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TFN TCW Review: Sabotage

Posted By Eric on February 9, 2013

The Clone Wars Season 5 Episode 17: Sabotage

I often comment on the extent to which episodes of The Clone Wars contribute to the central narrative purpose of the series: taking us from the beginning of the Clone Wars to the edge of their conclusion from a galactic perspective. The first episode of Season 5's final story arc, "Sabotage", was a phenomenal installment precisely because it devoted so much time to that goal. In addition to spending a great deal of time showing us what the average citizen of Coruscant thinks about the war and the "good guys," "Sabotage" was also about Anakin and Ahsoka's relationship and the terrific but doomed camaraderie they have built up. This episode also dealt with Anakin's increasing frustration with the chaos he sees in the shadows of the war and the Jedi Order's inability to contain that chaos. In short, it was hard to pick which brilliantly executed element of foreshadowing lingered most ominously over the events of "Sabotage".

If I had to pick a subtitle for this episode, I would probably go with "Trouble Brewing For The Jedi Order." While The Clone Wars had already begun showing how galactic turmoil was encroaching on the Jedi Order, "Sabotage" was a concentrated dose of that kind of exposition. The troubling undercurrent in this episode began when Mace Windu told Anakin and Ahsoka that they had to investigate the bombing of the Jedi Temple because "We can't trust anyone who's here." Internal discipline is crucial to an organization like the Jedi Order; they lose power every time they have to start questioning their own members. The process could be said to have begun with the first member of the Lost Twenty, but it only recently resurfaced with the incident involving General Krell.

Anakin brought this degenerative suspicion to the forefront again when he told Letta, "Everyone's a suspect." The consequences of this attitude, however practical it might have been, have been well-documented in the history of the real world. When you start looking over your shoulder like the Jedi Order did in this episode, you start to question everything, and you see suspicious behavior where none exists. That eventually breaks down the very foundations of social order.

We saw this breakdown begin in the souring of relations between the Jedi Knights and the citizens of Coruscant. The survivors of the bombing had heard that a Jedi might be involved, and Russo-ISC, the investigator droid, suspected that they might harbor ill will toward Jedi. I have to say, I wouldn't blame them if they did. Think of all the chaos that lightsaber-wielders have either directly or indirectly caused for the people of Coruscant, to say nothing of the larger galaxy. Never mind the fact that they were carrying red blades. At least twenty of them started out walking the halls of the Jedi Order's sanctuary. We didn't hear any resentment from the survivors whom Ahsoka questioned, but who knows what those people were actually thinking. This potentially subdued resentment hit home another disturbing point about the growing anxiety directed at the Jedi Order. It's the discontent that festers silently for want of a viable outlet that is most worrisome.

When Anakin and Ahsoka found Jackar Bowmani's apartment in the lower levels of Coruscant, Ahsoka remarked, "I would have thought working for the Jedi paid better." With this offhand comment, the episode highlighted the disparity between being a Jedi and serving them, drawing attention to the often painful divide between the Force-sensitive "elite" and the commoners of Coruscant. In this scene and so many others, writer Charles Murray cleverly laid the groundwork for the Emperor's exploitation of public anger at the Jedi in Episode III. It isn't at all surprising that the "regular Joes" of the galaxy would be distrustful of people who could fool sensors, erase memories, and telekinetically bypass locks. The bombing of the Temple and the collateral damage to the Jedi's maintenance and support workers was simply another example of the causes for grievance that the people of Coruscant could express.

And express grievances they did. The protest outside the Jedi Temple was one of my all-time favorite scenes in any TCW episode. The series has hardly ever shined as brightly in terms of its ability to transition viewers into the atmosphere of Episode III. The protests enveloped the entire war, from the Jedi to the clone army. Plus, there was something positively chilling about the sight of the shouting protesters facing the silent Jedi Master Cin Drallig, head of Temple security, flanked by a pair of his masked guards and two clone security troopers. Even the stoic Master Drallig was disturbed by what he was seeing. The people, as he told Anakin, were desperately, furiously "looking for answers."

No one better exemplified this disapproval of the Jedi and the war effort than Letta Turmond. Although she lied to Anakin with most of what she said, and although we don't yet know her true motives or hidden affiliations, it's clear that her anger at the Jedi was the one honest part of who she is. She certainly wasn't pretending to despise the "ivory temple" mentality of the Jedi Order's secluded headquarters when she told Anakin, "Not just anyone can walk into your precious temple." At the end of the episode, when Letta told Anakin and Ahsoka, "You're dealing with things you don't understand," she was obviously speaking of the roiling undercurrent of anti-war extremism, an aspect of the Clone Wars that has been sorely neglected thus far. Behind the scenes of the series, and hopefully increasingly within episodes themselves, the people of the Republic have begun to view the Jedi as cloistered monks who receive all kinds of accommodations protections that perhaps they don't deserve.

