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TFN Review: Nomad Droids

Posted By Eric on October 15, 2011

The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 6: Nomad Droids

I was torn between two extremes of opinion when it came to this episode. On the one hand, the focus on R2-D2 and C-3PO provided more of the "best friends" narrative and anthropomorphic goodness that I've come to enjoy from their interactions and banter. On the other hand, too much copying and too little excitement made ninety percent of this episode only moderately watchable. My most common reaction while watching this episode was, "Uh...okay," because various moments struck me as unenjoyable and others mixed the boring with the bizarre. Occasionally, strange moments work in a show like The Clone Wars, where the exotic and foreign is the hallmark of the galaxy far, far away. In this case, however, I found myself taken aback by the combination of profound weirdness, a lack of excitement, and yes, not one but two blatant rip-offs of The Wizard of Oz. Let's get more specific, my pretties...

The first planet, Patitite Pattuna, had some cool foliage and little else worth mentioning. Seriously, the planet was so devoid of interesting features that it was painfully obvious how little was done to make it a real planet. Watching the natives scurry across the barren surface, I was acutely aware that I was watching a scene acted out on what amounted to a barebones set. There was none of the excitement or vibrancy of the planets I've enjoyed so much on this show.

When it came to the Patitites themselves, I was even less impressed. I thought the technique of introducing them was cool; if I hadn't seen previews for this episode, the clever camera technique prior to their meeting the droids would have fooled me into assuming that they were of normal height. In my opinion, it was downhill from there. Things started to go wrong with the very weird music that played at "The Big Hay-Zu's" arrival. He also had an annoyingly French-sounding voice that detracted from his supposedly-fearsome presence. While I'm not a religious man, it was impossible to miss the Christian metaphor in the Patitites' description of Hay-Zu. They did whatever he said for their own good, they fought his war if they were lucky, and his name sounds like the Spanish pronunciation of "Jesus." Some will say that this was a metaphor for Islam, but Hay-Zu's name and Christianity's happy little jaunt known as the Crusades indicate otherwise.

When it came time to fight, you just knew that R2 would be ready. Indeed, as in Mercy Mission, R2 played tough-guy. I did enjoy seeing 3PO grab a stick and tout R2's martial arts credentials. The little astromech produced another laugh from me by extending his appendages in true Cowardly Lion "put 'em up, put 'em up!" fashion. (The Clone Wars even parodied what the kids are saying these days by having 3PO tell R2, "No, I am not going to 'let you at him.'") As if the allegory to Christianity wasn't blatant enough, the TCW team tried a Wizard of Oz send-up by having Hay-Zu's followers unexpectedly cheer their leader's death with the chant "The Big Hay-Zu is dead!" Except that wasn't truly a send-up, because it simply felt too direct and obvious. I believe the term "rip-off" applies here.

After Hay-Zu's death, the Patitites naturally asked these two strange metal beings that they'd never met before to lead their society. Part of my problem with this scene was that it was a waste of time. After all, we didn't see what their society was like at all, so we had nothing to imagine R2 and 3PO doing. The lack of development of the Patitites' society meant that the request for R2 and 3PO to say (even if we knew they'd refuse) was devoid of meaning. It didn't resonate with us. There was nothing meaningful about it. Maybe if we'd seen that the Patitites were suffering from a sickness or having trouble fending off wild creatures, there would have been a sense that they needed 3PO's assistance. As it was, I couldn't wait to leave Patitite Pattuna behind.

Unfortunately, we weren't done yet. After R2 chuckled in his endearing way at the thought of 3PO being a leader, Goldenrod decided to give the Patitites a thirty-second civics lesson. As a political science major in college, I did find the brief demonstration of the pitfalls of democracy to be humorous. That said, I could have done without this scene. The cheering for the three Patitite candidates felt cheesy and the entire thing felt forced and boring. Like I said, the only funny part of this scene was 3PO remarking on the imperfections of democracy as the democratically-chosen candidates fought over the vote count.

The second planet, Balnab, was better than Munchkin Land but still problematic. First, I have to say this: I found it odd that the TCW team didn't understand how to classify living beings. Those monkey creatures were far more marsupial than "humanoid," as 3PO claimed. It occurs to me that 3PO could have been mistaken, but seeing as how he's sort of a brainiac, I'm going to chock this up to poor research on the part of the writer.

