The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 12: Slaves of the Republic
In the second part of the Togrutan colonist story arc, the stakes were raised much higher, the action took a turn for the dark and depressing, and Anakin's self-confidence waned as the slavery around him brought him closer to the edge of despair. I really enjoyed Slaves of the Republic, because it had the right mix of grim, disturbing action and deeper moral lessons. Fittingly, the fate of the colonists themselves took a back seat so that this episode could focus more closely than any other TCW story on Anakin's struggle for inner peace and his frustration with the failures of his past.
I believe it makes sense to start with the important Anakin moments in this episode. When he outlined the plan to Obi-Wan, he had all the energy of a vibrant youth, even joking with his former Master that he would win over the queen with his "magnetic charm." I enjoyed the two Jedi's brief banter here, as well as Anakin's playful arrogance when he told Ahsoka that the role of Master was easy for him. True to form, Ahsoka responded that he should try to be good at it this time. But in a moment that foreshadowed the rest of this episode, Anakin also told Ahsoka that she needed to play the slave because "I tried it once, I wasn't any good at it." Indeed, because Anakin's fall to the Dark Side was precipitated by feelings of helplessness stemming from his time on Tatooine, one can say that his failure to be an obedient little slave led to the headstrong, impatient young man who would become Darth Vader.
When the group reached the market, we were treated to some spectacular visuals that really set the scene perfectly and recalled equally despondent locations from the movies. The excellent animation of the market gave it the look and feel of a seedy Tatooinian district, and Anakin's observations reflected this close association with his home planet. Matt Lanter's phenomenal voice acting truly shone in this episode, and in this scene in particular, his vocal mastery of the role helped communicate Anakin's simmering rage. His journey through the market obviously recalled memories of his mother and reminded him of her life as other people's property.
Speaking of Shmi's life in servitude, I really enjoyed Anakin's choice of an alias. The name Lars Quell was obviously a subliminal reference on his part to Cliegg Lars, his mother's husband and the man who finally freed her. In a roundabout way, he was reminding himself that these slaves deserved better, that they each deserved to cross paths with a Cliegg Lars, and that perhaps Lars Quell could do something about their plight. As one analyzes this episode, it's important to remember what Anakin said to Qui-Gon back in his home on Tatooine: "I had a dream I was a Jedi. I came back here and freed all the slaves." I suspect that Anakin kept this dream in mind during his visit to Zygerria, and I suspect that everything he saw gave his dream more urgency.
Given what we know about Anakin's difficulty controlling his emotions, it was very interesting to see him listen to the Zygerrian queen's diatribe about slavery. He was obviously struggling to appear calm and undisturbed, even as he took in her attitude of supremacy and, no doubt, mentally sneered at her. The most crucial moment of the scene on the queen's balcony was when Anakin momentarily dropped his mercenary attitude when the slave killed herself. Already it was apparent that this mission would continue to test Anakin's ability to stand by and watch horrible things happen in the name of a greater mission. In a macro sense, this inability to save every single person out of obligation to a higher purpose creates a moral problem for every Jedi. Anakin letting his guard down was a chilling reminder of the ideological division between him and the Jedi Council, a division that will continue widening in advance of Revenge of the Sith.
At the end of the episode, after many things transpired which I plan to address shortly, the queen tormented Anakin by reminding him of her superiority and his position of powerlessness. This seemed to be the final straw for Anakin. As he started to choke the queen, dramatic music highlighted his sharp deviance from the Jedi path, but soon, both the music and his dark use of the Force faded away in the face of the queen's threat. As she laid out the situation for him, he grew even more enraged at the situation. He wanted to take the easy way out and suffocate the queen. Had it not been for the innocent lives at stake, he certainly would have delved deeper into the Dark Side to strangle the last gasp of air from her lungs. But the queen, displaying a level of cunning uncommon in TCW Villains Of The Week, put him between a rock and a hard place by reminding him of how many lives hung in the balance.
