It's hard to beat episodes like ARC Troopers, so the negative feedback I saw in some corners of the Internet for Supply Lines was understandable. One of the things that I, as a reviewer, have to do is view individual episodes as separate installments, and while comparisons to other episodes can be valid, there was enough in Supply Lines to make me enjoy it. The focus was on politics, which can be tedious for some viewers who tune in to watch a show called The Clone Wars, but I'm interested in all sides of this war, so the political element was intriguing and brought up several questions for me.
Right from the start of Supply Lines we were treated to some outstanding visuals. Say what you will about the plot, but there's no denying that the team behind this show knows how to do cinematic television. The shots of the opening battle on Ryloth were phenomenal. One shot that really pulled me in was when the AT-TE hit a Droid starfighter, which spiraled out of control and hit the walker. I really felt like I was watching a movie at that moment. The shot of the Separatist blockading Ryloth was likewise impressive, particularly in HD. Another stunning shot was when Bail's corvette landed on Toydaria -- the way it was framed, lit, and shaded made it one of the most cinematic shots in the episode. The ornate beauty of the King's chamber perfectly conveyed the sense of regality in his palace, and the "floating pod" setup reminded me of Coruscant's Senate Chamber a bit.
By far my favorite shot in the episode was the gunship explosion. Not only did it sound phenomenal, but the way the camera moved and shook, particularly as it tracked the falling rocks, was incredible. The fact that this is being done on a "kids show" should make anyone who uses that term stop and think about their reaction. Not once during this episode did I think to myself, "That's really cartoonish!" The brilliant color on Ryloth also contributed to the tremendous visuals. Overall, it's clear that the animators are getting much better at replicating the look and feel of Star Wars in animated form.
Even though this episode was largely political, the brief battle sequences made for impressive scenes. One of the most grim moments was seeing the clones look up from their trenches and see the battle droids staring down at them before they slaughtered them. You really got a sense of how desperate the fight was, how terribly outgunned and outmanned the Republic was, and how frustrated the Twi'leks were. We don't get very attached to either Master Ima-Gun Di or his clone captain, nor to any of the other troopers, but we can still appreciate their sacrifice. Of course, as with any battle, you ran the risk of having gratuitous battle droid humor, but (perhaps due to the brevity of the battle scenes) the droids only had minor speaking roles. The one line I did find funny was: "No clones, just explosives. Explosives?!" That's a manageable level of humor.
The music was also very important in this episode. The Senators' approach to Toydaria, for example, featured an interesting exotic track that set the tone for the tribal culture and decor of the planet below. The last stand of the Republic forces on Ryloth also featured great music, but in this case, it was very sad. As Master Di and his clone captain are surrounded in the final moments, the music swells and the pace picks up as the end draws near. Despite not being very familiar with this Republic detachment, we feel for the clones as they are picked off one by one, until finally even the captain is killed. The most depressing part of the episode was when the blockade runner reported its successful passage to the supply drop-off point, just as Master Di was hit with a laser blast. You knew then that Di was going down in the next few seconds. The fact that Di was killed just as a clone announced that "The supplies have arrived at the drop point" made the scene tremendously poignant. A final, mournful musical note lent even more weight and sadness to the scene.
The political focus in this episode highlighted several interesting facets of the Clone Wars. First, the place of Senator Lott Dod. The Neimoidian's close connections with Nute Gunray, whom he says is an extremist, seem obvious based on Episode I, but he is still untouchable because the connection cannot be definitively established. I like that this episode made us consider the place of the Trade Federation more closely; too often we forget that they are in a legally dubious position. Still, it was clear that Senator Dod was the bad guy here -- Count Dooku brought him in to complicate Bail Organa's mission, and Dod's intent seemed transparent even in the Toydarian King's audience chamber. After all, what could the Trade Federation have to gain from restricting aid to Toydaria, if not the favor of the Separatist leadership? Dod's hypocrisy was also highlighted when he made a vicious ultimatum to the King despite claiming to care for the lives of the innocent Twi'leks.
Another interesting political element here was the idea of neutrality. Clearly King Katuunko views both sides as guilty in this war. He doesn't consider the Separatists as all-out evil and the Republic as purely a force for good. He considers it the fault of both the Republic and the Separatists that innocent Twi'leks are in danger on Ryloth. There's nuance to this war, and he's savvy enough to recognize it and avoid alignment with one side for as long as he can. Neutrality is a position we rarely get from Star Wars, but with King Katuunko and Duchess Satine, The Clone Wars alone is going farther than other mediums have to explore this grey area of war. This may also play into the "Heroes on both sides" line from the opening crawl of Episode III. Ultimately, I am glad that King Katuunko agreed to meet with the Jedi to discuss joining the Republic. We don't often see kind and considerate Toydarians (Watto is the only Toydarian we're familiar with), so this is a nice reminder that not all members of a species are alike.
It would be impossible to finish this review without discussing the role of one Jar Jar Binks. I will admit that I was fully prepared to see him trip, crash, and fumble his way through this episode. I say this to illustrate how pleased I am that I was wrong. For once, possibly for the first time in all of Star Wars, I was exceptionally impressed with him. Naturally, he still had traces of the Jar Jar we knew from Season One, but he was more restrained and focused this time. Ahmed Best's return to voicing the character was a great asset to his appearance. I don't know if I would have liked him so much in this episode if the mysterious "B.J. Hughes" was playing him. Regardless, Jar Jar's mannerisms were funny but not obnoxious -- it's clear that everyone knows he's somewhat of a court jester. There's no false pretense of him being a solemn, soft-spoken character. His over-the-top personality is a shared joke throughout the Republic as much as it was in households everywhere in 1999, and I enjoy seeing that. Obi-Wan may have said his name with a touch of disdain in the beginning of the episode, but "Representative Binks" proved himself worthy of the title. By distracting the Neimoidians as only he could, he once again saved the day. Furthermore, his creative distraction was as hilarious as it was crucial -- absurd though it may have been, his performance had me laughing at certain moments. Even Lott Dod's assistant enjoyed the show, despite his boss's disapproving glare. (That was also a great moment from the dinner party, which Senator Dod had assumed would be "tedious.")
As a prequel to both Ambush and the Ryloth Trilogy, this episode set up King Katuunko's positive attitude toward the Republic and Twi'lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla's hatred of the Republic. When we next meet Syndulla, he's bitter about the way his people were abandoned and he's wary of any Republic envoy trying to cajole him into an alliance. Seeing the Republic refuse to send reinforcements -- effectively leaving Master Di to his fate -- clearly soured Syndulla on any future interaction with that government. (As Master Di said, "War turns promises into hopes.") And once we see that King Katuunko respects Bail and Jar Jar for trying to save the innocent Twi'leks, it's obvious why he would want to negotiate with Yoda, as he does in Ambush. While this episode proved important for establishing later stories, it was also a worthy installment on its own. Heavy on thought-provoking politics, interspersed throughout with intense battle scenes, and chock full of fantastic visuals, Supply Lines did its job and even made Jar Jar look good along the way.