I have been contemplating the Season 5 premiere episode ever since I watched it at Celebration VI last month. It was truly a great start to the season, but the way it set the stage for the next twenty-one episodes went beyond its focus on Maul's thirst for revenge. It raised questions about Maul's relationship with his brother, his long-term plans, Darth Sidious' tactics for sowing chaos on Coruscant, and Obi-Wan's emotional state. Revival struck gold on most counts, but one key decision left me disappointed, even if it wasn't enough to drag down the entire episode.
The dynamic between Savage Opress and Maul grew much more interesting right from the start. After they easily dispatched some security droids, we learned that they needed some credits. When Savage threw open the safe and expressed amazement at the fortune inside, Maul reminded him to stay focused on their ultimate goal, and that seemed like an important moment for both of them. It showed us that Savage, by focusing on the money itself, had a tendency to lose sight of his ambitions. Maul, almost like a big brother, had to sternly warn him that the money was only a means to an end. As I watched Savage's face register satisfaction at the amount of money in the safe, I wondered whether his focus on material wealth would play a meaningful role in future confrontations between him and his brother. Was this scene simply a way to establish Maul's superior focus and foresight, or did it foreshadow the brothers' diverging long-term objectives?
Maul evidently had a similar worry, because he quickly asserted his dominance over his brother and forcibly changed their relationship to that of master and apprentice. It makes sense that Maul would do this; he is both better qualified to lead and more accustomed to working alone than on a team. All those years working for Sidious made him a solitary warrior, and even his own flesh-and-blood has started to irritate him. Naturally, Savage wasn't ready to accept his brother's superiority that easily. His desire to challenge Maul spoke to the single-minded eagerness for combat that we saw on Dathomir.
I liked seeing Maul coolly accept the need to put his brother in his place. His remorseless approach to asserting himself provided a stark contrast to the ways of the Jedi Order. Few Jedi would be that quick to crush their own sibling on the battlefield, whereas Maul didn't hesitate for a second before engaging Savage like an enemy. I found it interesting that Maul would be bold enough to assert his own Rule of Two. He even quoted the rule directly. It made me wonder if he thought Sidious would never find them or if he didn't care what Sidious thought. Either way, his arrogance in placing himself in the role of Master just for the sake of a better operating relationship with his brother suggested that he was focused entirely on what he had to do to defeat Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The scenes of Maul intimidating the pirates were perfectly scored, utilizing the whispered chants that fans of the show will recognize from Dathomir. This very sinister music set just the right tone for the fear that Maul obviously inspired in his pirate army. Sinister music aside, though, at no point in this episode did I have a clear prediction for what Maul actually planned to do with his army. At first I thought they were only hoping to create enough chaos to attract Obi-Wan to Florrum, but when Maul saw the Jedi arrive and said, "It's too soon, my plan isn't finished yet," I remembered the words of supervising director Dave Filoni and Maul voice actor Sam Witwer.
While doing press for this season after the Season 4 finale and throughout the summer, Filoni and Witwer offered cryptic commentary about Maul growing out of the tool-of-Sidious mold in Season 5. Maul's aggravation at the Jedi's early arrival therefore seemed to suggest that he had big plans for his new army. He misjudged the pirates, however, and the formerly-sinister music took on a more desperate tone for the Sith as they escaped, culminating in the moment when Maul took a blaster shot to his leg. It was clear that even the two experienced Sith warriors weren't prepared to fight off all of the pirates at once.
Maul was too confident in his ability to inspire fear in his subordinates, and he was obviously caught off-guard by how easily they could be emboldened to defy him. Having little experience with the more diplomatic aspects of leadership, he abruptly turned tail and ran. He could probably have cut down Hondo right where he stood, reclaiming his leadership over the pirates. His decision to lead Savage in a fighting retreat suggested to me that he wanted to try a different source for recruiting his army. I can only assume that this will be where Black Sun comes into play in Season 5.
And speaking of giving up, I found it very interesting that Savage was willing to let his brother abandon him in their crashing freighter. He almost succumbed to his pain and discounted his ability to push through it, two actions that were out of step with the Sith philosophy and that may bode poorly for his future interactions with his brother. It almost seemed as if Savage's will was sapped when he lost his arm.
