Audiobook short: Darth Bane Trilogy, pt. 3

In my fourth Audiobook Short I’m sharing my impressions of Dynasty of Evil, the final installment of the Darth Bane trilogy, a Star Wars novel series from the so-called Expanded Universe, written by Drew Karpyshyn and narrated by Jonathan Davis. Length: 9 hrs and 25 mins.

For the spoken version of the below review go to Episode 466 of the Spirit Blade podcast, time stamp 48:52.

Publisher’s summary:

Twenty years have passed since Darth Bane, reigning Dark Lord of the Sith, demolished the ancient order devoted to the dark side and reinvented it as a circle of two: one Master to wield the power and pass on the wisdom, and one apprentice to learn, challenge, and ultimately usurp the Dark Lord in a duel to the death. But Bane’s acolyte, Zannah, has yet to engage her Master in mortal combat and prove herself a worthy successor. Determined that the Sith dream of galactic domination will not die with him, Bane vows to learn the secret of a forgotten Dark Lord that will assure the Sith’s immortality – and his own.

A perfect opportunity arises when a Jedi emissary is assassinated on the troubled mining planet Doan, giving Bane an excuse to dispatch his apprentice on a fact-finding mission – while he himself sets out in secret to capture the ancient holocron of Darth Andeddu and its precious knowledge. But Zannah is no fool. She knows that her ruthless Master has begun to doubt her, and she senses that he is hiding something crucial to her future. If she is going to claim the power she craves, she must take action now.

While Bane storms the remote stronghold of a fanatical Sith cult, Zannah prepares for her Master’s downfall by choosing an apprentice of her own: a rogue Jedi cunning and cold-blooded enough to embrace the Sith way and to stand beside her when she at last wrests from Bane the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith.

But Zannah is not the only one with the desire and power to destroy Darth Bane. Princess Serra of the Doan royal family is haunted by memories of the monstrous Sith soldier who murdered her father and tortured her when she was a child. Bent on retribution, she hires a merciless assassin to find her tormentor – and bring him back alive to taste her wrath.

Only a Sith who has taken down her own Master can become Dark Lord of the Sith. So when Bane suddenly vanishes, Zannah must find him – possibly even rescue him – before she can kill him. And so she pursues her quarry from the grim depths of a ravaged world on the brink of catastrophe to the barren reaches of a desert outpost, where the future of the dark side’s most powerful disciples will be decided, once and for all, by the final, fatal stroke of a lightsaber.

©2012 Drew Karpyshyn (P)2012 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Alas, the trilogy has ended!”

I actually started and finished this audiobook in only one day, that’s how gripping it was. We follow Darth Bane and his apprentice Zannah, but also some new characters, just like in the previous two parts. This time I found these new characters actually interesting in their own right, so this is an improvement compared to parts 1 & 2.

The action scenes are fantastic, read perfectly thrillingly by Davis and enhanced even more by tracks from John Williams’s original soundtrack. The plot kept me interested in between action scenes as well, although it did ask me to suspend a lot of my disbelief in terms of consistency of character & skill set (can’t say more, otherwise I’d spoil it).

The sound effects were awesome as always, with one minor criticism: at one point the alarms are going off for a LONG time, it got on my nerve a bit since you can’t tone it down without losing the narration.

The final confrontation had me at the edge of my seat, the action climbed and climbed and climbed to a climax, which when it finally arrived however left me wondering “Wait. What happened?!” So not entirely as satisfying as I’d hoped, especially after such a thrilling ride to the top.

The epilogue is a definite cliff hanger, leaving me again dangling in the void of Wanting More, but this time there’s no more sequels to quench that thirst! Not so cool.

But those are only minor peeves, and not worth subtracting any stars. All in all this trilogy was absolutely thrilling, exciting and totally awesome. Jonathan Davis is a fantastic narrator, with a huge range of voices without overacting.

This third part of the series tempted me to listen to Darth Plagueis again even though I finished that not too long ago, because it is the next novel in the long, long list of the SW Expanded Universe novels and this trilogy left me really wanting some sort of continuity fix :-).

Again, highly recommend!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

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Audiobook short: Darth Bane Trilogy, pt. 2

Rule of Two is the second part of the Star Wars: Darth Bane trilogy, written by Drew Karpyshyn. The audiobook version is narrated by Jonathan Davis and is 10 hrs and 12 mins long. In this Audiobook Short I’ll share my impressions.

For the spoken version of the below review go to Episode 461 of the Spirit Blade podcast, time stamp 22:00.

Publisher’s summary:

In the New York Times best-seller Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, Drew Karpyshyn painted a gripping portrait of a young man’s journey from innocence to evil. That man was Darth Bane, a twisted genius whose iron will, fierce ambition, and strength in the dark side of the Force made him a natural leader among the Sith – until his radical embrace of an all-but-forgotten wisdom drove him to destroy his own order…and create it anew from the ashes. As the last surviving Sith, Darth Bane promulgated a harsh new directive: the Rule of Two.

