Season One, Episode One — “Ambush”
By Jason Gibner. I had no idea what to make of The Clone Wars at first. Debuting on October 3, 2008 to almost 4 million viewers, this new era of Star Wars on Cartoon Network seemed a little off to me. I was not an immediate fan of the Clone Wars animated feature from a few months earlier, and while this first episode was a great improvement the idea of cartoon Star Wars TV felt like someone secretly switched your coffee to decaf — it tastes right, but something’s a little off here.
As you could guess by the show’s devoted fanbase (thanks to Netflix), and an audience of new fans that only continues to grow, the show quickly learned to improve over the course of its six seasons. (Personally, I eventually came around when the show arrived on Netflix at the urging of friends. So yes, I can now admit: I was wrong.) The Clone Wars has moments of pure Star Wars nirvana. This premiere episode expertly represents the early days of the fabled Clone Wars and the highs and lows that came with it in a mere 22 minutes. There are hints at the greatness that lied ahead in the next 120 episodes, and it jettisoned stuff that didn’t work thankfully before it progressed to Season Two. (Though I could have had some more slapstick Battle Droid action in Season Six. Just for old times sake…)
WHAT WORKED: Dave Filoni gets Star Wars. Granted, on Clone Wars the guy (and all the show’s creative team) worked closely with The George Lucas, but the thread between an eight year-old episode like this and any episode of Star Wars Rebels (which was still years and years away) was already abundantly clear. Lucas showed them what’s what, and Filoni and crew rarely missed a beat. For as clunky and odd the Clone Wars movie could be at times, this episode feels like a bit of a return to true Star Wars form.
“Ambush” has an amusing enough story that concerns itself with Yoda, Count Dooku and a Toydarian King, who — if Yoda and his three clone troopers can defeat Dooku’s droid army — could be swayed to join the Republic. The caveat is, if Yoda and the clones fail, then the Toydarian planet has gotta go Separatist. The whole episode is a not-so subtle reminder that Yoda is awesome, but that’s the little jolt of fun that the series needed to get going. Just like how Lucas will remind everyone that Star Wars isn’t just about spaceships, the episode has a lot of heartfelt Yoda moments as well. After single-handedly taking down a Separatist tank, Yoda sits on a rock as little birds fly to him and rest on his hands. You could almost imagine seeing ol’ George smiling at that one.
WHAT DIDN’T: It’s the show’s first episode, so yeah — the animation is not at its best, the music can be a little weird and you can tell the show is still figuring stuff out. But, man… those battle droids. I kinda love all the over-the-top goofiness of The Clone Wars’ Battle Droids these days, but these things are in the extreme in “Ambush”. In the first couple seasons, the show really, really amps up the comedy with these guys and, man, I tell ya, it never works. Star Wars needs a little humor to work, but I’m not sure if these poor Battle Droids were the key.
“How can the Jedi protect you if they can not protect themselves?” – Count Dooku.
“Beautiful this moon is, hmmm? Amazing the universe is… ” – Yoda.
“Die, Republic dogs!” – Super Battle Droid.
“Clones you may be, but the Force resides in all life forms. Use it you can to quiet your mind.” – Yoda.
“But I just got promoted!” – Battle Droid.
“That’s a lot of smoke for a surrender...” – King Katuunko
Asajj Ventress: “I don’t fear you, Jedi!” Yoda: “Strong you are with the Dark Side, young one. But not that strong. Still much to learn, you have. Surrender, you should.”
“In the end, cowards are those that follow the Dark Side.” – Yoda.
BEST MOMENT: In a break from the action, Yoda takes the three clone troopers, Thire, Jek and Rys into a small cave to rest. While sitting in there, the troopers begin to get a bit gloomy on the reality of three clones and a lone Jedi against an army of droids. Yoda smiles and explains to each troop that while they may look alike, it’s their individuality that makes them strong. The power of one personality is greater than an army without minds. It’s a killer moment that reminds you that we really, seriously love some Yoda.
EPISODE’S MVP: It’s Yoda. The episode balances the playful yet oh-so spiritual Jedi master we saw in Empire Strikes Back, and perhaps the overly confident, lightsaber-wielding Jedi military leader we saw in the Prequel Saga. This is Yoda’s chance to go deep and slice up Battle Droids, and he does so like the champion he is.
– This was originally not going to be aired as the first episode but the episodes’ running order was changed very close to the premiere. Makes me wonder if after the Clone Wars movie’s reception, this classy fun filled Yoda episode was moved up.
– Ugh, the correct story order of Clone Wars versus the air date order is so crazy complicated Here we go… So two years this episode “Supply Lines” aired in season 3. In it we saw that the Republic’s plan to hold the neutral meeting on Toydaria also intersected with the Ryloth arc which was also in season one. Got that?
– Before it aired, “Ambush” was shown on the TV Critics Association press tour in July 2008, and later at DragonCon in Atlanta that September. I can only imagine the conversations afterwards.
– This week’s Jedi Fortune Cookie: “Great leaders inspire greatness in others.”
7 out of 10
Next: “Rising Malevolence”, soon.