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TFN TCW Review: "Voices"
Posted by Eric on April 7, 2014 at 01:00 PM CST |
The Clone Wars Season 6 Episode 11: "Voices"

One of the easiest ways to get me hooked on a story is to center it on the fundamental but mysterious nature of the Force. "Voices" began with a welcome voice cameo that launched an internal debate within the Jedi Council, and it ended by bringing Yoda to a planet that was new to him but familiar to us, where he and his spiritual guide honed in on the true meaning of the phrase "the will of the Force." This episode didn't just incorporate visual and auditory homages to the original trilogy. It also revealed the flaws that had taken root like a cancer in the Jedi Order, simultaneously contributing to and masking the buildup of a dark tide that was about to sweep over the galaxy.

Yoda underwent a remarkable journey in this episode, and much of it occurred before he even left Coruscant. After hearing Qui-Gon Jinn's voice for the first time in meditation, he seemed uncertain. He thought it was his imagination. He claimed that Qui-Gon's appearance in his mind was "impossible," saying that his former student was dead. This certainty appeared to be born of the Jedi Order's confidence that dead Jedi were part of the Cosmic Force and unreachable by living beings. It was not the first time that the Order's hubris prevented the Jedi from seeing something clearly, nor would it be the last time.

In the subsequent Council meeting, Yoda was visibly distracted. I found this fascinating. We are used to looking at Yoda as the bedrock of wisdom and stability, particularly in the prequel era, where things are more turbulent than in the original films. (The OT may be more openly oppressive to the forces of light, but more is known about the actions of the Empire than was known about Palpatine's grand plan.) In this episode, after experiencing something that he thought was impossible, Yoda was anything but calm, cool, and collected. His fellow Masters on the Council seemed disturbed that something could have rattled him. They, like the Knights and Padawans below them, looked to Yoda for guidance. It seemed as if nothing could disturb the Council more than the uncertainty and anxiety that they perceived from Yoda.

When he realized that the others were looking to him to say something wise, Yoda threw out a generic nugget of cryptic, contemplative caution: "The growing dark side endangers us all." Yet the others could see that he was distracted and uncertain. Yoda became so distressed by hearing Qui-Gon's voice in the first half of this episode that his behavior became visibly erratic. I found this part of the episode fascinating. We're not used to seeing Yoda as a victim or as the object of others' care and concern, and it was fitting that it took something of this magnitude to render him uncertain and uneasy.

When Ki-Adi-Mundi suggested that Yoda might be susceptible to the manipulations of the Dark Lord of the Sith, Yoda and Mace agreed that it was possible. Obi-Wan expressed his disbelief, but Yoda seemed to acknowledge that anything was possible at this stage of the war. I got the sense that he was weary of being a paragon of strength and wisdom in the Order, as if his recognition of his own faults and flaws made him feel unworthy of the reputation that centuries of leadership had afforded him. It only made sense that he would continue to doubt himself, and he reached a point in this episode where he seemed to acknowledge the possibility that he was mad. He was so mired in the obstinate confidence of the Jedi Council that he would rather believe that he was going crazy than that Qui-Gon Jinn was really speaking to him from beyond the grave.

Despite the objections of the other Masters, however, Yoda did press onward in his quest for knowledge. He may have been a product of a stubborn Council that did not easily admit its own failings and mistakes, but he seemed to rise about their collective arrogance in demanding that he undergo the hokey deprivation ritual. One of Yoda's most profound statements in this episode was, "The danger is not to know the truth." He was right.

Yoda's curiosity paid off. The ritual gave him the confidence that Qui-Gon was really speaking to him. When he heard the voice again, it told him, "You must complete what I could not." This was the first explanation we have had of the differences between Qui-Gon's survival in the afterlife of the Force and Yoda's ability to manifest his essence after death. Here we learned that Qui-Gon's own training was incomplete -- based on his unorthodox approach to studying the Force, it's likely that he did all of his preparations alone, which may have limited their effectiveness. Because of this, Qui-Gon could speak to others, but he couldn't materialize visually the way that Yoda did at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Yoda may have realized that he really was talking to Qui-Gon, but when he half-deliriously told this to Obi-Wan and Anakin, it reinforced the Council's concerns about his mental health. Thus, he needed to escape Coruscant to pursue the next phase of his journey. Speaking of this escape from the Temple, I thought it was great that R2-D2 accompanied him. Aside from the obvious practical benefits of having an astromech droid plot his course and pilot the ship for him, there was a certain cosmic significance to the pairing. Yoda and R2 are similar in a lot of important ways. Both of them are jovial, energetic beings with almost childlike spirits. As long as we're on the subject of R2-D2, it's worth pointing out how fascinating it is to realize that R2 had been to Dagobah before the events of The Empire Strikes Back. This made Episode V even more fascinating in retrospect, because now, when we watch that film, we're seeing R2's anxieties upon his return as a reflection of his memories about this episode of The Clone Wars. Once again, in the process of telling a great story, this series has expanded the universe in immensely exciting ways and given fans a plethora of new ideas to consider when we watch the films.

