This was one of those episodes that had a lot to like, a few things to critique, and an overall good vibe. I liked the basic premise of infiltrating the Citadel to rescue Master Piell. It was not only a fairly unique plot as TCW episodes go, but it was also an opportunity for the TCW team to throw some cool foreshadowing our way. Most prominent among these instances of foreshadowing was Captain Tarkin, but only insomuch as he is a very recognizable character from the OT. I actually found other elements of foreshadowing to be more compelling and exciting. This review will be more "bits of miscellanea" than a lot of my other reviews, because there was no central plot element in The Citadel like there was in the Nightsisters and Mortis trilogies.
One good place to start is with Ahsoka. Right from the start, we jumped back into the eternal disagreement over the roles of Master and Padawan. Ahsoka was right, even though it wasn't really her place to say so. Anakin must have known that he can't protect her from the risk of death forever, but perhaps in light of the Mortis trilogy, he was feeling more anxious about his destiny and the suffering it could bring to others. In any event, his insistence that she stay behind reminded me of the Jedi Council's refusal to make Anakin a Master in Episode III. It was probably that same feeling of under-utilization and lack of recognition that drove Anakin into Palpatine's grasp. Ahsoka isn't quite that dejected yet, but because of the superb animation and Ashley Eckstein's phenomenal voice acting, it was clear that she was disappointed in her Master's over-protectiveness.
This was even more obvious when Ahsoka discussed the issue with her long-time mentor, Plo Koon. As someone who has pushed for more of a focus on that relationship, I really enjoyed seeing them talk. It occurs to me that, despite being a Council member and a fellow Master, Plo represented a more approachable figure for Ahsoka during her struggles with Anakin. She definitely seemed more calm and relaxed around Plo. I also saw that Plo worried about Anakin's over-protectiveness when it came to Ahsoka. There was a moment right before the scene changed where the camera focused on his solemn expression right after Ahsoka said, "It's not for him to decide when and how I should put my life in danger." Her statement may have been factually inaccurate (as her Master, Anakin can certainly make that call), but Plo's concern was more likely related to a trend in Anakin's behavior of extreme over-protectiveness.
Naturally, being Ahsoka, she doesn't listen to Anakin's instructions. But in this case I wasn't bothered by her insubordination, because of what she said when everyone was thawing out of carbonite. "If there's one thing I've learned from you, Master," Ahsoka told him, "It's that following direct orders isn't always the best way to solve a problem." Clearly, this was Ahsoka displaying more and more that she's been learning to do what seems best for the mission, not what best placates your superiors. By "doing as Anakin says, not as he does," to paraphrase Obi-Wan, she's starting to become a deviant Jedi like her Master. (Side note: Obvious Earth idiom alert! I suppose it's tough to think of a suitable in-universe expression that would carry the same clear meaning, so I'll give the TCW team a pass for this one.)
Later in the episode, after Ahsoka proves her worth, she comments to Anakin that she can obviously handle herself just fine. Was that a bratty line? Sure was. Did I almost want a droid to step out of hiding and shoot her (non-lethally) right then and there? Sure did. But when I thought about it more critically, I realized that her statement reminded me a lot of Anakin's own rash behavior in Episode II. That was a valuable piece of dialog for people who want to track the arc of Ahsoka's character development and see how she's turning into Anakin 2.0.
Now for my comments on the sights and sounds of this episode. Two words that come to mind are very impressive. The shots of the Separatist planet and its defensive fleet were great. I'm not sure I've ever seen a planet whose surface looked more intriguing than that purple-and-yellow miasma. The yellow bubbling surface also factored into some amazing shots looking down on the climbing troopers. Their relatively small frames highlighted against the backdrop of a long descent into certain death created a breathtaking camera perspective. The wall climbing sequence was very cool overall. The swirling dust and heavy wind sound effects made for a nice environment during the ascent. Later in the episode, there was a great audio cue as Rex looked up at a surveillance camera and shot it while the enemy watched. The swell of music was brief, but it fit the moment perfectly.
Of course, no analysis of this episode's rich visual and audible material would be complete with a comment on James Arnold Taylor's villain, Osi Sobeck. Simply put, the voice was great -- it was a nice way to canonize the Christopher Walken style of speech, and Sobeck's voice was fitting for such an exotic and devious character.
As I said, this episode was more about odds and ends than most other recent episodes, but that doesn't mean it didn't have anything enjoyable to offer. I was quite thrilled to see R2-D2 finally receive command of a unit of soldiers. The fact that his battle droid squad bore a blue paint scheme was even better. In the brief conversation R2 had with C-3PO, it was clear that the little astromech was proud of his assignment. I know this may sound strange to say, but I was impressed with the way R2 was presented in that brief exchange (and later on approach to The Citadel). It's often hard to imagine portraying a droid as an organic being with pride and other emotions, but the TCW team did a good job with it in this episode.
I also liked Anakin's plan to use a double-agent battle droid crew and to freeze the strike team in carbonite. It was a unique idea, and one that I had never considered, even after years of understanding how carbonite works. We only see rare instances of Anakin's famed tactical brilliance in this series, and if the exploitation of carbonite's biologically-frozen suspended animation has to be the one ingenious idea of Season 3, that's fine with me. The carbonite extraction sound was a nice touch that reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back. And in a nod to Return of the Jedi, the writers had Fives express his fear of becoming a "wall decoration." The carbonite thawing process seemed much faster than in ROTJ, but perhaps that could be chalked up to the technology inside individual carbonite slabs. (Maybe budgetary constraints forced Bespin to cut back on more sophisticated "rapid-thawing" technology in TESB.)