While the public was starting to grow seriously uncomfortable with the place of the Jedi within the Republic, it was equally true that the Jedi were less than satisfied with their place in the political and military structure. Consider how Ahsoka became territorial when Master Windu told her and Anakin that the Senate might be contemplating sending in the military police. She, like the rest of the Jedi Order, saw the bombing as an internal affair of the Jedi. There were Jedi fatalities and the incident took place within what they considered their home. But as Windu reminded Ahsoka, the Senate -- whose oversight authority probably makes the Council bristle -- will take notice of serious crimes wherever they occur. As the Republic's legislative body, the Senate is accountable to the people and responsible for ensuring peace no matter where a threat occurs. If keeping the peace meant reaching into the sacred halls of the Republic's peace-keepers, then so be it. This tension between the elected representatives of the people and what had always been a super-powered, quasi-police, paramilitary organization was incredibly exciting to see, even if it was only for a few seconds.

As important as the Jedi aspect is to the overall picture of the protests and discontent, there was also a strong anti-clone, anti-war tinge to the public's frustrations. The fact that Anakin found an anti-clone propaganda holo-poster in Bowmani's apartment suggested that Letta's motives were tied to the overall war and not just a hatred of the Jedi Order. The idea of a backlash against the clone troopers -- who give their lives for the people of the Republic almost (or in some cases literally) without thinking about it -- offers rich possibilities for the rest of this story arc.

The two parallel themes in this episode were the tension between the Republic and the Jedi and the more personal dynamic between Ahsoka and Anakin. While the young Togruta has been growing and maturing from Day One, it has rarely been as obvious as it was in "Sabotage". Anakin may have called her "Snips" once in the beginning of the episode, but she was so far beyond that initial portrayal of her character that Anakin's fleeting reference to the early days quickly disappeared from my mind.. Ahsoka seemed much more confident, her voice was more adult, and her attitude was significantly more mature. If I had to rate each episode of The Clone Wars based on how much Ahsoka had grown from her previous appearance to the current one, "Sabotage" would absolutely be one of the highest-scoring episodes.

Ahsoka actually alluded to the character she was starting to resemble when she muttered, "Somebody has to save his skin," before leaping to Anakin's rescue. (This time, while there was a flyboy, there were no garbage chutes.) She seemed to relish the opportunity to point out that Anakin owed her one when she told him, "Fighter crashed. I saved the day. You're welcome." When Anakin adopted an expression of bemusement and replied, "Alright," it capped a moment of genuine camaraderie that was refreshingly similar to some of the Anakin and Obi-Wan scenes in the beginning of Episode III. It's ironic that this scene took place on Cato Neimoidia, because Anakin and Ahsoka's exchange reminded me of another sequence of banter related to comrades saving each other's lives that ended with Obi-Wan saying, "That business on Cato Neimoidia didn't count."

The obligatory chase sequence at the end of this episode likewise showed viewers that Anakin and Ahsoka made a great team. In addition to giving us an expansive if brief look at the bright and seedy Coruscant underground, the chase recalled a similar scene in Episode II where Obi-Wan and Anakin chased Zam Wessell. The parallels between the two master-apprentice partnerships were obvious. Just as the series takes every opportunity to enrich Anakin and Obi-Wan's friendship, this episode presumably emphasized Anakin and Ahsoka's teamwork to strengthen their relationship in the lead-up to an emotional confrontation between the two characters.

Ahsoka's relationship with Anakin was one part of her character development in this episode. The other part concerned her as an individual, wandering through the structures of the Republic and the Jedi Order and reacting to the tension that resulted from the mixture of the two. Despite her remarkable growth, her youth and idealism were evident in her shocked expression following the revelation that a Jedi might have been the perpetrator of the bombing. Ahsoka couldn't believe that one of their own would try to destroy the temple. Later in the episode, Ahsoka had to face public backlash against the Order, and it rattled her idealism. She's not naive by any means, but she certainly had a rosier picture of the Order's public image before the bombing than she did at the end of the episode.

By contrast to Ahsoka, her master Anakin was under no illusions about the possibility that some rogue Jedi had abandoned his oath to the Order. While warning Ahsoka not to underestimate the Dark Side's appeal to disaffected Jedi, he cited Dooku and Krell as examples of Knights gone bad. As he explained that the Order's internal unity was fraying due to the war, he implied that critics of the Order's approach could easily turn into violent traitors. His attitude seemed to be that total obedience to the cause was necessary, that a difference of opinions could be a sign of weakness, and that disagreement would quickly dissolve the bonds that formed strong organizations like the Jedi Order. He obviously had no tolerance for dissent; he viewed it as a cancer that could compromise solidarity.