Two there should be; no more, no less.
One to embody the power, the other to crave it.

Now Darth Bane is ready to put his policy into action, and he thinks he has found the key element that will make his triumph complete: a student to train in the ways of the dark side. Though she is young, Zannah possesses an instinctive link to the dark side that rivals his own. With his guidance, she will become essential in his quest to destroy the Jedi and dominate the galaxy.

But there is one who is determined to stop Darth Bane: Johun Othone, Padawan to Jedi Master Lord Hoth, who died at Bane’s hands in the last great Sith War. Though the rest of the Jedi scoff at him, Joshua’s belief that there are surviving Sith on the loose is unshakeable.

As Johun continues his dogged pursuit of the man who killed his master, Zannah, faced unexpectedly with a figure from her past, begins to question her embrace of the dark side. And Darth Bane is led by Force-induced visions to a moon where he will acquire astonishing new knowledge and power – power that will alter him in ways he could never have imagined….

©2012 Drew Karpyshyn (P)2012 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Even better than Part 1!”

I started listening to this book right after I finished Path of Destruction, for that first part of the Darth Bane trilogy left me wanting for more. And ‘more’ is exactly what I got with Rule of Two!
I found it even more gripping, it was (even) better paced and narrator Jonathan Davis gives a truly masterful performance.

Following Darth Bane as a full-blown dark lord of the Sith was a thrilling ride. Especially since he now has an equally intriguing apprentice in Zannah, a young woman strong in the dark side, whom Bane teaches a lot but who also has a unique talent of her own: Dark Force magic!
Darth Bane continues to be the villain you root for inspite of yourself. Zannah is a strong female character with her own voice and her own gifts, strengths and ambitions. Together, they are too strong to defeat…

As with the first part of this Star Wars EU trilogy I was so completely wrapped-up in the story I could only sit on the couch listening, doing nothing else. Which kind of totally defeated the purpose of listening instead of reading (i.e. multi-tasking!). So, on the couch I stayed… again…!

Unfortunately I finished this novel far too soon and again found myself wanting still more…. Fortunately there’s a third part! 🙂

Highly recommend!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

Audiobook short: Darth Bane Trilogy, pt. 1

This, my second Audiobook Short, is again about a Star Wars novel from the so-called Expanded Universe: Path of Destruction, which is part 1 of the Darth Bane trilogy, written by Drew Karpyshyn and narrated by Jonathan Davis. Length: 12 hrs and 11 mins.

By the way, the spoken version of the below review is part of Episode 457 of the Spirit Blade podcastgo to time stamp 18:26.

Publisher’s summary:

Once the Sith order teemed with followers. But their rivalries divided them in endless battles for supremacy – until one dark lord at last united the Sith in the quest to enslave the galaxy and exterminate the Jedi. Yet it would fall to another, far more powerful than the entire Brotherhood of Darkness, to ultimately realize the full potential of the Sith and wield the awesome power of the dark side as never before.

Since childhood, Dessel has known only the abuse of his hateful father and the dangerous, soul-crushing labor of a cortosis miner. Deep in the tunnels of the desolate planet Apatros, endlessly excavating the rare mineral valued throughout the galaxy, Dessel dreams of the day he can escape – a day he fears may never come. But when a high-stakes card game ends in deadly violence, Dessel suddenly finds himself a wanted man.

On the run from vengeful Republic forces, Dessel vanishes into the ranks of the Sith army and ships out to join the bloody war against the Republic and its Jedi champions. There, Dessel’s brutality, cunning, and exceptional command of the Force swiftly win him renown as a warrior. But in the eyes of his watchful masters, he is destined for a far greater role in the ultimate Sith plan for the galaxy – if he can prove himself truly worthy.

As an acolyte in the Sith academy, studying the secrets and skills of the dark side at the feet of its greatest masters, Dessel embraces his new Sith identity: Bane. However the true test is yet to come. In order to gain acceptance into the Brotherhood of Darkness, one must fully surrender to the dark side through a trial by fire that Bane, for all his unquenchable fury and lust for power, may not be strong enough to endure… especially since deception, treachery, and murder run rampant among the Sith disciples, and utter ruthlessness alone is the key to survival.

Only by defying the most sacred traditions, rejecting all he has been taught, and drawing upon the long-forgotten wisdom of the very first Sith can Bane hope to triumph – and forge from the ashes of that which he must destroy a new era of absolute dark power.

©2012 Drew Karpyshyn (P)2012 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Hours on the couch doing nothing but listening!”