If R2 accompanying Yoda to Dagobah was fascinating, Yoda's own initial journey there was nothing short of incredible to watch. I really appreciated the opportunity to see such a direct connection to the original trilogy, as it's the sort of thing that doesn't happen very often in this series. Naturally, the centerpiece of Yoda's trip was a visit to the famous cave. Qui-Gon ominously warned Yoda not to "give power to that which you fear" as he entered the cave. What we saw was revelatory: Yoda failed to follow Qui-Gon's advice. He couldn't do it. He so feared the triumph of the Sith that he could not prevent that fear from accompanying him into the cave. As a result, the cosmic energies of the Force revealed to him the culmination of Palpatine's grand plan. When Yoda heard the name "Sidious" telling him to join the dark side, his resistance was muted and weak. Yoda seemed to be in a state of disbelief. He could not get his mind around the notion that what he saw was fated to happen. Exiting the cave, he was unsteady on his feet, his mind still reeling at the sight of the conclusion of the Sith plan. There was a great, tantalizingly brief use of the Imperial March music as Yoda said, "Such evil."

Qui-Gon could not offer much comfort to Yoda. When the older Jedi asked him when all of this would happen, he responded cryptically that the Sith plan was in the process of being enacted under the noses of the Jedi as they spoke. His cryptic message -- "It is happening right now. It has always been happening." -- was almost like his way of reproaching the entire Jedi Order for failing to grasp and weave together the threads of Darth Sidious' machinations. After what Yoda saw, I am certain that he began to blame himself even more directly and acutely for his failure to marshal the resources of the Order to purge the galaxy of this darkness.

This episode was as much about the Force itself as it was about Yoda's journey of discovery, so it was only fitting that the Force seemed to have its own personality and consciousness on Dagobah. It began when Qui-Gon told Yoda, "Follow the light. The light will be your guide." The episode made great use of Yoda's Theme as the wizened Jedi Master followed the dots of light through the swamps of Dagobah. Of course, Qui-Gon's words had double meaning. Yoda was supposed to follow this light in front of him, but he was also supposed to follow the light side of the Force. What Qui-Gon said about following the light thus symbolized, in words so succinct and powerful as to be poetic, the guiding nature of the light side and the need to follow its path as closely as possible.

It did not surprise me when Qui-Gon told Yoda that Dagobah was "one of the purest places in the galaxy" for the Force. It did surprise me when Qui-Gon explained, again in the sparest and most resonant of terms, how the Force operated. Qui-Gon described a system in which energy from the Living Force feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding the galaxy together. The energy of the Force, he continued, communicates with the Jedi through their midi-chlorians. Again, I was surprised. Why would this episode, which was so spiritual and high-minded, give any attention to something as mundane as midi-chlorians? The answer, of course, was that Qui-Gon was emphasizing the holistic nature of this energy field. The Force was not just ethereal and mystical; it also had a crude, biological component. The midi-chlorians were the vessel through which the Jedi touched the Force; this biological element let them manipulate the energy field to serve the light side.

The Jedi Council that Yoda left behind on Coruscant was fully in the grip of outrageous hypocrisy and dangerous blindness. Mace and Obi-Wan's private discussion of Yoda's "great turmoil" reflected their genuine concern for their friend's health, with Mace expressing concern that something could be this distressing to Yoda. Yet the way the Council handled the Yoda affair reflected the very failings that had given rise to the turbulence that was now preoccupying their senior sage. Mace was right to sense a "shadow" on the horizon, but he didn't realize that this shadow represented the realization of all of their failures.

In an attempt to discern the meaning of the voice that Yoda claimed to hear, the Council members encircled him, clutching at him for strength and harmony, and began to meditate. There followed a great montage of time-lapse shots of the Jedi Temple and its central spire set to dramatic music. It was one of the best-choreographed scenes in the entire series. Yet the meditation accomplished little. Yoda did not hear the voice, and the Council's doubts deepened. Master Ki-Adi-Mundi later expressed his mistaken belief that the Sith could be using Yoda's connection to Count Dooku, his former Padawan, to attack the Jedi Order from within. This notion that the Order was internally vulnerable was correct, but it was Anakin Skywalker, not Yoda, about whom the Order should have been worried.

