In the three-season history of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, no episode has ever been as eagerly awaited as Wookiee Hunt. Star Wars fans have been clamoring to view this twenty-two minute story ever since we first learned of a special inclusion to the season finale straight out of the films. We gasped at the boldness of the team at Lucasfilm Animation, and we marveled at the implications it might have for the Original Trilogy. I'm referring of course to the first-ever appearance of Tarfful the Wookiee in a TCW episode.
Just kidding! (Although that really was Tarfful's grand animation debut.) Of course, as everyone knows by now, Wookiee Hunt was Chewbacca's debut on The Clone Wars, so naturally this episode will be met with incredible scrutiny when it comes to his depiction. I for one found no flaws with his portrayal. I thought they nailed his look, sound, and mannerisms. There were a few scenes that were so authentic to the Chewbacca of the films that they could have been taken right out of one such film and animated for television. It's obvious to me that Dave Filoni's decision to consult with Peter Mayhew greatly aided the animation team as they worked to reproduce Chewbacca's mannerisms on the small screen.
In Wookiee Hunt, we were treated to a score of classic Star Wars music (see what I did there?). The first instance of this came when Chewbacca made his debut appearance. In addition to that brief strain of a familiar tune from A New Hope, Chewbacca's The Clone Wars debut was made even better by the lighting choice. When he stood up, he was half-hidden in the shadows of the crashed transport, and when he stepped into the light, it was like an instant jolt back to the classic Star Wars stories that introduced the saga. Another great use of OT music came at the end of the episode. When Anakin finally reunited with Ahsoka, we heard the classic "Binary Sunset" tune that plays as Luke gazes out at the Tatooine landscape. The use of such an iconic and wistful track gave the scene a certain element of poignancy, a profound emotional impact -- especially given the fact that Anakin and Ahsoka's relationship is almost certainly doomed, and even more so because of the eventual path that Anakin takes as a result of his attachments and the pain they bring him.
On a non-musical note, I also liked the attention to detail that we saw with those extreme close-ups of the Trandoshan hunter's twitching nostrils. It indicates how closely the animation team is paying attention to the most minor things, and it lent a great deal of realism to the episode. In fact, that whole scene with Ahsoka hiding under and behind the tree trunk was masterfully depicted, with camerawork worthy of a live-action show. Later, we were treated to an intense explosion after the Padawans sabotaged the slaver transport ship -- the extraordinary fire and debris effects made me think of how far the show has come. I also liked the suspenseful music that we heard when the Trandoshan sniper lined up his shot just before the Padawans distracted him. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was aiming at two untouchable characters, that music, combined with the handful of shots viewed through his rifle scope, would have had me on the edge of my seat.
I picked up on several miscellaneous things that added some nice "flavoring" to this episode beyond its main themes. For one thing, the last-minute arrival of the Wookiees reminded me of the clones' debut at the Battle of Geonosis. This was particularly evident when Chewbacca looked up and saw his allies arrive in a gunship. During the Wookiees' arrival, we were again treated to an excellent bit of A New Hope music. Another interesting addition to the scene was the identity of the gunship's owners. It was really nice to see Sugi's crew again. With recurring participation in the series, these characters -- like Hondo and Domino Squad before them -- begin to take on the role of guest stars, sprinkled in here and there to increase our familiarity with them. Killing off characters like Sugi also becomes a much bigger deal the more we get to know and see them. (Echo, anyone?) This scene was also an excellent place to add Sugi's crew because of the nature of the job. The Wookiees brought her in to provide transport, and if we remember all the way back to Bounty Hunters, that was what she ultimately did for Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka after their first meeting.
As I said before, Chewbacca looked absolutely great in his debut. The animators nailed his appearance and movements. There was one absolutely perfect moment when Chewbacca subdued the sniper and Ahsoka told Chewbacca not to kill him so they could use him for their escape plan. The camera lingered on Chewbacca as he seemed to ask "Do I have to let him live?" before reluctantly dropping the Trandoshan to the ground. I don't think anyone could watch that scene and not think of the altercation with Lando in The Empire Strikes Back.
When Chewbacca was in the Padawans' hideout, his mannerisms screamed A New Hope to me. I also thought it was a nice touch to have him set up a transmitter, both from a story point of view and because it harkened back (forward?) to his proficiency with machinery and gadgets in the Original Trilogy. For that matter, the initial smoking failure of Chewbacca's transmitter reminded me of the various mechanical problems that the Millennium Falcon faced under Han Solo and Chewbacca's command. In yet another Original Trilogy reference (or at least, what seemed like one), the two lost Padawans expressed their tentative support for Chewbacca's plan with the statement, "We'll do it the Wookiee way." All I could think of was C-3PO's famous line, "Let the Wookiee win."