This is a gripping story about the rise of Darth Bane. The author allows the reader/listener far more than a mere glimpse of the dark side of the Force when telling the origin story of one of the great Dark Lords of the Sith.
Darth Bane is the one who will eventually instate the Rule of Two, which we know from the movies and which says that there can only be two Siths at one time. Which means that for most of this novel, the Rule of Two isn’t there yet, hence there are a multitude of Siths and dark side Force wielders!

The story is read brilliantly by Jonathan Davis, and of course enhanced with awesome Star Wars audio effects.

In conclusion, I literally couldn’t bring myself to do anything but sit on the couch and listen for hours on end – which is an absolute first for me for usually I do all kinds of stuff while listening to audio books.
If you like this book as much as I did, beware: for you’ll find it an absolute MUST to lay your hands on parts 2 and 3 of this trilogy as well!

Highly recommend!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

Audiobook Short: Darth Plagueis

Hey all! It’s taken me a while to get back here, what can I say, life is busy and often beautiful 🙂 But, here I am and with a new habit of geeky content consumption: audiobooks. Audiobooks are the ideal way to combine reading a novel while doing other stuff (like living life, busy and beautiful) and ever since I discovered the sheer endless well of narrated titles I dove in and started swimming.

And to help you swim along, if so inclined, I’ll share my audiobook reviews with you. My intent is to keep them concise and mostly just about my experiences with the books, without doing a fullblown review. This will keep it easy to get a feel for what a book might bring you without having to spend too much time reading each post – hence the name of this category: Audiobook Shorts. I will start each review with the publisher’s summary so you get a feel for the story, then add my own thoughts. I’ll also rate them according to the Audible.com rating categories of Story, Performance and Overall, with 5 stars as the highest score.

As a bonus, and in the audio spirit of things 😉 , I’ll post a link to a spoken (by me) version of my Audiobook Shorts series whenever one is available on the Spiritblade podcast. Like this one, my first 🙂 :

Spiritblade podcast episode 455, go to timestamp 2:54.

My first Audiobook Short is about a Star Wars novel from the so-called Expanded Universe: Darth Plagueis, written by James Luceno and narrated by Daniel Davis. Length: 14 hrs and 49 mins.

Publisher’s summary

He was the most powerful Sith lord who ever lived… but could he be the only one who never died?

“Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” -Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith

Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master – but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power… over life and death.

Darth Sidious: Plagueis’s chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.

Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination – and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?

From the Hardcover edition.

©2012 James Luceno (P)2012 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Fantastic Star Wars lore!”

Captivating story, brilliant reading performance by Daniel Davis, awesome audio effects & SW music. This is precisely why I love audio books so much!

The story clarifies a lot of Darth Sidious’s background and of course tells the story of Darth Plagueis, the main character. We also learn intriguing things about the Dark Side of the Force, and the order of the Sith.

To me this audiobook captured a real Star Wars atmosphere, it made me want to listen to it 24/7 and I wish the novel had lasted at least twice as long.
Because of it, I wanted to watch SW Episode I immediately following it, which to some would be a great feat in and of itself 😉
It also made me want to look into the Expanded Universe, which up until now I had always studiously avoided because – knowing myself – I would probably want to read everything, books, comics, audiobooks. Which would be 1. an enormous time hog and 2. frustrating since Marvel & Disney have declared the entire EU non-canonical, so, why bother. However, this first toe-dip left me wanting more and while still avoiding a full dive, I decided to go for a careful swim. So I bought the Darth Bane trilogy, about which you can read more in my next 😉

In short, I highly recommend Darth Plagueis and give it 5 stars for story, 5 stars for performance and 5 stars overall!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

SW Clone Wars Animated Series: Anakin Skywalker pt. 2 – The Chosen One

Two blog posts ago I started a blog mini series reviewing the six seasons of Star Wars The Clone Wars – The Animated Series (TAS). In the first post I reviewed Seasons 1 and 2, recommending the series to you all with great enthusiasm (which to this day is still as great!). In the blog post that followed I decided to zoom in on Anakin Skywalker for the remaining four seasons of TAS, starting with Season 3.

Before moving on to Season 4 I’d like to linger with the third season a little longer, focussing exclusively on three episodes which together form the Mortis story arc. The rest of Season 3 consists of many adventures that are very entertaining and very Star Wars, but the Mortis story line is one of the key episodes not only of the series, but of the entire SW franchise as a whole. It establishes Anakin as the Chosen One, and it really swept me off of my feet.

This time I’ll give an extensive synopsis, which will not be objective at all by the way 😉 (other opinions are available…)

Season 3: Essential Force Mythology

Buried in the middle of the third seasonthe three-episode Mortis arc is a rare gem of Force mythology, stemming from George Lucas’s original ideas of what the Star Wars concept should be. Interesting? You bet! And exciting, thrilling, awesome! In fact, these are the only episodes I rewatched soon after I watched them the first time. Before you read on I have to warn you though, this blog post contains spoilers for the entire story arc, so please watch the episodes first if you don’t want to be spoiled…

Story

In S03E15 (Overlords) the Jedi Council receives a transmission from far beyond the Outer Rim. Why and from where it was sent cannot be established, but hidden in the message is a Jedi distress code that hasn’t been used in over 2000 years, so the Council sends Obi Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate.

