by @holocronGeorge and @holocronWilliam for @sw_holocron
Who would have thought that a cool looking, albeit rather simple one-dimensional villain in Episode I: The Phantom Menace would, over the course of 2 television shows, another movie, and comics, become one of the most well developed, complex, tragic, and intriguing characters in the Star Wars saga? Well, by the conclusion of this week’s episode of The Clone Wars fittingly entitled “The Phantom Apprentice,” Maul’s position as a dynamic, interesting character, if it was in any sort of doubt, was affirmed. This week’s episode picked up immediately after last week’s as Ahsoka and Republic forces attempt to liberate Mandalore from the grips of its evil dictator Maul. However, as events settle into place, Ahsoka begins to realize that Maul’s intentions are not as black-and-white as mere control over a planet, but, rather, are tied to a more complex plan to thwart Darth Sidious’ schemes of galactic domination.
One of the core themes of this episode was intrigue, a theme that strongly resonates throughout the prequel trilogy. The audience is privy to information the characters are not and, therefore, know that the events that will soon unfold will have detrimental effects on the galaxy. Meanwhile, the characters, both in The Clone Wars and in the prequels, are trying to put the pieces together, but it is too little too late. This has always been a strength of the prequel era content as it creates a sense of impending doom, tension, and mystery as the Jedi try to uncover the Sith’s insidious plans. This theme is on full display in “The Phantom Apprentice,” which largely centers around discussions regarding Darth Sidious and attempts to uncover his true schemes and identity. These moments of intrigue, such as Ahsoka probing Maul for information about Sidious, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan speaking of the mysterious ways of Palpatine, and Maul later in the episode teasing Ahsoka of the horrible things to come if Sidious’ plan is actualized, are some of the strongest moments in the episode.
Maul and Ahsoka’s conversations about the unfolding events were a particular highlight in this installment. The episode really delved into Maul’s role in Palpatine’s plan and it was great to see Maul put the pieces together on screen regarding the plan, such as realizing Dooku’s true role in turning Skywalker to the dark side. Maul’s discussions on the forthcoming events were truly haunting, as it was evident he opposed Sidious, while at the same time not inherently opposing the plan to destroy the Republic. Maul was resigned to the fact that the Jedi would be destroyed, but still wanted to disrupt Sidious’ plan even slightly by luring Anakin to Mandalore and killing Sidious’ would-be apprentice. This was a great twist and one that was really unpredictable in the episode. After the conclusion of the last episode, it seemed clear that Maul made it known to the galaxy he had retaken Mandalore so that he could reinstate his power and lure Kenobi to the planet to enact his revenge. But Maul had more intricate plans to not only kill Kenobi when he arrived, but to kill Anakin and, in turn, disrupt Sidious’ plan. All of this was great to see and really hammered home how oblivious the Jedi were to the plots of the Sith.
More broadly speaking, “The Phantom Apprentice” continued a really impressive narrative that kicked off with last week’s installment. Everyone’s place in the episode makes complete sense and their motivations are entirely logical, well thought out, and developed. Maul’s multifaceted motives and plan is perfectly portrayed, making a potentially convoluted scheme completely interpretable by the audience, something the prequels didn’t always do. Ahsoka’s journey this season continues to develop well. Her altruistic motivations and reservations about the Republic are on full display, as are her continued suspicions into the political machinations at play and worry for her former master Anakin, who is at the center of all of this. Once again, this episode hammered home that Maul and Ahsoka are the centerpieces of this episode and, potentially, the series overall.
One of the exciting prospects heading into this season was the potential for overlap with Revenge of the Sith. Sam Witwer in our recent interview spoke about how they got to engage with Revenge of the Sith in very interesting ways, and we couldn’t agree more with Witwer’s verdict. Obi-Wan’s conversation about Dooku’s death situates the episode clearly in the Star Wars timeline. Despite Star Wars being full of prequel content, it’s never really done anything like this in regards to overlapping events across different projects. This was so interesting to see and really changes your perception on some events in Revenge of the Sith, given that the audience knows Obi-Wan was troubled by Anakin’s actions and that Ahsoka was concerned for him across the galaxy. The Siege of Mandalore arc is so intertwined with the third prequel that it has now cemented itself as essential viewing along side Revenge of the Sith in order to fully understand the context of the fall of the Republic and the rise of Darth Sideous and his new apprentice Darth Vader. In many ways, this arc feels like Revenge of the Sith told from another perspective, this time from the eyes of Ahsoka.
This episode had tons of other great parallels to other iconic Star Wars moments and characters. For starters, the similarities to The Last Jedi’s throne room scene were on full display during Maul and Ahsoka’s confrontation. Maul trying to recruit Ahsoka, another force-sensitive apart from her former master, to take down a common enemy was akin to Kylo’s attempts to recruit Rey following the throne room battle. In both scenes, you think there may be a chance for the two to align with one another, before their relationship disintegrates into combat. Speaking of sequel trilogy parallels, Maul’s manipulation of Jesse evoked imagery of Kylo’s usage of the Force to extract information from Rey in The Force Awakens, even down to the same sound effects. Perhaps one of the most unexpected connections to other material in the episode was the appearance of a young Dryden Vos, Paul Bettany’s character from Solo: A Star Wars Story, consulting with Maul and the other heads of Crimson Dawn. The lightsaber duel on the catwalk at the end of the episode felt similar to the duels on catwalks in The Phantom Menace, also featuring Maul.
It would be blasphemous to conclude this review without touching on some of the phenomenal technical and aesthetic aspects on display. As was announced at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, Ray Park returned to the fold once again to do motion-capture work for Maul’s fight scenes. And the work definitely paid off – Maul and Ahsoka’s duel was one of the best The Clone Wars has ever depicted, maybe only bettered by the three way duel between Sidious, Savage and Maul. The animation overall was once again breathtaking, as were the voice performances. Sam Witwer and Ashley Eckstein excel in their respective roles again and these episodes simply wouldn’t be as emotionally resonant without such powerful, commanding performances.
There are now only two episodes left of the final season of The Clone Wars, with the finale scheduled to drop on Star Wars day, aka May 4th. While the series may be approaching it’s end, it’s safe to say that the show is only adding to and cementing it’s legacy as a truly groundbreaking piece of this franchise.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm & Disney+