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TFN TCW Review: "Sacrifice"

Posted by Eric on April 13, 2014 at 01:00 PM CST

The Clone Wars Season 6 Episode 13: "Sacrifice"

We have reached the end of the line, and The Clone Wars certainly knows how to go out with a bang. No words can do justice to how brilliantly "Sacrifice" handled the most crucial themes separating good and evil in the Star Wars galaxy. This episode pulled out all the stops to show us what separates a Jedi from a Sith, and in so doing, it continued to explore Yoda's journey from the formidable leader of the prequel era to the quirkier and wearier recluse of The Empire Strikes Back. After visiting Moraband and sorting through his conflicting objectives, Yoda emerged with the confidence of spirit and calmness of mind that would, eventually, help him train a young farm boy to conquer unimaginable evil. But that task was still on the horizon. And as the sun set on The Clone Wars, I found myself better appreciating and understanding the challenges that still lay ahead for the star of "Sacrifice."

This episode was impressive on many levels, including the way it portrayed the Sith home world of Moraband and the Sith presence that Yoda encountered there. From the moment the planet came into view in front of Yoda's ship, I knew that we were in for a treat. The animation of the planet in space and on the ground perfectly conveyed the Sith legacy of death, barbarity, coldness, and emptiness. From the blood-red splotches that covered the planet like a series of wounds to the choral music and warlike drums that accompanied Yoda down to his landing site, everything about the look and feel of Moraband screamed "ancient Sith resting place." Even Yoda must have been nervous setting foot there. I also liked the very creepy (literally) bugs that joined together to form a demonic serpent beast. Yoda was not afraid of it because he had mastered his emotions, but it certainly startled me. The spooky Sith spirits that encircled Yoda and slammed into him with their dark side energy were perfectly at home on the Sith plane, with their witch-like hats and empty, soulless faces. It was the perfect brand of disturbing for the situation.

Speaking of disturbing, I found Darth Sidious and Count Dooku's Sith ritual to be fascinating and perfectly in keeping with the ancient terror of Moraband. The fact that Dooku's connection to Yoda, his former master, had alerted him to Yoda's presence on Moraband was interesting enough. Then Sidious, hoping to exploit his apprentice's connection, revealed his mastery of arcane Sith blood magic, and I was transfixed. It was fascinating to watch an old Sith ritual take place on Coruscant, with the Emperor's Theme in the background and Sidious chanting in an ancient language to conjure up the kind of witchcraft that was usually the provenance of Mother Talzin.

Sidious' use of Dooku to strike at Yoda -- which Ki-Adi-Mundi had predicted in "Voices" -- showed another way in which Dooku was particularly useful to Sidious. Both men recognized that defeating Yoda would "strike a deadly blow to the Jedi Order," and even though we knew they would fail, Sidious' intense focus on defeating his closest equal among the Jedi made for very compelling stuff. Even though he didn't know what Yoda was doing on Moraband, he seemed scared that Yoda might succeed.

This episode was fundamentally about the different worldviews of the Jedi and the Sith. Whereas the Jedi followed the light side, which taught them to value their contributions to the Cosmic Force above any accomplishments in the mortal realm, the Sith were focused only on survival and power. When Yoda told the illusion of Sifo-Dyas that the Sith were "captivated by the physical realm," the false image asked in response, "What else is there?" Those who follow the dark side see the Force and its universality as a tool to be exploited, a means to an end and not an end in and of itself. "There is no life after death," the Sith spirits whispered to Yoda as they swirled around him on the sands of Moraband. "Only nothingness awaits you, Jedi."

But the Sith are wrong about this. They are so focused on power that they don't stop to contemplate the omnipresence of the Force and its meaning beyond the mortal realm. The spirits told Yoda, "Your fear feeds our hunger for power," which only served to emphasize their short-sightedness. A focus on power from a search for meaning. The consequences of the Sith's myopic quest for power have galactic significance in the Star Wars saga. This theme was one of George Lucas' most significant contributions to the philosophies of the Jedi and the Sith.

The Sith's strategy of preservation was not the ability to directly influence events after one's death, but rather, an organizational culture, if you will, that promoted the ideology continuity necessary to sustain a secretive order over the millennia. No one did more to ensure this continuity than the creator of the Rule of Two, Darth Bane. I thought it was nothing short of awesome that The Clone Wars included an illusion of Bane's spirit in this episode. It was one of the most surprising transfers from the Expanded Universe to the series. Furthermore, Mark Hamill was perfectly suited to play the role. I loved that he managed to sneak into The Clone Wars in its final episode, because the series was sorely lacking his particular brand of vocal talent.

