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TFN Review: Zillo Beast

Posted By Eric on April 10, 2010

The Clone Wars Season 2 Episode 18: Zillo Beast

If you liked Godzilla and love The Clone Wars, chances are you were impressed with last night's episode. And while Zillo Beast had a lot of Godzilla aspects, we were also treated to a variety of other fun stuff as well. My favorite character, Mace Windu, was back in action. We met the Dugs, the species famous for giving us such lovely individuals as Sebulba. And we learned that the scientific community on Coruscant is apparently not very bright.

Let's start with the Dugs. I liked seeing them; they all seem as belligerent as Sebulba, particularly after the Zillo beast is revealed. Their incorrigible pig-headedness made them a worthy "pseudo-adversary" to the Jedi in this episode. The way Doge Urus, the Dug leader, talked about the "delicate balance of our planet" made me think he had expected to find a Zillo beast in the sinkhole. When Anakin leaves him to go help Mace, he starts talking to his cohorts. Perhaps they were discussing the significance of Anakin's departure in light of what they believed to be down there. When Doge Urus explained the nature of the Zillo beasts to Anakin and Mace, it became more apparent to me that he definitely didn't believe his own tale about the creatures' purported extinction. He knew that there had to be at least one surviving beast.

Doge Urus can distinctly be heard saying "His weakness" to his comrades (referring to the Zillo beast) as Anakin and Mace enter. That was the moment -- upon reexamining the episode -- where I realized that the Dugs were not blameless in this whole situation. If they knew enough about the creature to have a pretty detailed body schematic, and to know its weakness, they should have said something to the Chancellor before they allowed the proton bomb to drop. Of course, there's subtext here: the Dug leadership probably cares more about eliminating the Separatists -- and gaining Republic aid -- than it does about the safety of the average citizen on Malastare.

Of course, this is Star Wars; the good guys eventually win. With that in mind, the look on Doge Urus's face when the Zillo beast crawls out of its pit is priceless. In that split-second shot, you can see just how surprised he is that his plan isn't working. Stupidity and belligerence, meet the unexpected consequence of which your Jedi protector spoke at the beginning of the episode. Of course, there are casualties among the Dug ranks when the monster escapes. I feel bad for the Dugs who get killed as the Zillo beast marches forward unhindered, but I'm not sure I can drudge up as much sympathy for Doge Urus as he skids to a halt in between the creature and his only hope of survival. Doge Urus does eventually concede to Mace and Anakin, following the Jedi victory over the Zillo beast. But you can tell that he's only grudgingly signing the treaty to join the Republic. He's been shown up by the Jedi. His plan failed, and the Jedi saved his skin and countless others', but he doesn't have to like it.

If there's one thing that this episode did formidably well, it's the depiction of battle sequences. The opening battle had just about everything: wide shots of the approaching droid army, interesting angles on the dive-bombing droid starfighters being shot by long-range cannons (did anyone else get a kamikaze feel from those guys?), the launch and flight of the Y-wing bombers, the attacking ARC-170s (very reminiscent of the X-Wings attacking the Death Star), the catapult-esque Dug weaponry, the explosion (both visually and audibly) of the proton bomb, and the ensuing destruction of droid army. I also liked seeing Anakin's mechanical arm sizzling with electric jolts - it was a nice touch.

The night-time saturation bombing of the Zillo beast's pit was fantastic. The combat siren, the loading and deployment of the catapult-launched bombs, the brief yellow flashes as the explosives detonated, and the chanting of the Dugs all contributed to the scene feeling primitive and eerie. It reminded me of the typical "military might" attack on any number of monsters in films of this genre, from Godzilla to Cloverfield -- formidable firepower, but ultimately ineffective against the menace. The fact that the explosions momentarily illuminated the Zillo beast made the scene all the more creepy. Those shots made it seem like the beast was barely afraid of the Dugs' explosives; rather, it seemed to be lying in wait for just the right amount of agitation to escape its recessed confines.

