Understandably, some will feel let down by this episode. There was very little traditional combat and quite a lot of conversation. The plot was not that extensive, owing mostly to the fact that a lot of the episode took place in one jungle. That said, I was really impressed with this episode for a number of reasons. For one thing, I relished the chance to take a detour from the Clone Wars, and this appalling Trandoshan sporting event gave us that opportunity. For another thing, this episode built a lot on Ahsoka's character, both from what we see of her and from what Anakin says to Plo Koon.
Naturally when a battle goes as well for the Republic as the one on Felucia, something's bound to go wrong eventually. In this case, it just so happened to veer off into an interesting side corner of the galaxy. I really like the premise of this hunt, because I think we've seen too little of the galaxy's brutality other than what we get from the Separatists. Despite being called The Clone Wars, I think that this show has an obligation to show us more of these side-stories and expose more of the galaxy's "fringe elements." And as far as fringe groups go, you don't get much more malicious than Trandoshan sport hunters.
From their cool stun weapons to their reptilian voices to their cavernous and gloomy prison chamber, this group of Trandoshans had all the elements of a great non-CIS villain. The addition of a Wampa hide draped over the elder hunter's chair added to the sinister ambience of the group, as did their repeated guttural noises. These animalistic grunts, combined with other visceral noises and a variety of primal gestures, emphasized the Trandoshans' lack of "humanity." The way they fired their blasters as they descended in their hover-pods was a great way of showing their thirst for the kill. I also liked the way the wounded Trandoshan used a hunting call to alert his comrades that there was resistance afoot, and his fellow hunters answered his call with an equally disturbing series of low guttural noises.
The hunters' eagerness took center stage in a bizarre ritual that took place while Dar was primed for the hunt. Cinematically, the scene was enhanced by creepy zoom-ins on the severed heads of Wookiees and various other creatures. Ahsoka's subsequent waking reaction made me wonder if she could feel their sinister preparations through the Force. Overall, while I'm sure some Trandoshan rights groups will object to this depiction of the species, I thought it was the perfect representation of their cold-blooded mercenary nature.
In contrast to the hunters' desire for combat and warrior-like confidence, the stranded Jedi Padawans with whom Ahsoka unites have a resigned and somber mood. At first, this clashes with Ahsoka's own personality. She presents a counterbalance to the dispirited atmosphere in the group, in particular as it can be seen in the group's leader, the girl named Kalifa. The young human views Ahsoka as naïve, because she has yet to see the full brutality of the hunt. Her facial expressions are hard and her voice is tough, but this is just a cover for her defeated attitude. Gone is Kalifa's Jedi drive, the confidence and stamina that we've seen Ahsoka display time and again throughout this series. At this point, Kalifa has given up on the idea of ever escaping this jungle and its Trandoshan predators.
As a series that first closely examined the life of a Jedi Padawan through the eyes of the upbeat, almost-precocious Ahsoka Tano, The Clone Wars is in an excellent position to illuminate this mirror opposite view of Jedi younglings. These kids have been lost for what the dialog suggests is a very long time, and they've adapted to their role as constant prey and potential victims. The depiction of these forgotten Padawans was my favorite part of the entire episode, because it raised the question of what would happen to Ahsoka if, at the end of the series, she was left to fend for herself in a similar way? The Padawan group seemed to be shrugging off their Jedi teachings, even espousing a defeatist view that ignored the Jedi Code: "We're not saviors. Here, we are survivors."
This grim but understandable philosophical shift exposed its real implications when Kalifa stopped Ahsoka from intervening as her fellow new arrivals were slaughtered. It was extremely disturbing seeing the two non-Jedi captives slain while the Padawans looked on, particularly when Kalifa grabbed Ahsoka's arm as the Togruta moved to save the second soon-to-be-victim. The second alien's death certainly contributed to some parents refusing to show this episode to their kids, based on the way the Trandoshan laser blast burned a tiny hole in the woman's chest as she fell to the jungle floor.
Naturally, the lost Padawans present this disturbing scene as evidence for why Ahsoka should join them on the run, but as the headstrong Master Skywalker's equally-headstrong Padawan, Ahsoka could never accept such a defensive role. While the Cerean Padawan O-Mer tells her that "we're Younglings, they have every advantage," this only indicates to Ahsoka that O-Mer man doubts himself. Even though Ahsoka initially overestimated her abilities and ended up needing to be rescued by the others, she soon began to have an effect on the Padawans' sensibilities, bringing them back to the true path of a Jedi trainee. I think it says a lot about Ahsoka's growth over three seasons that she's able to sway these wayward younglings back into some form of resistance. Ahsoka even demonstrated a desire to avoid unnecessary violence when she prevented Kalifa from taking out her rage on a defeated Trandoshan by Force-choking him to death. Clearly, Ahsoka's energy and courage started to give Kalifa hope. She and her comrades had forgotten who they were, as evidenced by her use of an abhorrent Force technique.
