Season 1 Episode 1 – Ambush – Elegant Simplicity
From time to time I plan on revisiting The Clone Wars animated series and review selected episodes that really stand out to me. I hope these reviews will encourage readers who have not watched The Clone Wars to seek out the show and give it a chance. There are a number of wonderful episodes which rival even the movies in terms of story, character and thematic content. One of those episodes is the show’s premiere episode, Ambush.
Fortune Cookie: Each episode of the show kicked off with a text of some important saying or pearl of wisdom replacing the standard “A long time ago…” title card. These little nuggets became known as “Fortune Cookies” and were meant to quickly encapsulate the moral of each episode for young viewers. This particular episode starts off with:
“Great leaders inspire greatness in others…”
It’s a strong message peppered throughout this episode.
As our story begins, Master Yoda and a convoy of Republic ships are en route to one of the moons of Toydaria, Rugosa, where the Jedi Master plans to meet with Toydarian King Katuunko to negotiate the construction of a base to protect the system from the forces of the Separatists. Unfortunately the convoy is intercepted by the forces of Separatist leader, Count Dooku, and Yoda, along with three Clone Troopers are forced to use an escape pod to land on Rugosa so Yoda can make this important meeting.
Meanwhile the Separatist army, led by Dooku’s secret apprentice, Ventress, arrive on the planet and intercept the King and strongly suggest he join the Separatist cause. Ventress claims Yoda is dead, and the Republic is too weak to protect his world. However, the King says he is a man of his word, and still plans to at least meet with the Jedi Master. He offers a counter proposal; if Yoda can still make the negotiations in person, and get past the Separatist army, he will join the Republic, if Yoda fails he will side with Dooku. The evil Count agrees to the terms and the race is on.
Over the course of the next 15 minutes we are treated to a light-hearted, exciting adventure as Yoda leads three Clone Troopers through a gauntlet of sometimes dangerous, sometimes inept Separatist battle droids. Yoda’s expertise with the lightsaber, and brilliant tactical keep our heroes out of harms way. His wisdom inspires the Clone Troopers who manage to save the Jedi Master in the end when he is trapped.
Of course Dooku has no intentions of abiding by his deal with the Toydarian King and orders Ventress to dispose of him, but Yoda and the clones arrive just in time, and the old Jedi Master disarms the young Sith apprentice who turns tail and escapes.
Ambush is a quaint little adventure and a strong kick off to the show with a strong message for young viewers: Regardless of your size, your ability, or your circumstances, we all have a destiny; and if you listen to the wisdom of those around you, you can accomplish things you did not even think you were capable of.
For years voice over artist Tom Kane had been the official Lucasfilm voice of Yoda for work in video games, commercials, and other animated projects so it was only natural that he would carry on as the venerable Jedi Master in The Clone Wars. Kane’s performance is simply stunning, and he inhabits the role in a way that feels familiar and fresh. Kane’s Yoda has a younger sound and the character feels more like he did in his first appearance back in 1980 in The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a sense of humor and playfulness that was missing during the Prequel era. But Yoda is not all fun and games; there is also an amazing amount of depth and humanity Kane brings to the part. In one standout moment, Yoda speaks with each of the clones calling them by their name. He explains to them that while they are the same they are individuals with their own destinies, and just like all life, are tied to the Force. It is a powerful moment with a very important lesson for young viewers.
Clone Wars design team and writers do a great job of making each of the Clone Troopers distinguishable from each other, but it is really the vocal performance of Dee Bradley Baker that breaths life into Thire, Jek, and Rys. Somehow Baker is able to give each Trooper his own distinctive style and manner of speech which elevates these troops from mere clones to individual human beings. Baker’s talents are stretched in further in episodes later on in the series when he is given even more troops to characterize on screen. His work only makes the betrayal by the Clones during Order 66 in Revenge of the SIth even more heartbreaking.
Kevin Kiner had an insane task ahead of him, and somehow he managed to come through with flying colors. When George Lucas approached Kiner to score the series he had two demands: Each planet the show visited was to have its own musical sound influenced by real earth cultures, and Kiner was to refrain for using the Williams library of Star Wars music as much as possible. Kiner had to develop his own musical style for the show, and turned to both his background in rock music and his experience as a traditional film and television composer. In the early episodes of the series Kiner’s work has an original sound that feels different, but right for the Star Wars universe. However, Ambush makes ample, yet restrained, use of the Yoda Theme throughout the episode to great effect. This episode’s score is both familiar and new, and works beautifully.
There’s really not a lot to criticize about Ambush. It’s a wonderful story with a solid script and great vocal performances. If there is one weak area with the series during its freshman season it is the animation. Characters are not nearly as detailed as their models in subsequent seasons (or even later in the first season), and their movements are not nearly as fluid; so this might be a little jarring for new viewers who might be binge watching. However, the unique stylized visuals make for a very interesting looking show reminiscent of the old Thunderbirds marionette series from the 60s; it certainly stands out from other animated shows of the era.
Overview: Ambush is a terrific premiere to what would become a multiple Emmy Award winning show, and would introduce new fans to the Star Wars Saga, while keeping the fire alive for older fans. Ambush is filled with action, humor, and some wonderful character moments which help elevate the Clone Troopers from simple soldiers indistinguishable from each other to individuals with their own ambitions (this will become an important theme as the series goes on). Of course Yoda is the heart of this episode, and Tom Kane’s performance injects a playful impishness we have not seen from the venerable Jedi Master since The Empire Strikes Back. And while this story is fairly simple and straightforward, there’s a certain elegance to Ambush’s simplicity.
8 of 10
May the Force Be With You