This season of The Clone Wars has minimized the presence of our standard Jedi protagonists in favor of focusing on insurgents/freedom fighters, pirates, Jedi younglings, droids, and wannabe Sith crime lords. Jedi like Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka have appeared in these stories, but they haven’t been the ones driving the plots forward. It’s created a varied season in tone, execution, and, most obviously, reception. With the final episodes of the season upon us, the focus has shifted back to the Jedi for this last arc, and I’m excited about the possibilities of these four episodes if only because “The Sabotage” eschews narrative shortcuts in favor of setting the stage for what will likely be a very important installment in the overall narrative of the series (if the trailers are any indication).
I mention the narrative shortcuts in an effort to differentiate this episode and the Darth-Maul-on-Mandalore arc that wrapped up last week. Where that arc executed a lot of big sweeping actions in an effort to speed up the narrative, like Maul taking down the Black Suns and then too-effortlessly taking control of Mandalore, this episode favored slowing down and taking its time in setting up the arc by employing, of all things, a police procedural vibe.
Such an approach is clever one since it actually forces the narrative to move at a different pace from a regular episode. Witnesses need to be interviewed, clues and evidence need to be gathered and analyzed, conclusions need to be drawn, superiors need to be kept up to date, and red herrings need to be presented. The episode weaved in all of these things, and none of them felt like they didn’t belong within the show’s universe or, more importantly, the show itself.
It helps that the elements at play were distinctly Star Wars-y, including nano-bots, CSI droids, and growing concerns about public opinion of both the war and the Jedi. The latter, of course, is perhaps the most important to the show’s endgame, as it feeds directly into Revenge of the Sith and the implementation of Order 66, the trigger for the clones to kill all the Jedi. It’s easier for Palpatine to justify the eradication of the Jedi, previously seen as the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, when they can’t even manage to stop splintering Jedi from blowing up their own temple. And that's to say nothing of their inability to end a war. This is all provided that Palpatine’s behind the bomb explosion, of course. But even if he isn’t, he’s crafty enough to turn it his advantage.
The ability to do this kind of an episode, however, is part of the reason why I like Clone Wars. Its flexible format allows for all sorts of narrative experimentation and storytelling possibilities. Its experiments don’t always work, but the fact that it has the freedom to conduct them, and that its producers, writers, directors, and storyboard artists embrace that freedom, is something to keep in mind. If anything, it’s a risk for the show to switch gears from arc to arc each month instead of either doing a deeper serialized story or more episodic fare, and it’s a tough balancing act to transition from a high-octane action arc like the last one, and to start off this one in a much more deliberate way.
Notes & Quotes
– I love the notion of the Jedi Council as impatient police chiefs feeling pressure from the politicians to solve the case.
– "I would’ve thought working for the Jedi paid better." Class is an often ignored aspect in Star Wars, despite repeated mentions of the slums of Coruscant, so I’ll take a little nod to it here.
– The episode titles of this arc are all nods to Alfred Hitchcock films, even this one, and it’s actually two movies. There’s the 1937 Sabotage and the 1942 Saboteur. The episode felt like a bit of mash-up of both films. The former focuses on a police investigation surrounding a spy attempting to terrorize England, while the latter is about a man falsely accused of setting fire to a military airplane factory and trying to clear his name. Next week, provided the show becomes more overt in its Hitchcockian influence beyond the episode titles, don’t be surprised if I ramble a bit about the director and his films in relation to the episode.