Review – The Clone Wars: The Final Season – “The Phantom Apprentice”
After last week’s incredible episode raised the bar for what The Clone Wars could be, my expectations going into this week were pretty darn high. I’m always hesitant to set my expectations at such a high level as I usually end up disappointed more often than not, but after “Old Friends Not Forgotten”, Filoni and company more than earned my unfettered excitement.
I’m happy to say that my excitement going into this week was rewarded and my lofty expectations were simultaneously met and blown away in the same moment. And just like that, all doubt – like all the voices of Alderaan crying in terror – was suddenly silenced, and I’ve never been more excited for this show. It seems that Lucasfilm has managed to capture Force lightning in a bottle with the “Siege of Mandalore” story arc, and I’m filled with an equal measure of excitement and dread as I await the second half, because let’s face it…we know what’s coming.
While I’m not going to recap the entire plot of the episode in this review, there are some things that I just have to talk about, so if you haven’t watched the episode, stop now. If you want, you can scroll down to the bottom and check out my score, but I strongly recommend that you just stop reading and watch the show if you haven’t as there are some things I’m going to mention that you’ll probably want to experience for yourself. But if you’ve seen the episode and you’re still with us, here’s where the fun begins…
The Siege of Mandalore arc runs alongside Revenge of the Sith.
So, we got a pretty good sense of this last week when we saw several Jedi in some very familiar locations from the movie and again when Obi-Wan and Anakin set off to rescue the Chancellor from Grievous, but this week, it’s really starting to set in.
After Maul evades Ahsoka, she gives an update to Obi-Wan via hologram. Obi-Wan reveals to her that Anakin had just killed Dooku during their mission to rescue the Chancellor and that with the Count dead, capturing Maul would be vital to learning more about the mysterious Darth Sidious.
He also tells her that he is going to find General Grievous on Utapau and then privately reveals to her that Anakin is on a special assignment to spy on the Chancellor. I sort of imagined that we’d be getting some of this in the finale, but the way this whole arc is playing alongside the movie like Revenge of the Sith 1 ½ is both fascinating and incredibly satisfying.
Maul goes all Kylo Ren on some clones.
Wanting to learn more about the young Jedi woman that was sent to stop him instead of Kenobi, Maul uses the Force to break into the mind of clone trooper Jesse, much like how we see Kylo Ren doing to Poe Dameron and then later attempting to do with Rey in The Force Awakens. And like Kylo Ren, he may never be as strong as Darth Vader, but that doesn’t make his mind flaying any less terrifying.
Ahsoka almost joins Maul.
Maul tells Ahsoka that his surrender to her would mean nothing because the current powers that be, the Republic and the Separatists, were on borrowed time. As a viewer, we learn that Maul was pretty knowledgeable about Sidious’ overall plan to overthrow the Republic and the Jedi, but the sheer scope of it all was surprising, even to him. He says he used to hate Dooku, but he now realizes that they were the same in the end, just tools for Sidious to use in his plan. He asks Ahsoka to help him in stopping the Sith lord, and she very nearly accepts his offer.
Side Note: I really enjoyed the way Maul reacted when saying Sidious’ name. His breath catching in his throat really conveyed how scared he was of his old master. Sam Witwer killed it in this episode. It’s his best performance as Maul to date.
Maul warns Ahsoka about Anakin.
Initially, Ahsoka agrees to join Maul, until he reveals that his plan had been to lure Kenobi to Mandalore in hopes that his friend Skywalker would come as well. He had dreamed about Anakin and had seen that he was the ultimate key in Sidious’ plan to destroy the Jedi. Maul’s plan was to kill Skywalker and rob Sidious of the most essential piece to his puzzle. However, at this revelation, Ahsoka retracted her offer to help Maul. She just couldn’t believe that Anakin would have any part in such a thing and so she accuses Maul of just wanting her to help him take Sidious’ place.
Maul prepares for Sidious’ inevitable rise to galactic power and we get a cool Solo: A Star Wars Story cameo.
We already know that Maul is the leader of the Shadow Collective, a group of rival crime syndicates working under him as their leader. There is a scene in this episode where he contacts the leaders of the various syndicates via hologram to order them into hiding. The Collective includes some heavy hitters like Black Sun, the Hutts, the Pykes, and now (if you were paying attention a couple of episodes back) Crimson Dawn has joined that list as well. In the hologram scene, we get a glimpse of Crimson Dawn’s leader, Dryden Vos, the main villain from Solo. It’s a blink and you’ll miss moment, but as a big fan of that movie, I was thrilled at seeing him in this episode.
The Ahsoka vs. Maul fight was choreographed with real people and it shows.
Let’s talk about that lightsaber fight. Although the Sidious vs. Maul and Savage fight might still be my favorite lightsaber battle of the series, there’s no doubt this was the best-looking one hands down. Many fans already know that the original Darth Maul actor, Ray Park, was asked to provide motion capture for Maul’s fight scenes with Ahsoka in this episode, and man did it show.
The Force-powered characters in The Clone Wars usually move with a birdlike grace and a total lack of gravitational awareness that belies the show’s nature as a cartoon, and I’m totally fine with that. But the way they handled the Maul and Ahsoka fight was really special. It still looked like Clone Wars, but there was a weightiness and physicality there that we haven’t really seen before on the show. I feel like this technique could have easily felt out of place, but to me, it felt just right.
Though we can usually accept a lack of genuine realism in animation (it hasn’t been a problem so far in the series), the human eye generally knows when something’s real and when it isn’t, especially when it comes to the human body (which is why CGI humans have been notoriously difficult to animate convincingly through the years). But even with the show’s unique animation style, the ferocity and finesse of Park’s performance shines through, and I found myself uttering the same words as Director Krennic when he watched the destruction of Jedha from the comfort of the Death Star – “Oh, it’s beautiful…”
We’ve already seen everything from the trailers.
Perhaps what surprised me the most about this episode was that everything that I remember from the trailers and TV spots has pretty much already been shown in the first half. To me, this is really exciting. I sort of know where we’re going, but I have no idea what’s going to happen on the way there, and I think that is a truly great thing.
Things are about to get really dark.
There’s no other way to say this. Things are about to go down. It’s about to turn really dark, really fast, and even though I know it’s coming, I can’t say I’m prepared for it. I’m excited. I’m sad. I’m terrified. And I’m here for it.
While “The Phantom Apprentice” may not have pulled as hard on the heart strings as the last episode, the progression of the narrative never let off the gas and the action was just as spectacular. While last week left me with a sense of wonder and excitement, this week I’m left with a sense of dread as I know what lies ahead for Ahsoka. I had assumed going in that everything that happened with Maul in this episode was going to be saved for the series finale, so now that it’s already happened, there can be only one story left to tell. We know Ahsoka survives Sidious’ infamous “Order 66”, but what will be lost in the process and how much of herself will she lose along the way? I guess we’ll find out starting next week in the penultimate episode of The Clone Wars series.
The Phantom Apprentice is available to stream now on Disney Plus.
Jordan Pate is Co-Lead Editor and Senior Writer for Star Wars News Net, of which he is also a member of the book and comic review team. He loves all things Star Wars, but when he’s not spending time in the galaxy far far away, he might be found in our own galaxy hanging out in Gotham City or at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY.