Thursday, March 13, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Yoda arc (Season 6, Episodes 10-13)

Yoda, in touch with nature
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 Yoda arc...

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I know many fans are already calling the Yoda arc - "The Lost One", "Voices", "Destiny", and "Sacrifice" (Season 6; Episodes 10-13) - one of the most important stories of The Clone Wars. For me, it seems a case of style over substance. I get the sense that The Clone Wars team wanted us to believe that these episodes explained key aspects of Yoda's character and the Force, but there were just too many plot holes and questionable choices for me to become fully invested. However, ignoring the story, the episode features some interesting abstract imagery and symbolism, as well as some innovative ways to allow viewers to see fan-favorite characters one last time.

SUMMARY

Master Plo Koon finds the remains of Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas' lightsaber in a wrecked shuttlecraft. Remembering that Sifo-Dyas ordered the creation of the Clone Army, the Jedi Council investigates by sending Obi-Wan and Anakin to the homeworld of the Pyke Syndicate to find one of former Chancellor Valorum's aides who had accompanied Sifo-Dyas on his last mission. However, Count Dooku kills the aide. After Dooku escapes, the Jedi return, but Master Yoda begins hearing the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn. When the other Jedi cannot hear the voice, they send him to a medical facility for examination. Yoda escapes and goes to a nebula rich in the Force for answers. He lands on a planet, where he is greeted by Force spirits. Yoda undergoes several trials and is then told that beings can survive in the Force after death. He is told that his last trial awaits on the Sith homeworld of Moraband. On Coruscant, Darths Sidious and Tyranus attempt to influence Yoda through the Force, but Yoda overcomes the Dark Side trials there. He then returns to the Jedi Temple and suggests that there is an alternative to war.

A WARNING

Yoda could have prevented all of this...
As mentioned above, I thought there were many problems with the plot in this arc. I will list several questions and why they bother me so much. However, before I continue let me make three important points.

First, I love Yoda. I have two versions of Sideshow Yoda figures sitting on my desk, as well as the Dagobah hut. Moreover, I think The Clone Wars has generally done right by him. Unlike the Prequel movies, which tended to focus on Yoda's fighting prowess, The Clone Wars seemed to capture the wizened mystic we saw in Empire Strikes Back. My favorite all-time episode of The Clone Wars is "Ambush" (Season 1; Episode 1). In short, I had been eagerly anticipating the Yoda arc.

Second, if you think you have an interesting or satisfying answer to any of these questions, please e-mail me or leave a comment on this post. If there is a deeper meaning to this arc, I would much prefer to know. I have no desire to dislike this arc and would gladly change my review if it turns out I overlooked something.

Finally, I apologize if this review upsets or annoys anybody. I feel my job is to provide an honest review, not to engage in "fanboyism" and "geek out" over all of the not-so-subtle references to classic scenes in the Star Wars saga. And I do not think I am holding a kid's show to an unfair standard. This arc perhaps more than any other in the series was clearly designed as a "love letter" to older fans, not kids.

QUESTIONS

  • Why did it take the Jedi so long to realize that the Separatists were involved in the creation of the Clone Army?

The Jedi had more than enough evidence to strongly suspect Separatist involvement in the creation of the Clone Army by the end of Attack of the Clones. Obi-Wan knew Jango Fett was the clone template; Jango Fett then mentioned a "man called Tyranus"; Jango Fett then fled to Geonosis and served as Dooku's bodyguard in full view of hundreds of Jedi. Even if they could not connect the dots, at the very least the Jedi should have opened an investigation into the matter. Before watching "The Lost One," I had assumed the Jedi did just this but could not identify Tyranus and so used the Clone Army despite its origins. I never even considered the possibility that the Jedi were too dense to realize the provenance of the clones.

  • Why does that discovery evince little reaction from the Jedi?

