TFN TCW Review: "The Disappeared, Part I"
The Clone Wars Season 6 Episode 8: "The Disappeared, Part I"
Sometimes the most enjoyable episodes are the ones that you least expect to enjoy. "The Disappeared, Part I" is set on a new planet, where a mysterious prophecy is plaguing an unfamiliar race and an unlikely pair of heroes must overcome their stylistic differences to cooperate and save a civilization from total darkness. At first blush, this doesn't sound like the story arcs that have raised the stakes of The Clone Wars in season after season. However, the novelty of this episode's settings, its main characters, and its threat produced an unexpected success. Furthermore, while I was originally going to say that I enjoyed the episode despite it only having one action scene, I think we all know that Jar Jar Binks got some royal action off-camera. Talk about things you never expected to see on The Clone Wars!
One of the best things about this episode was that it introduced a society that was genuinely enjoyable to watch. The Bardottan people were decidedly exotic, from Queen Julia's voice to the designs of the Dagoyan Masters' outfits to the spiritual chanting music that greeted Jar Jar and Mace's arrival. There were obvious Indian and East Asian influences in their society, which provided a fresh and interesting environment for the episode. I liked the backstory of the Dagoyan Masters, who have a connection with the Force but use it to reflect and contemplate life's mysteries. Of course, the Jedi used to do that, but Yoda was forced to acknowledge that the Bardottan sages were "unlike the Jedi" in their pacifism and introspectiveness. Although Yoda's comment was brief, it was laden with symbolism: the Temple's wisest Jedi was admitting that the Order had strayed from its purpose.
If the Bardottans were peaceful, exotic, and refreshingly different, the Frangawl death cult was exactly the opposite: militant, primitive, and humorously familiar. The Frangawl cultists were an obvious nod to the villains in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In fact, the Indy vibe started as soon as Mace and Jar Jar arrived in the Frangawl tomb to investigate the Queen's disappearance. Seeing a cultist appear out of nowhere to snatch Jar Jar in the hidden passageway, I immediately thought of Temple of Doom. Later, when their sacrificial chamber was revealed, the homage became even clearer: The animalistic helmets, the hanging cages, the chanting, and the fumes were all clear nods to Indiana Jones. I appreciated these homages. They were obvious enough to merit recognition from fans, but they didn't distract from this episode's interesting Star Wars-inflected storyline.
It looks like "The Disappeared" will be Jar Jar Binks' opportunity to shine. I know that some fans still don't like Jar Jar, even after they've had fifteen years to calm down about his actions and mannerisms in The Phantom Menace. I for one don't mind him anymore. He has certainly been a more productive and tolerable cast member in The Clone Wars than he was in the prequels. This episode got a lot of mileage out of playing on the unexpected, from Queen Julia requesting Jar Jar's presence in the first place to the revelation of their romantic relationship. Mace may have smirked at Jar Jar's intimate relationship with the queen, but as Yoda pointed out, a person with her responsibilities and pressures might value Jar Jar's innocent, carefree nature.
I also liked that this episode gave us a bit of insight into Jar Jar's past and showed him to be more competent than his detractors admit. I think that it's easier to demonize and pigeon-hole a character about whom you know very little. Jar Jar used to be one-dimensional -- he was comic relief -- but now we've seen that he went on assignments and spent time with royalty and was able to bond with a queen. Throughout the episode, Jar Jar proved to be anything but inept. When Queen Julia asked him if Mace was his servant, he quickly responded, "Yes, that is the truth." He was thinking on his feet, and poor Mace could only stand there and go along with it. Later, during the fight in the sacrificial chamber, Jar Jar bravely risked his life to protect the queen from cultists, grabbing a spear and calling himself a "bombad warrior."
Mace Windu watched Jar Jar's transformation from simpleton to careful diplomat and brave investigator with a mixture of astonishment and grumpiness. Mace is my favorite character, but even I had to admit that he did not initially put his best foot forward in this episode. When he discussed the mission with the Jedi Council, his lack of faith in Jar Jar was obvious, best expressed in the fear that Binks would be "out of his depth" if he went alone. For this reason, Mace put duty above comfort and volunteered to accompany him. When he told the Council that he would go with Jar Jar to Bardotta if they wanted him to, it sounded like he was volunteering despite his better judgment.