The presence of Bane, albeit in illusory form, emphasized his importance in preserving the Sith tradition. This episode presented Bane as a counterpoint to Qui-Gon Jinn, whose idea of continuity was survival in the netherworld of the Force. Regardless of his beliefs about that kind of survival, Bane was right that he created a "resilient" legacy for the Sith. Indeed, many of the problems that Yoda was dealing were the result of two Darths who were building on an organization that Bane's foresight had protected and guarded through countless transfers of power. Even so, Yoda proved stronger than the Sith spirit. His declaration that Bane didn't exist anymore -- that he was merely a demonic residue seeking to goad Yoda into succumbing to his fear and anger -- was the key to defeating this apparition and opening the underground passageway that led him forward. In asserting the impossibility of a Sith outlasting death, Yoda demonstrated that he understood what it took to survive as part of the Force.

Yoda's journey into the Sith sacrificial chamber represented another test of his commitment to the ideology of the light side of the Force. As befit such an evil place, the Force priestesses had no control over what happened inside. To me, this suggested that even the Force itself could not shape every space to its will. In some places, the light side met with such resistance from the dark side that it was essentially a wash.

Yoda's expression remained serious during many trying moments in this episode, but when he saw what he thought to be Sifo-Dyas imprisoned in the sacrificial chamber, he dropped his guard out of surprise. This, combined with a later scene, suggested that Yoda remained transfixed by the possibility of unraveling the secrets of the present-day war and defeating the Sith using new knowledge. In choosing to take Sifo-Dyas' form, Darth Sidious must have sensed that Yoda was vulnerable to such tempting knowledge. Thankfully, Yoda soon regained his balance, realizing that Sifo-Dyas was a Sith illusion and telling it, "Nothing to show me, the Sith have." This marked another moment where Yoda marshalled his recent training with the priestesses to reject the easy and tempting path and remain focused on his bigger-picture commitment.

I don't think I have ever been as transfixed by a collection of scenes as I was by Yoda's hallucination of a confrontation between the Jedi and the Sith in the industrial sector of Coruscant. The scene where he and Anakin raced across the landscape in a Republic gunship recalled the intense search for the Sith Lord in Labyrinth of Evil, a thoroughly gripping book that revealed how close the clones and the Jedi came to discovering Darth Sidious. It was as if Yoda had been transported forward in time to the final hours of the Republic, just before the Separatist ships would arrive in the skies overhead to distract the search teams from knocking on the right doors and peeking around the right corners.

At first I was surprised that Yoda seemed so willing to believe the illusion of the Republic raid on Sidious' hideout. After all, he had just breezed past numerous Sith illusions without so much as a second thought. Sifo-Dyas had tripped him up, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Then I realized that the reason Sifo-Dyas had tripped him up was the same reason why Yoda seemed to embrace the hunt for the Sith: Because of what he had seen on Dagobah and on the priestesses' planet, Yoda was more determined than ever end the Clone Wars. His declaration that they must destroy the hidden Sith at all costs -- "Execute them, we must. End it now, we will." -- was the most un-Yoda-like thing he said in this entire story arc.

Because his single-minded focus on ending the war blinded him to the sinister contours of Sidious' plan, Yoda and his allies played right into the Sith's hand when they arrived at the warehouse. Beginning with this scene, most of my analysis will be the result of a third viewing of this episode, because the first two times I watched it, I was so caught up in watching Yoda confront Sidious that I didn't take any notes. Even if the physical confrontation was illusory, these two powerful Force users were still confronting each other in the Force. I am sure that some viewers didn't like the idea of Yoda and Sidious "meeting" before Revenge of the Sith, but I actually think that this prior experience enhances their eventual showdown. Now, when I watch Episode III, I'll remember that each man has experience with the way the other fights, and that both of them had been anticipating their climactic duel ever since the events of this episode.

Unsurprisingly, Anakin played a major part in the illusory fight between Sidious and the Jedi. There was the obvious moment of foreshadowing when Sidious said "You cannot stop what is to come" and Anakin decapitated Dooku just as he would in Episode III. But Yoda couldn't know that that was truly fated to occur. All he knew is that he had always feared that Anakin would lose control like that. Even as he began to sense that this fight was only happening in his head, he also recognized that it was the product of real anxieties, temptations, frustrations, and vulnerabilities. When Anakin charged forward to attack Sidious on the railing, Yoda yelled, "No!" in much the same way as Obi-Wan had in Episode II. Yoda wanted to prevent Anakin from taking on the Sith Lord alone, as if he thought that Anakin's weaknesses were easier for the Sith to exploit up close.