At the end of "The Lost One," the Jedi Council decides to keep secret the fact that the Separatist role in creating the Clone Army because doing so would undermine public trust in the war. Yoda points out that the Clone Troopers had performed admirably. True, but besides the point. By this time, the Jedi already had ample reason to be worried about the clones. Just a few episodes earlier, a clone had turned into a zombie and killed a Jedi (the Order 66 arc). During Season 4's Umbara arc, the clones mounted a coup against Jedi General Pong Krell and killed him (yes, that Jedi went rogue, but it is not clear that the Jedi had any evidence of that). At the least, the Jedi should have been suspicious.
What is the template for the Clone Army doing with the Separatists?
To put this in context, imagine if the Pentagon discovered that the entire U.S. Marine Corps was filled with soldiers trained by Al Qaeda? There might be an initial cover up, but there would also be an intensive investigation figuring out which soldiers were still loyal to Al Qaeda. I guarantee you it would entirely change how the U.S. conducts of the War on Terror.

  • Why did the Jedi not investigate Sifo-Dyas' death earlier?

Sifo-Dyas died 10 years before Attack of the Clones. It seems that the Jedi had not bothered to investigate until "The Lost One." It's not just that they investigated but came to a dead end, but they did not bother to conduct even the most preliminary investigation. This is evident when they have to consult Jocasta Nu about the basic facts surrounding his death. Nobody apparently bothered to check with Chancellor Valorum because he reveals to Yoda that he had sent Sifo-Dyas to investigate the Pyke Syndicate - something Yoda admits the Jedi did not know. One would think that the death of a Jedi Master would elicit more concern, especially after finding out that he had commissioned the creation of the Clone Army.

  • Why does it take longer for Yoda to reach Chancellor Palpatine's office than it does for Obi-Wan and Anakin to go to Felucia and conduct a complete investigation?

In the Jedi Library, we see Obi-Wan and Anakin present at Jocasta Nu's briefing. Yoda orders them to Felucia. It is clearly nighttime outside the Jedi Temple. The scene then cuts to apparently the next day with Yoda in Chancellor Palpatine's office. As soon as Yoda finishes talking with Palpatine, he receives a comm message from Obi-Wan and Anakin reporting that they spoke with the Felucian tribal leaders and uncovered more details about Sifo-Dyas' death.

To be clear, this means that Obi-Wan and Anakin were able to travel to Felucia - an Outer Rim planet far away from Coruscant - and interview several Felucians within at most 12 hours (assuming Coruscant rotates at approximately the same speed at Earth). I can't imagine any other explanation except that the writers were not paying attention to details.

[Yes, technically it is possible that Yoda had to wait several days or even weeks for an appointment with Chancellor Palpatine. That seems unlikely. Everything we've seen thus far suggests Yoda has pretty regular access to the chancellor's office. Moreover, for an issue this important, it seems hard to imagine Yoda would wait so long.]

  • Why does Dooku admit to the identity of Tyranus and Sith influence over the Senate?

Deja vu, R2?
In Attack of the Clones, Dooku tells Obi-Wan that a Sith lord called Darth Sidious had gained influence over the Senate. That scene worked because Dooku was trying to convert Obi-Wan to his cause. However, at the end of "The Lost One," Dooku reminds Obi-Wan of that conversation during the heat of battle when there's no serious chance that he'll join Dooku. In doing so, he also implicitly confirms that Dooku is in fact Tyranus. I would think that Dooku would want to keep that fact secret as long as possible.

  • Why does R2-D2 not recognize Yoda or Dagobah?

When Yoda escapes from the medical center, he steals a starfighter and flies to Dagobah with R2-D2. But in Empire Strikes Back, R2-D2 never tells Luke that he recognizes either Yoda or Dagobah. Until now, I had simply assumed R2 and Yoda had never met, but that is definitely not the case after "Voices." Recall that at the end of Revenge of the Sith Bail Organa orders a memory wipe for C-3PO but not for R2-D2. In other words, there is no reason for R2 not to tell Luke, "Hey, Yoda and I took a little roadtrip to Dagobah a few years ago. Just so you know, he's a little green minch." And why does R2-D2 insist on pulling the candle away from Yoda if he knows that the latter is a revered Jedi Master? This is a small point, but again highlights the lack of attention to detail that I found so frustrating throughout this arc.

  • Since when does Yoda have a problem with hubris?