Besides Chewbacca, one of my favorite things about this episode was that the Padawans seemed to develop excellent teamwork skills with the added strength of their new comrade Chewbacca. Being weaponless, the Padawans themselves were relatively weak compared with burly, ferocious Trandoshans, but that didn't stop them from putting up a fight. I liked that Ahsoka and Chewbacca had to depend on O-Mer and Jinx to distract the sniper -- such heroism and usefulness ensured that they all remained vital to the mission's success, and thus Wookiee Hunt avoided casting these two new characters off to the side while Ahsoka and Chewbacca were palling around.
I appreciated the fact that the Padawans, unable to secure one of the Trandoshans' weapons, had to rely on their growing sense of camaraderie with Ahsoka and Chewbacca, as well as a judicious use of Force-pushes, to hold the Trandoshans at bay. You also see this teamwork when they lift one of the hunting speeders and use it as projectile onboard the Trandoshan base ship. And then there's Jinx's use of a Mind Trick. I didn't see that coming, but I was impressed that the young Twi'lek had sufficient mastery of the ability to overpower the rage that must have been surging through the captive Trandoshan sniper. (Then again, he did seem pretty weak-minded.)
I found Ahsoka's character the most interesting in this episode. For one thing, she can apparently understand Shyriiwook. That's interesting enough on its own, but with little else to say on the subject, I'll just casually mention that she would make a great tutor for young Han Solo in a few years. (Come on, Season 5 flash-forward!) Seriously though, I was impressed with her ability to control her anger when dealing with the vicious slavers. She seemed to be interested in applying only nonlethal Force (pun intended) while fighting them. This demonstrated that she was learning to keep her anger in check, whereas early in Season 1 she would have fought with a sloppy technique and a disconcerting degree of anger. It's literally like she's growing up right before our eyes.
I was initially worried about how Ahsoka would handle the final battle with the leader of the Trandoshan crew -- after all, she was in his domain, unarmed, and without the element of surprise. As it turns out, it pays to be small and agile when your enemy isn't exactly all that limber himself. (Although he apparently learned to duck after witnessing a whole lot of Force-pushing.) It was a nice break from the physical grappling between Trandoshans and Wookiees to see Ahsoka darting gracefully around the slavers' trophy room. Her fluid movement was a reminder that you don't always need to carry a big gun or a sharp knife if you can just avoid the other guy's guns and knives until you see an opportunity to turn the tables.
And turn the tables she did. One of the most striking connections to the films that I saw in this episode happened at the end of Ahsoka's fight with the Trandoshan leader. As he reached for his discarded weapon, Ahsoka yelled, "Don't!" Then she Force-pushed him off the ship and sent him plummeting to his death before he could shoot her. That scene brought back vivid memories of Revenge of the Sith, where Darth Vader, desperate and nearly beaten, stared up at Obi-Wan on Mustafar, ignored his shouted "Don't try it!" warning, and jumped to meet his former friend on the high ground -- and of course, we know how that ended. It's an interesting parallel that makes for a nice comparison to that fateful scene in Episode III.
Later, when Ahsoka returns to Coruscant, Anakin confronts his Padawan and admits that he failed her. In a rare moment of tables-turned wisdom, Ahsoka reminds him that his job was to prepare her for anything, that he evidently succeeded, and that he also enabled her to pass on a degree of Jedi discipline to a group of once-hopeless Padawans. By recognizing the value of Anakin's tutelage, Ahsoka displayed immense humility and wisdom. By acknowledging and defusing her Master's anxiety over the thought of failing (and losing) her, Ahsoka displayed a keen understanding of what troubled him. She proved that she could appeal to his sense of pride in her in order to put his mind at ease. To summarize, Ahsoka read Anakin like an open book.
Also reading people like open books was the wise Master Yoda, who stood and watched as Master and Padawan, reunited again, strode into the Temple together. In his ever-scrutinous way, Yoda seemed at first concerned and then satisfied with the pair. It was if he decided to put off his misgivings for the moment since Ahsoka was safe. In my view, these hints of Yoda's discomfort with the Anakin-Ahsoka partnership should be sprinkled in more and more as we approach what may be the penultimate season. Moments that reveal Yoda's growing doubts would go nicely with the brief glimpses of Palpatine's true self that have appeared on the show.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with Wookiee Hunt. Its phenomenal depiction of Chewbacca, thought-provoking portrayal of the Anakin-Ahsoka relationship, use of classic saga music, and wealth of visually-stunning moments more than made up for what could be called a dearth of meaningful plot. I have heard some people criticize this for being an episode unworthy of the finale spot. Some say that it didn't have the same punch as Season Two's Lethal Trackdown. I disagree, and counter with what I already wrote about that brief shot of Yoda. That final moment on the landing pad was a great place to step back from the universe of The Clone Wars before we return to it in Season 4. After all, while things are settled for the moment, Yoda would be the first to tell viewers that when it comes to the galaxy far, far away, "Always in motion is the future."
Thanks for reading my final review of The Clone Wars Season 3. I'll be back this Fall to discuss the excitement and bar-raising that will surely be Season 4!