By Christian Blauvelt, Hollywood.com Staff
Fellow fans of the original Star Tours at Disney's MGM Studios, rejoice! Our favorite old motion simulator got a big, big shout-out in an episode that continues Clone Wars' impressive winning streak. For my Republic credits, every single episode this season has been a hit. No narrative flab, no filler, just good old solid storytelling. But "A Sunny Day in the Void," scripted by yarnmaster Brent Friedman, went beyond just entertaining us. This was a truly experimental installment, with supervising director Dave Filoni paying tribute to one of his artistic inspirations, French comics artist Jean Giraud, a.k.a Mbius.
Other than Tintin creator Hergé, Mbius, who died this March at the age of 73, may be the best known artist of French/Belgian comics, or bandes dessinées (literally "drawn strips"). He got his start primarily drawing Westerns, like the classic Blueberry series, which serves as a kind of comic strip analogue to Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah's gritty meta-Westerns. Later on he'd branch out into sci-fi and his series The Incal, co-authored with El Topo director Alejandro Jodorowski, is a foundation text of what we've come to know as the dystopian future cityscape, elements of which made their way into concept art he drew and painted for the films Alien and Tron. He was also tapped by George Lucas to contribute designs to Willow and The Empire Strikes Back, where his concept for the Imperial probe droid made it into the film. Mbius recognized that hyper-detail can be a stepping stone toward surrealism, and though there's often a stark minimalism in his compositions, his is a textured world simultaneously familiar and alien. Those contrasts are exactly what Filoni & Co. captured in "A Sunny Day in the Void," with their realization of a bleakly sunnyor sunnily bleakdesert wasteland planet.
But the droids had to get there first! Our heroic, though height-challenged, Col. Gascon (voice magnificently by Stephen Stanton) was puffing out his chest in pride over his successful mission to recover the Separatist encryption module from that Seppie dreadnaught. All that was left was to fly back to the Republic. What little respect he did decide to grant the droids at the conclusion of "Secret Weapons" had seemed to evaporate, however. "How long until my command center is operational again?" he asked, blithely ignoring the fact that his command center, BZ, had been pretty well fried. Gascon just can't seem to recognize the droids as more than hardware. When Artoo tootled in BZ's defense, I assume he said, "His name is BZ and he's a person!"
NEXT: Fans of the old Star Tours ride should be very, very happy with this episode.[PAGEBREAK]Before Gascon could pour the galactic equivalent of Gatorade all over himself for a job well done, new perils lay ahead. Namely, comets! WAC let his colonel know of the danger and said, not too reassuringly, "At least you have a good excuse if your mission is a failure." For some reason, unlike last week when WAC just decided to send their shuttle on a collision course with the dreadnaught, he didn't take the initiative to drop them out of hyperspace. That meant when they finally did emerge from faster-than-light speed, at Gascon's urging, they were right in the middle of the comet field. Huge icy blue-green chunks hurtled across space, leaving misty trails behind them. And, to make matters worse, the shuttle was approaching them at a right angle, forcing WAC to engage in some true evasive maneuvers. This was just like in the old Star Tours ride, in which your spacecraft would be forced to jink and juke back and forth to avoid missing crystalline comets. (Ah, for the days when Disney's Hollywood Studios was still Disney's MGM Studios and the Tatooine Traders was still the Endor Vendor.) The ice chunks knocked out the engines and disabled auxiliary power. The astromechs had to go outside, restore the power, and restart the engines. Which they did in pretty short order. Except that, as soon as the engines were reactivated, almost all the droids were kicked off the shuttle because the craft was flying through a field of matter, not just a vacuum. So each droid had to attach a grappling hook to another to create the world's most chrome-plated daisy chain.
Despite their efforts, the shuttle would still have to make an emergency landing, and, lucky for them, there lay a planet dead ahead. A yellow, jaundiced world with an ethereal glowall the stranger because there didn't seem to be a sun nearby to illuminate the place. All the harsh, bright desert light seemed to be evenly dispersed. Their shuttle, still shaking off chunks of ice and belching smoke, slammed into the hot desert sand in what may have been the best crash scene since that Republic consular cruiser disintegrated above Mon Calamari's cerulean ocean in the season four opener.