Yoda has many problems. As I've described above, he shows a startling lack of curiosity. He is complacent and, as head of the Jedi Order, takes a very passive approach to management. He also treated Anakin like a problem rather than as a person. He is not perfect, even if he is a great character.

But never did I get any hint that one of Yoda's fundamental problems was hubris. In fact, of the major Jedi characters, he seemed to be one of the few who demonstrated humility. In TPM, he realized that the Jedi might not be able to provide Anakin the training he needs. In AOTC, he notes that more Jedi are becoming arrogant. In "Ambush," he realizes he cannot win on his own and places his trust in his Clone Trooper squad. Moreover, he takes the time to appreciate the natural world on the planet Rugosa, demonstrating an acknowledgement of something greater than himself.

Yoda vs. Shadow Yoda

Yet, in "Destiny," one of Yoda's tests is to confront a Shadow Yoda who is meant to represent his hubris. The "shadow" only disappears when Yoda acknowledges that it represents a part of himself. Why?

I think there's a simple explanation, and it has nothing to do with Yoda. The scene was almost certainly inspired by Ursula K. LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea. In that novel, the young wizard Ged releases a Shadow from the world of the dead using a forbidden spell. The Shadow takes his form and flees across the Earthsea archipelago. Ged only conquers the Shadow when he realizes that it represents his inner hubris and is a part of him. He defeats it by saying its true name, "Ged."

In Earthsea, this motif works because Ged clearly displayed hubris in thinking that he could master forbidden spells even though he was only a student. The entire story deals with the consequences of Ged's hubris. The Shadow killed several people and left Ged permanently scarred. In later books, we see that Ged has become much humbler. He had a lesson to learn and he learned it. I get the sense that somebody on The Clone Wars writing staff was trying to think of possible trials for Yoda to face and thought about that scene in Earthsea. Unfortunately, like a student who plagiarizes but forgets to change the copied text to fit the class assignment, the writers used the Earthsea scene in a context where it does not quite fit.

Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea fights his shadow
I do love the imagery of Yoda confronting a shadow version of himself and confronting his inner flaws. It's about time for an Earthsea homage in Star Wars. However, I think there was a much more interesting option here. Rather than representing hubris, that shadow could have represented Yoda's willingness to resort to violence and warfare. This is clearly a problem for Prequel-era Yoda as fans have noted ever since seeing Yoda's fight scenes in AOTC and ROTS. That type of aggressive fighting is out of character for the Yoda we saw in Empire who told Luke, "Wars not make one great." Confronting this shadow self would compel him to recognize that Yoda resorts to fighting too easily. The scene should unnerve Yoda but not transform him immediately because he still displays that willingness to resort to violence in ROTS. His defeat in ROTS would be the ultimate trigger to starting Yoda down the path of pacifism, but the confrontation with the shadow could have laid the foundation.

  • If Yoda just learned a "lesson" in hubris, why does he show hubris in asking to see the Force spirit's face?

The whole point of the "Shadow Yoda" trial was to compel him to confront his "hubris." Yet, he does not learn the lesson very well. Soon after this scene, he confronts one of the Force spirits and says, "I must see your face." Note that he does not ask to see the spirit's face, he demands it. In Greek mythology, asking to look upon a god directly was one of the classic signs of hubris. Mere mortals who did so often suffered serious consequences. Ridley Scott's movie Prometheus captures this message when Peter Weyland asks aliens whom he assumes to be humanity's creators to grant him more life. Yet, Yoda's behavior in this scene makes Weyland look downright humble. Yoda is not only demanding to look upon the face of the Force, but also wants the key to eternal life as a Force Ghost. Again, what was the point of Shadow Yoda if this is how Yoda behaves?

  • If Yoda sees visions of Darth Sidious and Order 66 on both Dagobah and Moraband, why does he not take any action to stop them?

In the cave on Dagobah, Yoda sees a vision of Jedi being killed en masse, seemingly while fighting with clones. On both Dagobah and Moraband, he sees visions of Darth Sidious. These are not mere passing glimpses but entire scenes, including one in which Yoda engages in a prolonged duel with Sidious.

