The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 18: Crisis on Naboo
Thanks to skillful writing that balanced a variety of physical and emotional conflict, Crisis on Naboo was a worthy conclusion to its story arc. It featured a much-needed dose of lightsaber combat, the payoff to Anakin's mounting anxiety, and a twist worthy of the TV show 24. Despite being almost a set piece in the plot, Palpatine was in top form on the sidelines. His shrewd machinations were all over his apprentice's crafty plan; the fact that he probably masterminded his own attempted kidnapping served to remind us that, underneath it all, the war being fought is really about him and his sinister plot.
The mention of 24 was not an offhand reference. One of the most rewarding things about Crisis on Naboo was that it had the strained, tense, pulse-pounding feel of a 24 episode. Like Assassin in Season 3, its combination of story, animation, and music perfectly captured the suspense inherent in the kidnapping plot. We began by watching the good guys planning ahead to anticipate the bounty hunters' moves, with Yoda cautioning the planners that what they weren't taking into account would be the source of trouble when the festival started. When the focus shifted to the villains, each bounty hunter had a unique attack strategy to deal with the Naboo workers. Embo used his helmet, Moralo employed a brutal slam, and Derrown grabbed the first worker from above with his crackling tentacles. Bane's cold-blooded blaster shot reflected his no-nonsense approach. Just like in 24, the villains had quietly infiltrated a local facility to plan the final stages their attack.
Later in the episode, Obi-Wan tested his position by aiming his sniper rifle at Mace. This act is often seen in TV thrillers or covert-operations movies when the undercover agent almost casually draws a bead on his counterpart while conversing with him. Here, in concert with some very disturbing music, Obi-Wan taking aim at the senior Jedi Council member reflected the imminence of the actual attack and the alarm that Mace must have been feeling as he struggled to put the pieces together. In keeping with the tenets of a 24-style attack sequence, Palpatine's speech was used as a calm and innocent distraction from the tense buildup to the strike, with a disguised Bane looking on from the audience and Obi-Wan sweeping the stage for signs of the attack.
Other miscellaneous elements of the initial kidnapping plot worked to build the tension. Although the music was generally great in this episode, it was particularly so at a few key moments, such as when Bane revealed that "Hardeen" would have the supposedly-crucial role of shooting the Chancellor. Whenever the plant gets the most important job, he faces the challenge of keeping his true allegiance a secret even as he knows that all eyes will be on him. Here, with the team split up, there wasn't as much scrutiny -- despite Bane promising to keep an eye on all of them) -- but Obi-Wan's central role as the shooter still highlighted how serious things were about to get. In the moments before things got serious, we heard some creepy music as the disguised bounty hunters eyed Palpatine on the stage.
The explosion of the shield generator was animated fantastically. It was gratifying to see Anakin spring into action immediately, as it showed how happy he was to finally participate in the plan. Unfortunately, as if underscoring how tense and unfocused he was, Derrown took him down with relative ease. Anakin's place in this episode was more central than I expected it to be, but I'm glad he played such a big role, because lurking beneath every action he took to protect the Chancellor was a hint of his frustration at the whole plan. This began when he stormed out the planning session and Mace Windu exchanged one of his trademark worried glances with Yoda. They were worried about his ability to deal with the betrayal, and they were right to fear his response.
Two separate scenes validated the senior Jedi Masters' fears. First, there was Anakin and Obi-Wan's argument. Postponed due to the impossibility of establishing contact with Kenobi, the conflict reflected Anakin's simmering disappointment and jealousy. Their argument emphasized the divide that is slowly opening up between them at this point in the war. "It's all Obi-Wan's fault," viewers may recall Anakin saying in Episode II. "He's holding me back!" In many ways, this scene was an example of that frustration. While Obi-Wan made a compelling argument as to why he kept Anakin in the dark, the young Jedi's anger and his suspicions about further lies ensured that he wouldn't listen.
