Much like The Citadel, I found Counterattack to be immensely enjoyable, at times poignant and at times exhilarating, but with no unifying theme. Perhaps after the Nightsisters and Mortis trilogies, it's going to be difficult adjusting to episodes that exhibit more "odds and ends"-type observations. In any event, this review, like my previous one, will be less thematic than many of my prior write-ups. I found a lot to love in Counterattack from homages to a minor twist, and I felt that it was the appropriate way to continue the Citadel story before the grand conclusion.
As the animation team gets more and more experience, the angles, visual subtleties, and camera movements become more compelling. That was certainly the case here. I noticed several instances of excellent animation in Counterattack, including the spinning shot of Sobeck's droids springing their trap on Obi-Wan's team and the shaky camera effect that we saw when the fuel line exploded. When Sobeck captured Obi-Wan's group, I noticed that both Kenobi and Master Even Piell were wearing very realistic grimaces that demonstrated an improvement in finite facial animation. There was also a series of great shots during the final battle, starting around the point when Anakin hijacks a STAP. I thought that the constant swerving and shifts in perspective were a great way to emphasize the scale and speed of the battle.
Osi Sobeck's personality was greatly enhanced in this episode, since we saw a lot more of him reacting to the Jedi and communicating with Dooku. I found his exchange with the Sith to be interesting because it showed that there was more to Sobeck than his harsh exterior. That's not to say that he has a soft and fuzzy inside, but rather that he fears failure and punishment more than he lets on. He even scolded his tactical droid for not giving him time to compose himself before answering Dooku's call. Sobeck is a different breed of villain from Gunray and the like. He may be fearful of Dooku's wrath, but he is certainly not spineless, as we see when he takes charge of the battle later on and ignores Dooku's call. His eventual refusal to be cowed by Dooku was all it took to distinguish him from the Separatist lackeys we see all the time. Also, as far as emphasizing his brutal personality, the evil laugh certainly helped.
Sobeck also lived up to his reputation for malice when he swiftly executed one of Piell's clones. That this disturbing sequence happened so abruptly is more evidence for the fact that this is definitely not a "kiddy show." What made this cold-blooded murder even more unsettling was that Sobeck glared at Master Piell as he shot the clone, as if to torment the old Jedi with his trooper's death. If I didn't suspect that Sobeck would be dead by the end of the next episode, I would get my hopes up to see him again. He has achieved the status of Hondo Ohnaka and Admiral Yularen in that we know just enough about him to be interested in learning more. Both Ohnaka and Yularen have been sprinkled throughout the series in recurring roles, and I wish Sobeck could be used in the same way.
In one of the very first sequences, a group of battle droids and super battle droids follows several mouse droids down a corridor in the Citadel as Obi-Wan's group crawls through the vent overhead. This sequence was perhaps the most reminiscent of the Death Star scenes in A New Hope, right down to the mouse droid noises. In addition, the facility’s security doors proved more useful than the Death Star's blast doors in hampering the rescue team. It's too bad for the Empire that the doors on the Death Star couldn't close as quickly as the ones in the Citadel. In any event, the death of the clone who got trapped in the security door's path was a gruesome moment that reminded us of how ambitious the series has become. There was yet another moment of OT foreshadowing later in the episode. When Count Dooku told Sobeck to "Cease the propriety," I was reminded of Vader's line to Jerjerrod on the second Death Star: "You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander."
Speaking of film homages, how about that attempted bluff on the landing pad? Am I the only one who thought of the Theed hangar from The Phantom Menace? That escape attempt had "Jedi taking the Queen and her entourage to Coruscant" written all over it. The battle droids guarding the team's ship even had a brief "That doesn't compute" moment before receiving Sobeck's updated orders. I thought that was a nice touch.
I also appreciated the brief exchange between the Jedi Masters on Coruscant where they emphasized the Citadel's formidable defenses. In the previous episode, we got a few lines about this being one of the galaxy's worst prisons, but then the rescue team got caught up in the action and the fact that this mission was an enormous gambit didn't really sink in. I liked that the Jedi Council's discussion of the Citadel portrayed it as the ultimate impregnable fortress. I look forward to seeing the "entire fleet" that is apparently necessary to assault it from space.
As someone with a soft spot for battle droid humor, I enjoyed the attitude that R2's battle droids had as they escorted their commander into the elevator. This droid humor was complemented by R2's own spunky personality when he bumped into one of his battle droids on the elevator. This little moment reminded me of R2's countless "human" mannerisms from the films. Still, I have to wonder: wouldn't Sobeck's tactical droid be suspicious of their unusual blue markings? I don't think Sobeck and his droid knew that they had been reprogrammed, because R2's soldiers later intercepted Obi-Wan's captured group, and Sobeck was furious about their escape, so he clearly hadn't planned that little hand-over.
