By Christian Blauvelt, Hollywood.com Staff
This is what we've been waiting for.
"One vision can have many interpretations," was the moral that opened "Eminence," Star Wars: The Clone Wars' return to the brutal, thrilling sturm und drang of Darth Maul and his still-shadowy plan of revenge. You could see that moral as a mission statement for The Clone Wars itself. This is a show that filters that Galaxy Far, Far Away through a prism of perspectives: heroic Kurosawa-style tales of Jedi honor and sacrifice; kid-friendly coming-of-age stories about younglings testing themselves; quixotic odysseys of droids and other misfits who find purpose and meaning in a galaxy impossibly vast and diverse; flinty military procedurals about clones, their toil on battlefields far and wide, and their struggle to forge unique identities despite being bred to fight and die; and Leone-esque actioners about the scum and villainy who profit off conflict.
The last of these sub-genres within The Clone Wars may actually be the most satisfying. That's because it strikes the closest to the conceptual heart of Star Wars itself. Unlike Star Trek, which posits the idea of a utopian future in which humanity progresses more and more toward peace, harmony, and tranquility, despite the alien races that threaten to sabotage that utopia, the Star Wars galaxy is one thoroughly messed-up place. If you're not a Jedi, a politician, a military leader, a wealthy merchant, bounty hunter, or gangster, it could be really hard to survive there. Aside from the fact that that galaxy is almost always engulfed in war, there's a stark economic disparity between rich and pooreven on that most glistening of planets, Coruscant. An economic disparity that results in bounty hunting, smuggling, spice-trading, and slavery. Unlike the aspirational quality of Star Trek, Star Wars presents back to us a cracked-mirror version of our own society, in which the boundary lines between capitalism and criminality overlap. The way Warner Bros.' gangster movies in the 1930s and '40s did. The way Spaghetti Westerns did. The Jedi are all the more noble because even at their height, they were essentially alone: honorable men and women in a dishonorable world. That Galaxy Far, Far Away is even more chaotic than our own patch of the universeand yet we call it escapism. This is why Star Wars is at its very best when it lingers on scum and villainy, as Clone Wars did in "Eminence," because that is its conceptual heart.
"Eminence" is so fascinating, because it doesn't feature any of the good guys. It lingered solely on the black-hearted and the blacker-hearted. It opened with Maul and Savage's escape pod drifting through the icy blackness of space and suddenly shrouded in shadow from a spaceship passing overhead. A fountain of sparks cut through its airlock door and suddenly emerged a helmeted Mandalorian wielding a darksaber. Pre Vizsla! Jon Favreau's Death Watch baddie stepped in to the pod alongside his lieutenant, Katee Sackhoff's Bo Katan, and gazed upon two slumbering would-be Sith Lords, chilled into unconsciousness during their long journey through the void. (Lucasfilm has said that this scene is an homage to the opening of Aliens.)
Okay, think about this voice cast for a moment: we've got Being Human's Sam Witwer as Maul, The Highlander's Clancy Brown as Savage, Iron Man and Elf director Jon Favreau as Vizsla, and Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff as Katan. This is like The Avengers of voice actors.
NEXT: Maul and the Mandalorians make an unholy alliance. [PAGEBREAK]The Mandalorians took them back to the planet where they'd made base camp. It was a world seen only at twilight, summoning up fond childhood memories of reading what many consider to be the worst Star Wars Expanded Universe novel of all time, Barbara Hambley's Planet of Twlight. There, the Mandalorians set about repairing Maul's severed mechanical leg and Savage's severed armproving that Star Wars has lost none of its affinity for loss of limb. Why were they doing this? Pre Vizsla saw their lightsabers but knew they mustn't be Jedi. If they weren't Jedi, but wielded lightsabers, they could be potential allies. Maul woke up, declared himself and his brother to be the True Lords of the Sith. Vizsla mentioned how he hadn't exactly gotten along well with the Sith in the past, either. There was that whole matter of Count Dooku betraying him way back in Season 2. Luckily, Maul also shared Vizsla's contempt for Dooku, the usurper who'd taken his place by Darth Sidious' side. They had a second enemy in common as well: Obi-Wan Kenobi, who'd left Maul and Savage drift through space and who'd helped the pacifist Duchess Satine maintain control over Mandalore, resulting in Vizsla's exile. So what does Maul seek? "Fortune and power." That's what he said, anyway. Whether that's really what he's after is left to be seen.
The Mandalorians seemed to be putting on a show of their own, though. Vizsla invited Maul to tea to discuss their plans for an alliance. Bo Katan asked why they should team with someone who'd been gutted by Kenobi to help them fight Kenobi. Maul promptly Force choked her. We all know sometimes the best impressions are made as a result of oxygen deprivation, and Vizsla immediately acquiesced to Maul's offer, then shared a glance with Bo after the Sith Lord had left as if they had performed this display of reluctance to make Maul all the more eager to join them. They must surely have an ulterior motive in pairing with the horned wonders. As, conversely, does Maul in pairing with them. Though he promised to help them unseat Duchess Satine, reclaim Mandalore, and restore their culture to its warrior ways, he later told Savage, "They know nothing of our true intentions. Those revelations will come too late."