Loss, and the fear of loss, played an interesting role in this episode. The most obvious example of this was the death of Jedi Master Adi Gallia. While it certainly demonstrated how powerful the Sith brothers had become and provided a trigger for Obi-Wan's emotional counterattack, I thought Master Gallia's death was wasted in this episode. It seemed like the writers were looking for a way to heap more un-Jedi-like emotional investment into Obi-Wan's desire to pursue Maul across the galaxy, and this certainly dovetailed nicely with the episode's closing scene. But Adi Gallia was an extremely experienced Jedi and a member of the Council, and the writers really squandered her potential as a character by killing her off in such a meaningless context.
Imagine an episode in which Adi Gallia had actually played an important role, in which she had fought meaningful skirmishes on a war-torn planet and delivered a few witty or reproachful comments that made us really take notice of her in the episode. Now imagine that in this hypothetical episode's final battle scene, she sacrificed herself to allow other Jedi -- say, Anakin and Ahsoka -- to escape. In just those two sentences I've identified a handful of crucial aspects of character development that would have raised the stakes of -- and contributed actual resonance to -- her death: what does she contribute, how does she come across, and what do we remember her for? None of that was present in Master Gallia's death on Florrum, a fact that cheapened the moment for me. Her death was obviously supposed to give us pause, but it only seemed to work on Obi-Wan, and he was scripted to react that way.
These criticisms aside, I actually enjoyed the two-on-two fight itself. Obi-Wan and Gallia versus Maul and Savage made it clear that the animation team has dramatically improved their ability to orchestrate physically complicated and visually crowded lightsaber fights. The fight in Revenge involving Obi-Wan, Asajj, Maul, and Savage was better, but this was still well-choreographed. Obi-Wan almost seemed to be holding back, staying on the defensive, until Master Gallia died. When he screamed "No!" it was like he was reliving Qui-Gon's death. His uncontrolled anger was evident in his changed posture and his fiercer attack style, as was the case when Maul taunted him about Qui-Gon's death in the Season 4 finale. Like Maul in Episode I, Savage clearly relished killing Gallia.
Obi-Wan's use of two lightsabers reminded me of Anakin doing the same thing when Dooku struck down Obi-Wan in Episode II. Unlike Anakin, however, Obi-Wan remained cunning as he defended himself ferociously. By continuously attacking Savage's leg, he demonstrated the kind of advance planning in the heat of battle that made him a legendary Jedi General. Whoever decided to insert quick close-ups of Savage's leg during Obi-Wan's strikes has my respect for recognizing the importance of emphasizing those little actions.
Obi-Wan's planning paid off when he took out Savage's arm, a move that drew sustained applause when I saw it happen at Celebration VI. I liked the use of choral music to emphasize the ferocity of Obi-Wan's strike at Savage. It seemed darker than previous music used to illustrate Obi-Wan's actions, perhaps suggesting that he was stepping perilously close to the Dark Side. When he sliced off Savage's arm, it was cool to see the green smoke billowing from the stump, as if the dark magic sustaining him was seeping out. This was a great way of reminding the audience of Savage's origins; it also foreshadowed the possibility of his eventual decay from losing too much of Mother Talzin's imbued witchcraft.
Maul, Savage, and Obi-Wan were clearly the center of attention because of those flashy laser swords of theirs, but in my opinion, it was Hondo Ohnaka who actually stole the show in this episode. This was partly due to the fact that the writers positioned him as a more nuanced character than he had been in previous stories. When he watched Maul kill his lieutenant, it was clear that he wasn't prepared for that kind of cold-blooded retribution. "Hondo Ohnaka survives every time" was a nice bit of bluster on his part, but he was visibly rattled, and I liked seeing that side of him.
I also enjoyed Hondo's derisive use of phrases like "horny-headed maniacs" and "tattooed crazies" and his defiant resolve to protect his pirate empire. It's not a side of him that we have really seen before. In addition, Hondo was involved in the fighting that you might expect a pirate leader to be. While he wasn't exactly on the front lines, he was no coward either. I actually found myself starting to respect him. This, I believe, was deliberate. Another opportunity to cast him in a positive light came when Obi-Wan told Adi Gallia that Hondo would never ally with Maul; that despite Hondo's misdeeds, even he had standards.
Hondo's fear really registered when he heard that Adi Gallia had been killed. Obi-Wan was still visibly numb with pain, but even in this grim situation, Hondo offered comic relief, expressing his shock at the Sith's power by telling Obi-Wan, "I am semi-speechless." That was just one of his best lines in this episode. Others included "I'm so proud -- but so betrayed" and "Insolence? We are pirates. We don't even know what that means." Sandwiching this kind of irreverent humor in between life-and-death confrontations was a risky decision on the writer's part, but in my opinion, it worked.
