The Clone Wars Season 2 Episode 12: The Mandalore Plot
For some in the EU fan community, this was the most anticipated episode of TCW in a long time. We saw some changes to the Mandalorian culture, but we also saw some great EU nods. The episode was unique in that it focused almost entirely on a new planet, with new conflict, and new characters. Only Obi-Wan kept the episode grounded in the usual Clone Wars adventure theme, but that was in no way a bad thing. In fact, the new elements that were introduced to the Clone Wars universe only made The Mandalore Plot that much better.
Right from the beginning, we as viewers are told that there is a Council of Neutral Systems, led by Duchess Satine of Mandalore, that represents planets attempting to stay neutral. This was to be expected; in war, some inevitably try to stay on the sidelines. The reality of galactic-scale war, however, is that everyone is eventually pulled in, willingly or not. In some ways, Satine reminded me of the leader of the Lurmen from Season One. She seems to be a serious pacifist, someone who will not jeopardize her planet's safety by getting involved on either side. It is interesting to see that she maintains this perspective even after multiple attempts on her life over the course of this episode.
To a certain degree, Satine has the right idea. Neither side in this conflict has completely charitable or innocent motives. This is obviously true of the cruel Separatists, but even the Republic would rather occupy Mandalore than allow its resources to be squandered. The ending scene of this episode, where Anakin arrives with a group of clones to escort Obi-Wan back to Coruscant, could be interpreted as a sign of things to come.
A conflict that galvanized nearly everyone on both sides would be one thing. A conflict with grey areas, where some people question the validity of both sides and would rather avoid any hassles for their planets, is a much more dynamic conflict. I'm glad the team at Lucasfilm decided to introduce this Council of Neutral Systems element. It adds more depth to the Clone Wars in a way that beautiful visuals and cool weaponry could not.
Speaking of visuals, the sights in this episode were nothing short of fantastic. Maybe it's because I recently got Cartoon Network HD (this was the first HD episode I've seen), but I can't help it: the breathtaking, almost picturesque landscapes in this episode captured my attention. The aesthetics of Mandalore, with its strange trees and modular construction, were very cool and well-animated. The camera angles as ships soared by, the characters in Satine's palace and at the memorial shrine...this episode did a great job of introducing the atmosphere of the planet Mandalore. I also liked the Concordian warrior guards' uniforms; they looked like the first stage in an armor evolution leading to what we see the Fetts wearing. On the down side of visuals, the Mandalorian Prime Minister's head and neck looked a bit accentuated, but other than that, things looked really, really good in this episode.
The Obi-Wan/Satine relationship/friendship/romance certainly stole the show last night; perhaps no element was more important to driving the story of The Mandore Plot than the dynamic between the two of them. The conversations they have about the Jedi Order are really interesting, because it shows how laypeople perceive the Jedi. As they're walking through the memorial shrine, the two friends discuss the role the Jedi are playing in the war. Even in the heat of battle, when Satine and Obi-Wan are fleeing the mining facility, Satine manages to hit Obi-Wan with a jab about the nature of the Jedi as warriors. As a fan of giving the Jedi more personality, I really like seeing Obi-Wan having a backstory with Duchess Satine.
Another thing I noticed was that Obi-Wan wanted to keep Satine apprised of his mission to the Concordian mines. It's clear that he considers her a true friend. I also liked her trying to stop him with the line, "I'm opposed to all of this." Obi-Wan's rejoinder is yet another indication of their comaraderie. This dynamic between the two of them goes a long way toward humanizing the Jedi and showing that they have semi-normal relationships outside the walls of their Temple. When Obi-Wan is captured in the mining facility, he contacts Satine. This results in a pretty funny scene as the Duchess must answer both Obi-Wan's and Vizsla's questions with the same words. This is something I really like about The Clone Wars: they can inject manageable, bearable humor into even the most perilous scene.
There are a few things I don't understand about Satine. For one thing, why in the world was she even allowed off Mandalore without more protection? I doubt even these neutral pacifists are naive enough to think that a single Jedi would be sufficient to protect Satine from unknown perils. Another thing I didn't understand was the aftermath of the Concordian terrorist's suicide. After he died, Satine basically said to Obi-Wan, "Don't worry, I for one don't think you were guilty of anything criminal here." This makes no sense to me. Obi-Wan's a Jedi and the dead guy was a terrorist. Yet Satine's attitude seemed to suggest that Obi-Wan had done something wrong, or at least that his actions were suspicious. Doesn't anyone on Mandalore realize that, for better or worse, this is what Jedi do? Also, Satine is incredibly trusting of Vizsla. It occurs to me that any moon known to hide terrorists would have more scrutiny on its leadership. Satine points out that the Mandalorians have little control over Concordia, but I still think they could just enforce their will easily enough. The lack of jurisdiction does, however, speak to the friction between the two societies.
Overall, however, Satine and Obi-Wan were really great as a team in this episode. Their banter and conversation reminded me a lot of Obi-Wan and Anakin's dialog in the Prequels. That's hard to replicate, but I think Obi-Wan and Satine came pretty close.
