“The Shadow Warrior” is set on Naboo and details the manipulations of the Gungans on the part of the Separatists in the hopes that the Gungan Army will march on Theed against the Naboo.
There is a lot to like in this episode that managed enough to overpower the fact that the story went by far too quickly, too quickly to give it a satisfying climax.
In the first act, we learn that the Gungan Boss (who looks strikingly similar to Jar Jar) is under some kind of mind control (it doesn’t matter what kind) and is going along with the Separatist plan. The plot is discovered, Anakin and Padme bring him to his senses, but before he can rescind his orders he’s stabbed by the Gungan traitor (whose name is startlingly similar to the evil Cardinal in The Three Musketeers). With no other options and the Gungans ready to march on the former commands of their leader, Jar Jar is forced to take the mantle of the king and handle negotiations with the likes of General Grievous.
Last week, I mentioned that this story line could easily be compared to Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha and if anyone denies that it was an inspiration you could easily call them a liar. Kagemusha is about the double of a feudal lord who is forced into service after he’s been wounded so his enemies don’t know he’s been killed. It’s a much richer, deeper story though, where the shadow warrior struggles to find his place in the world and is eventually cast out, despite his service. It’s a heartbreaking film and has one of the most gut-wrenching endings I’ve seen in a Kurosawa film. Wisely, the makers of The Clone Wars only take the premise from the film and infuse it with an energy uniquely Star Wars. There is so much homage to the films in these episodes it was fantastic.
First, it was great seeing classic Episode 1 sets and music on this show. Whatever anyone might say about The Phantom Menace, the musical cues leading into Otoh Gunga and the reveal of the underwater city are nothing short of breathtaking and seeing wisps of it animated on the show was exciting. There are a lot of fans who seem to think that The Phantom Menace was irrelevant but, in my opinion, I just don’t think they’ve thought it through and episodes like “The Shadow Warrior” help tie the importance of that film into the context of the greater saga. This is where it all began and even Dooku admits as much, saying that the Sith have their hands in everything.
Dooku was another excellent addition to the episode and his fight with Anakin was fantastic. There were hints of the fight with Yoda in Attack of the Clones, there were specific sounds and motions from that fight incorporated here, but there was also a healthy dose of The Empire Strikes Back. Dooku has objects floating around Anakin’s head, distracting him from the fight, in the same way Anakin later does to Luke on Cloud City. In classic Clone Wars fashion, though, the fight was amped up times four because there were four Magna Droids present, helping Dooku make short work of Anakin.
There is one part of the episode that I think some fans of General Grievous might take issue with, and that’s how quickly the Gungans make short work of General Grievous in capturing. It isn’t without sacrifice though and it literally takes an entire army against Grievous to take him down. Whatever anyone might say about the story content and implications of the scene, it was beautifully rendered. The storms gathering in the horizon and flashes of lightning were expertly put together and it makes sense, too. Using weather to enhance the mood of a scene is particularly Kurosawa-esque, and it’s no surprise they used it here. For a live action director, Kurosawa directed the weather the same way he’d direct an actor.
I’m also glad to see that Tarpals, a Captain in Phantom Menace and a General by this time, is given his due. I’ve always liked him as a side-character as much as, say, Nien Nunb or Admiral Ackbar. He had some great moments in Phantom Menace and he’s given a great scene in this episode that is worthy of him. I don’t want to say too much about the scene in case you haven’t seen the episode, but you’ll know it when you see it.
My biggest problem with this episode is that I could have seen it extended and the themes from the source material better explored. I felt the denouement came too easily. Though I do love the idea that Palpatine is using his own pieces on both sides, Anakin and Grievous, against each other and as bargaining chips, I though it ended far too swiftly. I honestly thought that when Palpatine proposed the trade of captives we were seeing a foreshadowing of the next episode. That it was resolved in a scene and a half was a little disappointing, but then I have to remind myself how much they’re really accomplishing in a 22 minute show.
All in all, this is an episode I wouldn’t hesitate to watch again. Top tier? Maybe not as much. Great TV? Definitely.
Next week, it looks like we’re getting Gulliver’s Travels by way of Willow starring Artoo and Threepio. I’m excited.