“Missing In Action” is, unfortunately, the concluding segment of a dull three-episode arc that stars mostly droids and features absolutely zero lightsabers, a Star Wars travesty as far as I’m concerned. Considering how much I enjoyed this season’s première, “Revival,” I was surprised to find “Missing In Action” a far less compelling installment of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This is an episode with problems, but that being said, the season could (and probably will) still end strongly. Our 100th-episode drop-ins are our way of taking the temperature of a long-running series in medias res; premières and finales tell you more about the narrative, but a slice in the middle of the season gives me, anyway, a much better idea of what it’s like to watch this show week-to-week. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a great show for kids, and a fun show for adults, and that hasn’t changed because I didn’t care for this episode. But its cracks are revealing, because they’re the problems Star Wars always runs into. (It’s a particularly interesting subject now that Disney has bought the franchise. I for one am curious if they’ll be sticking to the old ways, or branching out to do something different.)
Because part of the old ways, for Star Wars, are the same old mistakes. Those strangely uniform planets, almost all of which are desert-like in some way. The limited number of women characters and their generally poor characterization. The increasingly videogame-esque quality of the CGI action scenes. The merciless merchandising tie-ins. The crushing realization that everything you love will be destroyed by being placed on a lunchbox and/or an iPhone case.
“Missing In Action” falls into the same traps, in comforting but disappointing manner. There are no female characters in the entire episode; the planet is one that is basically just like Tatooine but not Tatooine; the diner is just like the Mos Eisley Cantina but not the Mos Eisley Cantina; the droids carry most of the empathetic weight of the story; oh and, there are bundles of dynamite strewn around the hangar bay so our heroes can explode them, carefully and methodically, as one might do in a first-person-shooter videogame, to escape the level, I mean, world.
The action centers around Colonel Meebur Gascon and a group of droids he’s hanging with, known colloquially as the “D-Squad.” For the last few episodes, the gang’s been spinning their wheels on a planet charmingly called “The Void,” trying to find a way off the world so they can complete their mission for the Republic. (They have to deliver a encryption Maguffin thingy stolen from a Separatist ship, and crash-landed on Abafar in the process.)
“Missing In Action” doesn’t clearly connect to the overarching narrative arc of the fifth season, however. The first half of the episode is unbelievably slow—Colonel Gascon is kind of a bumbling idiot, stopping just short of funny to wind up somewhere in “awkward and abrasive.” The D-Squad is made up of four astromechs, including R2-D2, who beep at each other with eloquence, but you know, are still droids. The rest of the narrative weight is taken up by WAC-47, the most intelligent member of the entire team, despite being a pit droid. Gascon and WAC’s banter makes the first twelve minutes of the episode into a slow-moving buddy-cop dynamic, punctuated by beeps and whistles and a tedious establishment of the narrative stakes.
Things get more interesting when the team runs into Gregor, a clone warrior who seems to have no idea he’s a clone warrior, washed up on the Outer Rim, busing tables and washing dishes to earn his keep. He has no knowledge of what happened before he came to the planet, a selective cinematic amnesia that comes in as a convenient plot device. Gascon pulls out all the stops to convince Gregor he’s worth more than this hick town on this podunk planet (sound familiar?). And that’s where the episode finally picks up momentum. Gregor may be inexplicably Australian and his captors on Abafar may have no clear motive for imprisoning him, but that doesn’t mean his journey to reclaiming his identity isn’t compelling.
It’s just too little, too late, to save the tedium of the episode—though it is enough to save the Republic cruiser full of Jedi from being blown up by the shadowy Separatists. Gregor, reunited with his armor, his gun, and his pretty awesome helmet, clears the entire launchpad of droves of battle droids and droidekas to get the encryption model and the D-Squad onto the transport. He stays behind to make sure they get on board, telling them to go on without him. We knew the character for about thirty seconds, but it’s still legitimately sad when R2 asks what Gregor is doing, and Gascon replies, “He’s doing what a soldier does: sacrificing himself for the lives of others.” The episode closes with a dirge-like monologue from Gascon, vowing to bring Gregor’s story of heroism back to the Republic so he will not be forgotten.
What remains compelling about Star Wars, despite the many bastardizations of the franchise, is the romance of the space opera a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Last time I covered this show, Crooked_Paul schooled me on my usage of the word “camp,” and he was totally right: Star Wars makes the blasters-aliens-droids-spaceships world significant and weighty, which is precisely what makes it so cool. But “Missing In Action” meanders so far into lukewarm humor, physical comedy, and droid whistling that it loses sight of the lovely, poetic, harrowing stakes that the world has already set out for us. So the episode turns into a very limited story about getting off of a planet without connecting well to the broader themes of saving the Republic, remaining loyal to the plan, and (re)discovering your true identity that lurk in the background, waiting to be connected to, but are spurned, I tell you, spurned!
My theory is that this is in part because the Star Wars universe has some trouble creating characters that are both funny and dramatic at the same time. There are only a few characters who manage both humor and gravitas, and as a result, those are by far the most adored characters: Han Solo, Yoda, I guess Leia has her moments, etc. In this episode, Gregor is serious, while Gascon is a buffoon. So “Missing In Action” lacks impact until the very end, when Gascon shifts into a state of being that transcends his comedic-relief character. It’s probably the finest moment in the episode, and speaks to what Star Wars can make great, if it would ever make the effort to get around the exact same problems it has always had. Regardless, making it to 100 episodes is a feat, and demonstrates how good this show has been so far. I look forward to great things.
- I glossed over it a little in the review, but it annoyed the crap out of me that there weren’t ANY female characters in this episode. How entirely passé.
- Pit droids are so cute!
- Gregor is, um, also pretty cute.
- So, is it weird that droids are like, entirely sentient but are essentially slaves? Do they have feelings about that? (Because they have feelings, right?) There has to be something in the extended universe about a droid rebellion. I remember reading a book in which droids became subject to the Force because a kid had a chip implanted in his head. (Then Leia and Han killed him though! Whew!)
- Christ, do clones have any personal autonomy? Do they all just like, reallyreally want to be clone commandos? Are they ever upset about being clones?
- And this is just to say that the soldier-sacrifice theme is a kind of intense, morbid, death-culty theme to be in a kids’ show! Indoctrinating the males of the country early, apparently.