To go from the ice, mist and cool darkness of space to the unrelenting brightness of this strange world was a remarkable aesthetic shift. It's hard to imagine two more completely different environments. The only data WAC could find about this world was one word: void. The light was so bright that it seemed like all the characters were washed out and desaturated as a result. Artoo, showing the obsessive compulsion that we'll later see in A New Hope, decided to put his treads to the sand and wheel away to complete his mission and find a way off planet. Gascon wanted them all to stay at the ship and await rescue there. Needless to say, he was overruled. You could get a sense of how truly oppressive the conditions were here from the blinding light. Light that even found its way through the cracks into the snail's command center, where we saw him downing the last of his water rations. I suppose as a mollusk he'd dry up and shrivel pretty quickly. Maybe that's why he shed his steely tough-guy façade so fast. He reiterated that they should listen to him and his training they should just use all available resources to stay alive until help comes. Basically, just wait around. In a way, I have to say he's probably right. The droids weren't using any methodology in the search. There were no readings on their scopes, no indication of life or settlements, so Artoo had just plotted a course that was a straight line and they were all following it blindly. The only entity who also wasn't entirely happy with this arrangement was WAC. Though his reasons were a little more self-serving: "When you die, I should lead D-Squad," he said to Gascon.
In their search they came upon the wreckage of another ship that had been long ago marooned in the void. I'm pretty certain that looked like a Hammerhead-class ship from the Old Republic fleet that must have crashed here millennia ago. Gascon climbed up top and saw the bones of a Trandoshan inside with other astromechs just lying about scattered and broken. So maybe waiting at their ship wouldn't have been a good idea either. As the colonel stood atop the wreckage, WAC said, "Maybe he is going to jump and put himself out of his misery." That's dark, dude. Gascon's existential crisis was only just beginning. He stared up at the blinding yet sunless sky (maybe I should have titled this recap Sans Soleil, in honor of Chris Marker, since we're honoring French artists we love) and beseeched whatever god he believes in, "Show me a sign! A glimmer of hope!" WAC was puzzled by this soul-searching. "I do not know who he is talking to. Maybe whoever programmed him?" Yes, the Maker! The same one who C-3PO thanks while getting his oil bath in A New Hope.
NEXT: Gascon may be a snail, but he's a snail experiencing an existential crisis.[PAGEBREAK]Gascon's ordeal wasn't over. He next thought he saw a town hazily shimmering on the horizon. He ran toward it as fast as his little mollusk legs would carry him only to realize it was a mirage. He then totally lost it and started jumping around like Michigan J. Frog. Then, proving they have no tolerance for mental disturbance, the mechs abandoned him! Presumably to his death. They saw that he had lost all leadership ability, so they wheeled away, single-file, and left WAC and Gascon to fester in the sun. Gascon's existential musings continued: "Think of it. Life is a void. We search and search for answers, but there are none. Hope is just an illusion, WAC. Death is the only certainty." It looks like we got a little Camus with our Mbius.
Then suddenly inspiration struck. Gascon realized he would have to open his eyes and look beyond his training, if they were to get out of this. And the droids would have to look beyond their programming. Suddenly a flock of wingless, raptor-like birds darted across the dunes and stampeded past the colonel and WAC. This was just the glimmer of hope Gascon needed. These indigenous creatures had figured out a way to survive on this hostile terrainand they probably knew where the water was to be found. And where there was water, there may very well be a town or settlement. So he reached out a hand and flung himself atop the back of one of the birds. WAC did the same. And before long these birds had ferried them to a water hole and a town that this time wasn't a mirage. Victory! The only thing slightly undermining his triumph was that the astromechs had gotten there before them. I guess that means his strategy was no better, after all, than if he had just followed a straight-line like the mechs had wanted. At least he decided to make WAC a corporal if for no other reason than to give him some authority to keep the other droids in line.
And that was it, a bold vision that captured the textured minimalism of Mbius' art while actually incorporating some of his existentialism too. How's that for a tribute?
It's hard to believe, but this is the last episode of Clone Wars until January, when Brent Friedman will wrap up his droid arc in what I'm sure will be very high style. See you then folks, and in the meantime, Happy Life Day!
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]
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