So why did Yoda not do anything upon his return with this new information? The vision clearly shows that Sidious was an elderly white human male. Yoda hears Sidious speak and laugh several times. Yoda also learns that Sidious is on Coruscant (in the vision, Yoda leads a mission to capture Sidious and Dooku in a Coruscant industrial zone). Even if Yoda could not recognize the visage as Palpatine's, this seems like more than enough information to drastically narrow down the range of potential suspects. Combined with Obi-Wan's report from Geonosis that Sidious had influence over the Senate, Yoda should have immediately ordered a massive manhunt upon his return to Coruscant. At the very least, why not warn the Jedi about all of these premonitions? Even if not certain, given the specificity of the visions wouldn't it make sense to take some precautious?

The only explanation I can give is that Yoda did not recognize Palpatine as Sidious because Tim Curry's voice acting for Palpatine sounds nothing like the character's voice in the movies.

  • If Yoda sees visions of the future that come true, why does he later become skeptical of visions of the future?

As noted above, Yoda essentially sees visions of the future. Some of the visions are scenes taken directly from Revenge of the Sith, such as Sidious' fight against the four Jedi in his office. His visions of the future were accurate. Why then does he tell Luke in Empire not to trust his visions of the future? If Yoda had paid attention to his own visions, he might have averted a genocide of the Jedi and captured Darth Sidious. Wouldn't that have been preferable? What causes Yoda's skepticism?

Yoda and the Force spirits


  • What were Sidious and Dooku trying to do on Moraband?

In "Sacrifice," while Yoda arrives on Moraband, on Coruscant Darths Sidious and Dooku engage in some sort of Sith ritual to force Dark Side visions onto Yoda. First, it seems a bit convenient that the Sith can toy with somebody from so far away. Even accepting that premise, it's still not clear what their goal was. Did they seek to convert Yoda? If so, they never really provided anything that would actually tempt him. Did they seek to destroy him? If so, where was the threat? Why did they use a vision revealing their actual location on Coruscant in real life? Might that not risk cluing Yoda into his location or identity? Then again, Palpatine has been living right next to these clueless Jedi for years, laughing at them behind their backs, so he apparently likes living dangerously.

At a symbolic level, setting up this episode as a more mystical confrontation between Yoda and the Sith had potential, but the plot points all seemed too contrived.

  • How many times do we have to watch Yoda resist attacks from illusions?

Granted, this is not a plot hole or continuity error so much as just boring. The plot essentially tests Yoda no less than four times by requiring him not to flinch in the face of an illusory enemy: 1) Dooku in the Jedi Temple vision when he swings his lightsaber; 2) the serpent on Moraband; 3) Darth Bane's Balrog-like spirit; and 4) during the final confrontation with Sidious. We get it, Yoda doesn't flinch.

  • Why doesn't Yoda teach the other Jedi to survive after death as Force Ghosts?

Apparently, somewhere in this arc, Yoda learned how a Jedi can survive after death as a Force Ghost. It was a bit vague as to what and how he learned it, but it is said that he gained that insight. Given that the Jedi are in the midst of fighting a major war and that Yoda just had a vision of Jedi being massacred, why doesn't he teach this method to all Jedi immediately? This should be his highest priority. Tell each Jedi to take half an hour out if their busy schedules to practice this method. He has just learned how to prevent all of his friends and colleagues from dying, but doesn't share that knowledge - talk about selfishness!

  • What does Master Yoda learn from this entire experience?

All of this brings me to the most important question of all. What exactly does Master Yoda learn from all of this? The end of "Sacrifice" seems to suggest that Yoda learned the values of pacifism and that the Jedi would have to go through a Dark Times before overcoming the Sith.

