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TFN Review: Overlords

Posted By Eric on January 29, 2011

The Clone Wars Season 3 Episode 15: Overlords

There is no question in my mind that Overlord represents the start of a new era in The Clone Wars. In many ways, given the events of Revenge of the Sith, this is the beginning of the end. This episode contained some of the most incredible scenes in the history of the series, and sprinkled throughout these dramatic moments were the undercurrents of the imbalanced Force and the eventual fall of Anakin Skywalker. Watching this episode, I felt for the first time like The Clone Wars was taking on something even bigger than the movies, even bigger than the casual explanations of the Force given to us by Obi-Wan and Yoda. Indeed, even the prophecy of the Chosen One was explored in painstakingly literal fashion. This was certainly an episode to remember.

The central focus of this episode was the revelation of beings with enormous power, a "family" of entities that Daughter calls "the Ones." Daughter also remains vague about the nature of her family, and it is her cryptic language (these "Ones" control "the Power") that heightens the mystery of the episode almost from the very first scene. The mishaps that befell the Jedi shuttle in space were the first indications that our heroes were dealing with something huge, but the incredible power that these "Ones" displayed grew more and more fantastic as the episode progressed. As soon as we heard Daughter's voice (with an echo like a lighter version of Mother Talzin's), it was clear that these were not normal Force-users. This was only further proven with the incredible scene that introduced Son. The entirety of that scene, with his "What is about to happen" line, the Jedi's lightsabers extinguishing, and the dramatic music, sent shivers up my spine. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka were profoundly out of their element here, and "what is about to happen" would be truly amazing.

It soon became clear that Son and Daughter represented the two sides of the Force, but at the same time that our entire idea of the Force was woefully inadequate. As Father said, we and the Jedi knew only a "very simple view of the universe." I really enjoyed this exploration of the true mysteries of the Force beyond the simple duality of the Sides. And as long as we're talking about Father, it was extremely cool to see him bending Anakin's lightsaber -- this represented both an unprecedented power and a pretty obvious indication that Father was not mortal. Father then went on to explain his non-mortal state (note: I chose not to say immortal for a reason), and again it was as if both Anakin and the audience were baffled. I listened with rapt attention as Father sketched out a picture of the universe grander than anything we have ever been given to understand about Star Wars.

Let's be clear: Father, Son, and Daughter represented a literal portrayal of the prophecy of the Chosen One. I was extremely impressed with the way this episode explained the issue, and Father's speech about withdrawing from the temporal world to control his children from this prison left me with the same mix of confusion and awe as Anakin. I'm hopeful that we find out more about his position as an "anchorite," but in any event, the meaning of the term (to anchor or balance the essence of the Force) is clear. Father's speech about too much Dark or Light undoing the universe was a direct reference to the overarching principle of the Chosen One's role -- to mediate the growing strength of both sides -- and it thrilled me to see that this concept from the Prequels was being borne out to such a colossal degree.

Even so, the magnitude of the Chosen One's responsibility was eclipsed by the very nature of Father, Son, and Daughter. These "Ones" comprised a metaphysical metaphor for the universe's life force; never before has any Star Wars story gone this deep into the nature of that all-encompassing energy. For those who didn't fully grasp the necessity of a balance between good and evil, this episode explained it, while still leaving tantalizing questions for the audience to ponder.

The way the Ones tried to tempt all three Jedi with various promises and urges also impressed me on all three fronts. Obi-Wan may have called him "impulsive," but Anakin seemed to know that Father wanted something from him, that he had almost been beckoned to the monastery. Of all three visions that presented themselves to the Jedi, Anakin's was the most interesting to me. Perhaps it's because his inner turmoil sets off the entire Skywalker storyline as we know it. In any event, the scene in his sleeping chamber was chilling. Even though she sounded exactly like the Shmi Skywalker we (and Anakin) knew from Tatooine, there was something malevolent about her from the start. She seemed to constantly be in the shadows, a sinister presence wrapped in the guise of a familiar face.

Much like Luke's trial on Dagobah, Anakin had to face his demons in that scene. Unlike Luke, however, he handled himself well, and Brother eventually gave up the charade and left. His departure didn't come without the expected premonition, though. There were several moments that left me struck by the profundity of dialog or action, and this premonition was one of the best. In response to Anakin's question, "What are you?" Brother tellingly replied, "Your fate." This line impressed me for two reasons. One of them was that the real Shmi became the indirect cause of Anakin's transformation into Vader, as Anakin himself half-predicted when he told "his mother" about his vengeful Tusken slaughter. The darkness inside Anakin would soon engulf him just as the chamber's literal darkness engulfed Brother as he receded from view.

