By George Bate
A Lucasfilm Limited production. The red Clone Wars logo. John Williams’ classic score. Within moments of the start of the “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” it was abundantly clear that this episode of The Clone Wars would be a special installment in the Star Wars saga. In the first episode in the Siege of Mandalore arc, Anakin and Obi-Wan are stationed on Yerbana when they receive a message from Ahsoka and Bo-Katan asking for their assistance to overthrow Maul on Mandalore.
Let’s start with the incredible first few minutes of the episode, where not only were fans treated with the aforementioned score and logos, but the audience is plunged into events of the war taking place right before Revenge of the Sith. The narrator’s booming voice claims, “Outer Rim under siege!” and we are given some great shots of Aayla Secura on Felucia and Plo Koon on Cato Neimodia that evoke imagery from Order 66. Although it’s been known for quite a while, after the release of some of the final season’s promotional material, that this season would lead into and perhaps overlap with Revenge of the Sith, seeing this actualized in this episode added a certain relevance and impending sense of doom to the events on screen. Making it clear to the audience that the Siege of Mandalore will begin right before and likely overlap with the events of Revenge of the Sith feels akin to the added tension and suspense Rogue One exhibited by being a prequel immediately set before A New Hope. Little details throughout the episode, such as Anakin and Obi-Wan’s Jedi robes and the armor worn by the Clone Troopers, that mirror the aesthetics seen in Revenge of the Sith are really well thought out and, once again, implicitly convey to the audience the importance of the proceeding events.
As the episode begins, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Commander Cody, Captain Rex, and groups of Clones are engaged in combat with Separatist forces on Yerbana. This sequence highlights one of the many strengths of this episode in pacing. In avoiding immediately throwing the audience into an extended action sequence, this scene excels in purposefully slowing the pace down, allowing the characters to discuss and the tension to build. This whole episode benefits from such pacing in that, while the action set pieces in the show are incredible at times, the best moments are grounded in character dynamics and narrative. The more deliberate pacing of the episode is perhaps best exemplified by the incredible moment of Anakin approaching the Separatists on the bridges, feigning his surrender while Rex and his battalion organize an attack. The imagery of Anakin approaching a massive assembly of opposing forces from the distance was reminiscent of Luke’s approach toward the First Order during the Battle of Crait in The Last Jedi, another great moment of connectivity shown in this season of The Clone Wars. This whole sequence resolved nicely, with Anakin’s ability and arrogance on full display.
The crux of the episode’s central plot, however, is where it got truly interesting. Ahsoka’s reformed alliance with the Republic and the Jedi was done excellently, highlighting the extent to which Ahsoka was hurt and changed due to the betrayal of the Jedi, in addition to her journey since leaving the Order that has reshaped her perception on Jedi values and the broader war. Despite her reservations, her relationships with Anakin and Rex withstood this tumultuous time in her life, moments in the episode that felt well earned. The addition of the Clone Troopers who purposely painted their helmets as a homage to Ahsoka and led by Captain Rex was another nice touch that showed she still has positive, meaningful connections from her time as a Jedi. Moreover, even though she may not be a Jedi in name anymore, her actions and those that choose to follow her demonstrate that Ahsoka is as much of a Jedi as anyone else in the Order. Ahsoka saying goodbye to Anakin was another powerful moment as this was probably the last time they saw each other until their convergence in Star Wars Rebels. All of these sequences perfectly established Ahsoka’s state of mind in this episode and laid the emotional foundation for the events to come.
Next came the beginning of the assault on Mandalore. Director Saul Ruiz did an amazing job with the action in this episode as Ahsoka and the Clones land on Mandalore to try to find Maul. This is also helped by the stunning animation that is once again on full display this season. The fluidity of the camera movement made it easy for the audience to see exactly what was going on in a battle that, right from the very beginning, had many moving parts and a lot going on visually. It was also fun to see characters like Gar Saxon from Star Wars Rebels, make an appearance in this episode, foreshadowing his relevance during the Imperial era.
After Bo-Katan corners Prime Minister Almec, a pawn of Maul’s overarching plan, she quickly realizes that she played right into the former Sith Lord’s plan. Ahsoka leads the troopers down a dark tunnel before eventually being cornered by Maul’s foot soldiers. Surrounded and seemingly captured, Maul walks out from the darkness, saying “I was hoping for Kenobi. Why are you here?” Maul’s carefully executed plan was done in the hope that he would lure Kenobi in and finish him once and for all. However, this is not the case. This final moment of the episode is a great cliffhanger that sets the stage for the rest of the Siege of Mandalore arc. Sam Witwer, who Star Wars Holocron recently exclusively interviewed, was once again on his game, delivering this sole, important line perfectly. Moreover, the rest of the voice acting cast were also putting in great performances.
One of the few critiques of this episode pertains to the portrayal of Anakin, which is a more overarching concern related to the show overall. Matt Lanter’s voice work of Anakin has always been exceptional, adding depth and nuisance to the dialogue. And, as do many of the voice actors on the show, Lanter pays homage to his live-action counterpart, Hayden Christensen, while also forging his own version of the character. The issue, therefore, is not at all related to Lanter’s performance, but, rather, the personality, tone, and attitude of Anakin in The Clone Wars that diverges from the character’s depiction in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The lighter, more friendly, jovial Anakin makes sense in the early days of a show geared toward a wide age range, but, now that the show is in its seventh season nearing the dark events of Revenge of Sith, it would be nice and more consistent with the broader themes of the prequel trilogy if we saw a darker side to Anakin more frequently. The Clone Wars in general offers some moments of darkness in Anakin, such as mercilessly beating up Clovis. However, for the most part, the show has always refrained from delving into Anakin’s dark side the way Episode II and III did. So, when we see a playful Anakin that doesn’t quite match up with the troubled Anakin we see shortly after in Revenge of the Sith, it creates so tonal inconsistencies.
This is an episode that many are calling one of, if not the best of the show thus far. This is the most cinematic The Clone Wars has ever felt and with an urgency to the story, top notch visuals and voice work, and a great cliffhanger, this episode truly shined in every department. Part 2 of the Siege of Mandalore arrives next week and we can’t wait.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney+