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TFN TCW Review: The Lawless

Posted By Eric on February 2, 2013

The Clone Wars Season 5 Episode 16: The Lawless

It's hard to believe that one episode of The Clone Wars could contain so much awesomeness. In the process of sustaining two A-plots (neither of its two fantastic storylines could really be called a B-plot), "The Lawless" incorporated a record number of homages to the six core Star Wars films, wrapped up the stories of two second-tier characters introduced in The Clone Wars, expanded on Obi-Wan's emotional turmoil like never before, and generated a veritable maelstrom of discussion about the future of Darth Sidious' relationship with his former Zabrak apprentice.

Before I get into some of the heavier analysis, I want to run through the number of homages to the films that this episode contained. I really enjoyed all of these moments, and unlike some previous references to the films, I found them to be well-timed and not at all forced. Thanks to the homages, I felt a sense of history repeating itself, and common themes emerging across the broader saga. Far from drawing attention to themselves, these references actually served the story by highlighting connections (and implicitly drawing comparisons) between certain core characters.

One of the homages that best rewarded diehard Star Wars fans was actually the payoff to the episode's only moment of levity. After Obi-Wan struggled to land the Twilight in one piece, there was a bit of slapstick comedy as he told the Death Watch port security officer that it was only his friend's ship, as if he were disowning it. Meanwhile, behind him, the boarding ramp stubbornly refused to cooperate. It was a cool "shout-out" of sorts to the messy, broken-down nature of the technology in the Original Trilogy. It was also quickly followed by the first homage of the episode, where Obi-Wan knocked out the security guard aboard his ship and "appropriated" his armor. The second homage immediately followed and was a bit more subtle: On a platform overlooking the landing area, Bo-Katan stopped one of her colleagues from taking action against Obi-Wan, much like one Tusken Raider did to another as they both watched Luke's landspeeder pass below them in the Jundland Wastes.

The other homages were more obvious but no less fun or meaningful. There was Obi-Wan charging into Satine's jail cell in a combined homage to Luke in Episode IV and Leia in Episode VI. (Bo-Katan had a similar moment where she greeted Obi-Wan's inquiry with the line, "Bo-Katan. I'm here to rescue you.") There was also Obi-Wan knocking out the Death Watch soldier in the elevator after the man asked for an authorization code, much like Han shooting the Death Star cell block console after being asked a similar question. The "used-universe" motif appeared again in an homage to Episode V, as Obi-Wan smacked a console aboard the Twilight during his and Satine's attempted escape. Also in reference to Episode V (specifically Hoth), the Twilight's blaster cannons emerged and began firing on the attacking Death Watch ground forces, although in Obi-Wan and Satine's case, escape was sadly impossible.

In terms of darker homages, there were plenty. There was "I sense a presence, a presence I haven't felt since..." -- Darth Vader, another student recalling his former master, in Episode IV. Obi-Wan delivered the pained line "I'm so sorry" to Satine, foreshadowing the moment in Episode III when he said it to Padm upon confirming the identity of her children's father. Even grimmer was the moment when Palpatine cast aside Maul's Death watch guards as effortlessly as if he were squashing some bugs, foreshadowing the scene in Episode III when Yoda did the same to the new Emperor's Royal Guards. What was most disturbing about the moment in this episode was that the Death Watch guards fell sharply to the ground as Sidious passed by, like ragdolls dropped by an uninterested child. The moment when Sidious readied himself for battle with a quiet cackle and the reveal of lightsabers stored in his sleeves was so perfectly choreographed and framed that it sent shivers down my spine as I anticipated what would happen next.

It's obvious that I enjoyed and paid careful attention to the many homages in this episode, but as a means of transitioning into my analysis of the meat of this episode, I'd like to mention one final homage -- my favorite in the entire episode. It came toward the end of the ferocious battle between Sidious and the two Zabrak ex-Sith. Sidious was dueling Savage Opress, and as Maul watched from a distance, the Dark Lord of the Sith impaled Savage through the chest with both of his blades. Here was the bitterest irony of all. This episode story arc resulted from a battle between three skilled lightsaber-wielders in the power generator station on Naboo. Maul's anger at Obi-Wan stemmed from the conclusion of that battle. Obi-Wan's determination to end the battle, and perhaps the way in which he did so, resulted from Maul impaling Qui-Gon Jinn. And now, as Maul's sweeping plot for power and revenge fell apart around him, Sidious concluded this three-man fight by performing the same maneuver on the only person for whom Maul truly cared. After more than a decade of contemplating his revenge, he was forced to watch helplessly in the same way as had the man against whom he sought vengeance.