In the immediate case of the Temple bombing, Anakin's attitude seemed appropriate. After all, the result of the perpetrator's discontent was the gruesome deaths of many innocent people. But
his attitude suggested a crucial character flaw that eventually will lead him down the exact path of ruin and despair about which he warned Ahsoka. This episode conveyed the idea that Anakin's obsession with order, as expressed to Padm? in the Naboo meadow in Episode II, didn't come from nowhere, that it was grounded in situations like the Temple bombing where his disgust at disruptive fanatics seemed justified. The fact that Anakin will one day turn his need for order into a life as the Emperor's enforcer is merely a glimmer in the series' eye at this point. Nevertheless, Anakin's lecture to Ahsoka about the dangers of dissidents was very interesting to watch with an eye toward the future.

Despite preparing himself to confront a rogue Jedi while investigating the Temple bombing, Anakin clearly shared Ahsoka's discomfort with the idea of a Jedi having committed the crime, albeit more out of a sense of inevitability than a reluctance to admit the possibility. He and Ahsoka were positively desperate to find a non-Jedi suspect, and as the supervisor of all Temple explosives and a specialist in nanotechnology, the Abyssin man named Jackar Bowmani fit the bill perfectly. The two Jedi were so eager to believe that the culprit wasn't one of them that they clung to the idea of Bowmani as the perpetrator, and the convenience of his involvement, followed by the revelation that he might not have been complicit, was a lesson about not making assumptions and remaining open to all possibilities.

From the opening battle sequence to the use of movie music to the inclusion of Eta-2 Actis-class light interceptors (the second evolution of Jedi starfighters), "Sabotage" was chock-full of references to and connections between the movies. I particularly liked the homage to Luke's arrival on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, when Ahsoka thought that R2-D2 had been lost with Anakin's fighter, only to sigh with relief as he hovered to safety, chuckling electronically as he did so. (Side note: R2 can use the Jedi starfighter's wings to smack buzz droids off the ship's hull! How funny was that?) The music from the movies made this episode feel a lot more like a true Star Wars tale than even some of the series' other best episodes. In particular, the opening space-and-then-atmosphere-battle had all the hallmarks of the Battle over Coruscant at the beginning of Episode III.

One remarkable thing that this episode accomplished was the ability to tell a thrilling story without much actual conflict. Besides the brief opening battle, no one shot (or swung a lightsaber) at anyone. In fact, some of this episode's most impressive scenes were eerily peaceful. I have already described and thoroughly praised the protest outside the Temple. Another impressive scene was when Ahsoka was walking through the holographic simulation of the explosion, analyzing blast data, and looking at hovering debris. The disturbing sight of the chaos unfolding "around" her (but not truly around her) supplemented the intense CSI-style music that accompanied her investigation.

In terms of dramatic nonviolent scenes, there was also the investigation montage toward the end of the episode where Anakin and Ahsoka split up to search Bowmani's apartment. Any time two characters split up, you're expecting trouble, and I kept thinking someone was going to ambush one of them. On a similar note, the beeping sound that Ahsoka heard made me think someone had left behind a bomb. From the perspective of pacing, camera work, and audio engineering, these were exceptional scenes. They were also proof that you don't have to show a pitched battle every week to have tension, suspense, and excitement in your episode.

This episode ended with a suspect in custody and Anakin and Ahsoka's fears about rogue Jedi allayed, but the larger threat to the Jedi Order was still out there, lurking like a hunter circling its prey. Mace Windu was right when he pointed out that "This war is becoming less popular every day it persists." Without showing or mentioning him, this episode brought to mind the puppet master, the ultimate saboteur, Chancellor Palpatine. All of this conflict is part of his grand plan, and this episode in particular is proof that his scheme is working. Of course, public distrust of the Jedi is only one prong of his scheme. Another element is Anakin, whose praise of "good Jedi who fight for what's right" at the end of this episode is particularly tragic given that he will cease to be a good Jedi soon enough.

By exploring the fallout from and motives for a suicide bombing, "Sabotage" served as a gruesome and disturbing reminder of the threats we face in the real world. Drawing from that one brief shot of Jackar Bowmani's severed hand, the episode touched on the aims, ideologies, and methods of religious extremists while staying true to the fundamentals of Star Wars and the long-term priorities of the series. I loved seeing the show return to the subject of public dissatisfaction with the Jedi. I always enjoy episodes that highlight how the Jedi are caught in the middle of a war they'd rather not fight. The fact that there were no dazzling lightsaber duels didn't bother me in the slightest. What we got instead was a resounding success: a strong start to a story arc and a solid twenty-two minutes of character development and foreshadowing.


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

Related Stories

February 16, 2013   TFN TCW Review: The Jedi Who Knew Too Much
February 16, 2013   Leland Chee's TCW Chronology Breakdown Part #8
February 12, 2013   Preview TCW: "The Jedi Who Knew Too Much"
February 7, 2013   New TCW Trailer Spells Trouble For Ahsoka
February 6, 2013   Preview TCW: "Sabotage"
February 2, 2013   TFN TCW Review: The Lawless

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