The other thing that impressed me about this line was that Anakin's "fate" would also occur as a result of something that Brother correctly predicted. In the guise of Shmi, Brother said that Padmé was "a poisoner." While Padmé did not directly and intentionally poison Anakin, it is undeniably true that Anakin's relationship (and obsession) with Padmé poisoned him. Brother's statement may have been disingenuously literal, but it was by no means irrelevant and certainly not inaccurate.

Despite the incredible weight the Shmi scene carried, Anakin's trial was even more spectacular. The angelic music that played as Anakin bent the Force to his will was very appropriate it was as if Anakin were demonstrating his ability to manipulate "the heavens" themselves. As he attuned himself to the overwhelming presence of the Force, the whole arena turned dark and tiny slivers of light poked out all over. This appearance of the arena contrasted with its appearance before and after the trial, when it was mostly lit with occasional shades of darkness throughout. Furthermore, Anakin's face was partly cloaked in shadow with reflections of light as he drove back Son and Daughter to save Obi-Wan and Ahsoka. To me, this was a reflection of his transformation. For that one scene in the arena, it was like he was slipping toward his natural state of darkness, a state he tried to hold back for so long before eventually succumbing under Palpatine's guidance. This was further reflected in Anakin's statement to Father's two children: "On your knees." While Anakin spoke the words, his voice was undeniably twisted by the Dark Side. To me, it felt like a glimpse his future role bringing Rebel Alliance dissidents to their knees.

After the trial, Father presented his wish to Anakin: that young Skywalker replace him as the floodgates hold back the swelling, thunderous power of Light and Dark. Although there were certainly more dramatic scenes in this episode, Father's request represented the definitive moment where the Chosen One was asked to take on his fated role. Anakin replacing Father would be a literal acceptance of his task as understood by the Jedi, or at least by Qui-Gon and Yoda. Father's kids are the two Sides, and Father's withering represents the slipping of balance that Anakin was supposed to control. In a way, Father's prediction, "Your selfishness will haunt you," was dead-on. Anakin's refusal to stay and literally hold the Force in balance foreshadowed his fall to the Dark Side. His "selfishness" for Padmé twisted him, "poisoning" him like Brother predicted earlier, and it led to him abandoning (for a long time, at least) his duty as the Chosen One.

Even so, Anakin gave serious thought to Father's words. He had obviously seen enough on this strange world to make him realize that great forces were at work here. His hesitation on the landing pad at the end of the episode meant that he was willfully abandoning a duty that he seemed to comprehend. He didn't merely shrug off Father's words as mere sorcery; he knew that, in a sense, he was giving up his destiny by refusing to honor the man's request.

Even though Anakin's destiny and the incredible might of the Ones formed the focus of Overlords, the fun didn't end there. Qui-Gon and Ahsoka also figured importantly into the scheme of things, as both were visited by spirits seeking to guide them in one way or another. Daughter's visit in the form of Ahsoka's older self introduced a new side of Ahsoka that I believe we will see more of as The Clone Wars progresses. Daughter made a point that I don't think has ever been raised in the series: deep down, Ahsoka may be worried that Anakin's guidance will hurt or restrict her. Sister is right that Anakin is starting to draw toward the Dark Side, and Ahsoka is also right that Anakin is like "no other Jedi." Daughter played on this fear and, like Palpatine to Anakin himself, tried to convince Ahsoka to abandon Anakin and forge her own path. Ahsoka's shaky denial of her fear to Daughter practically confirmed the fear's existence. The young Togruta had been seeing a side of Anakin that she didn't completely like -- and thus is planted the first seed of whatever Ahsoka's fate turns out to be.

Before I discuss one of the most anticipated parts of this episode, I want to say that I do not believe Qui-Gon Jinn was simply Father in disguise. For one thing, he explained to Obi-Wan the truth of their mysterious surroundings, and Father would not want to reveal anything more about his plans and his domain than was necessary. Plus, Qui-Gon didn't try to tempt Obi-Wan into doing anything, as was the case with Anakin and Ahsoka. My belief that this was the true spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn did nothing to diminish the impact of the scene; if anything, it made their conversation more exciting. Here was the discussion that Star Wars fans everywhere had been eagerly awaiting since Qui-Gon's death precipitated Obi-Wan training Anakin. There was a great moment where Obi-Wan opened up to Qui-Gon about training Anakin and his doubts about his own teaching abilities. Usually the brave face and confidant leader in missions with Anakin and Ahsoka, Obi-Wan expressed his genuine doubt and fears to Qui-Gon in that cave. Qui-Gon confirmed his former apprentice's worries in a sense, telling Obi-Wan ominously, "This is a very dangerous place for him to be."

