiped out in every training simulation and have no idea how to work together. Jedi Master Shaak Tii and a pair of Bounty Hunters in charge of their training argue about what to do with them. The most likely scenario for them is to flunk out with the rest of the "bad batchers" and join the maintenance clones, headed up by 99. 99 is the hunchbacked clone with flayed skin and a heart of gold. An Arc trooper named Colt shows up and oversees the final stage of their training and it's a very cool thing to see.
Though I'll skip the details since you'll want to see for yourself, 99 encourages this group to work as a team and they pass their training, which is an obvious conclusion if you've seen "Rookies"
This half of the premiere was very fun to watch, but not terribly substantive. It does have a great heart and soul with the 99 character though, who within his first scene impressed me as a very 'Gunga Din' sort of character. If you've ever watched that movie, that pretty much gives away what's in store for him, but it's worth it. It's interesting to see the troopers train and get an official sense of what goes on during that process, but ultimately, this is just a set up for the second episode in the arc, "Arc Troopers".
"Arc Troopers" picks up where season one's "Rookies" left off, with the Separatists on their merry way to invade Kamino and disrupt the flow of clones to the Grand Army of Republic. As it turns out, Ventress has been laying in wait beneath the oceans of Kamino with an amphibious strike force and Grievous' attack was a feint to distract from her assault.
Though Obi-Wan discovers the true assault in the nick of time, Ventress and Grievous are able to do some serious damage and are on their way to steal Jango's DNA so they can disrupt production of Clones for the Empire and perhaps make their own army. Will the Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Shaak Tii reposition their forces (with the help of the "Rookies", 99, and a whole bunch of young clones (with Daniel Logan reprising his role as their voice)) in time to deflect the massive strike force? Or will the Separatists win out at the end?
I'll leave the episode for you to watch, but let me make this clear. Some might argue that this is a Clone episode, between the great stuff 99 is doing and the stuff the remaining "Rookies" do, this is an episode full of great action moments.
But make no mistake: This is Ventress' episode.
She shines in this episode in a way I didn't think she could or would. Even with her best moment deleted, she still drips with lethal sexuality and it's scary. She got to face off in an epic lightsaber duel with Anakin, though I'd almost like to have seen her face off with Shaak Tii, who's animation in this episode is beyond fluid and gorgeous. (There was a moment where Shaak Tii was talking on a communicator and deflecting laser bolts all at the same time that I must have rewound and watched again 5 times. It was so graceful and bad ass... I just can't wait for you all to see it.)
At the end of the day though, I really can't tell what my favorite parts of these episodes were, Ventress blossoming as a villain, or 99's arc. Both are excellent, both are well worth your time.
Though the attack on Kamino is ultimately repelled, Grievous and Ventress make damn sure the Republic forces pay a price for the assault.
As far as the technical achievement of these episodes, I don't think any fan could be happier. Season three is a quantum leap forward in look and animation. These guys have nailed the story element since day one (I've been rewatching Season 1, and the animation is a little rubbery and the backgrounds a little flat, but the stories are still top notch), but now the animation, painted models, lighting, effects, backgrounds, everything... It's all put together to make the best looking episodes we've ever seen. And this is the beginning of this season. I can't even imagine what is in store for us.
I want to point out, too, that you need to be watching this in HD on the biggest TV possible. Re-watching those Blu-rays and seeing this premiere at Lucasfilm have really opened my eyes to the quality of the animation. Every frame is a painting I'd hang on a wall. In a good enough quality and size, you really can see the brush strokes on the models and in the backgrounds.
I'm glad we have Clone Wars. It just keeps getting better.