Like the Umbaran story arc before it, Kidnapped launched a series of episodes concerning both a specific, disturbing scenario and a deeper undercurrent of Revenge of the Sith foreshadowing. This episode reunited Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan for some good old-fashioned lightsaber fanciness and villain-enraging. While I enjoyed seeing "The Negotiator" at work, I found the nod to Anakin's early enslavement a more compelling plot point. This episode did feel a little rushed, especially as Anakin and Ahsoka raced from bomb to bomb while Obi-Wan got kicked around, but overall, I'm thankful that Anakin's Tatooine past is coming back to haunt him in the series.
Before I get into the meat of this episode, I'll point out a few miscellaneous items that pleased and impressed me. First of all, the animators continue to outdo themselves. One of my favorite visuals in this episode was the shot of Anakin watching the Blixus fall to its death. I was struck by how perfectly the animation nailed the depth effect of the Blixus rushing toward the ground. Another shot that impressed me was when the group of Republic cruisers was approaching Kiros. As ship after ship passed in front of the camera, I thought of the opening scene in A New Hope.
Once on the planet, we saw aesthetically-unique colony structures whose skeletal, open designs fascinated me. The colonists themselves, as well as Count Dooku's response to them, seemed to parallel our own world's Native American culture and its early clash with European settlers. The colonists' leader referred to his people's pacifism, their neutrality, and their desire to be left in peace, while Count Dooku took a very "British colonial" approach and insisted on offering them protection for their own good. I also detected a hint of Native American influence in the colony spokesman's voice.
Other things that I enjoyed about this episode included the cool design of the Republic's dual-pod speeder bikes, the speeder bike faceoff with the assassin droids that reminded me a little bit of the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars micro-series, and Captain Rex's use of the clone army slang word "civvies," which I believe was introduced into the Star Wars lexicon by none other than Karen Traviss. I'm glad we got to see Boil again, especially so soon after the death of Waxer, his companion on Ryloth. I think it's nice that the 501st Legion's missions give us the opportunity to regularly see familiar clones whose trials and tribulations formed the early part of the series.
The droid snipers guarding the final two bombs looked very interesting. Unless I'm mistaken, we've never seen that type of droideka variant before. I like that we're witnessing the Separatists innovating beyond the models in the Prequel films. When we consider the fact that the droid foundries are now churning out more specialized models of combat automata, it adds a sense of duration to the conflict. Separately from that but still related to droids, I would like to take a moment to say, "RIP D'Nar's tactical droid." Say what you will about battle droid humor, but I honestly found the droid's unusually dramatic personality refreshing as he realized that he was harboring a bomb. There was just something about the flat-toned way in which he exclaimed "How could you?" and "Get it off! Get it off!" that amused me in the middle of an otherwise serious episode.
The last thing I'll say about the miscellanea of Kidnapped is this: I really did not appreciate the lack of attention paid to the challenge of disarming D'Nar's bombs. I've watched enough 24 to know that you can never deactivate an explosive device simply by smashing through it, no matter what weapon you're using. Sure, the writers tried to hand-wave the silliness away by having Anakin say that he trusted his instincts, but no matter how much that overconfidence made sense coming from Anakin, it wasn't a good explanation -- and Anakin's method wasn't a believable one -- in this instance. Anyone who designs a bomb that can be defused through the application of brute force should have his bomb-making license revoked. Anakin's technique was a cop-out way of disarming the explosives, one that clearly reflected the rushed pace of this episode.
The conflict between Obi-Wan and Zygerrian slaver Darts D'Nar took center stage in this episode. The witty Jedi Master was truly at his best while facing off against D'Nar. James Arnold Taylor continues to nail Kenobi's quirkiness and "Masterful", room-dominating presence, making his words as interesting as his actions. It was clear from the beginning that his defensive approach was a ruse. The fact that he was willing to undergo such a beating to buy time for Anakin and Ahsoka showed how great of a hero he is. It also afforded us a glimpse at Obi-Wan's physical stamina. After all, while he might have been feigning weakness, the sounds of his injuries made their painfulness clear, as did his well-animated facial expressions and well-performed grunts.
