Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Clovis arc (Season 6, Episodes 5-7), Part II

The most interesting politician in Star Wars
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Clovis arc...

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The Clone Wars has had a mixed history with telling stories about politics, but the Clovis arc ("An Old Friend", "Rise of Clovis", and "Crisis at the Heart"; Season 6, Episodes 5-7) finally gets it right. While stories about intergalactic politics will never be the most popular amongst fans, the political decisions in this arc actually seem to matter. More importantly, this arc keeps the focus where it should be: on the characters, particularly Clovis. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé get some much needed development. We also get a few fun chase scenes with everybody's tenth-favorite bounty hunter, Embo.

I split the review into two parts. Part I was posted yesterday; Part II is below...


The relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala is less about selfless love than about fulfilling their own needs. Anakin views Padmé as the idealized woman (upon meeting her, he asks, "Are you an angel?"). He needs a mother-figure, especially the Jedi forced him to leave his mother - the only woman with whom he had a close relationship - on Tatooine. When Shmi was killed by the Tusken Raiders, Padmé suddenly became the only available substitute for Anakin's mother. In mourning for his mother, Anakin becomes obsessed with his fear of losing that mother-figure a second time. In Revenge of the Sith, he views his power and control, rather than trust in his friends, as the only viable means to preventing Padmé's death.

Padmé is usually seen as the victim, but she brings her own baggage into the relationship. As made clear in the AOTC deleted scene mentioned above, Padmé is always in search of the a charitable cause. She places too much faith in the fundamental goodness of people, even to the point of naiveté. She does not suspect her former senator, Chancellor Palpatine, until much too late. She pursues peace with the Separatists without preparing for the risk of sabotage ("Heroes on Both Sides"). In the case of Anakin, she overlooks his darker side, even after he admits that he killed a tribe of Tuskens. She doesn't see a murderer, she sees a charity case. While she is ultimately proven correct in Return of the Jedi that Anakin still has good within him, her willingness to trust makes her unprepared for both the downfall of the Republic and of her marriage.
Clearly, they need couples counseling...

It would probably be unfair to say that Anakin and Padmé have an abusive relationship, but they do have an unhealthily dependent one. It is apparently not a happy marriage, save for a few brief moments. In Revenge of the Sith, when Padmé tells Anakin that she's pregnant, for a brief moment Anakin looks angry and Padmé looks terrified. Later, Padmé dismisses Anakin's fears about her death despite knowing that he had similar premonitions about his mother's feather. While they both need each other, they do not seem able to give themselves over to the other.

In Clovis' earlier appearance ("Senate Spy", 2:4), the potential love triangle between Padmé, Anakin, and Clovis was played for laughs as it was clear Padmé remained loyal to Anakin. In this arc, Anakin is visibly jealous (the fortune cookie is, appropriately enough, "Jealousy is the path to chaos"). Granted, the plot uses a few contrivances to elicit Anakin's jealousy, including a scene in which Anakin walks in just as Clovis tries to kiss Padmé. Anakin furiously attacks Clovis and is only stopped when Padmé's guards enter the room.

Despite the obvious and almost ridiculous contrivance, this scene mostly works because it has consequences. First, it is clear that Clovis has been injured. He is visibly bruised and in a later scene is examined by a medical droid. In other words, this is not cartoon violence where characters survive severe beatings unscathed. The episode makes clear that Anakin behaved improperly. More importantly, the incident sours Anakin and Padmé's relationship. She tells Anakin, "This marriage is not a marriage, Anakin, if there isn't any trust." One gets the impression that their relationship will never be the same. Moreover, it takes Anakin's saving Padmé's life in the final scenes of the arc to get the two to reconcile. However, the Padmé does not just forgive and forget, which helps explain some of the darkness shrouding their relationship in Revenge of the Sith.


If the episode had a major weakness, it's the reliance on the "Sidious the Manipulator" trope. I love Darth Sidious/Palpatine as a villain, but both the Prequels and The Clone Wars overused him. It seems that every single event of political significance happened because of him or at his urging. It's a wonder that he has time to go to the bathroom, much less run a galactic government. Palpatine's scheming in Attack of the Clones is so convoluted that many viewers simply didn't understand what was happening or why (I'd argue we only received a full explanation in 2012 with the publication of Darth Plagueis). As a rule, as a plot becomes more complicated, there are more points at which it could possibly fail. The Skeptical Statistician blog actually counted the number of times in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine's plan requires audiences to suspend disbelief and compares it to Palpatine's plan in Return of the Jedi (see chart below). Far from making Palpatine/Sidious look like a brilliant politician, it takes what could have been an interesting character and reduces him to a plot contrivance.

From the Skeptical Statistician
The Clovis arc begins and ends with Palpatine/Sidious plots. We see that Sidious hired Embo to shoot at Clovis. For what reason? It's not clear. Sidious seems to consider Embo's mission a success even though he fails to kill Clovis. Apparently, the goal was to drive them off Scipio and away from the Banking Clan Main Vault. But wouldn't they have left soon anyways to return to Coruscant? It would have made much more sense if the Muuns had hired Embo because they did have an incentive to thwart the corruption investigation. Later in the arc, Sidious (through Dooku) manipulates Clovis, whose downfall eventually gives the Republic an excuse to nationalize the banks. Yet again, there are far too many points at which Sidious' plan could have fallen apart. Even if he was assured that the Republic Senate and Separatist Parliament would vote to confirm Clovis' appointment, it's less likely that he could have predicted Clovis' every move, including his untimely sacrifice. In an arc that had otherwise subtle character moments and plot twists, I just didn't think this necessary.

There's also a moment that's out of character for Palpatine. After he announces the nationalization of the banks, he enthusiastically cheers, "Long live the banks!" Palpatine at this point is very old and has always acted as an elderly statesman. Indeed, a key part of Sidious' plot was to hide behind the mask of a kindly old man. Ian McDiarmid captured this brilliantly in Attack of the Clones, where Palpatine looks tired but firm as he accepts emergency powers.  He has never publicly expressed strong emotions, much less lead a chant. I can't tell if this is simply bad voice acting (I'm not a fan of Tim Curry's Palpatine voice, especially when compared to Ian Abercrombie's) or bad writing. It doesn't undermine the larger story but was an unforced error.


The Clovis arc is a solid if not terribly exciting set of episodes. Clovis became the most fully realized politician in Star Wars. We also saw some necessary development of Padmé and Anakin's relationship. The arc relied a bit too much on the "Sidious the Manipulator" trope but otherwise had some incredibly adult storytelling for a "kid's show."

Rating: 3.5/5 Embo hats

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