The Clone Wars Season 5 Episode 8: Bound for Rescue
In episodic television, the only thing worse than a B-plot that clearly exists just to fill time is a B-plot that clearly exists just to enable the A-plot. The third part of the Young Jedi story arc was cursed with the latter kind of B-plot, a side story that was made all the more disappointing because of how lifeless and predictable it felt. The best thing I can think to say about General Grievous' attack on part of the Republic fleet in this episode is that it paved the way for a solidly entertaining second-half A-plot. Bound for Rescue, like A Test of Strength before it, shied away from the storytelling device that The Gathering used: exploring what it meant to be a Jedi through character-driven philosophical experiences. Nevertheless, when you consider the roles played by Hondo Ohnaka, the circus troupe, and the younglings themselves, Bound for Rescue was a strong, colorful, and even funny episode.
Zatt, Katooni, Byph, Petro, Ganodi, and Gungi have already learned a lot from the unexpected interruption of their lightsaber-building mission. In the beginning of this episode, they were shown anxiously petitioning for permission from Master Kenobi to go to Florrum and rescue Ahsoka. It was clear that none of them was as timid as in the previous two episodes. Petro was still the most impatient one among them, and he pushed the hardest to go to Florrum, but it was clear that now the others were starting to think like him. With Huyang disabled, Petro took the initiative, gave directions, and found the best roles for the others (for example, telling Ganodi to stay behind to be their pilot). Later in the episode, Petro demonstrated that he was approaching Anakin-like levels of impatience when he convinced the others to ignore Master Kenobi's orders and rescue Ahsoka. It reminded me of Episode II, when Anakin allowed Padmé to convince him to go to Geonosis with her.
While they waited for help to arrive, the younglings set about actually building their lightsabers. Finally, forced to wait aboard their stranded ship, they had found the patience they needed to put their weapons together. As a fan of Expanded Universe material that depicted the intense process of constructing a lightsaber, I enjoyed seeing The Clone Wars animate this deeply spiritual moment in an almost mystical way: the sabers formed in mid-air, accompanied by crisp sound effects of little pieces flying together, sliding and clicking into place. The sequence was set to bold cinematic music that enhanced the aura of monkish reverence that rightfully permeated the room. I didn't understand why Katooni's lightsaber was shown to be nonfunctional, but perhaps we will find out in the next episode.
It seemed fitting to me that Ahsoka would underestimate the younglings when she saw through their circus act. Ironically, it was not too long ago that older Jedi, most notably Anakin, thought the same way about her when she tried something risky. By the time the younglings rescued her, however, Ahsoka was starting to see more of herself in them. Their brash action saved her, and unlike when she used to save Anakin by unconventional means, she didn't even try to be angry with them now. She even revealed that Anakin had taught her that bending the rules was sometimes acceptable. Side note: While this is certainly true, the fact that some young Padawans are admitting it to even younger initiates speaks to a deepening rift in the tactics and discipline of the Jedi Order. Ahsoka is undermining the advice that her own mentor, Plo Koon, would probably give to these younglings. What we saw in microcosm in this brief exchange at the end of the episode was that the "old ways" are rapidly deteriorating as part of the Jedi Order's behind-the-scenes free-fall.
When you have a character-driven story arc that abruptly turns to plot-based narrative in its second episode, the consistent presence of a strong and well-established character can turn the dullest scene into gold. Hondo Ohnaka continued to play that role in Bound for Rescue, with a dynamic on-screen presence and an aura of gruffness mixed with whimsy that carried the story from the pirate compound to the circus performance. The compound itself reminded me of Jabba's palace, which was one of the first indicators that The Clone Wars might be comparing Hondo to Jabba. Unlike Jabba, however, Hondo was a very vibrant character. I liked how he was drunkenly holding a fellow pirate as the camera panned over to his bar seat.
Even though Hondo is the story arc's main villain, he is rapidly establishing himself as a fun character to watch regardless of his affiliation. With lines like "Dooku holds a grudge against me since our little 'I held him hostage' affair," it's easy to see why he has become a fan-favorite personality and, in my opinion anyway, one of the series' best contributions to the Star Wars saga. Hondo also kept us on our toes as viewers and prevented us from feeling like we fully understood him, such as when he said "Sometimes I do anyway" in response to Ahsoka's threat that he'd wish he was born a protocol droid. Simply put, you love to hate Hondo almost as much as you love to watch him. He successfully toes the line between refreshingly comedic evil and just plain ridiculousness.
Examples of Hondo's disarmingly comic mannerisms were prolific in Bound for Rescue. One great moment was when he seemed to express pure joy at the sight of the younglings, exclaiming, "I love a kiddie act." Another was his showman's attitude when the younglings invited him into the act; he called out to the audience, "Who wants to see Hondo's moves?" and the normally vicious pirates responded with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Hondo's drunken behavior provided much of the episode's comedy, but it was subtle enough to be inoffensive to the show's youngest viewers. Expressions of his drunkenness were limited to his slapping and grabbing and gesturing and tripping, all of which fit right in with the circus act's own bizarre spectacle.