That was the end of Maul's complex, sadistic scheme. Now it's time to start from the beginning. Maul's plan to let Satine break free so she could contact Obi-Wan demonstrated the remarkable growth Maul had gone through since receiving his new legs and taking on an apprentice of his own. Watching him and seeing the cunning and controlled malice in his eyes, it was almost hard to believe that this man had been a babbling mess just a few months earlier. Maul knew exactly what Satine was like, which showed both how carefully he had studied her and how extensively he had honed his perceptiveness. Like any great evil mastermind, he could read people like open books; he was able to not simply see their flaws and weaknesses but identify how best to exploit them. His plan reminded me of Vader allowing the Millennium Falcon to lead the Death Star to Yavin IV, as well as Palpatine and Vader drawing Luke to Endor for the final confrontation.

Maul would continue to evoke memories of Vader and even Palpatine throughout this episode. Rarely did he exhibit more menace than in the scene where he gave Almec his orders. There were bold hints of the Emperor's voice in Maul's own as he told Almec, You have done well." It was even more uncannily similar when Maul described his plan and contemptuously referred to Satine as Obi-Wan's "friend." In "The Lawless", Maul's wickedness grew more extreme and more pronounced with each passing moment. When Obi-Wan arrived, Maul saw his plan reaching its conclusion, and the confidence with which he confronted his old foe revealed traces of the arrogance that would be his undoing. The close-up of Maul's face as the Twilight was hit by rockets showed him smiling, savoring Obi-Wan's peril. When he told an exhausted and defeated Obi-Wan "Welcome to my world," he meant it in a literal sense, but he could just as easily have meant it in a metaphorical sense: welcome to the pain, humiliation, and despair that I experienced when you cut me in half.

The conversation that followed between Maul and Obi-Wan in the Mandalorian throne room was one of the sharpest, most insightful elucidations of one of the central themes in the Star Wars: the role of the Force in both shaping and responding to the actions of individuals. Just as Emperor Palpatine would eventually belittle Luke Skywalker's "faith in [his] friends," Maul called Obi-Wan's penchant for compassion a "noble flaw." Obi-Wan denied that he was angry or afraid, promising that he wasn't afraid to die. Both of these declarations mirrored the way that Luke would later stand up to the Emperor. Obi-Wan deflected Maul's comment about strength and criticized the Zabrak for using his rage as a crutch because he lacked composure and control.

Maul responded that the Dark Side "is more powerful than you know," which I thought was one of the single best lines in this entire story arc. It seemed to encapsulate Maul's entire life story starting from the moment when he hit the bottom of the pit on Naboo. The Dark Side sustained him. In subsequent months, bit by bit, the Dark Side (and the anger with which Maul fed it) brought this broken, beaten, demoralized man back up from the depths to which he had plunged. Far from being a crutch, in Maul's mind, the Dark Side was a vital ingredient in the accumulation of strength. Anger had been a potent catalyst for Maul's rejuvenation, and that was why he responded with such fury when Obi-Wan attempted to empathize with him by mentioning his tortured upbringing. Obi-Wan saw anger as a corrupting agent that had tarnished Maul from an early age, but Maul believed that he understood anger and its benefits in a way that Obi-Wan never could.

This anger morphed into contempt and outright sadism as Maul realized his decade-long goal of making Obi-Wan pay for what the Jedi Master had done to him. While Obi-Wan cradled Satine's body, Maul simply sat on his throne, letting Obi-Wan experience the full depth of his loss. He then decided to imprison Obi-Wan and prolong that pain and loss, rather than releasing him from his anguish with a quick death. In one of the most unsettling visual contrasts in the five-season run of The Clone Wars, Maul smiled with devilish glee as Obi-Wan kissed Satine's lifeless hand.

Unfortunately for Maul, that was pretty much the last time he would have the upper hand over anyone who wielded a lightsaber, because as he was savoring his victory over Obi-Wan, he was also becoming arrogant and making himself a target for an even more sinister and demonic individual: his former master, Darth Sidious.

I can vividly remember my jaw dropping open during The Clone Wars panel at Celebration VI when the Season 5 trailer gave us our first glimpse of Darth Sidious in action. This episode exceeded all of my expectations as far as Palpatine/Sidious was concerned. He was introduced perfectly: an incredible shot in which the camera panned around to rest on the front of his face, hiding the top of it in shadow as he half-grinned, half-grimaced while looking out at the Coruscant skyline from his office. Music from the movies made a bone-chilling appearance -- a brilliant, haunting choral theme that set the tone as Sidious sensed the actions of his former apprentice on Mandalore.