As it turns out, three very powerful entities living in what seems to be some kind of extra-dimensional world have sent the signal to lure Anakin to them. They present themselves as humanoid beings, an elderly father and his grown son and daughter, and they’re simply called Father, Son and Daughter. The three call themselves guardians of the power, and they cannot leave their world, which turns out to be a conduit through which the entire Force flows. Daughter is aligned with the Light side, Son with the Dark side, and Father rules them both.

They are all keen to know whether Anakin is The Chosen One. Which would be more than simply Jedi or Sith, but to be a so-called Force Wielder like Father and his children. And on top of that, to be the One who controls and balances the Light and the Dark sides of the Force by controlling the son and daughter.

In the night all three of the Jedi are having visions, which though not crucial to the story, ring very true for at least the movie universe and probably future seasons of the animated series: Obi Wan seems to meet his old master Qui Gon, who asks if Obi Wan has trained Anakin well (a loaded question, considering what happens in the movies…). Anakin sees his long-dead mother, to whom he confides his greatest pain and fear: his guilt over loosing her and his fear of loosing the ones he loves, like Padme. Also very prophetic in light of the events in the movies…
Ahsoka meets her older self, who warns her of the seeds of the Dark Side that are planted within her by Anakin. She also warns her to leave the planet and Anakin, or she may never see her future. So maybe this shows us what might happen to Ahsoka: perhaps she won’t die, perhaps she won’t turn to the Dark Side – maybe she’ll simply leave Anakin and the Jedi (to grow up and live happily ever after…?).

Future Ahsoka

Balancing the Force – The Chosen One

Father wants to test Anakin to see if he is indeed the Chosen One and has Ahsoka and Obi Wan taken by his children, who have now taken the forms of huge and violent flying creatures: a gargoyle and a griffin.

They take them back to the temple-palace of the Father, landing in a Yin-Yang(ish) shaped arena. Father threatens to have them kill Anakin’s friends, challenging Anakin to choose and save either his master or his apprentice, while loosing the other. Father claims that making such a choice will help Anakin get free of his guilt over the death of his mother.
A very strange piece of advise in my opinion, for I cannot see how one could conquer his guilt by committing the same type of action that caused the guilt to begin with; in this case: having someone you love die while feeling responsible for their safety.

Of course Anakin refuses to choose (good for him!), uses the Force-amplifying properties of the planet and brings both creatures to heel, rescuing both of his friends in an absolutely awe-inspiring display of Force Wielding. (At this point I was positively thrilled and at the edge of my seat!)

Father is satisfied that Anakin is the One, for only the Chosen One could tame both of his children.
So apparently Father lied when telling Anakin that choosing would help him with conquering his guilt?! And here’s another thing, Daughter is supposed to embody everything the Light Side of the Force is: selflessness, life, forgiveness, etc. And yet she blindly obeys Father’s command to kidnap and (try to) kill Obi Wan?? That seems very inconsistent with her character.

Anyway, Father wants Anakin to stay on the planet and be his successor, as he is dying. He tells Anakin that he has to choose this voluntarily, but warns him that if he makes a different choice and leaves, his selfishness will haunt both him and the galaxy.

The rest is history, it seems, for Anakin chooses to leave the planet with his friends…

Premonitions

The story continues however and in the next episode (Altar of Mortis), they return to the planet, since Son takes Ahsoka before they’ve gotten very far. How is not clear, and personally I think this is a plot hole since during the rest of the story arc Son needs a space ship to leave the planet. So how can he get to Ahsoka in her ship (flying through space), when he’s still on the planet…?
Anyway, during the events that follow, the balance of the Force is actually broken, as Son injures Father and kills Daughter, his sister. Father warns that since his son has now descended deeply into the Dark Side, much more power will flow to the Sith and war will increase throughout the universe. Which is why he tells Anakin to quickly leave the planet with his friends, before Son can take the ship to leave the planet himself.

In Ghosts of Mortis, the last episode of this story arc, Ahsoka is busy fixing their ship, since they crash-landed it in the previous episode. (I’m sorry, but when was Ahsoka trained as a high-tech space craft engineer?!). Meanwhile, Anakin decides to visit the Father one more time to get his blessing to leave, otherwise he says it would haunt him for the rest of his life.
A striking difference with the first episode of this arc, where Father warns Anakin not to leave (or else…) and Anakin leaves anyway!