NEXT: The EU gets a big shout-out as Maul once again attacks the Black Sun criminal syndicate.[PAGEBREAK]But before they could launch any attack, they'd have to build up an army first. In the Star Wars: Darth Maul comics begun in 2000, Lord Sidious sent Maul to decapitate the leadership of Black Sun, the vast criminal organization controlled by the Falleen, so that they would not pose a threat to his dark designs. Now mind you, Sidious didn't want them completely destroyed, as they might prove useful laterjust marginalized. (A resurgent Black Sun, led by the infamous Prince Xizor, would then feature decades later, chronologically speaking that is, in one of the all-time great Star Wars novels, Shadows of the Empire.) So for him and the Mandalorians to gather the resources for their army, Maul decided they'd pay a little visit to the Black Sun headquarters. It was a volcano planet, an environment hostile enough to produce a race of sentient, cold-blooded lizards like the Falleen. When he asked the majordomo for an audience with the Black Sun council, the guard ominously replied, "It'll be your funeral." Whoever the Falleen was who was leading the Black Sun at this time agreed, declaring that they are not mercenaries to be hired and ordered about. Savage, Maul, and Vizsla quickly snapped the bones of the guards who circled in to dispose of them. The Black Sun boss had one last chance. Needless to say, he didn't take it. Savage ignited his lightsaber, and, with one flick of his wrist, sent it flying down the council table, quickly beheading everyone sitting there. Cartoon Network once again censored Clone Wars for its violence and insisted upon removing this image, of their headless corpses still seated at the table, Suddenly, we're in a Yakuza movie! The last Falleen standing got the message and said to Maul, "After careful consideration, we will join you."
After this, Vizsla wanted to move against Satine right away. Maul said No, they needed a bigger force. Their opportunity here was so great, they could not afford to chance it, until there was no room for error. First, Maul accepted the assistance of the Pykes, spice traders connected to all the families of Coruscant, who look like the aliens in Independence Day. Second, they would travel to Nal Hutta to speak with the Hutts, custodians of the greatest criminal endeavors of the galaxynot to mention a couple hundred worldswho would be much less likely to proffer their services. Without a fight, anyway. They arrived in the Hutt's council chamber. Jabba, safely snug in his palace on Tatooine, communicated via hologram. The most senior cartel member present was Oruba, the albino who's also the one and only Hutt to make the daring choice to wear clothes. Maul's demand was simple: the Hutts would give them all the worlds they control and everything on them...in exchange for their lives. See, that's where anyone should start negotiations! Of course, Oruba came prepared and out popped bounty hunters Sugi, Latts Razzi, Embo, and Dengar. Sadly, Simon Pegg was not on-hand to voice Dengar, but if he had, this may have been the greatest voice cast ever assembled for a 22-minute installment of an animated show.
NEXT: Jabba finds that Maul is his kind of scum, after all.[PAGEBREAK]Sugi, last seen rescuing Ahsoka and Chewbacca in the Season 3 finale, snapped a throwing knife at Maul's skull. It stopped and hung suspended an inch before his face, as Savage plucked it out of the air with the Force. He threw it back. Maul, Savage and the Mandalorians raced outside, away from the killing pit of the Hutt audience chamber to where they had their own backup. "I see the negotiations have gone as planned," quipped Katan. With a phalanx of Mandalorian warriors backing them up, they marched back inside. Embo ordered his Anooba fighting dog, Marrok, to attack Maul, which was one of the most geektastic moments of all, if you ask me. If you had told me a year ago that we'd get to see Embo, that taciturn, wide-brim-hatted Kyuzo, attack Darth Maul with his Anooba, I'm not sure I'd have believed you. The dog dripped it's saliva from its frothing jaws as it sought a taste of Sith flesh, but Maul kicked it off with his metal legs. Savage, meanwhile, pummeled Embo, and finally all the bounty hunters fled, with the Anooba carrying Embo's hat in his teeth as they scurried away. (What a perfect touch!) Back to the council chamber and the terrified Oruba. Maul asked where to find Jabba. "Tatooine!" said the pale Hutt. "So the only thing you can tell me is that I will find Jabba at Jabba's palace?" Maul scoffed. Savage sliced through the Hutt's blubber with his crimson blade.
With Nal Hutta secure, the only remaining obstacle to their goal of securing Hutt space was indeed Jabba. So they traveled to Tatooine and interrupted a Gamorrean arm-wrestling match with a full-scale frontal assault on his palacewith jetpacks! They barged inside like Boussh and found Derrown (!), a.k.a. Best Character Ever, Gorga, the monocled Hutt, and presiding over all, Jabba himself. His translator droid, sure to be headed for disintegration soon, said, "The mighty Jabba and the Hutt families have decided to join you." So much for that!
Now, with an army at their disposal, Maul gave the word to Vizsla to send an advance force to Mandalore to scout out their enemy's weaknesses. Vizsla complied, still acting the part of the loyal ally. But when the horned pretender Sith had passed out of earshot, Vizsla said to Katan, "Soon Mandalore will be ours and Maul and his brother will be dead alongside the Duchess."
Backstabbing, treachery, and more than a few characters becoming one with the Force. What more could you want? Now, to Mandalore!
Padawan readers, what did you guys think of "Eminence"?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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