Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Disappeared I & II (Season 6, Episodes 8-9)

Jar Jar Binks, superhero?
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 continuing. With that said, on to the Disappeared arc...

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The Disappeared arc ("The Disappeared" Part I & Part II) does not have a complex plot or character developments. It features Jar Jar Binks, which is ordinarily enough to doom it from the start. However, "The Disappeared" is a fun ride in the style of Indiana Jones. The arc uses Jar Jar well and even gives him some nice character moments. Visually, this episode is a treat and highlights how far animation techniques have progressed in this show. Ironically, I found myself enjoying this pair of episodes more than any other arc in Season 6.


The Galactic Senate receives a distress call from Queen Julia of Bardotta, who requests of Jar Jar Binks' help in solving the mystery of disappearing Bardottans. Jar Jar, along with Jedi Master Mace Windu, arrives on the planet, where it soon becomes clear that Jar Jar is romantically involved with the queen. The Queen Julia is soon abducted by Frangawl cultists who conduct ritual Force sacr. Jar Jar and Mace uncover their underground complex and rescue the prisoners but several Frangawls escape with the queen and flee to a moons. On the moon, Jar Jar and Mace fight through thugs in a marketplace to reach a sacrificial grounds, where they uncover Mother Talzin's plot to steal the Force essence of a Dagoyan Master to increase her own power in the Force. While Mace Windu fights Talzin, Jar Jar destroys the contraption designed to drain Force energy, which causes Talzin to wither away.


I've said before that although I don't hate Jar Jar Binks I do think the Prequel Trilogy horribly misused him. He was often used as a gag rather than as a character. In The Phantom Menace, he has a lot of screen time but contributes almost nothing to the actual story (Obi-Wan's disdain for Jar Jar certainly did not help). He only seems to help the heroes by accident, not because he takes a proactive stance or finds his courage. At his lowest moment in TPM, he surrenders to the battle droids rather than fight on for his friends. It's always hard for audiences to respect somebody who won't even try to defend himself or his friends. Moreover, his jokes often fell flat or were blandly immature.

Earlier episodes of The Clone Wars, including "Bombad Jedi" (Season 1; Episode 8), have done a better job of both making Jar Jar actually funny and giving him a proactive role in the story. The Disappeared arc takes this to the next level. In these episodes, Jar Jar Binks becomes a full character.

First, Jar Jar has a history, something we haven't seen aside from a vague reference in TPM that he had been exiled from the Gungan city for being clumsy. In Part I, we learn Queen Julia requests Jar Jar for the mission to Bardotta. While it's shocking enough that a galactic ruler would trust Jar Jar with such a mission, it's even more surprising that he seems to have developed a relationship with a character outside the Anakin, Padmé, C-3PO, and, arguably, Mace Windu. This immediately forces the audience to view Jar Jar slightly differently than we had in previous episodes.

Bow Chicka Wow Wow!
The episode takes this even further when Queen Julia calls Jar Jar "My Love." Jar Jar was romantically involved with a hot alien queen! The episode wisely does not reveal too much of this backstory (because it could get ridiculous quite quickly). However, even these bits hint at a fascinating and potentially hilarious story of interstellar romance. The episode plays upon this in funny - and even risqué - ways. When Mace Windu asks Jar Jar what he was doing the previous night, Jar Jar responds, "Doing? Meesa love the Queen Julia. What's the matter with dat?" I burst out laughing at the implicit double entendre. This setup gives Jar Jar's character more depth and manages to be humorous at the same time!

The Disappeared arc shows Jar Jar taking a proactive role in the story. He's not a peripheral gag machine but rather becomes a genuine hero. When Mace Windu disturbs his meeting with Queen Julia, Jar Jar gets upset and admonishes him. It is Jar Jar, not Mace Windu, who reassures the Bardottan council. In Part II, Jar Jar is the one who manages to keep track the queen, even showing thoughtfulness as he tries to deduce where her captors will take her next. Soon after Jar Jar engages in some klutzy behavior that activates war droids, but then defeats them by shooting a rather large gun that fell from one of the droids. He later uses the same gun to destroy Talzin's sacrificial shrine.