But that is not how Yoda behaves in Revenge of the Sith. After Order 66, Yoda goes to Sidious' office and attempts to assassinate him (yes, it's assassination). He does not do so with the calm zen of somebody resigned to his duty, but rather comes across as cocky, taunting Sidious and tossing aside the Royal Guards like expendable furniture. So much for respecting life. By taking these actions, Yoda has clearly not given up on the idea that the Jedi can win through force of arms. He is not willing to wait through a Dark Time for "another Skywalker." He explicitly tells Sidious that his reign will be short. He demonstrates hubris by believing that he can defeat Sidious alone, without Obi-Wan's help. The Yoda we see in the movie simply does not seem like a character who has learned any of the lessons in these episodes of The Clone Wars.
Is this the behavior of a pacifist?

In ROTS, Yoda seems shocked and physically ill when he feels the Jedi die in the Force. Yet, he is clearly faking because he foresaw all of this but did nothing. He could have warned the Jedi. He could have outed Sidious. He could have spread knowledge of Force Ghosting. Based on this arc, the only logical conclusion is that for some reason Yoda wanted all of the Jedi to die. Perhaps he was sick of managing the entire Jedi Order for 900 years and wanted to take an extended vacation on Dagobah. Perhaps he had come under the impression that only a Skywalker could defeat the Sith and needed to wait for one to appear. I don't know the answer, but this arc of The Clone Wars does not provide it.

OVERALL


Although I am not a genius, I consider myself intelligent enough to understand the basic points of a movie or TV episode. Yet, each time I watched the Yoda arc, it made less sense. There were potentially some great concepts and images, such as "Earthsea Yoda" and putting Ahsoka in one of Yoda's visions. Unfortunately, the symbolic elements seemed disconnected from the plot and character development. I simply do not see how the events of this arc fit with Yoda as we see him in either the Prequel Trilogy or the Original Trilogy. All too often, I felt like the writers were just throwing in "fan service" rather than providing a story. Again, if I am wrong, please (politely) tell me why. In the meantime, I'll generously give this arc 2 out of 5 Yodas.

Rating: 2/5 Yodas


4 comments:

  1. I think that Yoda felt that what he saw on Dagobah and Moraband were visions of the future, and he believes that "always in motion is the future".

    That's why he tried to assassinate Darth Sidious, because he thought that he had a chance of ending the Sith menace that day. After all, he does fairly well against Sidious in the illusion duel. He basically sacrifices himself to take Sidious down, and they both plummet to the depths of Coruscant. With that experience in mind, Yoda probably thought he could beat Sidious in person. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

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    1. Hi Jacen, thanks for your comments. Nice to have a real Jedi reading the blog! I agree about Yoda's reasons for trying to kill Sidious in ROTS. But I think this episode of TCW contradicts that because in the episode Yoda appears to disavow violence.

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  2. I think he takes what he learns from the TCW arc and applies it to his life. If you remember in ROTS, while on Kashyyk, Yoda is simply observing the battle, he isn't in the middle of it slaughtering droids. It makes sense now why he wasn't in the thick of it. He probably is still distraught over what he learned and what he saw in ,his visions. Perhaps he no longer stayed surrounded by clones in case the visions came true and they turned on him. Although I'm not sure why most Jedi couldn't fight off the clones since Savage Oppress manages to fight off much larger numbers of attackers and he is not well trained at all.

    Yoda is also broken hearted / pissed by the death of all the Jedi, he also knows the future is never set in stone, so although he no longer wants to be a fighter, he knows that the best chance of ending the Sith rule is if he confronts Sidious himself. Assassination or not, he MUST try to stop the Sith. If it wasn't for him being close to the edge, I think Yoda wins the battle. I love the scene when he gets blasted by lightning and loses his lightsaber while cringing in pain at first, but then gains his focus and using the light side turns back and stares Sidious down with pure concentration and faith in the light side. Sidious shits a brick and gets blasted. Yoda then was no longer in a position to fight, so he retreats and waits for the right time to strike again.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree that Yoda feels like he has to try to stop the Sith. What sticks out for me though is that he's not exactly humble about it. He thinks he can do it himself and sends Kenobi off to fight Anakin. When he confronts Sidious, he's not quiet or calm, he's cocky. He tosses two of the red robed guards. He then says the Emperor's reign will be short. If you notice, he draws his lightsaber before Sidious does even as Sidious attempts to flee. It just doesn't seem like Yoda is being all that humble.

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