The inclusion of Ugnaughts in the scene confused me, because it led me to wonder if perhaps Ugnaughts are the only beings only qualified to operate the machinery. On the other hand, if the Jedi Council's carbon freezing facility is on loan from Bespin, perhaps they also hired skilled Ugnaught technicians to go along with it. I just hope that Ugnaughts are not being type-cast in the Star Wars universe. Where's my Ugnaught Jedi?!
Fast forward to the team's arrival at The Citadel, and of course Ahsoka needs to show that she's good for something. Enter the contrived plot device of the ray-shielded door. On its own, that's not a preposterous concept in a heavily-fortified prison, but it was the way they played the scene that nearly made me groan. There was such an obvious need for Ahsoka to present a unique opportunity that wouldn't have been possible without her. The Togruta's ability to squeeze through the ventilation shaft and deactivate the door's ray shielding was a fairly contrived way of giving her presence on the team a critical importance.
That said, I was generally pleased with the rest of this episode. The Citadel had really cool defenses, from the mines to the electrified walls and ceilings, from the magnetized ceilings and floors to the disorienting audio disruption. In a nod to Attack of the Clones, Even Piell's containment field was of the same type as the one that held Obi-Wan on Geonosis. Master Piell's harsh voice fit the character perfectly, based on his hard-set face with its near-perpetual grimace and long thin scar. It was also great to see the Phase II trooper armor again on two of the clones in the squad.
Citadel warden Osi Sobeck looked and acted every bit like the sadistic warden he was supposed to be. His musings on fear and breaking Jedi were quite chilling, especially when delivered in James Arnold Taylor's exotic Walken-esque voice. The fact that Sobeck had one of his commandos shoot the droid that reported his failure was an interesting take on a scare tactic for ensuring success that is usually only conducted with organic beings. (It inspires fear, which droids don't usually have.) Overall, Sobeck made for a compelling character and an interesting villain whom I hope we'll see again (after this story arc is over, I mean) -- that is, assuming he doesn't die in the next episode.
The commando droids fought with their usual display of nimbleness and lethality, but it seemed like they were less dangerous than their predecessors on the show. One clone was able to tackle a droid, and another one was slow to strike Ahsoka when it pinned her down. With that in mind, they were a worthy force of opponents that nonetheless failed to put a huge dent in the rescue team. I thought all the Jedi had really cool lightsaber moves as they took out the droids. Anakin and Obi-Wan's slashes and strikes reminded me of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's face-off with B1 battle droids on the Trade Federation command ship in Episode I.
Naturally, the biggest news in The Citadel was the series premiere of Wilhuff Tarkin. The future Grand Moff sounded pretty good -- I guess I'm not sure what I was expecting or what could have sounded better. Tarkin definitely looked authentic. I also enjoyed seeing the friction that developed between him and the Jedi. His distaste for Obi-Wan's tactics and his frustration with Anakin's lack of respect foreshadowed his insistence on rigor and efficiency as an Imperial officer, as well as his personal pride in A New Hope ("Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?").
Speaking of A New Hope, there were a lot of homages to the OT in this episode, most of them involving one of the two Death Stars. The alarm that sounded when Master Piell's rescue team was discovered is the same one that blared in the background when the Super Star Destroy Executor struck the Second Death Star in Episode VI. The clones blasting the surveillance cameras reminded me of when Han, Luke, and Chewie did the same thing in the original Death Star's detention block. There were also a few shots where the rescue team hid behind corners as battle droids passed by that reminded me of Ben Kenobi lurking in the Death Star's corridors on his way to duel with Darth Vader.
The rescue shuttle's approach to the Citadel reminded me of the disguised Imperial shuttle's approach to Endor in ROTJ. I almost wanted of R2-D2's battle droids to tell another, "Keep your distance, but don't look like you're keeping your distance." In terms of story pacing, there was another similarity between The Citadel and the Death Star rescue: Luke, Han, and Chewie rescued Leia shortly before her scheduled execution, just as the Jedi rescue team reached Master Piell moments before the EV droid removed his eye. (Incidentally, Sobeck's EV droid was from the same product line as Jabba's sadistic torture droid EV-9D9.)
On the one hand, episodes like The Citadel provide a refreshing change of pace from the grand-scale Mortis trilogy and the Sith-oriented Nightsisters episodes. On the other hand, the first act felt too drawn out, and the story ended a bit abruptly. There will never be a perfect solution to this balance of unique story and adequate pacing. As far as basic rescue episodes go, The Citadel was great. It had the trappings of a traditional Star Wars rescue thanks to OT homages aplenty and a compelling villain. It introduced Tarkin and gave a relatively-unseen Jedi Council member some time in the spotlight. It may not have contained a metaphor for the essence of the Force, but that's just fine with me. Given that this show is about the Clone Wars, I'm perfectly happy with a pitched blaster battle and some fancy lightsaber twirling instead of a lesson on the role of the Chosen One.