There are dozens of smiler moments in which we see Jar Jar not merely as a clumsy victim of fate, but a character who takes action to protect himself and his friends. Nobody will ever mistake Jar Jar for Rambo, even with his massive gun and his romance with the queen, but he's clearly an integral part of the story. More importantly, he's suddenly a character I can begin to respect.
Jar Jar actually fighting...

The writers seem very conscious of how they've improved upon the character because the other characters seem to treat Jar Jar like more than a semi-sentient dog. Of course, Queen Julia's romantic interest in Jar Jar helps elevate the character. The Bardottan council trusts Jar Jar's promises and takes his advice. Mace Windu slowly begins to realize Jar Jar's value and compliments him when he contributes to the mission (by the way, Mace Windu's stoicism makes for a great contrast with Jar Jar's clumsiness). The other characters' respect feels entirely natural because we as the audience are also beginning to respect Jar Jar more.

Finally, Jar Jar is genuinely funny in this arc. When introducing Mace Windu, he calls the Jedi his "loyal helper." When the Frangawls try to drain his Force essence, Jar Jar responds, "Meesa not big with the Force." The fight scenes are well choreographed to combine both humor and excitement. I laughed out loud several times during this arc (an I am several times older than this show's target demographic). In short, if we saw this Jar Jar on screen in 1999, I suspect the backlash against the character would have been much less.


Visually, the Disappeared arc is some of the best work The Clone Wars team has ever done. The lighting effects are absolutely stunning, from the creepy tunnels of the Frangawl crypts to the starlit markets on the moon. I'm typically not somebody who is impressed with animation, but found myself unable to tear my eyes away from the screen during this arc. Rather than talk about it any further, I am simply posting larger pictures throughout this review.

Beautiful lighting effects!
This episode features some of Kevin Kiner's best music throughout the entire series. The odd, alien chanting really adds to the atmosphere throughout the episode. The soundtrack subtly interacts with key elements of the plot and visuals. For example, during Mace and Jar Jar's battle with the droids, the music rises whenever Jar Jar knocks down another droid. It could just be a coincidence, but it was a nice touch.

Finally, this arc demonstrates how Star Wars should do homages. The Clone Wars has done several homages, to Godzilla in "The Zillo Beast" (Season 2; Episode 18) to the Godfather in "Evil Plans" (Season 3; Episode 8). Yet, these have tended to be too heavy-handed because they directly mimic plot points and visual imagery from the source material. Homages work best when they capture the feel and spirit of the source material in such a way that the source is recognizable but not distracting.

In "The Disappeared" Part I, the Frangawl cult clearly resembled the Thuggee cult in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There was also an homage in the market chase scene on the Bardottan moon, similar to how the Nazis avoid Indiana Jones in the streets of Cairo in Raiders of the Ark. Finally, the last scene shows Mace, Jar Jar, and Queen Julia riding off into the horizon in the same way the heroes did in The Last Crusade. These scenes all seemed to fit within the Star Wars universe and serve the story, but also managed to elicit recognition from viewers familiar with the Indiana Jones films. Perhaps more importantly, the arc manages to balance humor with adventure, which is the hallmark of the original Indiana Jones Trilogy. That is perhaps the greatest homage of all.
The Thuggee - er, Frangawl - cultists

I also detected a possible homage in Mother Talzin's fate. Mother Talzin was a witch who had seemed poised to open a second front in the Clone Wars but by this arc seems doomed to trying to dominate a backwards world seemed. This mirrors the fate of Saruman in The Return of the King, a wizard who had grand ambitions but lowers himself to lording over the Shire. Moreover, like Saruman, when Talzin dies she seems to simply dissolve away into ashes. I don't know if The Lord of the Rings was a direct inspiration for this scene, but somehow it seems fitting for Talzin.


"The Disappeared" arc is certainly not the most important story arc in The Clone Wars. It's not Star Wars storytelling at its greatest. However, like Indiana Jones, it manages to be both a fun adventure and humorous. Jar Jar becomes a subtly more interesting character, one I am finally beginning to respect. I also found Mother Talzin's defeat to be surprisingly satisfying. Most important of all, I was entertained.

Rating: 4.5/5 Jar Jar heads

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of this episode. I think this is kind of a poor end for Mother Talzin but it leaves room for her to return in other media.