Coming on the heels of Corruption, this episode would have had to include the line "Live long and prosper" to disappoint me. As it turned out, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit, although I did find it to be a bit boring at times, and there were a few things that irked me. It was a solid addition to the season on its own, even if Satine's personality change from the previous episode was a bit jarring. In addition to revealing a not-so-unexpected villain and bolstering Ahsoka's resume with evidence of her excellent substitute teaching skills, The Academy made me think deeper about various characters, most notably Satine and Ahsoka.
Let's just get this out of the way: As with every episode of Season 3 so far, the animation was stunning. Mandalore is a planet that lends itself well to stylistic choices in animation, and this episode did not disappoint. Almec looked great, especially in his silver cloak, and I thought the choice of colors for the cadets' uniforms worked well in the environment. The music in this episode also had its moments, particularly when Almec's thugs gave chase to the cadets. I thought the blast from Almec's stun gun was interesting too, particularly the way it seemed to sizzle through Ahsoka, unlike how it affected Leia in A New Hope (although the stun ring, fittingly enough, looked the same). Also on the subject of animation, the aftermath of the attack on Satine's chamber was visually intense. Even with no blood, it was very disturbing seeing guard bodies slumped everywhere.
Despite the focus being on the government of Mandalore, Ahsoka has an important role in this episode, both for her cadets' development and for her own character. In the beginning, Anakin made a good point about Ahsoka's youth helping her cadets relate to and trust her. She certainly taught them a valuable lesson about corruption and good citizenship. The cadets took the curiosity Ahsoka taught them to foster and applied it during their own boredom, giving Ahsoka the evidence she needed to help them bring down the Prime Minister. Even so, Ahsoka's response to one cadet's question of treason highlights a problem for the Jedi Order back on Coruscant. She tells the cadet to always be on the lookout for corruption at the highest levels, but there is every indication that the Jedi Council isn't heeding this warning. Yoda and Mace Windu do not begin to suspect a problem in the Chancellor's office until it's too late.
When instructing these cadets, Ahsoka must toe the line between urging caution to keep them out of trouble and wanting to instill her Jedi instincts of curiosity in them. That's a hard thing to do, and she initially receives criticism for her more reserved lessons when Cadet Korkie says that she sounds less like a Jedi Knight and more like his aunt. (Perhaps even Korkie realizes that his aunt's pacifism is problematic.) Later in the episode, Ahsoka handles herself very well in combat, even without her lightsaber. Her use of a shock collar on Almec, even though she did it to halt his thugs, seemed very un-Jedi-like. I think it fits in with the overall theme of desperate times leading calling for desperate measures. She hasn't had the benefit of growing up in a more peaceful time; the only Jedi techniques she knows are based primarily on the need to survive this war. Whereas someone like Mace Windu can easily perceive when violence is necessary and when it isn't, Ahsoka would probably have more trouble restraining herself from acting in a situation where interference was tempting but unnecessary.
Ahsoka's growth as a character is also apparent at the end of the episode, when she reunites with Anakin for the obligatory post-mission witty banter. One can see through the veneer of their conversation and realize that Ahsoka is really growing up. As the series progresses, she's becoming increasingly aware of Anakin's own recklessness and his "pot calling the kettle black" approach to training her. With every "You would have done the same thing" interaction, she becomes less his student, less reliant on him, and more her own Jedi.
As the only interesting cadet is Korkie, I'll say a few things about him here. First of all...Korkie? Really? That's a dog breed, not the name of a kid.* As for his personality, I liked him. He seemed to draw a lot from one of the most familiar characters in the Star Wars saga. He's very sharp, but he's also impertinent when dealing with his aunt. I like that he is set up as the headstrong adventurer who is constantly told to simmer down. He was very much like Luke at the beginning of ANH. His brazen attitude is partially a product of his frustration at the lack of investigation.
Considering that The Academy focused on the corruption in Satine's government, the Duchess herself didn't do too much in this episode. When Ahsoka arrived, she made a good point about open-mindedness to the Prime Minister when she says, "There's nothing to fear from exposing them to new ideas." It's also revealed that she knew all along that something was amiss -- this proves she isn't naïve (or at least not as naïve as we thought), even if she relied heavily on the success of Ahsoka's rescue. I would still like to see Satine as a villain at some point. If nothing else, it would make her relationship with Obi-Wan even more interesting. In general, though, Satine was portrayed as a much more even-handed ruler in this episode. Her previous ruthlessness was nowhere to be seen, although this discrepancy can be explained by saying that she toned down her behavior in anticipation of Ahsoka's assistance.
