From the start, “Old Friends Not Forgotten” signals noteable differences from the tone of the show as usual. There’s a dark green, basic LUCASARTS intro title card. On my screener, it looked specifically, intentionally, low-rez. The Star Wars: The Clone Wars logo appears, but instead of the bright yellow text, it’s in blood red. There’s no more nonsensical quote–just a very direct, very specific “Part I.” There’s the visual connection to The Mandalorian here. There’s the news that Rosario Dawson has been picked to be the live-action version of Ahsoka, who will appear in that show next season–allegedly. There’s also the work the episode/series need to do to connect it to Episode III, as well as Star Wars Rebels–as well as the various comics told about this specific point in the Star Wars Universe. The intro suggests that there’s no more playing around. We all know that these final episodes have some work to do: it has to make all remaining threads work to fill in these gaps within this moment in Star Wars (even though, gap-filling is not exactly the franchise’s best idea). But it also needs to assert itself, to end on a stronger and definitive note that the last two arcs arguably failed to do.
And yet, the more things change, the more things same the same, which seems to be the theme of this episode (and even implied by the episode’s title). One of the issues with Clone Wars is that it sort of... “smarms” its way through some of its more questionable narrative points, which it does in the opening. Sure, Anakin is smarmy on purpose here–that’s the nature of his character, utilized here as a distraction–but it also belies belief that these droids–these machines of all shapes and sizes and builds–couldn’t detect the sheer number of clones underneath the bridge (if it were a few clones I could buy it, but there was suddenly a whole battalion underneath them). The Clone Wars most intense moments are when it brings little nonsense into its visceral battles, of soldiers fighting, dying, prevailing, retreating, and otherwise performing sometimes miracles on the field. When it gets “smarmy” within all that, particularly in the narrative but also with its Jedi cracking wise, it really takes the audience out of the grueling intensity of the moment. And still, I don’t think Anakin’s plan was all that clever; it was only convenient that it even worked. There was nothing to suggest the tactical droid ought to emerge upon Anakin’s fake surrender, nor is it clear why, after taking him out, the massive droid army completely fell.
At the very least, there’s a reason to showcase Anakin’s unchecked ego early on. It’s to shut it down immediately when Ahsoka appears on the hologram. Stammering, stuttering, and a bit clumsy, Anakin is almost rendered speechless when he sees her as a transparent image; but when the two actually reunite, the cool, heartwarming camaraderie is palpable, rising above any and all awkwardness of the past. Well, most of it. The uneasiness bubbles tantalizingly slowly to the surface when Ahsoka walks among the formation of soldiers Rex prepared for her, her face markings painted on their helmets. It’s meant as a gesture of good-will, but all Ahsoka can see is her face on instruments of war, times one hundred. The subtext here becomes text when she and Obi-Wan argue over the next course of action, as a siege on Coruscant occurs at the same time for her request to help her and Bo-Katan re-take Mandalore and capture Maul. It’s a clunky argument. Obi-Wan not entertaining any part of Ahsoka’s request at first is pretty cold, but that Ahsoka doesn’t even take a certain amount of understanding to the news is pretty cold on her part as well (especially since she just spent so much time with two sisters on Coruscant who were the victims of war’s collateral damage). Ahsoka claims Obi-Wan is playing politics and favoritism; when Obi-Wan says she isn’t being fair, Ahsoka responds “I’m not trying to be,” and, ya’ll, it just comes off petty, manipulative, and nonsensical. Ashley Eckstein sells it as best she can but the dialogue has nothing here to really work with. Anakin offers a compromise: send Rex and Ahsoka, with a squad, out to Mandalore, while he and Obi-Wan deal with Grievous’s assault on Coruscant (thus explaining where she and Rex were during Episode III). It’s a good compromise, but it’s a little odd it wasn’t considered sooner. At the very least, Anakin re-gifts Ahsoka with dual lightsabers, making all that previous awkwardness moot, re-establishing their base friendship despite everything. It’s a great moment, made even more notable since it’s (as far as I can surmise) the last time she will see him before he becomes Darth Vader.
And so Ahsoka, Bo-Katan, Rex, and a squad of clone soldiers head off to Mandalore, an engage in a massive battle which has the opposite energy and rhythms of the opening battle. The latter began with a losing fight that turned into a winning one; the former begins ostensibly as a winning fight–I can’t be the only one who felt their blood pumping at the epic, incredible sight of Ahsoka destroying enemy ships, saving comrades, and landing on that Mandalorian platform, lightsabers out, explosions behind her–before transforming into a losing one. At the center of those turnabouts are Jedi. Anakin’s confident stroll upon a sky-lit, open air, single-direction bridge, fooling the droids and unleashing his men contrasts strongly to Ahsoka’s reluctant traipse into the darkness-filled, covered, maze-like tunnels, only for her men to be fooled by and freshly unleashed Maul. It doesn’t excuse the opening’s more shaky, narrative choices, but it’s at least clear why that opening exists as it does. “Old Friends Not Forgotten” is off to a strong start, the first episode of this final season that was created from (relative) scratch. Hopefully they can stick the landing as well as Ahsoka did.
- The frequency that Ahsoka contacts Anakin on is also known by Saw Gerrera. I’m not sure what this means or what purpose it has, other than a cool reference.
- Gar Saxon is in this episode, who you may remember from Star Wars Rebels. Rook Kast makes a cameo, who worked with Saxon to free Maul from prison in the comics after the Sith captured him. Filoni and his team are working overtime to make all these loose franchise elements fit together. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it seems to be satisfying most fans!