I initially had my doubts about the nature of the three Jedi's location in the physical plane. Where had that pyramid come from? I wondered. Was the planet organic, or did the incredible Force presence simply make it seem that way to the Jedi? As the story evolved, I started to forget about questions of physicality and just accept the situation. Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan had temporarily transcended the physical plane and arrived in a metaphysical setting. "This planet is the Force," Obi-Wan told Anakin. They had probably been transported to a realm outside temporal space-time, where the planet was the Force and the three beings inhabiting its vastness were the great powers at play in the real universe.

The extent of the Jedi's physical "being" in this episode probably ended when they arrived at the pyramid, which I think was physically there but served transported them with blinding power to a higher plane of existence. To ease my own OCD need to geographically rationalize every moment of the story, I have decided that the three Jedi would probably experience the same blindness and unconsciousness when flying the shuttle out of the atmosphere; they would then awaken in their shuttle, back in the vastness of space.

There is no way to express my appreciation for the amount of work that must have gone into making this episode look and sound as spectacular as it did. The story was fantastic, but the animation and sound design were phenomenal. I thought all the characters sounded great, but Obi-Wan and Anakin's voices were particularly believable -- James Arnold Taylor and Matt Lanter are getting better and better at imbuing subtle emotional cues into their lines. Son and Daughter were visually perfect representations of their roles as the two opposing Sides; Daughter in particular looked like something out of the Final Fantasy video game series. I also thought that it was a nice touch to have the camera "swing" around in the cave as Obi-Wan and Ahsoka experienced their respective visions. The weather animation outside the cave was also great, particularly because we know from web documentaries and interviews how difficult rain animation can be. As always, the team behind The Clone Wars continues to raise the bar and produce extraordinarily-realistic settings that put audiences right there in the scene.

I also enjoyed seeing the landscape change from darkness to light as Obi-Wan and Ahsoka walked across the terrain. It added to the sense that this was a planet controlled not by conventional environmental conditions but by the "environment" and "seasons" of the Force. That excellent visual cue was followed by a great audible cue of swelling music and ominous sound as Son and Daughter swooped in to grab the two Jedi. In keeping with the tremendous, omniscient feeling of the episode, I was impressed with the two magnificent sweeping shots in this episode, one approaching the monastery as Anakin enters it and one approaching the arena before the trial. This "camera work" lent a lot to the power of the scenes. In a powerful instance of symbolism, the floor of the arena resembled a giant yin-yang.

Of course, that wasn't the only powerful instance of symbolism. There were a few things that harkened back to the six-film saga that spawned all of this. The shuttle's forced approach to the pyramid reminded me of the Millennium Falcon's approach to the first Death Star, completely with Ahsoka's worried line, "It's pulling us towards it." Ahsoka also took part in a reference to The Phantom Menace (and I hope I'm not the only one who caught this) when she said, "Storm's coming," a line first popularized in Star Wars by the famous Tatooine street vendor Jira in Episode I.

But enough beating around the bush here. We all know that the most powerful film symbolism in this episode happened in the very last shot of the episode, as the Jedi left the planet and returned to reality. As the shuttle lifted off the landing pad and soared away, with Anakin presumably brooding on the meaning of everything he'd just experienced, we were treated to a brief, familiar strain of the famous Imperial March. If ever a piece of music can sum up the impact of a 22-minute story, this was the one for the job.

Ultimately, it's unclear where we go from here. Overlords was a turning point, not just in The Clone Wars series but in the era as a whole. We certainly haven't seen the last of the Ones, and we haven't seen the last of The Clone Wars foreshadowing Anakin's destiny. I think we'll look back the Mortis trilogy and say that this is when the series started to push the boundaries of what we knew, and thought we knew, about Star Wars. As an individual episode, Overlords was an extraordinary look at the highest of all powers in the universe. As the central figure of the Prequel era, Anakin Skywalker is the one whose life will most profoundly impact the future of the galaxy, and Overlords did a nice job shedding new light on his progression from troubled Jedi to Dark Lord of the Sith.


-------------------------------------

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


Related Stories

February 5, 2011   TFN Review: Altar Of Mortis
January 31, 2011   Preview TCW: "Altar Of Mortis"
January 31, 2011   TCW: "Overlords" Now Online At SW.com
January 29, 2011   TCW Night Returns To The Phoenix Suns
January 29, 2011   Sam Witwer Talks About His TCW Role
January 29, 2011   TCW: "Overlords" Episode Guide
January 27, 2011   Preview TCW: "Overlords"
January 25, 2011   TCW: Welcome To Mortis: New "Overlords" Clip
January 24, 2011   Watch TCW: "Witches Of The Mist" At SW.com
January 23, 2011   Dave Filoni On The Impact And Future Of TCW
January 22, 2011   TFN Review: Witches Of The Mist





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