Quite honestly, the Zygerrian queen reminded me a bit of Palpatine as she tempted Anakin with promises of what he could become if he abandoned his principles. Far from being violent or intimidating, she relied on psychological instead of physical enslavement to keep her new bodyguard in line. She shrewdly counted on the fact that Anakin didn't want the suffering of any more innocents on his conscience. Given that he was unable to save his mother, the fate of the Togrutans was surely a compelling factor in his decision to temporarily submit to the monarch's authority. In the Zygerrian queen's masterful manipulation of a supposedly superior Jedi Knight, we saw early traces of the vulnerability that Palpatine will eventually exploit to seduce Anakin to the Dark Side.
Having dealt with Anakin, whose struggle unquestionably formed the bulk of this episode, I think it's time to pay attention to Ahsoka, Anakin, and various miscellany. Firstly, I want to comment on Obi-Wan. I was honestly surprised at Obi-Wan's attempt to free the Togrutan colony leader, given how poorly planned and executed it was. Such a foolish move was uncharacteristic of the wise Jedi Master. There were simply too many guards present -- I don't even understand how he escaped notice when he jumped into the Togrutan leader's pit. Furthermore, the creature Obi-Wan chose to bear them away was simply too slow for the job, and if it hadn't been for the fact that Obi-Wan and Rex's capture was necessary for the story, I would have called the rescue attempt a waste of time. While Obi-Wan's task was to locate the missing colonists, I expected him to be more subtle about pursuing the lead that presented itself in that pit.
I regret criticizing Master Kenobi too severely, because he really has been taking a beating in this story arc. The importance of Obi-Wan suffering on-screen cannot be understated. We rarely see the main Jedi characters being tortured or put into positions of real weakness, so Obi-Wan's interrogation, as well as countless other moments, gave this episode a refreshingly dark tone. It was particularly moving to see Obi-Wan looking weak and despondent as he walked into the Zygerrian arena. For all his Jedi training, his facial expression closely resembled that of the Togrutan colony leader, lending credence to the queen's mocking description of him as a slave (more on that later).
Speaking of slaves, how about Ahsoka's costume, eh? In all seriousness, I'm extremely glad that her costume in the comics was one of the elements that fell by the wayside when this story arc moved to TV. It was simply too reminiscent of Leia's outfit in Return of the Jedi to be age-appropriate, no matter what certain creepy-sounding fans may mumble about age, consent laws, or maturity varying from species to species. Dave Filoni and his team made the right choice when they put Ahsoka in a tamer slave costume, probably because a wider audience would see her here on TV than in the comics.
Her slave outfit aside, Ahsoka had an interesting role in this episode that went from concerned Padawan to skilled warrior to mischievous captive. I liked seeing her try some theatrics when Anakin introduced her to the Zygerrian queen. It was funny seeing Anakin casually make her bow before the monarch; clearly her stubbornness was bubbling to the surface as she tried to play a decidedly subservient role. Uncomfortable with the situation, she reacted with anger when the queen tried to touch her, and while we didn't see Anakin's reaction to her outbursts, that probably wasn't in his instructions to her. Ironically, her headstrong attitude mirrored Anakin's behavior at other times in his life.
Ahsoka alternated between anxiety and amusement as she watched Anakin play his part. I enjoyed seeing her roll her eyes when Anakin fawned over the queen. To her as well as to us, this was a new side of Anakin -- one that was slightly jarring, but fun to watch nonetheless. At other times, however, Ahsoka apparently sensed that Anakin was on edge. There were moments when she seemed worried that Anakin would snap. It was as if she understood the torture that Anakin experienced in pretending to be the worst thing imaginable to him.
Later in the episode, while in captivity, Ahsoka still managed to keep her spirits up. I found it funny that she responded to her Zygerrian captor's arrogance by telekinetically dragging him off the walkway of his ship. Because Ahsoka rarely uses the Force so casually, it was rewarding to see her toy with the slaver after he boasted about owning her. Even so, the fact remained that she was still susceptible to electrocution, and her position of weakness tempered her cathartic enjoyment of the slaver's momentary panic.