This refusal to listen played completely into the machinations of one Darth Sidious. Anakin and Palpatine's brief conversation before Dooku revealed himself was an important one. Without knowing about Anakin and Obi-Wan's specific argument earlier that day, he still managed to capitalize on the younger man's negative feelings. No doubt sensing Skywalker's barely-contained anger, Palpatine complimented him on the Jedi's rescue plan even when he knew that Anakin had nothing to do with it. In the brief moments before Anakin had to rush into action again, Palpatine planted more seeds of doubt in his mind by innocently musing about the Jedi and teamwork.
This episode, despite being only twenty-two minutes long, managed to convey two opposite images of Palpatine, one overt and one subtle. At first, he was the kind and humble politician. He and Mace Windu had evidently debated the need for his giant security detail long before they arrived on Naboo, and in typical shrewd fashion, Palpatine made a show of downplaying the need for such extravagant measures. His regality in the former half of the episode contrasted with his simultaneously feeble and devious mannerisms at the end of the episode.
At first Palpatine was the consummate statesman and leader, but the growing darkness of the situation on Naboo began to mirror his own performance. After Dooku sprung his trap, there were several fleeting moments where we saw his true wickedness in the shadows of Theed Palace. As a huge fan of the "phantom menace" theme of the Prequel Trilogy, I absolutely loved seeing Palpatine's smirks and devious smiles while Anakin and Dooku fought. There were some particularly eerie ones where the camera panned away from the duel to Palpatine's dark, satisfied smile that nearly gave me chills.
Dooku's twist itself was a nice touch on top of what was already a fairly intense episode. I liked how Obi-Wan, who had already done so much for the Republic that day, followed his instincts and revealed another layer to the Separatist plan, one that even the bounty hunters didn't see coming. As complex, 24-style plots go, Dooku's was actually pretty good. If I hadn't seen an image of Dooku dueling Anakin on StarWars.com, I wouldn't have seen the twist coming at all. I commend the writers on an interesting approach to the kidnapping; they kept us so focused on the bounty hunters' operation that we forgot all about Dooku's presence on Naboo. As usual, the Count (but really Sidious) is several steps ahead of the Jedi.
I thought it was a classy reference to The Empire Strikes Back for Dooku to be seated and waiting for Anakin and Palpatine in a dining room. Given that the Jedi have only two or three saber-wielding villains to fight, we rarely get lightsaber duels on this show. As in Episodes II and III, Dooku's style reflected grace and poise, while Anakin fought with a desire to prove himself and an undercurrent of newly-released fury. Dooku's using of distracting and interfering silverware and furniture complemented his familiar lightning strikes, producing an unconventional but satisfying fight.
"Unconventional but satisfying" would be a good way to describe this episode. Its decidedly unconventional premise, style, and execution reflected the best elements of the TV show 24, but it had the kind of intrigue, technology, and super-powers that are unique to Star Wars. (The holographic disguise matrix, with its flickering effect, made for a visually appealing covert operation.) On one level, Crisis on Naboo was about two halves of an overarching Separatist plot, each with its own battlefield (the stage and the dining room) and challenges (bounty hunters and Sith Lords). The beauty of Naboo made this episode's setting a welcome one, but that beauty was only visible during the public kidnapping attempt; when Dooku sprang his trap in private, the setting was appropriately dark.
On another level, the plot was a chance for its supposed target to strain the unity of the very organization that was tasked with protecting him. From within the Jedi Order's protective cordon, Chancellor Palpatine has been pulling the strings of the Republic's downfall all along. Careful viewers will notice that Dooku dueled very methodically the whole time, as if even his retreat was part of the plan. In a sense, of course, it was -- when the dust settled, Anakin had more doubts than ever before about his role in the Jedi Order, and that was exactly how Palpatine wanted it. In the final moments of Crisis on Naboo, the secret Sith Lord's false confidence in his protectors foreshadowed their downfall in the guise of celebrating their success. "One shudders to think where the galaxy would be without the Jedi," Palpatine ominously proclaimed. Simply put, Crisis on Naboo was a fantastic episode. By focusing on Palpatine and Anakin, it benefitted greatly from the separate drama surrounding each character and the even more dramatic relationship between the two of them.