Father however simply repeats Anakin should leave before Son can take the ship and wreak havoc throughout the universe. He wants his son to remain on the planet so he can kill him.
Again, very strange. Aren’t his children supposed to balance the Force? How then, can Father even consider killing one of them?!
Anakin wants to help, but Father guides him to the Well of the Dark Side to find a third way for handling this situation, instead of either leaving or staying behind to kill Son. And again, I find this a rather curious advise of this supposed ‘wise one’, to send someone not to the Well of Good, but to the Well of Evil to find some wisdom, guidance and direction!

The Well of the Dark Side looks suitably ‘hellish’ of course, or at least how Hell is depicted most of the time: lots of lava lakes, fire and brimstone, and a devilish Son waiting for Anakin. The son breaks the laws of time and shows Anakin his future, while threateningly bellowing “Know yourself, know what you will become!”
OMG – another thrilling and exciting moment, for despite Anakin’s resistance against the vision he is overwhelmed by it and we see several glimpses of situations we know from the movies! I won’t spoil them but they are well-known situations where Anakin either is, or is becoming, Darth Vader! So cool! What’s more, in the end we even see a quickly dissipating vision of Darth Vader looming over Anakin, and however fleeting that moment is, it is absolutely awesome and a very satisfying climax to the scene!

Again Son shows his sly powers of seduction, for he now offers Anakin to avoid this horrible future by the side of the Sith Emperor, namely by Anakin joining Son and destroying the rising empire of the Sith together. Very well-played 🙂 , for Anakin, desperate to save the galaxy, his loved ones and himself, sees no other way and actually joins Son! His eyes immediately change, with dark circles underneath and sometimes even yellowish irisses, a clear foreboding of his ultimate downfall in the third movie.

Path of Death and Destruction

Just when all seems (somewhat prematurely) lost, Father intervenes and makes Anakin forget the whole thing, rendering him unconscious, saying: “Nothing is set in stone. If there is to be balance, what you have seen must be forgotten.”

Contrary to Father’s initial advise he now wishes Anakin to be the one to kill Son! Very inconsistent of course, but hey, by now we’re all used to that.
Anakin shows himself to be a cold-blooded killer once again, for he simply strikes the Son down at the command of Father, without any hesitation.

Well, to cut a long, long story at least a little short, in the end all three guardians of the Force die. And Ahsoka too – though thanks to Daughter’s dying breath not permanently.
Father’s last words are for Anakin, urging him to stay on this path “for he has brought balance to this world, and will do it again for the Galaxy.” Yet again, a very curious remark of a so-called wise character, for in this case restoring the balance meant destroying three living, breathing entities! Of course we know that his words are darkly prophetic, since Anakin will do a lot of destroying and killing before he finally brings balance to the Force in the galaxy. But that still makes the advise to stay on this path very strange at best.

What a ride

In spite of all inconsistencies, plot holes and a generally flawed plot, this story arc was such a blast! Lots of action, thrilling moments, many visions and dreams and of course a deeper look into the Force and the legends and myths surrounding it. And what stunning insights into Anakin, his way of thinking, his intentions and his character journey!

As for the mythology of the Star Wars universe, of course we already know that the Force is not a biblical concept. In this story arc it was very abundantly made clear that if there has been any religion or philosophy that influenced George Lucas when creating this universe, it most definitely was not biblical christianity. If anything, in Star Wars can be found some buddhistic, gnostic and new age influences. And those are the obvious ones, who knows what we would find if we really start digging into it. 😉 All of which does not have to be a problem for Christians however, as long as they’re consciously aware of those influences and are careful not to be tempted by them.

 A Yin Yangish arena

One of the rare statements that are actually in line with the bible by the way, curiously comes from one of the least biblical characters of the story arc: Father. For when Father states, in his final words to Anakin: “Beware your heart,” this echos – probably wholly and utterly unwittingly – the book of Proverbs in the bible, where it says:
‘Above everything else, guard your heart; for from it flow the springs of life.’ (Proverbs 4:23).
The bible also tells us our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).

To be continued?

Although the rest of Season 3 never refers back to the Mortis story arc again (how strange!), I cannot wait to see what Seasons 4-5-6 will bring, for there are enough loose ends left open in this story arc to revisit at least some of its plot line.

For instance, nothing ever really dies, according to the three guardians of the Force. So does that mean we’ll see one or all of them again…? Or (one last spoiler ahead!) will Daughter simply be seen in the traces she left in Ahsoka when Father and Anakin revived Ahsoka with Daughter’s last remnant of Life force? Who knows, let’s just find out shall we… 🙂

SW Clone Wars Animated Series: Anakin Skywalker – The Only Hope?

Star Wars The Clone Wars – The Animated Series tracks Anakin Skywalker’s slow descent towards the Dark Side of the Force, which as we all know eventually culminates in his becoming Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
Of all the Star Wars movies, the third one, Revenge of the Sith, is my favorite. For Anakin’s passionate struggle to be a hero, to be a strong force for Good, and then failing in the most horrendous way possible, struck very close to home. As Christians, we too have a strong sense of good and evil, and we may even look at our world as a world at war – spiritually. But more importantly, as a Christian I know all too well what it’s like to have been given all these gifts and talents, to almost burst with the potential God has bestowed on me, on all of us – and then to fail. Fail miserably and horrendously, time and time again, because of my sinful nature. No one is good – except God alone, according to the Bible.