Evidence of the fact that Dave Filoni and his team had completed mastered how to depict Darth Sidious continued to mount in the episode's third arc, as Vader's Theme played over the scene where his shuttle landed on Mandalore. As it settled onto its landing struts, I got the sense that the father was stepping in to correct his rebellious son's misdeeds. Watching Sidious' arrival, I thought to myself, "Maul, you're playing with the big boys now." And how about that arrival scene, right? We had already seen it in the Celebration VI trailer, but it was no less impressive here. Sidious stepped calmly off his shuttle, his face down, the cowl of his robe raised, effortlessly bypassing the guards with a Force choke that seemed almost to be an afterthought. More incredibly haunting music played as Sidious walked past the choking and gagging guards, and with morbidly perfect timing, he opened the hangar doors and quietly zipped away just as the guards fell to the ground after taking their last breaths.

When Sidious arrived to confront his former apprentice, Maul sealed his fate by lying to the older Sith about the purpose of his scheming and conquest. Sidious had already determined that Maul was now a "rival" to be subdued, but Maul certainly didn't make things any better for himself. By demonstrating that he had become powerful and overconfident, he convinced Sidious that it was time to Take Care Of Business. The main fight between Maul, Savage, and Sidious was one of the series' best -- if not THE best -- lightsaber duels. Sidious was clearly at the top of his game; Maul and Savage were appropriately humbled by the awesome power on display in front of them. As one might expect when dueling a Sith Master, there were several moments where Sidious was clearly toying with the two Zabrak, goading them on and waiting until he felt like unleashing his full power.

When Sidious defeated Savage and flung him over the edge of the platform, he calmly waited while Maul ran after his brother and, essentially, said his goodbyes. He gave Maul time to watch his previously formidable sibling revert to his smaller, weaker form. It was as if the life essence, the Dark Side essence, was being siphoned out of him. Perhaps this was a suggestion that the Dark Side had a will and could abandon anyone when it considered them no longer worthy. At this point, Maul's fury at Sidious for abandoning him came to a head. As he stood over his brother's dead body, he processed the news that Sidious had a new apprentice, interpreting it for what it was: the Sith Lord's full and final rejection of the living weapon he had once helped craft and the potential for greatness that Maul believed he possessed. When he finally engaged his master in one-on-one combat, he released all of his frustration. Even then, he was no match for Sidious. The older man was like a whirlwind, and it reminded me of the day when he would finally get to unleash that overwhelming power, blinding speed, and stunning ferocity on his true enemies, the Jedi.

In an episode filled with dark scenes, the one that disturbed me the most was the conclusion of the duel between Sidious and Maul. Eventually, Sidious simply started Force-throwing his former apprentice into walls and onto the floor, breaking his spirit as he broke his body. Maul, uncharacteristically, even jarringly, began begging for mercy. Then, with a disturbing calmness and a voice utterly devoid of any emotion, Sidious reminded him, "There is no mercy." Talk about goose bumps. The Clone Wars has never before reached that level of disquieting brutality, and I loved it.

Speaking of love: Obi-Wan and Satine. Obi-Wan has taken quite a beating in this season and in the previous one. From his first appearance in this episode, it was clear that Obi-Wan was in for a rough ride once again. The animators did a great job showing the sorrow and frustration on Yoda and Obi-Wan's faces as they watched Satine's call for help. Yoda immediately recognized what Obi-Wan wanted to do, and when he heard that there was no Separatist connection to the events on Mandalore, he anticipated Obi-Wan's reaction to the fact that the Jedi couldn't get involved. Predictably, Obi-Wan fought the decision, and Yoda's face dropped as he realized that Obi-Wan was showing some of the same signs as Anakin had in Episode II. Echoing the impulsivity of his former apprentice, Obi-Wan now wanted to abandon the Jedi Order's grand plan to save someone he loved.

As Yoda told Obi-Wan that involvement would require Senate approval, you could see how disgusted Obi-Wan he was with the formalities that were preventing him from helping Satine. It wasn't just their previous romantic relationship that was impelling him; it was the clear-cut nature of the situation. He didn't see any rational reasons for noninterference, just political ones. The irony of his situation could not have been lost on him -- Anakin often made rash decisions or wanted to disobey the Council when he thought it was necessary, and Obi-Wan always had to pull him back. What made that opening scene in the Temple holoprojector room even more poignant was the fact that in Episode III, Obi-Wan will give Anakin advice on letting go of attachments, and the consequences of Anakin's disregard for that advice will be calamitous.

Once Obi-Wan arrived on Mandalore, he essentially went from being a Jedi who was burying his feelings to an emotionally invested man who had been trained to wield a lightsaber. He was initially visibly uncomfortable with Satine hugging him -- perhaps he was frustrated by his feelings betraying him -- but when Satine called him "Ben," he allowed himself to open up emotionally and responded by calling her "my dear." Soon enough, this emotional exposure would make him vulnerable. After the Twilight exploded, when Obi-Wan lifted a piece of the wreckage off of Satine, you could see the anguish on his face as he tried to determine if she was seriously hurt.

