SW: The Clone Wars: Sphere of Influence Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, October 03, 2010
The Clone Wars comes down with a serious case of the dulls this week. Uninteresting characters coupled with an overdone storyline create a terminally slow atmosphere, which static bits of action fail to enliven. It doesn’t help that the series’ resident killjoy Ahsoka (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) acts as our anchor for the proceedings, or that her quest to save the kidnapped daughters of an alien dignitary feels so utterly by-the-numbers.
Ahsoka may not quite beat Jar Jar for Most Annoying Star Wars Character Ever, but she routinely gives it a go, with a would-be mischievousness that plays like nails on the blackboard and a passel of Force tricks that somehow look a thousand times cooler when all the other Jedi do it. Here, Anakin (voiced by Matt Lanter) dispatches her to locate the family of Pantora’s Chancellor, abducted by Greedo and held by the Trade Federation. If she can’t, Pantora will have no choice but to align themselves with the Separatists. Ahsoka teams up with a Pantoran Senator to hunt down one daughter, while the Chancellor and his bodyguard travel to Tatooine to find the other.
The trouble stems from two disparate halves, which The Clone Wars should never try to join. You can overcome a routine storyline if the characters prove sufficiently interesting. You can overcome boring characters with a really ripping narrative. But put them both together and the combination becomes fatal. We receive yet another tedious lecture on how the Trade Federation blockade threatens an otherwise peaceful world, and yet another milquetoast demonstration of what sneaky bastards the Separatists can be. The action comes in spastic bursts, as Ahsoka and her friend infiltrate a Federation prison ship while the Chancellor engages in “aggressive negotiations” with the bounty hunters who took his daughter. The fights all arrive in the third act, and while passively amusing, they fail to save the episode from the tedium which has encased it.
The bounty hunters themselves supposedly constitute a major selling point, with Greedo’s presence working to stir the interest of the Star Wars faithful. Sadly, he doesn’t prove up to the challenge. He’s basically a little punk, which is fine, but in an episode crying out for something distinctive, “little punk” can’t get us where we need to go. While he induces a sparkling little gunfight to close out the episode, he simply lacks the energy or excitement to provide us with an engaging villain. Indeed, his ostensible boss Jabba the Hutt makes a far more interesting presence, as the Chancellor scours the crime lord’s palace in search of his quarry. Sadly, Jabba primarily acts as a bystander here, leaving us aching for more from him and frustrated by his comparative lack of involvement. (His son is still strangely cute, however.)
Director Kyle Dunlevy provides a certain amount of respite with the sheer postcard beauty of the episode. Even at its worst, Clone Wars makes great eye candy, and the vistas on display almost justify tuning in on their own. Furthermore the sight of a Jedi—any Jedi—carving into Separatist droids just feeds the soul, and “Sphere of Influence’s” brief sequence of Ahsoka kicking butt provides further balm for the wounds. Unfortunately, they don’t make up for the episode’s overall fecklessness, and good animation still can’t create engaging personalities without a little help from the script. Next week doesn’t look much better, with an intrigue-laden Padme episode that threatens to repeat the problems here. The good news is that even a mediocre episode of Clone Wars still has things to offer. The bad news is, they also remind us of how much better it can be.
Mania Grade: C+
TV Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Episode: Sphere of Influence
Starring (Voices): Matt Lanter, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Ashley Eckstein, Matthew Wood, Tom Kane, Anthony Daniels and Nika Futterman
Written By: Katie Lucas & Steve Melching
Directed By: Kyle Dunlevy
Network: Cartoon Network