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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled An action-rich episode of iStar Wars: The Clone Wars /isacrifices character for excitement
Image: Disney (Disney Plus Press Site)
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There isn’t a lot to delve into concerning this part of the Bad Batch story arc. Once it became clear that these supposedly reckless, modified clones were actually not all that reckless and that, despite some of the more aggressive ideas, Clone Force 99 was more or less on the same page as Anakin and Rex, this early batch of episodes would mostly focus on watching this team kick ass through all sorts of tight spots and clanker assaults. The emphasis and analysis then would mostly focus on how the action is portrayed, how visually impressive this unsanctioned assault looks on screen. “The Bad Batch” was a great opportunity to get re-acclimated to the show’s swooshing, rotating camera, which is always a treat. “A Distant Echo” was less so, as the camera work couldn’t hide the wonkier, clumsier behavior–or non-behavior–of the various enemy droids. “On The Wings Of Keeradaks,” though? Now this episode is a treat.

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Bosco Ng has been part of the director rotation for most, if not all, of the animated Star Wars shows in some capacity, but he and other notable directors (Stewart Lee, Giancarlo Volpe, and others) don’t really get a chance to let their more expansive, creative efforts fly (mostly due to wonky narratives that take place in bland gray/white corridors). Here, with the massive waves of droids coming at our heroes and the wild locales that they have to work through to fight/escape them, Ng really gets to stretch the dynamics of the visuals. There’s the great rotating, flowing camera as usual (mostly regulated to the second half of the episode, which I’ll get to), but first ten minutes are mostly static, wide and medium shots to establish the scale of their obstacles, cut with hard, deep close-ups to establish the near misses, escapes, and claustrophobic tunnels they’re going through. It’s filmed like a large scaled battle from the movies instead of the specific, in-house style of the show, which is a great transition.

The visual acumen on display is great to help push past some of the more eye-rolling contrivances of the story, which has also been The Clone Wars’ weaknesses. Tech “recording” the natives’ call to the winged creatures was a bit too convenient (that he records everything is not enough of an explanation unless it was a common bit the arc refers to), but at least the visuals and over-the-top action around it made up for it. Anakin and all the clones manage to jump on these winged beasts for a sharply realized flying/fighting sequence (in which we also learn that some of the enemy droids can fly), but it abruptly ends? They’re being chased by the clankers, one crashes into a cliffside, the remaining follow them, but suddenly the team is safely landing in the native village sans pursuing droids? I watched that scene a few times and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “On The Wings Of Keeradaks” needed to make space for the following scene, but they just... dropped the chase. It’s clumsy.

Illustration for article titled An action-rich episode of iStar Wars: The Clone Wars /isacrifices character for excitement
Image: Disney (Disney Plus Press Site)

Not that the following scene is much better. The natives are too much of a crutch, a population that lived in peace until all these hostilities arrived at their home, who way too easily decide to help and fight the droids. I personally don’t think Rex’s speech and showcasing of Echo’s state works enough to convince that entire civilization to join them, either—mainly because we know so little about them and they don’t strike me as a community that would, conceptually, understand what exactly happened, or even care to the point that they’d be willing to die for them. (Rex doesn’t make the case that the Techno-Union would threaten them either). But they join up anyway, and we do get a section of The Clone Wars at its best: an all-out war. It’s fast, chaotic, nutty, like some of the show’s best large-scale battle sequences, and the addition of the large balloon-like walkers add to the insanity. Anakin taking one out so easily is par for the course for his arrogant, self-assured self, but watching Rex and the Bad Batch take out the second one was its own fun delight. “On The Wings” doesn’t do much in the interpersonal area, and in some ways, the characterizations are pretty abysmal, but the animation and direction is top-notch, an exciting twenty-two minutes that’s enjoyable on its own.

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Stray observations

  • That “decimator” was a strange device. I like that it could rip through the doors fairly quickly but it’s Telsa-esque electric tentacles was bizarre. It’s hard to gauge it’s danger when we’ve never seen in action before.
  • I’m a little wary of the fact that Echo not only seemed to have recovered so quickly after having been through hell, but also able to participate so significantly in the final battle. He ends the episode in an unsure mental place after Rex mentions it’ll be like old times, which comes off weirdly tone-deaf... I mean, the state of Echo very much implies things can never be the same. so there may be more to his specific story coming (no, I didn’t watch the unfinished versions of these episodes).
  • During the battle in the native village, there’s a brutal shot where a villager goes down, and a droid walks up to him and shoots him point blank. It’s a brutal image, and while The Clone Wars has been willing to go to some dark places in its run, I don’t think I’ve seen the show even has shown a killing so directly.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.

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