I was glad to see Obi-Wan finally display his Jedi prowess when the time came, casually smashing D'Nar's droids with an air of total control and slight impatience. The choreographed way in which Obi-Wan took control of the situation carried a strong Prequel Trilogy vibe. As a general observation, the fact that he's always "negotiating" surrenders with defeated enemy leaders gives an ironic twist to his nickname, "The Negotiator."
Yet in this case, Obi-Wan didn't apprehend the villain. Darts D'Nar was clever enough to have a final, explosive card up his sleeve. I have to say, even though he's bound to be killed in the conclusion of this trilogy, D'Nar does look and sound great. I like it when The Clone Wars explores the beings and groups who profit from the Separatists' ideological and military tactics, because it illuminates one of the ways by which Palpatine prolongs the Clone Wars. Simply put, because the Republic (mostly through the Jedi) has quashed practices like slavery and aggravated fringe groups for so long, the Separatists have all the motivational ammunition they need. Count Dooku simply urges isolated factions like the Zygerrians to stand up for what they deserve, and suddenly entire systems are deserting the Republic to protest "injustices" like bans on slavery.
D'Nar, like the Quarren leader from the Mon Calamari arc, clearly believes that his fight for freedom is justified. His hatred of the Jedi actually reminded me of the Trandoshans and their disenfranchisement. I liked how he became a ferocious animal when Obi-Wan gained the upper hand. After all, Obi-Wan's dominance reminded him of his people's suffering under the yoke of Jedi arbitration. On that note, I want to point out how nice it is to see TCW bringing up the Jedi's destruction of the Zygerrian slave empire and using it as a basis for the Zygerrians' thirst for Jedi blood. All across the galaxy, the Jedi have put down insurrections and mediated disputes, but the focus is always on how the resolution benefits the underdogs, the "little guys," and the innocents. The effect that Jedi intervention has on the oppressors (who usually lose the dispute) is something that the Expanded Universe explores from time to time, but it rarely comes into play in this series. In fact, the rage that the Zygerrians feel toward the Jedi reminds me of how the Expanded Universe's Mandalorians felt after a group of Jedi intervened in their affairs with disastrous consequences for both sides.
While Obi-Wan and his stalling tactics formed the core of this episode's plot, Anakin and Ahsoka had interesting, if minor, roles to play as well. As I've said, I found the effect of the slavery situation on Anakin to be the most enjoyable part of this episode. When it comes to broad themes in the Prequel era, few are more potent, or have more ramifications, than Anakin's history with slavery. I was so incredibly glad to see this plot point from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones weave its way through The Clone Wars. These days on TCW, we rarely see Anakin lose control; the last time it happened was when Padmé's life was in danger during the Mon Calamari mission. Indeed, Anakin's over-protectiveness toward Padmé is probably the only one of his turbulent traits that equals his hatred of slavery.
Ahsoka's role in this episode was just as important as Anakin's, and not just because of how she reacted to his anger. In general, it was just great to see her in action again. In a sharp departure from her personality in Season 1, she was clearly acting older than her age in Kidnapped. I loved her acrobatic technique of destroying the second AAT as the Republic forces swept toward D'Nar's tower. Ahsoka displayed grace and well-honed power while disarming the bombs and fighting the droids. I'm especially glad that she told D'Nar "I'm not so young anymore," because it's important that the TCW team make her growth explicit as well as implicit for younger viewers. Lines like that give kids who are inspired by her bravery concrete moments to hook onto as they idolize her and respect her development.
I also enjoyed the little moments throughout this episode where Anakin and Ahsoka choreographed their movements and fought as a team. These things strengthen their relationship and their almost-familial bond, which is something that needs to happen more often as the series' conclusion (and perhaps Ahsoka's demise) draws closer. Interestingly, we learned in this episode that Anakin was unwilling to discuss his past with even his trusty apprentice. Obi-Wan offered the understatement of the episode when he told her, "Anakin is struggling to put his past behind him." The rest of the scene was tinged with grim music as Ahsoka observed Anakin's tension and promised Obi-Wan that she would watch over him.
Many have speculated that Anakin will be forced to kill Ahsoka when her path diverges from his own in some way. The concern that she shows for his anger-clouded judgment certainly provides support for the belief that the series will take a daring approach in depicting her demise. What if the final story arc of The Clone Wars leapt ahead in time and followed the newly-christened Darth Vader hunting down his one-time apprentice, while she, in the days before their final confrontation, thought back on how blind she had been to the extent of his inner darkness? Just a thought.