Equally savage but a little less bloody than the fight scenes was the political intrigue. Palpatine realizes that Malastare is too important to lose because of fuel reserves, so he decides to use this "miracle weapon" proton bomb to wipe out the Separatist threat there. Of course, his plan backfires somewhat: the Dugs, realizing how important they are to the Chancellor, eventually blackmail the Republic into doing things their way with regard to the Zillo beast by holding the treaty as a bargaining chip. On another political note, I find it interesting that the Dugs call the Zillo beast battle "an internal matter," one that is "none of [the Jedi Knights'] concern." Have they met the Jedi Order before? If there's a moral high ground to take, someone in the Order will take it. Furthermore, I like that Palpatine, ever the consummate politician, didn't care about the Zillo beast until he learned that its outer shell was ultra-effective against conventional weaponry. Plus, I couldn't see it through the holotransmission, but I am pretty sure that there was a glint in his eye when Anakin mentioned its imperviousness to lightsaber blades.

The sights and sounds of this episode contributed a lot to the tone of the plot. The visuals in the sinkhole were remarkable. I liked the pillars of light breaking through the cavernous, dust-filled area. That was the perfect way to introduce the threat of the Zillo beast. The angles used when we finally see the creature were well-chosen. As with many monster films, we don't get a clear look at its whole body. We see portions of it, including its menacing eyes staring down Mace and the clones, and there are some angles from ground-level looking up at its imposing size, but it's not until later that we see it in its entirety. The monster itself is both gigantic and frightening. Its cries of pain and frustration fit perfectly with a creature of its long-dormant, almost-mythic nature. The TCW team did a great job making it look and sound fearsome and impressive. Later on, the scene where the Dugs pumped their fuel into the Zillo beast's pit was almost as impressive as the initial saturation bombing. Great camera angles, great sounds, great lighting.

Zillo Beast was replete with homages and references to the SW films. The Wilhelm scream is clearly audible as a clone is knocked aside by the Zillo beast. Anakin spinning around the Zillo beast in his starfighter reminded me of Luke doing the same around the AT-AT in TESB. I also liked that Anakin was able to escape by clinging to a flying R2 -- that's a nice throwback to R2's flight in the AOTC droid factory. I don't recall if we've seen R2 flying on his rocket boosters in TCW before, but we certainly haven't seen enough of it. One not-so-subtle reference to the films pops up shortly after the Zillo beast appears. As Anakin escapes the Zillo beast atop R2, the creature lunges at the pair with its long neck. The final shot of the two heroes escaping the beast's maw was a near-perfect homage to the escape of the Millennium Falcon from the space slug in TESB. Lastly, a dialog homage: when the Dugs began "their way" of destroying the creature, one Dug said to the rest, "E chuu ta." Sharp-eared fans will remember that as the insult one protocol droid hurled at C-3PO just before the latter was blasted apart on Cloud City. It's these kinds of references that are great -- some subtle, some dialog, some visual, some that make you smile and say, "Yep, this is Star Wars."

A quick note: if there's one thing the Republic should have learned from the situation on Malastare, it's that you shouldn't tempt fate. Twice during this episode, someone says something and the immediate consequence proves them wrong. Right after the proton bomb explodes, Anakin says something along the lines of, "That was easy" or "That worked out well." Jedi or not, Anakin's not immune to irony: the ground gives way, producing a gigantic sinkhole and exposing a new threat, immediately thereafter. The second incident of tempting fate occurs when Mace and the clones are walking around in the sinkhole. Just before the Zillo beast awakens, a clone trooper says, "There's nothing down here but rocks and debris." Some debris!

Okay, I'll be honest: the real highlight of Zillo Beast was Mace Windu. Now, I'm an unashamed Mace Windu fan -- I'm confident he could have defeated Palpatine if Anakin hadn't interrupted, but that's a topic for another time. Anyway, Mace Windu really shined in this episode. I found it interesting that Mace Windu didn't want to use the bomb and that he was reluctant to destroy the monster after it appeared. His actions contrasted with Palpatine's, and the distinction between their judgments says a lot. As usual, Mace is right when he tells Doge Urus to call off the fuel/bomb attack; it backfires for the Dugs and Mace and Anakin have to rush in and save them. If nothing else, this episode is a twenty-two minute testament to why more people should listen to Mace when he something troubles him. Also, Mace drawing his lightsaber on Doge Urus was a perfect bit of foreshadowing for his final scene in ROTS.