Prime Minister Almec was at the center of this episode for sure. While he seemed to underestimate Ahsoka's abilities at first, it became clear that he was far more cunning than that. He proved himself to be a smart villain when he anticipated Ahsoka's true motives and her use of the Jedi mind trick. (Incidentally, how exactly do you train people to resist that like he did with his thugs?) He even seemed to anticipate the stupidity of the cadets when he set up his embarrassingly obvious trap. ("Bring me all your evidence and any witnesses." Wow, why not just ask them to off themselves and save yourself the trouble?) His willingness to torture Korkie also showed that he was a ruthless villain, and I actually think the scene where his thugs attack Korkie's group might have been a bit too much for some young viewers. Even though Ahsoka arrived in time to save them, there were a few shots of Almec's thugs viciously striking the children, and one thug even smacked a student into the grasp of another thug. I'd be interested to know what young kids thought while watching that scene.
I really liked the scene where Almec stunned Ahsoka. Her grunts of pain sounded very real and Almec's line "You little fool" was snarled perfectly. However, one thing that struck me as unusual was his dismissal of the Force as "archaic magic." I doubt anyone could refuse to believe in the power of the Force, particularly during this time period. How could Almec have disregarded the Force while watching reports of Jedi super-heroics in the war? He seemed to be a cunning villain overall, and I think the TCW team had him discredit the Force in order to liken him to Tarkin, but it didn't fit during a time when the Jedi and their powers are too well-known to ignore. Still, between the stun gun and the shock collar, Almec was a serious villain, and he lent a much-needed menace to this episode.
Despite the positive qualities of this episode, I took issue with many parts of it. First of all, I didn't understand the cadet's line about the Academy teaching them well when they broke into the secure building. What would the Academy be doing teaching kids how to override locking mechanisms? (That intrusion also seemed way too easy for those youngsters.) I also had a problem with Ahsoka's response when the cadets mentioned their discovery. I would think she'd be more interested in helping them uncover the truth, much like she had advocated at the beginning of the episode. (Perhaps it's due to the "setting a good example" conflict I described earlier.) I also didn't understand how she just so happened to be in the neighborhood when Almec's thugs were attacking her cadets. Did she follow them? Did she sense them through the Force? I know there were only 22 minutes to work with, but I think the TCW team should have included something indicating that Ahsoka had been alerted to their distress.
Another baffling Ahsoka moment was when she told her students that they would know her signal when they saw it. Even if she wanted to avoid being overheard, I got annoyed at the use of such a clichéd element of secret plans. And here's another gripe about the cadets: are they made of durasteel or something? At the end of the episode, they were full-on ramming into thugs to incapacitate them. It seems to me that young children in plain clothes would be seriously injured by slamming into armored thugs. At the very least, they shouldn't have been that effective at downing their adversaries.
Lastly, I have to address Ahsoka using her datapad to identify the cloaked figure as Almec. While that was a nice demonstration of Google Goggles in the GFFA, it seemed totally ridiculous in this episode. I understand that Ahsoka and her young wards didn't have the same amount of time to unravel the mystery as Scooby Doo, but that scene was a Deux ex machina in the most annoying sense.
While The Academy had its faults, I truly liked it. I certainly thought it was better than Corruption. The Mandalorian law banning offworlders from having weapons contrasts with the weapons of cruelty used later in the episode. This irony showed the depth to which Almec had manipulated and corrupted Mandalorian society. The previous episode did a few good things in setting this one up: Almec blaming Death Watch can now be seen as an obvious way to shift the blame away from himself. His promise of an investigation implies that he either lied altogether about this or seriously stalled the investigation -- either way, it's clear that he manipulated things behind the scenes and had more of an impact on the corruption than we saw on-screen in this episode. I still don't think this episode redeemed its prequel, nor do I understand why Mandalore is so important in the span of the war at this point, but as its own 22-minute story, The Academy was full of thought-provoking scenes and interactions, great visuals, and a genuinely intriguing villain.