Despite this arc being more about Maul and Obi-Wan than about the peripheral characters off of whom they played, Satine's role in this episode was nontrivial. The involvement of her family -- in particular her nephew and her sister -- raised a lot of interesting questions and deepened the potential back-story leading up to her reign over Mandalore. When Satine told her nephew that he and his colleagues were taking a risk by rescuing her, he replied, "Nothing we haven't done before, right auntie?" The line was innocuous, but it made me wonder: just what had "Auntie" Satine been involved in before becoming Duchess of Mandalore? Did Satine have violence in her past? Was that part of the reason why she'd adopted a pacifist outlook upon assuming the throne? That comment from her nephew, combined with Satine's reunion with her sister Bo-Katan and her line "It's been a long time. Why are you helping now?" got me thinking about the rift that must have opened up in their family and what could have led such a rift to appear.

Satine's death was handled beautifully. The execution (no pun intended) was artfully done. Unlike Pre Vizsla's demise, the killing blow was actually suggested more than depicted. Once again, The Clone Wars was able make perfect use of a combination of music and visuals that verged on being cinematic: a shot of Satine's eyes widening as Maul's darksaber protrudes from her back. Obi-Wan's eyes going wide, time seeming to slow down, background noise fading, and soft music playing as Satine struggles for breath. Then the return of the soft music as time resumes. It was a delicate and emotionally resounding end to a character who was introduced to provide Obi-Wan with emotional resonance.

Despite the action that the main characters encountered, the breakout star of this episode may have been Bo-Katan. Her incredible physical prowess, her tortured history with her sister, the shock and aimlessness she felt at losing her mentor and leader, and the way she dedicated herself to defeating Maul make her a complicated and fascinating character. I would love to see more of her in the future. Like Hondo, she inhabits a grey area of the universe. She isn't clearly good or evil. She's done some bad things, but she recognizes and opposes true evil when she sees it. One might even say that her association with Death Watch grew more out of a desire to expose the flaws in her sister's approach to governing than out of a desire to oppress innocent people and implement full-fledged militarism. Or maybe not. Maybe all of that is pure rationalization. The fun part is that we just don't know.

After Obi-Wan apologized for essentially bringing his personal conflicts to Bo-Katan's planet and getting her sister killed as a result, she briefly let her guard down after she had turned away from him, but then she regained her resolve. We were basically sympathizing with Bo-Katan at that point, whereas for most of this story arc she was one of the main villains. There's so much room for Bo-Katan to grow and make an impact on her people. There was a fantastic shot in this episode of Obi-Wan looking out at a gigantic battle raging between Maul's forces and the rebels. It showed us that the fight to control Mandalore wasn't over yet. What happened to Bo-Katan and her rebels after Obi-Wan escaped and Sidious took Maul away? Sadly, I suspect that we will never find out.

This episode's fortune cookie was, "Morality separates heroes from villains." In addition to referring to Bo-Katan's change of heart, this line encapsulated the divide between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Both Obi-Wan and Maul are fully capable of choking someone to death with the Force, but only one of them would do so. Obi-Wan and Maul could both use the Force to rescue a helpless child from a raging river, but only one of them would do so (unless maybe Maul thought he could train the child to become his apprentice). In short, morality is what separates the Jedi from the Sith, not the Force that both sides wield. If Obi-Wan had given in to his anger and lashed out at Maul to save Satine, he would have been abandoning his fidelity to the Jedi Code and sacrificing his morality. As we will see with Anakin Skywalker in Episode III, morality can be sapped away, bit by little bit, until all that remains of it is a flimsy shred that can be casually tossed aside in the name of expediency, leaving only the raw power of the Force and nothing to keep it in check.

"The Lawless" was, quite simply, amazing. It wove together two amazing A-plots, gave us plenty of action, and balanced it with both terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes. The series used Palpatine judiciously up to this point, so that when Sidious appeared, his involvement was all the more fascinating and exciting. This episode managed to stick to a frenetic pace even as it touched on the fundamental issues of the Star Wars saga, and that is not an easy balance to strike. It also advanced the "ber-plot" of the Clone Wars that Sidious has been shepherding along, adding a new dimension in the form of his new relationship with his former apprentice. The possibilities for further exploration of both Maul and Sidious make me positively giddy for Season 6 and beyond. I commend the entire team at Lucasfilm Animation for producing one of the finest episodes of the series to date.


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


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[Star Wars TV - News Archives]
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Posted By Eric on May 2, 2013:
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Leland Chee's TCW Chronology Breakdown Part #9
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