I'll be curious to see if Anakin scolds Ahsoka for lying to him after they finally escape The Citadel. When he ordered her to blow up the cavern wall, it was clear from his angry tone and his mention of Plo Koon that he knew Ahsoka hadn't been assigned to the mission. Fittingly, Ahsoka sought to prove herself because she believed that he regretted her presence. After they blow up both the attacking droids and the cavern wall, she gave him a look that said, "How do you like me now, Skyguy?" We saw more Jedi camaraderie later in the episode, when the two groups met up on the landing platform and Anakin said, "Sorry I'm late." Obi-Wan's response -- "How nice of you to join us" -- was classic Episode II (and early Episode III) in my view. Later, we see that Yoda and Mace have come to accept the pair's unique style and brotherly relationship, as they share a knowing glance when Anakin adds to Obi-Wan's status report. On the other hand, that knowing glance could have been about the rescue team's predictable encounter with complications. Regardless, it was a cool little moment.
One of the moments in this episode that has drawn the most reaction is the death of clone trooper Echo. On this score, I'm decidedly torn. On the one hand, he's one of the most "recognizable" clones (no pun intended) in the series. We saw him grow up from rookie to veteran, and his character has received more development than almost every other trooper (Rex and Cody are the only exceptions I can think of). On the other hand, that is precisely why this might have been a good move to make. It shows us that some of the recurring characters in this series are expendable and that we shouldn't grow too attached to the ones that we don't see in the later films. I hope someday we see the fates of characters like Hondo Ohnaka and Riyo Chuchi. I bet there are some other people whose fates are not prescribed and whose deaths would give lasting impact to the particular episode and the overall series. We experienced this sense of being caught off-guard by a death when Ziro the Hutt became the first "recurring character" to perish, and I actually think that Ziro could have gone more places than Echo, so I'm relatively untroubled by this death.
Future precedents aside, Echo's death was played with just the right combination of momentary stillness and emphasized urgency. The din of battle quieted for a split second, and we saw shocked looks from a clone officer and Ahsoka. What really hit it home was the shot of Echo's still-smoking helmet lying on the ground as Obi-Wan urged the team to retreat. It was very moving, but still brief enough to fit with the needs of the situation.
By far the most interesting conversations in this episode were between Tarkin and the Jedi. First he praised the Citadel's ingenuity and then he criticized the Jedi code. We can already see the beginnings of his ambition and confidence, two of the qualities that lead to him "holding Vader's leash." When he admired the fortress for its creative detainment features, he was both foreshadowing his Imperial tendencies and enlightening Ahsoka to his questionable character. She asked naively how the Citadel could be admirable, and Tarkin's response seemed to chill her blood for a second. When he told her that it was a pity that the Citadel wasn't a Republic facility, Ahsoka obviously wondered if he would support the Grand Army of the Republic "containing" rogue Jedi. It is therefore ironic that Ahsoka seeks solace in Anakin's response and is surprised to hear him agree with Tarkin. After all, these two men would later become two of the Empire's most formidable villains, each maintaining his own distaste for the Jedi.
Tarkin showed several signs of his budding anti-Jedi sentiment. First, he called Ahsoka a "child" -- given what we've seen her do, this is simply an early example of the underestimation that gets Tarkin killed. His brief head-shake when the group reached a dead end indicated that he thought his concerns about her had been justified.
Of course, Tarkin later went on to tell Anakin just what he found faulty about "the Jedi way." Given the transformations that both of these men undergo, their conversation is doubly ominous. After Tarkin expressed his reservations about Jedi strategy, Anakin gave him a look that said, "You too? Thank the Force I'm not the only one!" In a perfect flash-forward to Episode III and his criticism of the Order, he admitted that Jedi methods can lead to mission failure and expressed his doubts about the Jedi's tendency toward defensive measures. It was also a great tie-in to Anakin's fierce rebuke of his Master in Episode II. "He's holding me back!") Tarkin, for his part, foreshadowed their future partnership when he replied, "I see we agree on something." (Side note: I would like to point out that Tarkin's pronunciation of the words "the Jedi" in this scene sounded just perfect. It was as if Dave Filoni pulled that line from Episode IV and removed several decades by adjusting its pitch, tone, or what-have-you.)
While there was nothing groundbreaking in Counterattack, I enjoyed its mix of character development, foreshadowing, Jedi camaraderie, and bold violence. The Death Star allusions and excellent battle sequences helped make this, like the previous episode, an all-around good time. I enjoyed both its small homages (the mouse droid heading down the Citadel corridor) and its bigger themes (Anakin and Tarkin finding disturbing common ground). This episode wasn't as dark as the Nightsisters episodes or as complex as the Mortis trilogy, but that worked to its advantage. With Counterattack, the team behind The Clone Wars managed to fit a substantive plot and a number of small gems into the always-cramped timeframe of twenty-two minutes.