The suicide element in this episode, however fleeting, still emphasized how far this series has come. For it to be dealing with these extremely touchy, somber aspects of life and war is remarkable. Bravo to Dave Filoni and his team for capably handling this plot point. The music here was also very good; it fit in with the surprise of the moment as Obi-Wan saw the terrorist fall backwards onto the lower platform.
The "Obi-Wan versus the Death Watch" combat scenes were intriguing. The Death Watch warriors seemed pretty strong -- two of them took down a Jedi, although one could make the argument that Obi-Wan was holding back for fear of starting a diplomatic incident. Still, the Death Watch warriors weren't very smart: they didn't notice Obi-Wan contacting Satine for help while he was rolling to his doom. They were also stupid enough to head right out to the source of the alarm when Satine triggered it. They didn't leave a single soldier behind to guard Obi-Wan, and that proved to be a big problem for them.
I was very glad to see Obi-wan finally let loose against his Death Watch enemies. While I would have liked to see Obi-Wan just slice his opponent in half with his lightsaber, the prolonged combat was nonetheless very satisfying. The Obi-Wan vs. Vizsla duel was fantastic, even if Vizsla eventually hid behind his cronies like a typical minor Star Wars villian, which was something I really didn't like. Their duel was somewhere in between a full-on lightsaber fight and a conventional swordfight, and this combination made it fun to watch. One of my favorite moments was when Obi-Wan leapt up into the air and smashed down the jetpacking Vizsla.
Now, onto the big elephant in the room: the way this episode dealt with Mandalorian society as defined in the Expanded Universe. I'll start with the good. We heard a bit of the Mandalorian language, which I enjoyed. At leats, it sounded familiar, based on the transliterations we see in Karen Traviss's Commando books. The mining area that Obi-Wan investigates was also familiar; in the EU, the planet Mandalore is famous for its monopoly on the incredibly-powerful material called Beskar. The evacuation of the Death Watch from Concordia reminded me of the way the Mandalorians were described as nomads in the EU. But perhaps nothing was more remniscent of the Mandalorians we knew from the EU than Vizsla's execution of the minion who failed him. This more than anything was a firm reminder that Dave Filoni's team based the Death Watch from TCW on the traditional Mandalorians from the books and comics. It was cold-blooded, it was ruthless, and it was perfectly suited to the moment.
Of course, there were some pretty stark departures from the previously-accepted EU in this episode. Before The Mandalore Plot, we were led to believe from numerous sources that the entire Mandalorian culture was one of violent, bounty-hunting warriors. This all changed with last night's Clone Wars episode. Now, the society we formerly associated with Mandalore has been moved to a small moon called Concordia. If that name sounds familiar, it's because the planet Concord Dawn was central to Mandalorian lore in the EU. The friction between the Concordians and the regular Mandalorians also highlights just how different the planet Mandalore now is. With Concordia as the new home of what Fett fans loved about Mandalorian society, the planet Mandalore itself has been transformed into a peaceful society. Duchess Satine even refers to the Death Watch, known in the EU as a dangerous splinter group, as a ragtag bunch of vandalizing hooligans. That seems to be a significant threat reduction.
Something I should probably address is Satine's comment early on in the story that Jango Fett wasn't a Mandalorian. Of all the things that were said and done in The Mandalore Plot, this may have angered Fett fans the most. I do, however, see two ways to look at it, neither of which nullify Jango's status as a Mandalorian and both of which foreshadow interesting developments in the next few episodes. On the one hand, Satine could have said that to throw Obi-Wan off the scent, because in reality she is allied with the Separatists and she wants to keep Obi-Wan from thinking that the former Separatist bounty hunter represented her culture. On the other hand, she could simply be trying to deny a less-than-stellar part of Mandalorian history. If Jango Fett had really been Mandalorian, and if he'd done some destructive things I wasn't okay with, I don't know that I'd readily admit that he was one of my citizens, even to an old friend like Obi-Wan.
I don't particularly care either way about the changes that CW has made to the EU. I was never a huge fan of the Mandalorians, and I was always a bit put off by Star Wars fans who treated Mandalorians like Trek fans treated Klingons. Despite not being perturbed by the direction TCW has taken the Mandos, I recognize that this show may have just taken a turn for the worse in the minds of a select group of fans.
On a random note, here's a question that's been burning in my mind since the episode aired: Who is the commando in the hologram Obi-Wan shows Satine? Are we supposed to recognize him?
At the end of the episode, Anakin arrives with a bunch of clones to escort Obi-Wan back to Coruscant. In addition to being a potential harbinger of things to come for Mandalore, Anakin's arrival was also a welcome sight in an episode with few ties to the rest of the TCW story. To me, this episode had the right mix of familiarity and uncertainty. Obi-Wan's solo adventures are great because oftentimes he gets tied down by Anakin in one way or another. Obi-Wan working alone means he has to be more resourceful and keep an eye on things by himself. Seeing him do that pretty well in this episode underscored how cool of a character he is.
Seeing as this episode is just the first in a three-part arc, I'm sure we'll get a lot more Mandalorian goodness in the next two weeks. Whether or not the next two episodes seriously enrage EU Mando fans is another story. Of course, the Karen Traviss supporters are but a small part of the EU fan community. They'll manage, and in the meantime the rest of us will really enjoy this arc, with its focus on Obi-Wan, his relationship with Satine, and the fearsome Death Watch.