I enjoyed seeing the startled look on Ahsoka's face as she half-reprimanded Anakin for losing control when he almost killed D'Nar. Clearly, she was just as worried about Anakin and his ability to handle their mission as she was about the fate of the colonists and actually completing said mission. Speaking of the colonists, we really know very little about the missing beings at the heart of this episode's surface-level plot. The reason I bring this up in my discussion of Ahsoka is because she says at the end of the episode that "those are my people." My immediate reaction to hearing this was: Wait, a minute, hold the comlink. What did she say? After all, we were given literally no explanation of Ahsoka's connection to the colonists. We only knew that they were Togruta.
In fairness, perhaps that's all Ahsoka meant -- that the missing innocents were of her own species. However, the context of the scene, and Ahsoka's entire quote, suggested otherwise. When Admiral Yularen reported that the entire colony had vanished from the planet, what Ahsoka said in full was, "That's impossible. Those are my people." I don't think she would've put so much emphasis on the phrase "my people" unless we were supposed to connect that phrase to her desire to believe that their disappearance was "impossible." Her response reminded me of someone who refuses to admit that news of their spouse's death is true. It almost seemed like the disappearance of her people caused her to momentarily revert back to her less-mature personality.
Although Shmi Skywalker's death is never mentioned in this episode, Anakin's inability to save her and his own previous servitude are clearly on his mind in the episode's final few minutes. Lost in the grip of his emotions and unwilling to let more innocents sink into slavery as he had, Anakin defied the odds to pursue and stop D'Nar. His conviction reminded me of the scene in Attack of the Clones where Padmé fell out of their gunship and he had to fight the urge to go back for her. The look on his face as he pursued D'Nar clearly demonstrated that he was acting in an un-Jedi-like way.
Herein lies the beauty of an episode like Kidnapped, which some might see as an innocuous opening act in a three-part story about Jedi subterfuge and saber-twirling. Up until now, The Clone Wars has depicted an Anakin who's so different, so removed, from the young Tatooinian slave boy that we barely remember that they're one and the same. Indeed, Anakin's success as a Jedi thus far is at least in part due to his quest for redefinition, his desire to shrug off his past life as someone else's property.
The more we refocus our attention on Anakin's vulnerabilities, his futile quest to leave that part of his life behind, the more clearly we see his un-Jedi-like frustration and emotional immaturity writ large. These traits, which are absent in Jedi trained from infancy, make Anakin a prime target for the Sith Lord who eventually exploits his tarnished upbringing -- and the series rewarded us for keeping that fact in mind. I absolutely loved seeing Yoda sense "a darker hand" in the mystery of the colonists' disappearance. In pointing out the importance of slavery "for the rise of the Sith," the venerable Master offered a welcome dose of foreshadowing. Without knowing it, he connected Anakin's frustration to the trap that Palpatine lays for him in Revenge of the Sith. The fortune cookie for Kidnapped was right when it stated, "Where we are going always reflects where we came from." Anakin's dark journey into his suit of armor will reflect the tortured path that brought him to Coruscant.
Even though it felt rushed at times, Kidnapped did impress me with its introduction of Anakin's anti-slavery fury, its brief glimpses at Ahsoka's reactions to this fury, and its authentic portrayal of Obi-Wan "The Negotiator" Kenobi. The rest of this arc will no doubt bring viewers even more rewards, but I was happy with what Kidnapped provided in terms of character growth, character continuity, and epic foreshadowing. That said, and its individual merits notwithstanding, I strongly believe that the most important takeaway from this episode was what it suggested for the long-term purpose of The Clone Wars. As the show charges inexorably toward its conclusion, the burden rests ever more heavily on Dave Filoni and his writers to give Star Wars fans the nuanced understanding of Anakin's fall that the Prequel films simply couldn't provide. With broad strokes George Lucas painted a picture of a tortured soul finding release in the Dark Side of the Force. It is my hope that, through episodes like Kidnapped, Dave Filoni continues to fill in gaps in that picture. Using minor conflicts like the colonists' abduction and intense foreshadowing like that found in the Mortis trilogy, Filoni and his team are in a perfect position to better explain how we get to where we end up in Revenge of the Sith.