Clone Wars: You can’t miss a season premiere of this magnitude!

Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Television

With Star Wars: The Clone Wars returning for a fourth season Sept. 16, many questions remain: How can Darth Maul be alive? (Is it even true?) How will the fate of Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano be resolved?

Having seen the first two episodes, “Water War” and “Gungan Attack,” I can tell you that exactly none of these questions will be answered in the season premiere. What these first two episodes of a mini-trilogy set on the aquatic world of Mon Calamari can do, however, is expertly weave together elements of the big-screen Saga (which debuts on Blu-ray the same day) and its diverse Expanded Universe — something this Cartoon Network series has shown it can do time and again.

(Images, and a few minor spoilers, follow.)

Yes, the season premiere is set on Mon Calamari, during a battle between the Republic-backed native faction of Mon Cala and the Separatist-backed native faction of Quarren. Yes, this very much echoes an episode of Genndy Tartakovsky’s more traditionally animated miniseries Clone Wars, also on Cartoon Network, which preceded the current CGI series.

As amazing and refreshing as that earlier effort was, this version of the same fish tale blows it out of the water, if only because of the longer-form presentation and more complex storytelling involved as it plays out against the larger canvas of galactic politics that has been developed since Tartakovsky’s take aired in 2003.

That, and it has Ackbar. (It’s not a trap!) The younger Mon Cal leader, a captain at this stage in his career, is presented as every bit the great leader we saw in Return of the Jedi and the Expanded Universe novels.

Like the Tartakovsky version of the Mon Calamari battle, “Water War” also features Jedi Knight Kit Fisto and his famous smile in a prominent role — but it lacks (two-thirds of the way in, anyway) the reliance on battle beasts we saw before, unless you count some curious cyborg jellyfish the Separatists introduce from another planet. Both sides have been armed heavily by their intergalactic patrons — but the Republic is at a disadvantage from the get-go.

That’s where the Gungans come in. When the clone force sent to Mon Calamari gets decimated by Count Dooku’s droids, there are no nearby reinforcements trained and equipped for underwater combat. So General Kenobi calls on his old “friend” Jar-Jar Binks to help them out. As unfortunate as it sounds, it’s actually a stroke of genius that can turn the tide — but, naturally, things are nonetheless grim heading into the final part of the three-episode story arc.

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