The early stages of their teamwork were tense at best. When they were in the shuttle, Mace channeled Qui-Gon Jinn as he admonished Jar Jar not to touch anything. When Jar Jar not-so-slyly referenced his romantic past with the queen, it provoked an eye-roll from Mace that carried a hint of "What have I gotten myself into?" Upon their arrival, Mace had to confront the fact that he was not welcome on Bardotta, and that Jar Jar would need to take point in the mission. The Bardottans' hostile attitude toward Jedi forced Mace to be painfully diplomatic, and it was easy to imagine him bristling at the need for restraint and niceties when there was an urgent threat in their midst.
Mace's impatience was obvious from the moment he tried to mind-trick the guards into letting him meet with the queen. It must have really ticked him off to learn that the Bardottan people were impervious to mind tricks because they had been raised to think of the Jedi as thieves and kidnappers. I was surprised to see him lure the guards away and break into the queen's meditation room. I did not expect to see such a wise and experienced Jedi display such uncharacteristic restlessness. Evidently Mace was more distrusting of Jar Jar's competence than he was concerned with making a good impression.
Although Mace initially underestimated Jar Jar's talents and focus, he came to realize that working with Jar Jar was a better approach than trying to boss him around. Soon, an unlikely friendship emerged. When they were navigating the lower levels of the city and the Bardottan sage said that ahead lay only darkness and evil, Mace showed his sense of humor by telling Jar Jar that they were on the correct path. By the end of the episode, Mace and Jar Jar seemed to have developed a genuine rapport. Of course, Mace still did most of the fighting, and it was great to see him basically take on the cultists single-handedly. I loved watching him kick flying spears out of the air, impale cultists on their own spears and throw them at each other, and save Jar Jar from a fatal plunge with simultaneously dueling the death-worshippers. I had almost forgotten that Mace was a BAMF in combat. If only Indy had had him as a companion in Temple of Doom!
Despite the general feeling of this episode as a transition away from the weightier issues in The Clone Wars, "The Disappeared, Part I" did remind us of the cosmic nature of the Force. The ancient prophecy plaguing Bardotta made for a suspenseful and interesting threat with big ramifications. Mace himself noted the significance of the prophecy on the omnipresent energy field when he told Jar Jar that "the Force is strangely out of balance here." Even though this duology is unusual in many ways, it also has connections to the normal ebb and flow of the Force that underpins most of the series. The Bardottan sages spoke of a prophecy that "an era of darkness will rise throughout the galaxy," and the parallels to the impending revenge of the Sith were obvious. The Frangawl's plan involved stealing the queen's Force essence, which was kind of like Palpatine corrupting Anakin (stealing his light-side essence, if you will). Both Palpatine's plan and the Frangawl's plan would lead to immense and impenetrable darkness.
Although the Frangawl's dastardly plan was ripped from Temple of Doom, it connected nicely with a central theme of the Star Wars universe: the universality of the Force. As one cultist told Jar Jar, "The Force resides within all living things." Even those -- like Jar Jar -- who can't manipulate the Force still have some measure of it inside them. The cultists' plan to steal the Bardottan sages' Force essence was an interesting use of dark magic that I don't believe we have seen before. It was another reminder that the Jedi and the Sith don't have a monopoly on touch the Force, much less twisting it to suit their own purposes. The Bardottans and the Frangawl, like the witches of Dathomir, could also touch the Force in their own way.
Mace Windu summed up this episode's impact on Jar Jar's reputation when he told the Gungan, "Maybe it's this place, but you're starting to make sense to me." In many ways, "The Disappeared, Part I" added depth and maturity to Jar Jar even as it allowed him to retain his innocence and exuberance. The episode's "fortune cookie" message, "Without darkness there cannot be light," reflected Jar Jar's growth and his ability to rise to a challenge. Without the dark threat of the Bardottan prophecy, the light inside Jar Jar would not have burned as brightly. This episode's success at combining big-picture themes of light and darkness with character drama and planetary mystery mirrored Mace and Jar Jar's success at combining their decidedly different talents. I found "The Disappeared, Part I" to be a thoroughly enjoyable episode, and I look forward to reviewing the second half of the story -- and the continuation of Mace and Jar Jar's odd-couple partnership.
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