TR Review: The Clone Wars “Savage Opress” Season 3.5 Opener

Last night, Lucasfilm actually invited me to an early screening of the three-episode opener to the second half of Clone Wars season 3. I don’t really know why they did this, other than they must not read Topless Robot very often, but I’d heard so many of you guys say such good things about the Clone Wars TV series, I thought I’d give it a try — despite really disliking the first Clone Wars “movie.” I’m glad I did, because it was really pretty damned good. I’m going to give a brief, spoiler-free FAQ-style review; all actual spoilers are after the jump.

darth savage.jpg

What is this thing? An actual movie? Three episodes tied together, like the first Clone Wars movie?
More the latter; I saw three episodes edited into one movie, but when it’s shown as the season 3.5 premiere on Cartoon Network beginning on January 7th, it will be cut into three regular episodes, one shown per week.

How does it compare to the first Clone Wars faux movie?
It doesn’t. They’re practically completely different series. The first Clone Wars was very much kiddie Star Wars, with lots of sassy Ashoka calling Anakin dumb nicknames and farting baby Hutts and horrible humor. This was… this was one action-packed — and genuinely kind of dark — look at part of the Clone Wars.

What do you mean by dark?
Well, partially that people die in this, and not in nice ways. But more importantly, it’s almost all villains. Seriously, the three episodes run 66 minutes altogether. Anakin and Obi-Wan show up in a fight in the very beginning, and neither they nor a single other Jedi show up for 40 straight minutes. It’s all bad guys.

This is a good thing?
Well, I think so. One of my biggest problems with the prequels is that there were so many villains that none of them could build any sense of menace, and none of them had any personality (other than Count Dooku, thanks to the superior talents of Christopher Lee). This three-parter gives a lot of time to Dooku, Asajj Ventress and Darth Maul v2, a.k.a Savage Opress, that I’m now actually interested in them in characters.

Is Savage Opress really Darth Maul’s brother? Because that sounds as dumb as his name.
First of all, his first name is pronounced “sah-VAHJ,: which admittedly isn’t any less silly. Second, he is Maul’s brother, but only in the sense that all of the males of his species call and consider themselves brothers — it’s not like Opress and Maul baked cookies or anything together with momma Maul as kids. Third and most importantly, as I was saying before, this story gives him a personality and a background, so he’s reasonably interesting — almost like if they’d given Maul his story back in Phantom Menace. It was much appreciated.

So what about the humor?
There’s none. Well, almost none — but there’s so little even I thought there could have actually been more (!!!). There are two appearances by Battle Droids, and they’re chuckle worthy, but they don’t include the Droids saying anything ridiculous or pratfalls or anything stupid. It was perfectly utilized, and infinitely better than in the first movie.

How else is it better than the first movie?
Well, for starters — and this doesn’t really matter, since it’ll be shown on TV as episodes — but I honestly couldn’t tell where the episode breaks were. It was so much better edited and told as a movie. In the first flick, the episodes were painfully distinct. Overall, I think it shows a higher skill of storytelling as well as more trust in their audience.

Anything else?
Yes. Shit changes in this thing. There are events that will affect what happens in the Clone Wars series afterwards. In that first movie, no matter what happened, nothing about the status quo was changed — and it was effectively meaningless. I mean, you know Anakin and Obi-Wan still aren’t going to die, but in terms of the series itself, in this Savage Opress thing relationships change, characters die, a new villain is introduced, and there’s a pretty hardcore reveal at the end which took even my jaded, bitter soul by surprise (it’s after the jump with all the other spoilers, if you can’t wait).

So final verdict?
I highly recommend it. And l this is coming from a guy who was so disappointed by the first Clone Wars movie that I’ve only watched like 2 or 3 episodes of the series, and those only recently. I thought this movie was so well done, so interesting, that I plan on watching Clone Wars immediately when the second half of season 3 starts up again on January 7th.

All right. The SPOILER-FILLED FAQ are after the jump.

So what’s the story?
It begins when Darth Sidious tells Dooku to kill his apprentice Asajj Ventress because she’s getting too powerful (but mostly to keep Dooku from overthrowing Sidious). Dooku complies and has Asajj’s ship blown up during a battle with Anakin and Obi-Wan. Asajj of course escapes to her home planet, which is full of witches, who help to plan to kill Dooku for his betrayal.

That plan: Send Dooku a new bodyguard assassin, another of Darth Maul’s race, that will secretly be loyal to Asajj. Asajj finds Savage Opress, trains him, makes him kill his brother to make him hate enough to access the Dark Side, the witches do some kind of magic thingie that turns him Super Saiyan (or the Darth Maul equivalent; he grows 8 feet tall and the spikes in his head elongate), Dooku hires him, and eventually, shit goes down.

So what do you mean by action-packed?
I mean there’s a three-way lightsaber fight between Dooku, Asajj and Savage that’s pretty goddamnd awesome. But it’s not the best part.

What is?
A fight between Count Dooku and Asajj and two of her sisters, where the assassins are nearly invisible because of some dark magic, and Count Dooku has been drugged, and he fights with his eyes closed and one arm behind his back and he still hands them all their asses. Admittedly, I may be biased because of my love for Christopher Lee, but I nearly stood up and cheered.

So what did you mean by “dark”?
Savage Opress hits a Jedi in the face with a fucking axe is what I mean. It’s off-screen, but it’s very obvious because Savage is listing his axe over the Jedi’s head, then it cuts to the Jedi’s padawan, who’s watching and screaming “No!” Oh, and then we learn later that Savage killed the kid  too.

And another character that I know has starred in earlier episodes dies too; it’s not super major, but it is an actual change to the Clone Wars universe. It’s pretty cool.

Anything else cool?
Well, this may have been featured in many or even most of the Clone Wars episode so far — I don’t know because I haven’t been watching them — but if you’re like me, when you heard Obi-Wan talking about fighting in the Clone Wars together and being a friend in A New Hope, you always imagined them fighting side by side, cracking wise, etc. The prequels never really showed us that, because Anakin was either 1) a little kid, 2) a whiny padawan, and 3) an increasingly angry dude.

The Clone Wars has truly provided that Obi-Wan/Anakin adventures I always wanted to see — them kicking ass together, Obi-Wan being polite and cautious and Anakin cracking wise and being emotional but not evil. Even though they were only in this story for a bit, they were exactly what I’d wanted out of them in the prequels and didn’t get — it was great. It’s one of the many reasons I’m looking forward to watching the show when it comes back on.

Okay, you’re getting too nerdy even for your own nerd site. Just tell us the reveal and be done.
Savage Opress escapes to his homeworld, complaining he’s not strong enough. The head witch’s solution? Send him to the outer rim, where a teacher is waiting for him… and that teahcer is Darth Maul.

If the movie had been bad, it’s the kind of reveal that I might’ve groaned over, but with everything being so well done, I’m genuinely excited. There’s a whole interesting story going on in the power play between Sidious, Dooku, Asajj, Savage, and presumably Grievous, and Darth Maul could make that seriously interesting. After watching this movie, I trust the guys who make the Clone Wars to do just that.