By the time the Sith freighter crashed, Hondo had already dismissed the significance of Gallia's death even as Obi-Wan struggled to interact with the pirates through his grief. Giving Hondo a moment of insensitivity and having him focus on the downed ship's treasure seemed like an attempt to discourage us from sympathizing or connecting too much with Hondo. That makes sense; after all, he's not really a hero, even if he has helped Obi-Wan more often than he'd like to acknowledge. Still, whether he was acting witty or gritty, Hondo was tremendously enjoyable to watch this episode, and I want to see him work with Obi-Wan again sometime.
Lurking in the background of this episode was a nice combination of details that, when viewed together, suggests, in my humble opinion, a possible aspect of Darth Sidious' strategy for bringing down the Republic. I began to see ripples of the distrust and chaos that are Sidious' modus operandi when Obi-Wan and Adi Gallia arrived at the station to investigate the Sith's actions. It would be easy to dismiss the scene where the station manager questioned the identities of Maul and Savage as simple filler material. That scene might have also been interpreted as a reminder that the average galactic citizen doesn't know anything about the Sith or even that they exist.
Yet when I started thinking about the long-term ramifications of two Jedi lookalikes rampaging across the galaxy, something clicked in my mind. What does Sidious stand to gain from Maul and Savage's unchecked massacre? What would uninformed Republic citizens read into their path of destruction and how might that aid Sidious' grander plans? The answer was simple: Maul's quest for revenge helped Sidious discredit the Jedi without even lifting a finger. With no knowledge to the contrary, Republic citizens might conflate Maul and Savage with the Jedi Order, or at least assume that they were once Jedi. The Order's failure to contain its fallen members would severely damage its reputation out on the galactic fringe -- even Hondo's pirates thought the Sith were Jedi at first -- and soon that distrust would spread to the Core Worlds and to Coruscant itself.
The way I see it, this is precisely why Chancellor Palpatine told the Jedi to stop pursuing Maul and Savage in that great closing scene on Coruscant. By distracting the Jedi from the Zabrak warriors, Palpatine hoped to give them the opportunity to foment general unrest. Obi-Wan even alluded to the possibility of Maul recruiting from the Coruscant underworld when he said that the crime lords there had too much autonomy and too little oversight. (Maul did, after all, assume the guise of a crime lord to recruit Hondo's pirates.)
There is another possibility here. We know from the Season 5 trailer that (SPOILER) Sidious eventually confronts both Zabrak Sith pretenders in person. Perhaps he wanted the Jedi off their backs so that they wouldn't interfere with his own plans to eliminate them. In this hypothetical scenario, Sidious' priority isn't to let Maul and Savage continue tarnishing the Jedi's reputation. He just needed room to personally deal with his former tool and the tool's brother.
Either way, Sidious also needed to re-engage the Jedi in the war of attrition. The more Jedi who died on the battlefield, the better, as far as Sidious was concerned. Next to that objective, everything else must have paled in comparison. As such, Palpatine was more than happy to let the Zabrak "play with the rabble," as he put it in a rare moment of contempt.
In the episode's final moments, Sidious, not Palpatine, stared at the departing Jedi's backs. He must have taken special pleasure in overhearing Yoda remind Obi-Wan to heed the Chancellor's words. This showed how easily Palpatine was able to fool even the vaunted Master Yoda. Even with everything else going on in this episode, that magnificent closing shot of Palpatine's shadowy face was the best summary of what was happening behind the scenes of the war. I have no doubt that at least some of this simmering conflict will bubble to the surface as The Clone Wars Season 5 marches on.
For now, though, we should be grateful to the team at Lucasfilm Animation for producing such a great season premiere. Despite the puzzling low moment of Adi Gallia's wasted death, I was impressed with the episode overall. Hondo Ohnaka did a great job of bringing levity to a story that was otherwise oppressively grim. Maul and Savage's relationship is evolving in a curious way, and this episode brought the tension between the two Zabrak to the forefront. Obi-Wan continues to take a battering both physically and emotionally, but if the Season 5 trailer is any indication, the worst is yet to come for Master Kenobi. In addition to intriguing portrayals of Obi-Wan, Maul, Savage, and Hondo, Revival also raised questions about the impact of what happened in the Florrum system on Darth Sidious' plans for galactic domination.