How does all of this relate to Anakin? It's simple. The Council's reaction to Yoda's claim that he heard Qui-Gon's voice reflected their stubborn, reactionary treatment of anyone who deviated from the expected way of being a Jedi. This was best exemplified by Ki-Adi-Mundi saying that "what Yoda claims is not possible." It was a bold statement coming from a man who didn't say a single correct thing in this entire episode except for when he postulated that Count Dooku was the apprentice of a more powerful Sith.

In addition, it was fitting that Anakin was the one who reproached Ki-Adi-Mundi for his arrogance, reminding the more senior Jedi that there were limits to the Order's understanding of the Force. This reflected his philosophical agreement with Yoda, who had stressed the importance of "what we know not" in suggesting that one could retain one's essence after death. And that wasn't the only similarity between the two Jedi. Anakin was a source of anxiety for the Council for reasons similar to Yoda's erratic behavior: he didn't conform to expectations, and he challenged the conventions of the Order in ways that made its leadership uneasy. As he witnessed the haste with which his fellow Council members turned on Yoda, Anakin must have felt strong sympathy for the Jedi Master. Even Mace Windu, one of Yoda's closest friends, sided with Ki-Adi-Mundi in expressing caution, rather than trust, about Yoda's comments. Anakin must have been sitting there looking at Yoda and thinking, "Finally, you understand how I've felt since the day I arrived here."

It is worth exploring Anakin's role in this episode in a bit more depth. When he was walking around the Temple grounds, Anakin too heard Qui-Gon's voice, meant for Yoda. As the Chosen One, his significance to the will of the Force was obviously paramount, which could explain why he would be able to hear the voice. Nevertheless, Anakin merely seemed perplexed for a second before ignoring what he had heard. When he saw Yoda nearby and they began discussing his experiences on Mortis, Anakin revealed more disagreement with the conventional Jedi view of things. He admitted to having heard what sounded like Qui-Gon's voice on Mortis, but then said that "we" -- he and Obi-Wan -- believed it to be an illusion. Except that his very next words -- "That's what Obi-Wan believes." -- tacitly rejected this conventional wisdom. It made sense that Anakin was open to believing Yoda, because he too had struggled with the ostracism that accompanied intense individuality. Later, Yoda seemed to recognize that Anakin's open-mindedness and independence made him a kindred spirit. "Disobeying the Council, your expertise is," Yoda told him conspiratorially, implying that Anakin's frequent incidents of bucking the established order made him the ideal Jedi to facilitate his escape.

Ironically, and tragically, it was the Council's attempt to repress this aspect of Anakin -- in Yoda's words, "the spontaneity you find so easily, which others do not" -- that led to the ruin of the Jedi Order. They feared what Anakin represented, as they must have feared what Yoda's experience suggested, and in both cases, they did what they could to emphasize the importance of unity and conformity. Their insistence on obedience and deference to traditions and conventional wisdom -- especially as it pertained to romantic attachments -- would eventually drive Anakin into the tempting embrace of the dark side. Thus, if Yoda's journey was the foreground action in "Voices," the Jedi Council's fallibility and weaknesses were the source of significant background tension, and it was these themes that would lead to the darkness that Yoda saw on Dagobah. Yoda had no idea how right he was when he told Anakin, "Already, all around us, the cage may be." The cage of Palpatine's plan was indeed already around them, and it relied in large part on the way they mishandled Anakin Skywalker.

On Dagobah, Qui-Gon said that he had "been tasked" with guiding Yoda forward. His words suggested that the Cosmic Force itself had chosen Yoda to further its mission of preserving the "forces of light" in the face of "dark times" ahead. The implication of this conclusion is incredibly powerful: The Cosmic Force possesses a sort of consciousness. It possesses agency. In the last few minutes of "Voices," we learned that the Force itself was ensuring the elements of its own balance. Never before in the history of The Clone Wars or the films have we seen something as directly indicative of the "will of the Force," despite the fact that the phrase has been uttered on countless occasions. Here, the Force was literally enacting its will, using Yoda as the conduit. This breathtaking realization was only one of the many incredible takeaways from "Voices." Not since the Mortis Trilogy has an episode stunned and impressed me to this degree in terms of the scope and import of the events that it chronicled. "Voices" brought The Clone Wars to stunning new heights and opened a thousand cans of worms that fans will enjoy arguing over for years to come.


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You can find all of my TCW episode reviews on TFN's review index page.
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