This Star Wars: The Clone Wars review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 Episode 10
Darth Maul could have been so much less. He was originally “killed off” in The Phantom Menace, providing the first of Anakin Skywalker’s many story beats. But the former Sith apprentice made an unexpected return in The Clone Wars season 4. Ever since his resurrection, the folks at Lucasfilm dug deeper into Maul’s motivation and what it means for him to be alive but perpetually just out of the camera view of the main story. The latest episode of The Clone Wars takes full advantage of all that work, telling a high-energy but choppy war story full of action.
The Siege of Mandalore is all fans hoped it would be. Here are perfect on-screen examples of the three factions involved, evidence for why the civilian population isn’t being well-served by any of them, and possible sidelong references to The Mandalorian that makes the live-action series feel more in continuity with the rest of the lore. Maul and Ahsoka clash twice in “The Phantom Apprentice,” and in between those two fights, Maul tortures a clone for more information about her. The climactic lightsaber duel is fluid and mostly readable, never becoming a blur of action but not quite reaching the mix of speed and precision the Prequel lightsaber fights had at their best.
As soon as I watched the lightsaber fights in this episode, I wanted to re-watch and analyze every second. Actor Ray Park reprised his role as Maul in mo-cap, which lends a fantastic precision to the fight. Lightsaber duels need to find a balance between twirling, dramatic color and the stage fight threat of an Inigo Montoya or Errol Flynn, and the several fights in this episode deliver. The participants seem evenly matched, and it’s a credit to the animation team that Ahsoka’s moves show she’s both light on her feet and a hard hitter.
At times I wanted more focus, more well-placed close-ups on the characters or more creative moves to provide a moment to breathe in the middle of the action. This Maul isn’t quite as acrobatic as he used to be, and the one Mandalorian fight in the episode showcases brilliant uses of the environment that the lightsaber combat never quite matches. Maul’s departures especially lack drama. We know he’s canonically good at escaping death, but the way he scurries out of the frame and simply hides from Ahsoka and the clones isn’t as satisfying as even a trap door or other physical barrier would have been.
The other problem with the lightsaber fights is that they’re choppy. The first is an intentional tease, with Maul saying “Not yet,” as if to taunt a bloodthirsty audience. But by the time the climactic fight gets going, the show doesn’t focus on it. What could have been a solid five minutes of lightsaber combat is instead intercut with other scenes in classic Star Wars fashion. Let’s look at this in a positive sense: The Clone Wars team have learned important lessons from George Lucas about how to craft an adventurous finale, and the glimpses at the Mandalorian citizens show absolutely essential context for the damage this war is causing. But I could watch twenty solid minutes of lightsaber fights, and I wanted to.
Because this is Star Wars, Maul invites Ahsoka to join him on the dark side several times. (Or at least, dark side adjacent; like Ahsoka, Maul doesn’t fully subscribe to the rules of his former faith anymore.) Ahsoka has plenty of reason to find this legitimately tempting: the show makes clear the parallel between the apprentice who stepped aside from the Jedi Order and the apprentice who was discarded by the Sith. The back-and-forth of this dynamic is extended just long enough, going through a few more iterations than Darth Vader’s legendary “join me.”
Arguably this is all too close to The Empire Strikes Back, and the difference between Ahsoka in season seven and Ahsoka in the rest of the series is simply that she has become a second Luke Skywalker. But even if that’s the case, she’s fulfilling the role well. Ahsoka saying no to Maul is a template for any person saying no to their own most bitter impulses and pessimistic thoughts. Maul’s last few lines of dialogue make it clear that he’s deep in his own angst. Ahsoka’s hope in the face of adversity was a joy to watch partially because it was so thankless and hard-won.
That brings us back to Sam Witwer’s Maul, still speaking in that clenched-teeth near-whisper that sometimes sounds like Maul from The Phantom Menace and sometimes more like muted aspirations to a cartoon Joker. “Run along,” he says, summing up the self-conscious theatricality of this version. This is a Maul who knows what’s going on in a way no one else does and wants to play the galaxy like an orchestra. Fans have flocked to Witwer, but in my opinion, his Maul is still a little too playful to maintain the sinister tone he needs to be an effective villain.
Speaking of what’s going on, we’re thoroughly crossing over with Revenge of the Sith now, with Obi-Wan updating Ahsoka on the events that happen about half an hour into the last of the Prequel movies. I adore this. If there’s a fanfic somewhere entirely about Ahsoka reacting to the events of Order 66, I’d like to read it. Despite knowing she escapes the Jedi Purge and goes on to help the Rebellion, there’s a sense that Ahsoka (and everyone else) is drowning in an ocean deeper than they can understand.
“The Phantom Apprentice” jumps around a little too much, digging away at some of that confidence that made the first episode in the Siege feel like a movie. But it still showcases The Clone Wars at its best. I’d love to see this entire arc on a movie theater screen one day.