This episode featured a number of exciting but dark minutiae, and while Anakin's turmoil positively stole the show, there were rewards elsewhere in the story if one paid attention. For example, this episode played on thematic continuity by reusing the wide-eyed birds from Kidnapped. These birds seemed to be a visual cue for the Zygerrians' mastery of the slave trade. This symbolism gains rich meaning when you consider that one of those birds pecked at Anakin after his capture. Another grim element of this episode was the design of the Zygerrian holding pens. They were perfect for a slave auction, with eerie similarities to the cages one might find at a zoo. The most brutal bit of minutiae in this episode, however, was the Zygerrian slave camp overseer. The overseer compounded all prior acts of violence and darkness when he demonstrated his willingness to senselessly drop innocent Togrutans to their deaths, playing on Obi-Wan's Jedi nobility to ensure his compliance in the overseer's sadistic operation.
I will conclude this review with an analysis of that fantastic scene in the Zygerrian arena and its homage to Return of the Jedi. From the knowing look that Rex gave Anakin to the shot of R2 rolling up beside the queen, and from the queen's command that Obi-Wan meet his doom to Anakin's wry salute, this scene was almost an ode to the showdown in Episode VI that forever cemented our conception of Luke Skywalker as a powerful and well-trained Jedi Knight. While it was certainly blatant, the homage was not obnoxious. I recognized what was about to happen as soon as Rex shot Anakin that look and the queen began speaking. The fact that Episode VI now marks the second time that R2-D2 has been used as a lightsaber ejection system actually enhances Return of the Jedi, because it gives us another reason to remark, "Like father, like son." To emphasize this connection, Matthew Wood and David Acord at Skywalker Sound even used a bit of Original Trilogy music when Anakin gave R2 the signal.
While the episode featured an homage to the scene on Jabba's sail barge, it was clearly more of an Episode V-type turn of events in the context of the overall mission. Ahsoka, whose slave outfit and proximity to the queen put her in the role of Princess Leia, failed to defeat the maniacal villain as Leia eventually would. Obi-Wan and his former apprentice likewise failed to mirror Han and Luke's success, and both were ensnared in the Zygerrian slavers' electro-whips. I enjoyed the dark symbolism in the shot of the slavers subduing Anakin -- it made me think of the psychological shackles that Anakin will soon wear under his iconic black mask. The queen noted that Anakin had fierce determination, but ironically, it is this determination, pride, and impulsiveness that will shackle him under Palpatine's watchful eye.
As the episode's fortune cookie states, "those who enslave others, inevitably become slaves themselves." Taking these words and applying them to what I just described about Palpatine and his grand plan, it makes sense to point out that his and Vader's reliance on the Dark Side ultimately makes them its slaves. This gives new power to the dramatic moment where Anakin Skywalker claws his way out of Vader's twisted psyche. It shows that, in saving his son's life, Anakin uses his dying moments to liberate himself from the ultimate form of slavery -- that of the Dark Side.
The last thing I want to point out is the queen's speech to her adoring slaver crowds about the decadence of the Republic and the Jedi Order's complicity in the sad state of galactic affairs. "They have forsaken their ideals to serve a corrupt Senate," she said. This was my favorite line in the entire episode. While the Zygerrians obviously have an axe to grind when it comes to the Jedi, the queen's lecture on the follies of the Jedi are wholly accurate in the broader context of the Clone Wars. After all, by acting at the request of the Senate and remaining ignorant of the galaxy's phantom menace, the Jedi Order has become a group of "slaves to the Republic." While this is not a unique way to think about their service, it is a disturbing one, and I love that The Clone Wars is exploring this complex issue. Overall, Slaves of the Republic excelled at foreshadowing things to come and provoking deep thoughts about the nature of the Jedi Order. With its violent and disturbing depiction of the Zygerrian slavers, this episode brought our heroes to a new low and dealt severe blows to their pride and stamina. At the same time, it encouraged us to look above and ahead -- at the bigger picture of Darth Sidious' grand plan and the associated long-term consequences of Anakin's behavior.