So I’m very happy and pleased – and thrilled and excited – that The Animated Series (TAS) not only caters to my general Star Wars fandom, but zooms in on the events and character journey that lead to my favorite movie of them all.
In my previous blog post I reviewed Seasons 1 and 2. In the third part of this blog mini series I’m zooming in on Anakin Skywalker, starting at Season 3.

So what about this Anakin? (warning: movie spoilers for SW III)

Of course there are some strong messianic overtones to Anakin’s character. The Force runs strongest in him and from the start he was meant to restore balance to the Force when the Dark Side started rising. In the end, in Star Wars VI, he actually does restore that balance, conquering death (but only for himself) as he does it. The animated series hints at this Destiny as well, for he’s regularly referred to (in his absence) as The Only Hope. Which of course is also a very nice prequel reference to Star Wars IV – A New Hope.

But that is where all messianic similarities seem to end – as the title of A New Hope already clearly demonstrates: Anakin failed at being the universe’s Only Hope, wherefore a new hope was needed. He failed at his messianic task, which of course is not so strange at all, for he – like any other Jedi – is no super human, let alone a genuine Messiah. George Lucas himself stresses this point repeatedly during interviews: the Jedi are no super heroes, no meta humans. They know how to wield the Force, but they are not invincible, nor invulnerable.

Anakin near-fatally injured: definitely not invulnerable

Clearly Anakin is no messiah, and when I watch the movies or the animated series, it is not Jesus that he reminds me of. No, in Anakin I see myself. I see the entirety of mankind starting with Adam, of what it means to be a sinful human in a fallen world. I see love, hope, faith, passion and all things good – as well as hatred, fear, egotism, jealousy and all things evil. I actually shed tears at Anakin’s fall in Revenge of the Sith, for it represented my own fallen state – as well as the world’s. To me, he is the embodiment of Paul’s lament in Romans 7:For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (verse 18-19). Do we not get a great demonstration of the meaning of this verse when Anakin (warning, movie spoiler ahead!)

to his horror, discovers it was he himself who had murdered his one true love, his beloved Padme?

On morals, ethics and spiritual convictions

In the SW universe, intense emotions are not for the highly evolved. Hate, rage, fear but also ardent love and committed relationships are not done for true Jedi masters. This is why it leads to some serious eyebrow-raising in Obi Wan en Plo Koon, when Anakin stops the attack on a Separatist ship because it’s where Padme is held captive (S01E04). In this, there are differences with the biblical teaching of valuing each individual above the collective as a whole; whereas it would seem more “cost-effective” to sacrifice one life to potentially save many more by defeating an enemy ship, it’s actually very biblical not to demand such a sacrifice of someone else, nor forcing it upon them. Curiously it is our future bad guy, Anakin, who shows us this very biblical example.

In S01E05 Anakin raises the stakes when he wants to go on a rescue mission for his little droid R2D2, whom he lost during a space battle. Obi-Wan stresses again: ‘Attachment is not acceptable for a Jedi’. But Anakin is of a different opinion. ‘R2 is more than a droid, he’s a friend,’ he explains to Ahsoka.

Another example of the Jedi way of putting the collective before the individual can be found In episode 13. Ahsoka is told by Jedi master Aayla Secura to leave a seriously injured Anakin behind and go with her and the troopers to find a way off of the planet they stranded on. Ahsoka doesn’t want to leave Anakin behind, claiming he would never leave her behind if she were ever in the same position. But Secura tells her: ‘As a Jedi it is your duty to do what’s best for the group.’
Secura tells Ahsoka about her own master, who had been like a father to her. ‘I realized that for the greater good I had to let him go,’ she states. ‘Don’t loose a thousand lives just to save one.’

I don’t know about you, but I would not subscribe to this part of Jedi philosophy. It seems I would not be allowed to form any attachments, and would be required to deny (or as the Jedi call it, ‘control’) all of my stronger feelings. In short, I would have to give up on several things that are central to being human. What’s more, I don’t think I would leave someone I consider a father or father figure to die, just to save an abstract thousand. You don’t even know whether the thousand really would be saved, you probably just hope they would be. Ahsoka seems to agree with this latter sentiment, for she replies: ‘Maybe. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to save his life.’