In the argument between Mace and Doge Urus, we see two perfectly valid arguments. Doge Urus [ostensibly] wants to eliminate this threat to his people's wellbeing at any cost, but Mace wants to capture the beast to study. Mace also makes the good point that the Zillo beast was living harmlessly underground before the bomb disrupted its existence. Doge Urus, meanwhile, has a point in that the Republic is really only interested in protecting Malastare (with the proton bomb) so that it can acquire the Dugs' fuel. Despite the valid arguments on both sides, however, I'm going to give this one to the Jedi. Capturing the beast, while more difficult, would achieve the same end result for the Dugs: an end to the creature's threat. But the Dugs have to do things their way, so they hold the treaty hostage. Yet again, we have a two-sided debate. It is the Dugs' planet; the Republic can't dictate policy on its member worlds to this degree. But that doesn't invalidate Mace's perspective (the one I agree with): while the Jedi have no authority here, they do have a more mutually-beneficial strategy. There's also the question of just how innocent the Zillo beast is now. Again, I find myself siding with Mace -- it doesn't exactly seem capable of human-level rationalization, so the argument that it didn't have to attack the clones and Jedi who invaded its "home" is pretty thin. It's tough for me to feel sympathy for such a dangerous and destructive creature, and the loss of some clone troopers is never acceptable, but in this case killing the creature (versus capturing it) is not the best answer. Also, Anakin made a good point: the Jedi may be violating their own principles by refusing to protect the Zillo beast, but in the long run, they stand to lose much more by forgoing the Malastare treaty.

I'm not sure how much the "shorting its nervous system" approach holds up in the real world, and I'm also not sure why the Jedi didn't try their stun cannons right away, but the climactic attack on the Zillo beast was very fun to watch. It felt like a Star Wars version of the prototypical "all-out assault" scene from classic monster movies. This, like the initial bombing of the beast's pit, was the Star Wars equivalent of the Army tanks blasting away at the Cloverfield monster. I liked the Zillo beast's final collapse -- and just in time, too. There's a great shot of the beast lit from behind by a hazy green smoke as the tanks hold the line against it with their blue stun beams. Seeing the dazed creature land feet away from the Jedi tank was very relieving.

At the end of the episode, Palpatine reveals that there has been a chance in plans. Whereas Mace and Anakin had planned on depositing the Zillo beast somewhere in the Outer Rim, the Chancellor reveals that they are now to bring the monster to Coruscant. Now, I give the Republic scientists a lot of credit -- their work must have led to the development of untold thousands of little battlefield innovations and numerous technological advancements that have helped the Republic during the Clone Wars. But it absolutely baffles me as to why "the scientific community" wanted the Zillo beast observed on Coruscant. Palpatine said it was because of the capital city's "controlled environment," but I don't understand why some scientists couldn't travel to -- and set up camp on -- whatever Outer Rim planet Mace had in mind. This wasn't a writing problem, because Dave and his team clearly wanted to set up a showdown with the beast in a heavily populated, politically-important setting. (As evidenced by the fact that the next episode is a continuation of this plotline.)

If I had to give this episode an alternate title, I would call it "Mace Windu's Bad-Feeling-About-This Extravaganza." Seriously though, he was consistently troubled by something and each time it turned out to be worth the worrying. The final line of the episode (Mace, as it had to be, saying that he hopes Coruscant will be safe) is basically the best harbinger of death and destruction on Coruscant that could possibly have been included. Regardless of what happens next, Zillo Beast will stand out as a remarkable episode, because of the sights and sounds, the intense battles, and the fun homages to both the Star Wars film saga and other classic monster movies.

Related Stories

May 1, 2010   TFN Review: Lethal Trackdown
May 1, 2010   TFN Review: R2 Come Home
April 24, 2010   TFN Review: Death Trap
April 12, 2010   TCW: "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back" Guide
April 12, 2010   TCW: "The Zillo Beast" Now Online
April 11, 2010   The Clone Wars: Act On Instinct Part 13

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