By Christian Blauvelt, Hollywood.com Staff
If you've watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars since it's debut in 2008, you know that it's gotten better and better with every season. But this, the fifth year of the Lucasfilm Animation show, is really a breakthrough. Why? Well, look at it this way. Seasons three and four featured mature, expansive, character-driven story arcs centered on Darth Maul, the Nightsisters, a deadly military campaign on Umbara, and a Day of the Jackal-style Undercover Obi-Wan plot. These were all episodes that older Star Wars fans (and parents) could enjoy every bit as much as their kidsand probably more than their kids. But peppered in between these installments like a bit of candy-colored filler were episodes geared squarely at the Under 10 set that, let's just say, offered lesser returns. Unfortunately, these were episodes that usually focused on the droids. Stuff like R2-D2's day of beauty in season three or that weird magical frog that menaced the droids in season four. The biggest problem with these installments is that they segregated two of the franchise's most beloved characters in storylines that felt atonally childish compared to the sweeping episodes aired around them. What I and many fans had been hoping for was a concept that would integrate the droids more organically into the kind of taut, engaging storyline the series usually offers up. And that's just what "Secret Weapons" did.
Yep, folks, this is the droid-centered episode I've been waiting for. I'm not surprised, either, that it should be this one, because "Secret Weapons" was penned by one of the finest writers to lend his storytelling prowess to that Galaxy Far, Far Away: Brent Friedman, who last season penned the Obi-Wan Undercover arc and my all-time favorite episode of The Clone Wars, "The Box."
"Secret Weapons" had everything: a smart, sharp heist plot; bizarrely original alien characters; spectacular, truly three-dimensional, animation; and not only a natural integration of R2-D2 in the plot, but the remarkable achievement in characterization that was making him and his three fellow astromech droids distinct characters even though they're non-verbal. Bravo, Mr. Friedman.
"Secret Weapons" opened with the Clone Wars logo tinted blue in honor of Artoo, but possibly to show also that this would be a kid-friendly installment. Supervising Director Dave Filoni told me before season five's debut that he intended the red-tinted Clone Wars logo for the Darth Maul episodes last season to be partly in honor of Maul but partly a kind of "rating" indicator to parents that that would be a more mature, violent story.
The Jedi had intercepted a transmission from General Grievous. This time, though, the signal was scrambled, meaning that the Separatists had installed a massive new encoding matrix to scramble their communications from the Republic's prying ears across several sectors. Luckily, the Jedi had identified the Separatist dreadnaught carrying the encryption module. So they put Republic colonel Meebur Gascon in charge of leading four droidsand one droid piloton a heist mission to infiltrate that dreadnaught and steal the encryption module. Col. Gascon was a four inch-high snail-like creature. But mind what Yoda said, and don't judge Gascon by his size. He had been an accomplished military analyst for the Republic since the Battle of Geonosis. And he sounded like a tiny R. Lee Ermey. He would lead Artoo and three other astromechs on the mission.Of course, Star Wars always finds some comic relief to be necessary. So the five of them would be flown to the dreadnaught by a WAC pilot robot, who's kind of like the mechanical version of Petro from the previous Young Jedi Knights arc. He even kicked himself when simulating how he would fight the Separatists. And of course he thought himself superior to the astromechs because of the fact he's a biped and has some verbal ability, even if that verbal ability usually results in childish taunts like "The line starts behind me, mech." When I saw WAC, all I could think, though, is that he's just a glorified pit droid who should be servicing the podracers at the Boonta Eve Classic. I can just hear Watto during "Parts Upgrade" screen in the videogame Star Wars: Episode IRacer saying, "Ohhhh!! You want buy pit droid, no?"
Gascon led the four mechs (and WAC) to a Parwan mechanical engineer, Dr. Gubacher, for upgrades. I know everyone wants a plush Gungi from the Young Jedi Knights episodes, but I tell you, I will not be happy until I get a Parwan action figure. Especially an action figure of my favorite Parwan, Derrown, from last season. Help me Lucas Licensing, you're my only hope!
Dr. Gubacher, speaking in a mad-scientist German accent, which is interesting because Derrown only spoke in bleeps and bloops, gave Artoo enhanced rocket boosters. The little girlie pink astromech, QT-KT (Codenamed "Pinky"), got a mobile magnet that can attract anything metallic within seven meters, including mines. U9-C4 (Codename "Flattop") got a laser cutter with a recoil that packs quite a wallop. And M5-BZ didn't get something new put in, but rather something old taken outhis memory banks, to make room for the colonel's command center. Which was awesome A full starship-caliber bridge inside that little mech, complete with a captain's chair for Gascon WAC was upset that he didn't get any upgrade. That's because he's just the pilot.
NEXT: The mission begins! Should we call Gascon and the droids The Tiny Half-Dozen or the Inglourious Robots?[PAGEBREAK] To prove his resourcefulness to the colonel, WAC put their stolen Separatist shuttle on a collision course with the dreadnaught, when they finally set out into space. Not sure what he was trying to prove with that, since the dreadnaught immediately pulled them in with its tractor beam. Once onboard, the five droids (and Gascon, safe inside BZ) were led out by two Seppie battlebots. R2 and QT quickly zapped them both and allowed everyone to escape. They headed to the site of the encryption matrix. First, Flattop C4 had to dismantle the automatic security grid surrounding the site by using his cutting laser to slice through the main power line. Now they needed to distract the two super battledroids that blocked their path. This is where WAC proved surprisingly helpful! He used his powerful prevarication skills to work by telling them they'd need to hide in a closet while he initiated some kind of power surge. Not being the brightest droids in the Separatist fleetthough really, are there any bright droids in the Separatist fleet?they obliged.
Now they had a clear path to the module! The only problem was that BZ used the wrong arm to interface with an access panel and got friedthat's the kind of mistake that can happen when you've lost your memory. With one droid down, and the colonel's command center lost, the other 'bots despaired for the success of the mission. But Gascon would not be deterred. He said that he was chosen for this because of his "fearsome cunning," and perhaps also his size. They could still follow his plan and succeed. The droids demanded, though, that he stop using the weird nicknames to describe them. Or at least WAC did, since he'd tired of being called Cyclops because of his one eye. (Greek mythology is really popular in that Galaxy Far, Far Away?)
They proceeded into the final stretch of their mission. QT used her magnet to attract and collect all the swarm mines that flew around the module. Those would be handy for later. But just as R2 was about to fly up and grab the encryption matrix, the dreadnaught's tactical droid and his troops cornered them. Our heroes weren't going down without a fight, so R2 turned off the gravity, then flew toward the matrix, while C4 cut his way through several of their foes with his laser and QT fired the arsenal of mines she'd collected at them. That left only the enemy tactical droid standing. (If he's markings had been a little more ornate, I'd say it was Kalani from the Onderon arc.) Gascon distracted the tactical droid while R2 grabbed the matrix. That tactical bot got a good grip on Gascon, however, and decided to squeeze the life out of him. It'd be pretty easy. All the droid needed was one good hand to crush Gascon like an empty soda can. Luckily, at that very moment WAC turned the gravity back on and R2 landed with a thud right on the tactical droid, cleaving his nemesis' metallic head right off his shoulders. Mission accomplished! The droids had come to respect Gascon, and vice versa, with the colonel even agreeing to carry back the lifeless husk of BZ back to the ship for repair.
This was a fun, thrilling episode, and like the Young Jedi Knights arc before it, showed how much the Lucasfilm Animation team has evolved when trying to present more obviously kid-oriented storylines. Do you agree? Or are you guys just waiting for some more gritty Darth Maul action? See you next week!
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Image Credit: Lucasfilm]
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