When I think about the core differences between the Jedi and the Sith, one fundamental principle rises above all others: selflessness. As a rule, the Jedi submit themselves to the will of the Force and readily accept the need to be selfless. The Jedi consider it an advantage of following the light side, believing that this deference to the needs of the Force grants them clarity. The concept of selflessness came to the fore in the final stages of this episode. In their illusory duel, Sidious forced Yoda into a position where he could either save Anakin or keep fighting the Sith Lord. As I recalled that Yoda had made a similar choice in Episode II, I knew what his decision would be in this moment. Obviously, Yoda chose to bear Sidious' attacks while he used the Force to keep Anakin's unconscious body from falling several stories.

As soon as Yoda made his choice, Sidious unleashed the floodgates of his Force attacks and his contempt. He belittled for Yoda for caring about Anakin rather than fighting, goading him to abandon the younger Jedi by saying that if he did so, "you can stop all that I will do." No moment better encapsulated the differences between the Sith and the Jedi. Palpatine emphasized on power and pursued it at all costs, while Yoda was concerned with his impact on the Cosmic Force. He knew that selflessness was an essential part of being a Jedi. I have used the word selfless numerous times, but there's another word that better fits this situation: sacrifice. In the illusion, Yoda "sacrificed" his ability to defeat Sidious by saving Anakin's life. It was the Jedi thing to do, and it showed a concern for how one's actions affect the balance of the Force, but it prevented Yoda from achieving his immediate objective. Given how intent Yoda was on completing that objective in this scene, it must have taken all of his willpower to remain true to his Jedi training. This episode is called "Sacrifice" for a reason.

When he returned to Coruscant, Yoda told Obi-Wan and Mace that there wasn't much to tell the Council about his journey. This was true, from a certain point of view: most of what Yoda had experienced was internal. The bittersweet ending to the final episode of The Clone Wars demonstrated how much Yoda had grown in this story arc. Almost as an offhand comment, he told his fellow Masters, "To the end, we are coming now." In a statement that brought to mind Yoda's adage of "Wars not make one great," he told Obi-Wan and Mace that his perspective on conflict was now very different from what it had once been. "No longer certain that one ever does win a war, I am," the Jedi Master said. "For in fighting the battles, the bloodshed, already lost, we have."

This all must have sounded very dispiriting to the two Jedi who hadn't gone on a journey into the core of the Force itself. But Yoda had a few words of reassurance to go along with his sense of foreboding. He told Obi-Wan and Mace that a new path was open to the Jedi, one that the Sith could not exploit. In what may turn out to be the last few seconds of The Clone Wars that we will ever see, Yoda informed his friends that by following this path, the Jedi would find "victory for all time."

"Sacrifice" may be the best episode in the entire run of The Clone Wars. It had just about everything that a strong episode needs. It focused on an important character, it dealt with some of the biggest questions in the Star Wars mythos, and it presented a stark contrast between the two warring factions of Force-users that got to the heart of what the original trilogy is all about. There were EU nod and amazing lightsaber duels. There was even a cameo from one of the biggest names in the franchise. As if that wasn't enough, in the waning minutes of the series finale, the priestess imparted to Yoda a cryptic message that would later carry tremendous weight in his mission on behalf of the will of the Force. "Enlightenment, spirit, balance," she said to him, encouraging his continued pursuit of these noble ends. Then she said the words that have surely set the fan community on fire: "There is another Skywalker." Stunned by the boldness of this series in daring to go there before the Clone Wars were even over, I nearly missed the sound of Yoda's voice, repeating the priestess' prophetic words in the labored breath of a dying man, accompanied by the sound of the most famous labored breathing in the history of popular culture.

It seems very likely that we will never get more episodes of this series. As strange as it sounds, I almost don't mind that. After reflecting on the tremendous impact and resonance of "Sacrifice," I couldn't imagine a better way to send out the series than with the events that it depicted and the concepts that it explored. Good and evil. Light versus darkness. Selflessness versus selfishness. Trust versus betrayal. Peace versus war. Hope versus fear. These are some of the most important themes in the Star Wars saga. It is only fitting that, thanks to this brilliant series finale, they are also the themes that conclude the adventures of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.


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

Related Stories:

TFN TCW Review: "Destiny"
TFN TCW Review: "Voices"
TFN TCW Review: "The Lost One"

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