The "great leader" on Balnab disappointed me by being even more of an Oz rip-off. To be fair, the pit droids behind the curtain were themselves funny once they were revealed, and I liked how they interacted with R2 ? la every hostile droid he ever meets. That said, the meeting of the leader and his Balnab subjects was thoroughly boring, and I got the impression that the poor Balnab hunter was only electrocuted to force some sense of danger into the air. I will say, however, that the idea of droids fooling primitive organic beings into thinking they were gods is a really interesting idea. The fact that sentient droids are able to manipulate technology and experience limited emotions, combined with the prevalence of primitive populations on various Outer Rim worlds, theoretically makes such a charade not only possible but likely in some corner of the galaxy. Even so, the execution in this particular instance was underwhelming.

The moment that was simultaneously the saddest and the most logically uneventful was the droids losing power. Of course we know that they'll be just fine. On the other hand, R2's battery running out (and to a lesser extent 3PO's own extinguishment) were beautifully scripted, voiced/mixed, and animated. R2 is so thoroughly "human" in his behavior that we empathize with his loss of energy and excitement; his mumbling and slowing down bummed us out as viewers just like it did to 3PO.

There was, however, no cause for alarm (quelle surprise!), as a band of Weequay pirates was there to salvage our metallic heroes. I'll be honest, I feel bad for hard-working, decent Weequay in the Star Wars galaxy. They constantly get typecast as the pirates on this show. To these ruffians' credit, they did have a cool ship, and the droid fighting ring was enjoyable to watch. Droid combat is something that we know must happen a lot in the galaxy, and I'm glad TCW is showing it to us. And how about that modified ASP droid with the flamethrower?

When you're forced into combat with little more than a holoprojector, a smokescreen disperser, and an electroshock prod at your disposal, what's an astromech to do? As we've come to expect from R2, he stood firm and advanced into the ring with his appendages extended. I've been highly critical of this episode, but if you ask me, it's very hard to ruin R2's classic precociousness. Ironically, the Separatists actually saved their most notorious robot enemies, with Grievous arrival and breaking up the fight by using the Weequay pirates' ship for target practice. In my confusion over how R2's leg rockets could burn in the airless void of space (still not sure), I didn't even think about the loss of life aboard the pirate vessel and how the show really minimized those Weequay pirates? deaths. This scene also got me thinking. Shouldn't Grievous, on orders from the rabble-rousing Count Dooku, be forging alliances with as many of the galaxy's fringe types as he could?

Besides R2 and 3PO themselves, we saw quite a few other droids in this side-story episode. There was the Separatist droid starfighter pursuing R2's Y-Wing; there were the Weequay pirates? droid gladiators; and there were the pit droids behind the curtain. Thus, it made total sense thematically for the Separatists' incinerator room to become the dreaded conveyer belt of death that the main characters in an action movie always try to avoid (think Bond). Usually such rooms in movies and TV are perilous for living beings, but given this episode's focus on robots of all shapes and sizes, I enjoyed the incinerator room scene.

At the last minute, we finally got more of the action that we were effectively teased with in the first minute of the episode. I loved seeing Plo Koon enter the fray with Commander Wolffe at his side, even if the combat didn't last long. On a related note, it was great to see another secondary Jedi, Adi Gallia, again. The opening scene where Master Gallia and her clones tried to repel Grievous' boarding party was a fantastic nod to the opening of A New Hope -- neither too blatant nor too subtle. (If only the Oz homages had been crafted as cleverly.)

The first and last few minutes of Nomad Droids were undoubtedly the highlights of the episode. The combat was great, of course, and we even got some R2/3PO humor mixed into the end. I loved seeing Plo Koon cruelly tell the droids to bug Wolffe when he knew tell that his clone commander wasn't interested in an Aleen expedition reunion. It's funny how this bit of droid humor was able to follow so seamlessly after an intense fight scene. I wish this episode had had a better balance of Republic-vs.-Separatist combat and OT-flavored droid humor. That's what a really good episode of The Clone Wars should be like.

I hate to be so critical of episode after episode, but the bottom line is that Nomad Droids was unimpressive. I've seen talk on the Internet about the negative backlash being purely about the novelty of the episode. I disagree. I can handle (and usually enjoy) novelty; longtime readers of my reviews will recognize that this is the case. What annoyed me about Nomad Droids was that it was simply unexciting, overly bizarre, and out of step with the rhythm of Star Wars. With its combination of blatant Oz rip-offs and jarring allegorical satire of Christianity, it strayed too far from what I consider Star Wars to be about. With Nomad Droids, The Clone Wars, much like the ASP droid during the Separatist attack on the pirate ship, lost its familiar footing and tumbled out into the vast expanse of disorienting, disappointing nothingness. I can only hope that the series, like R2-D2 in that same scene, is quick to rocket to the safety of true adventure and excitement.


You can find all of my TCW episode reviews on TFN's review index page.

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