On Anakin’s leadership

Season 1, episode 19: Ahsoka disobeys a direct order from both the admiral and her master Anakin, and looses her squadron. Anakin is disappointed with her, but is remarkably forgiving and fatherly. Stern but gentle, and not harsh at all, he gives her not less but more responsiblity, only applying his force of will to help her overcome her fear of failure and her longing to refuse any more responsibilties. But his greatest leadership move is to make her responsible for his own life, coming up with an attack plan that will leave him helpless if she won’t manage to succeed in her mission, rescuing him at the same time. This clever combination of strategy and genuine trust in her abilities, forces her to step up to the plate and take back her position of command, conquering it back from the spirit of fear and dejection that had threatened to overwhelm her.

I really love how the character of Anakin is written here. It shows him to be a strong, fearless and remarkably gentle leader. He is fatherly and brotherly at the same time. This is the kind of leadership that makes people flourish, the kind that makes me want to be a leader just like that.

On the other hand, Anakin truly believes that when your intentions are good, it’s okay not to follow orders. A mindset that sows the seeds of rebellion, for doesn’t every person on earth believe that his/her own intentions are generally good, even the ones history shows to be bad, or even evil?

To the Dark Side

We already know from the movies that Anakin Skywalker crosses over to the Dark Side of the Force, leaving the Jedi knighthood. We see his actual fall in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, but how does a promising young Jedi knight, considered the Only Hope by the Jedi High Counsil, deteriorate to not only committing himself to the Dark Side, but also becoming one of the most powerful Sith in the galaxy?

In The Clone Wars Animated Series we get to see more of this journey, and in this and future posts I’d like to track some highlights of his journey to and through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’.

To be continued… 😉

Star Wars Clone Wars Animated Series: Review Seasons 1+2

The Star Wars Clone Wars animated series is set in between SW II and III, and directly continuing from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie; with the exception of season 1 episode 16, which according to the series writers is actually a prequel to the Clone Wars movie. (Wait. What?!)

The series, six seasons in total, is a celebration of the Star Wars universe. I’ve recently watched seasons 1 and 2, and would like to share my thoughts with you all. Meanwhile, I’ll continue watching the following seasons of course, and will keep you posted.

The Clone Wars Animated Series lets us discover new worlds and peoples, but it also takes us back to well-known movie locations, like planets (Naboo, for one, and many more) and buildings on that planet (the Naboo palace, the hangar).

Clone Wars animated series: Approaching Naboo Palace

The music score is slightly different from the movies’, but still very clearly Star Wars. There are so many great things to see again I hardly know where to start: there’s the drones in all of their different forms, and some new versions added to that. Also, several of the many species we have previously encountered in the movies are making a come-back. Like the Dugs, the flying, snouty creatures from Malastare we know from SW I – where one of them (Sebulba) kept little Anakin as a slave. In TAS we meet Katuunko, their king, on the mysteriously beautiful, colorful dried coral moon of Rugosa. In the animated movie we had already encountered the cutest little Hutt baby, who turns out to be Jabba the Hutt’s son! So cool.
Then there’s also a guest appearance by the long-necked medical specialsts we know from the movies as the Kamino cloning facility’s caretakers and scientists.

Clones

Before we move on to the main character of the series, I must mention the ones that actually carry the title of this series: the clones! While wearing white helmets in the movies, in TAS the clones are oftentimes bare-headed. Since we already know from the movies that it was actually bounty hunter Jango Fett who was cloned, they all have his face. But in the animated series we discover they all have unique characters, who make a point of distinguishing between themselves in spite of their similar looks. One way of accomplishing that is by different (facial) hair styles. We also learn they all have chosen their own names. In S01E05 they even get their own, clones-only episode as if to empasize their unique individuality.

On a side note, an interesting point is raised here: are clones truly human, true individuals and do they therefore, have their own souls? In S01E01 Yoda goes out of his way to stress that they are unique individuals, and in episode 2 Jedi master Plo Koon constantly encourages his troopers to embrace their individual intrinsic value. But that is for another blog post to explore…

Characters Old and New

Against the great Star Wars atmosphere and backdrop, we get to see much more of the development and interaction between the main characters: Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu, to name but a few of the Jedi heroes we know and love. There’s Senator Padme (former Queen of Naboo), Jar Jar Binks, Count Dooku, Count Grievous, senator Palpatine, and fortunately good ol’ R2D2 and C3PO as well! And many, many more!

Ahsoka Tano is a new character, who becomes Anakin’s padawan. We meet her in the animated movie, and she remains at Anakin’s side throughout the series, picking up on Anakin’s individualism and independent mind.

I feel that in season 1 at least we see the positive aspects of those characteristics of Ahsoka – in contrast to some of Anakin’s more negative tendancies.
For instance, Ahsoka is often the voice of reason and compassion when Anakin’s bold but egotistical side threatens to take over. When he is prepared to risk and loose the lives of a squadron of his fighter pilots, claiming that they can make it, it’s Ahsoka who points out that while he might be able to make it, “everybody else is dying”. Her fervent pleas for doing what is Right are what seem to keep Anakin on the straight and narrow more than once.