Two of my favorite Hondo moments were probably facilitated largely by his penchant for alcohol. One was when he realized through his crash injuries and/or hangover that the circus performers were Jedi -- and then immediately fell flat on his face. (Writers, take note: A well-timed pratfall can work, but the key phrase is "well-timed.") The second great drunken moment was when Hondo, disappointed and only half-sober, glumly patted the circus ringleader's beast on the nose and commiserated with it over their mutual sense of loss.
The fact that this circus traveled regularly to Hondo suggested to me that the Weequay pirate leader was actually a significant regional power. Is he the Jabba the Hutt of this part of space, perhaps? The episode drew some clear parallels between the two Outer Rim outlaws: the circus had traveled to Hondo's compound before, and like some of Jabba's entertainers, some of its members had suffered a terrible fate for their failure. This was a nice way of putting Hondo on Jabba's level and expanding what we know (and wonder) about him. Another thing I found myself wondering (and I have to hope that this was intentional) was to what "businessman" Hondo had planned to sell Ahsoka. Was this the prelude to the introduction of a new shadowy figure who will continue to menace our heroes as the series progresses?
In addition to Hondo a.k.a. the gift that keeps on giving, Bound for Rescue was a pleasure to watch because it took the younglings in an entirely new direction. If Hondo was the episode's middle ground between deadly serious action and pure whimsy, then the circus troupe was the episode's dose of pure whimsy. From the moment I saw the eccentric circus troupe leader, I knew that the circus would be one of the saving graces of this otherwise mostly bleak story.
The younglings' use of the circus as a rescue method kept the episode from feeling routine. Their decision to join the troupe was both fun to watch and unexpected. (In addition, I'm sure their circus act played well with young viewers.) The circus act was also a way of spicing up this bland story with new colors, species, creatures, music, and mannerisms. It contributed to the vibrancy of the A-plot in the latter half of the story. From Byph in his flowery outfit to the Gamorrean dressed ludicrously as a clown, there was a lot of eye candy in this episode waiting to reward attentive viewers.
If Hondo and the circus routine were the middle ground and pure whimsy elements, respectively, then the "deadly serious action" component was General Grievous' attack on Obi-Wan Kenobi's Republic cruiser. Despite the heavy death toll and the demoralizing loss of the ship itself, this battle was a thoroughly unsatisfying B-plot. The attack was instantly obvious as a cheap plot device to force the younglings to act on their own. At first, the flashy battle that resulted was a nice diversion from the ground action of recent episodes, but it soon grew boring and began to play out as nothing more than formulaic plot necessity.
One major aspect of the B-plot's resounding disappointment was Grievous himself. The series keeps throwing him out there as a one-dimensional menace and having him run away like a coward by the episode's end. This episode was no exception. Grievous had a few moments of stark brutality in his advance toward the command deck -- like snapping a clone's neck in front of Obi-Wan -- but overall he just wasn't very interesting. Moreover, the battle on the Republic cruiser really felt half-baked. To be honest, it felt like the thinnest impression of a really exciting battle without the required substance beneath it.
To be fair, there were some amazing visuals in the space battle that led up to Grievous' arrival and the fight on the cruiser. One shot with cinematic overtones followed a disabled Y-Wing all the way into the Republic cruiser's hangar as droid fighters pursued the Y-Wing and the Separatist ground forces boarded the cruiser. Soon enough, however, the battle returned to its dry, formulaic themes. Case in point: Obi-Wan's plan to activate his ship's self-destruct sequence was the very definition of predictable. It absolutely deserved Obi-Wan's equally predictable quip that he was going to leave Grievous a nice surprise or something to that effect. All in all, both in comparison to the main narrative and on its own terms, this B-plot was more of a letdown than most of the others that I've seen in The Clone Wars' five-season history.
I hate to end my reviews with such withering criticism. In fairness to Bound for Rescue, it was a solid episode on most grounds, with the anemic B-plot as its only real weakness. The circus troupe mixed things up, the younglings received another unplanned lesson, and Hondo came darn close to stealing the whole show with his energy, humor, and charisma. With one more episode to go in the Young Jedi story, it's still too early to generate a fair assessment of the entire arc. One thing is clear, though: these episodes have afforded a small handful of characters the chance to stand out, develop their personalities further, and make lasting impressions on viewers. Hondo is the best example of this, and Ahsoka has been the occasional focus of it, but the younglings are growing into their own skins at an appreciable rate, and despite its one significant flaw, Bound for Rescue was a step in the right direction for all of these characters.