Sadly, Ahsoka's significant character development was due in no small part to the sobering experience of losing Kalifa to the hunters. That was definitely one of the most disheartening moments in this episode. The ominous music as Kalifa's chest burns with the telltale wound combined with a tight shot of her widened eyes to form a depressing scene. The sound of Kalifa's final ragged breaths and her pained last words added to the incredibly grim tone of the scene. Few deaths on this show have been portrayed so disturbingly. It made for a somber conclusion to this episode's jungle adventure to see Ahsoka slinking away and leaving Kalifa's body as the Trandoshan father's screams echoed in the background. The Trandoshan's fury over his lost son was a stark contrast to Ahsoka's grief-stricken but quiet retreat.
Another important element in this episode was Anakin's reaction to the disappearance of his Padawan. True to form, Skywalker responded to this disturbing news as any regular viewer of The Clone Wars could predict: He freaked the Hoth out. Let's flash back to a few scenes earlier. At the beginning of the mission, Anakin threw out the line "Don't get cocky" almost as an afterthought, clearly wanting to sound admonishing but apparently caught up in brief admiration for Ahsoka's confidence. That confidence and curiosity soon got the better of Ahsoka, however: the young Togruta's desire to linger behind her ascending clone unit landed her in a world -- well, a jungle -- of trouble.
Immediately upon hearing of her disappearance, Anakin jumped right into Headstrong And Ill-Disciplined Skywalker Mode. When he showed his impatience with Rex's failure to locate Ahsoka, you could tell that the clone captain understood his urgency. Plo Koon, on the other hand, was having none of that. His warning that there was nothing more they could do for Ahsoka on Felucia was also a reminder to viewers of Anakin's steady but inevitable descent into darkness because of his attachments. When Anakin said, "I will not leave her fate up to others," he cast a grim shadow backward and forward with regard to both Shmi and Padmé. When he finally relented and commed Rex to rescind his previous order, Anakin's voice sounded grimmer than ever before.
At the end of the episode, Plo again intervenes to dissuade Anakin from getting sidetracked by Ahsoka's disappearance. When Anakin admitted that Ahsoka was more determined than any other Jedi, Plo countered to say that Anakin's own headstrong attitude matched that of his Padawan. This was an acknowledgement of Anakin's desire to find Ahsoka, but at the same time it was an insistence that he let go. Everything that Anakin despised about the Jedi's refusal to form attachments was encapsulated within Plo's remark about this mystery being a test for Ahsoka. Anakin's strained and frustrated voice indicated that he was furious with Plo's hands-off approach to the situation, and the final scene in this episode was yet another reminder of Anakin's growing disdain for the Jedi way.
As a final note, I want to discuss some of the sights and sounds that enhanced this episode. For one thing, I appreciated the use of the Imperial klaxon from Return of the Jedi at the beginning of this episode as the droid reinforcements landed. Subtle cues like that help to artistically link the similar military practices of the Separatists and the Empire. I was also very impressed with the luminescent biosphere on Felucia -- it looked every bit as impressive as it did in Revenge of the Sith. The jungle on Wasskah (the Trandoshans' hunting planet) was likewise extraordinarily colorful. Audio-wise, I enjoyed the jungle ambience with its mix of unidentifiable creature sounds.
Visually, I liked that the jungle reacted realistically to the onslaught of blaster fire from the prowling Trandoshans. Even though the jungle was miserably confining to the stranded Padawans, the use of excellent camera angles made the space very appealing to me as a viewer. We saw this a bit as the Trandoshan ship approached the beach to disgorge its captives (in what I thought was a remarkably cinematic sequence), but the overhead canopy shots in particular emphasized the jungle's exotic, overgrown flora.
From Ahsoka's character development to Anakin's character flaws, from the changing spirits of the hunted Padawans to the somber death of their leader, and from the exotic landscape of the hunt to the thrilling viciousness of the Trandoshans who engaged in it, there was a lot to enjoy in Padawan Lost. I analyze episodes on their own merits as much as possible, so this review was written without any exposure to Wookiee Hunt. Given that I have no specific idea of how this story continues in the season finale, I can say with all honesty that the contents of this penultimate episode impressed me on their own merits. While I expect that I'll enjoy the season finale even more (you don't save Chewbacca for last without packing an accompanying punch worthy of high praise), Padawan Lost was nothing short of excellent.
This episode explored several core Star Wars principles, most notably the interaction between Jedi philosophy and unfamiliar, despair-inducing circumstances. It also gave us more glimpses of Anakin's growing obsession with safeguarding Ahsoka and the troubling implications associated with this that other Jedi seem to sense. Finally, it explored a different kind of predicament for a main character and presented villains that were nearly as sinister as General Grievous. In summary, Padawan Lost ventured off the beaten path of the war's frontlines to travel down one of the galaxy's many side corridors, and the result was a unique, gritty, and thoroughly enjoyable story.