Nevertheless her character seems to be slowly developing in some other directions as well. On the one hand she has the unique opportunity to work with several Jedi masters, besides Anakin. This offers her the perfect chance to study under “true” Jedi’s, counterbalancing Anakin’s wilder ways. On the other hand she admires Anakin to no end and wants to please him most of all other Jedi masters. This leaves her open to his influence, positive but also negative. In contrast to her pleading for the lives of Anakin’s squadron, we see her ignore explicit orders to draw back in episode 19 of that same season. Thereby risking – and loosing! – her own squadron.

I’m very interested in where they are going to take this character in later seasons. Of course from the movies we know there is no Ahsoka – so I suppose she either dies during the animated series, or – and this I’d find far more interesting – she turns to the Dark Side…

Old-but-new characters

Some characters have been in the movies for very brief scenes, so they probably haven’t made the impression the main characters have. Fortunately, several of them are turning up in the animated series, fleshing them out much more. Like Kit Fisto, a nautolan Jedi Master who has become fairly popular with fans, being ranked #41 in IGN’s list of Top 100 Star Wars characters back in 2010. But we also get to see Jedi master Aayla Secura. Her appearance in TAS is the second time Lucas used her, for she also briefly appeared in SW III, Revenge of the Sith, and was played by Amy Allen. The character became very popular, mostly through the Expanded Universe.

Kit Fisto – movie left, animated series right:

Aayla Secura – movie left, animated series right:

There’s also a new character on the dark side: Ventress, Dooku’s apprentice. In a way she might be considered Ahsoka’s dark counterpart, although Ventress is much older and far more experienced in wielding the Force.

Movie references

There are some great movie tributes hidden (or actually not so hidden) in the Clone Wars Animated Series. For instance, there’s a Contagion episode (S01E17, Blue Shadow Virus), a zombie episode (S02E07, Legacy of Terror), an Alien episode (S02E08, Brain Invaders), and even a Godzilla episode (S02E18+19, The Zillo Beast & The Zillo Beast Strikes Back). Plus, all episodes with bounty hunter Cad Bane have very strong western overtones (S01E19, and others).

Great, great fun!

Skywalker

There can of course only be one truly central character to this series: Anakin Skywalker. Although not a true Jedi Master yet, Anakin has reached Knight status and has come into his own as one of the Jedi generals, regularly leading his own fleet and fighting many battles against the Dark Side’s armies. He’s deeply in love with his wife Padme, but they’re still keeping their relationship a secret, as we already know from the movies.

Since the animated series is set in the years following Attack of the Clones and before Revenge of the Sith, it shows how Anakin slowly and unwittlingly lets himself become vulnerable to the temptations of the dark side. The beauty of this series is, that although Anakin is to become the Big Bad Guy from the Star Wars IV-VI movies, almost every individual episode of the animated series shows us that he is in fact just like us: sinful, yes, but he starts out with a strong intent to do good, fight evil, rescue the defenseless, fight for peace and order in the universe. He really is not truly evil to the core, like his Sith lord, although he seems to come dangerously close for a while, in the movies. Thankfully the sixth movie finally resolves the tension: it proves that Anakin is not truly evil, as he is finally redeemed in the end – whereas, in stark contrast, there is no redemption for the true Evil, the Sith lord.

All of which makes the scene in S02E08 where Anakin uses his future Darth Vader signature move for the first time – the deadly Force grip –  excitingly chilling!

Dislikes

Although none of the original movie actors are doing the voice acting in this animated series, the voice cast acts very well – with the exception of Padme, whose voice is too high, too shrill and too young, almost like a child or rather some weird mix of child-woman.

Another minor flaw is Anakin’s age. In the second movie Anakin is about 19-20 years old, by the third movie he’s still a very young man, of about 23. In The Animated Series however he looks much more mature, like late twenties or even early thirties, imho. Same goes for his voice, which in TAS is much deeper, adding to the maturity. Although objectively I like how Anakin is drawn and I also like his voice, I do not like it in context of the movies’ internal timeline.

Conclusion

So, with all of the above in mind, watching these stories about Anakin before Revenge of the Sith takes place, is a real treat. We get background stories on some of the characters (like an origin story for Count Grievous!), and have the unique experience of seeing the giant walker tanks and gigantic triangular battle ships, only this time being piloted by the good guys!

There’s also a lot of humor and comic relief, with several highlights. Let me mention two of them:

  • S01E04: on Grievous’s ship, amidst all the noises, there’s a short but very clear ‘Mind the Gap’!
  • The bio-weapons expert geneticist that experiments on living creatures has a very obvious, very in-your-face German accent, by Michael York no less. Funny, and well done!

In short, if you’re in any way a Star Wars fan, I definitely recommend you buying this series on blueray or DVD, or check it out on Netflix/Hulu etc.