The latest episode of Clone Wars, "Sphere of Influence" is a tale of political intrigue that involves blockades, the taxation of trade routes, kidnappings, and all around fun.
The basic story revolves around the Pantorans (whom we last saw on the show on the episode "Trespass" from season 1) and the pressure the Trade Federation is exerting on them to leave the Republic and join the Separatists. They've blockaded the planet and the first act revolves around a pair of bounty hunters the Separatists have hired to kidnap the Pantoran chairman's daughters.
It's important to note that the Pantoran chairman is Baron Papanoida, who was portrayed by George Lucas in Revenge of the Sith. The model of the character was based on Lucas, and his children were based on his actual children.
With natural instincts of a parent kicking in, the good Baron takes matters into his own hands and launches his own investigation that puts him on Greedo's trail and takes him Tatooine. The natural instincts of a Jedi being what they are, Anakin and Ahsoka, take matters into their own hands and Ahsoka accompanies Senator Chu Chi to lead their own investigation aboard a Trade Federation ship blockading Pantora.
Though Ahsoka and Chu Chi's adventure is an interesting, well-animated, and revealed all of the bits of political intrigue I love so much, the episode really shined when it was focused on the Baron's own hunt for his daughter. The Baron was voiced by Corey Burton, and you could feel his voice dripping in Orson Welles. The press releases said he was channeling Welles in The Third Man, but I felt he was much more subdued than the animated and overly rationalizing Harry Lime. But the tone was perfect once I got used to the idea that George Lucas himself wasn't going to be voicing him.
His quest is linked up into the classic trilogy over and over again and in very great ways. Greedo was his daughters abductor and this leads him directly to Jabba's Palace and the Mos Eisley Cantina. The model of Jabba they use on this show is so stylized and fun to watch that I want to see much more Jabba now that they've hit their stride with the models. There's a classic shoot out in the cantina and everyone ends up reunited and the forces of good win.
My favorite moment in this entire episode was in the Mos Eisley Cantina, though. Jabba got a second cameo, but in an infinitely more subtle way that got a sharp giggle out of me. Behind the bar, if you look carefully, you'll see that Jabba is the bartender. But not the Jabba we all know and love. The bartender is the Jabba from the Marvel Comics adaptation of A New Hope:
It was an excellent moment designed to give us older fans a treat that doesn't get in the way of the episode.
As far as the technical aspects of the episode, the show animation keeps getting better and better. There was a moment in the Senate chambers where Chu Chi is giving her speech and he facial animation was, in a word, beautiful. Anakin's facial modeling has gotten much better, too. The lighting everywhere on Tatooine was superb. You could actually see and feel the dust in the air, and the recreation of classic trilogy sets was spot on. In fact, the lighting behind the bar in the cantina, rising up from the back, was pitch perfect.
I think this episode was a step up from last week and I can't wait for next week when we return to Mandalore.