As I get into season four, I realise that a lot of these episodes are coming in four-episode blocks. Given how long my previous post was, just for three pretty inconsequential episodes in the series, I flat out refuse to talk about any more than three in one go. Which means, going forward you’re going to be getting a lot of these storylines being split into two parts. It might not work as smoothly as before, and if that turns out to be the case I’ll do something different, but until then, this is how we’re doing it.
So, The Umbara storyline… Every time I think there aren’t any more episodes I’ve already seen, another bunch come along and flood my patchwork brain with once forgotten memories.
Season 4, Episode 07: Darkness on Umbara
This episode begins like many others; with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker organising an invasion. This time, they’re floating over the world of Umbara, a planet with the sinister nickname of the shadow world. And at this point, I immediately can’t help but notice how good these character models look now. This is the first time I’m seeing Rex and Cody’s new Phase II armour and it looks slick.
Umbara is a planet that sees no sunlight and is inhabited by the Umbarans, the most notable example of which from the series so far Mee Deechi. He was the senator who got assassinated in the second season episode Senate Murders. After which point it seems like the people of Umbara succeeded from the Republic and joined the Separatists.
By the way, this is a Clone focused episode. It’s been a while since we’ve had one. In the early days of the series, episodes focusing on the whole moral dilemma surrounding the clones and their status as people, as well as them being forced into a war they never asked for, were my favourite things in the series. As the scope of the Clone Wars expanded though, we saw these kinds of stories less and less. Although this is a great return to the early aspects of the show I enjoyed.
Shortly after this initial assault on the planet, Anakin is called back to Coruscant by the Supreme Chancellor, and we’re introduced to Jedi General Pong Krell, a Besalisk Jedi Master and an imposing one at that. The hulking, four-armed Jedi carries two double-edged Lightsabers and takes command of the 501st for the remainder of the invasion.
Right away, we see that there is something not quite right about this guy. The very first thing he does is condescend to Rex, telling him he’s surprised a clone could recognise what valour was. So basically, he’s a guy who sees the clones as little more than organic droids. While he has a reputation for being effective, it’s at the cost of having zero regard for the lives of the men serving under him.
Honestly, he seems like a pretty terrible Jedi.
From here, our viewpoint characters are Captain Rex, the sole remaining member of Dominio Squad in Fives and a couple of other clones like Hardcase, Jesse and Dogma. As they make their way through this hellhole of a planet, they’re constantly ambushed and assaulted by increasingly strange fauna and Umbaran war machines, the distinction between which is pretty difficult to make at times. Which is by design I’d imagine considering they’re behind enemy lines on a world of never-ending twilight.
On multiple occasions Rex respectfully tries to give his opinion to Krell, when he’s pushing the men too hard or when he orders them on an easily avoidable suicide mission, only to have Krell screaming in his face, refusing to use his given name and instead calling him by his clone number.
All the while Krell insists on being a leader from the rear, which seem incongruous considering his obvious strength in battle. While Anakin might be especially enthusiastic about leading from the front, every single Jedi we’ve met has done the same. If anything, I think they’re laying on Krell’s assholeness a little thick.
Throughout, we’re getting little examples of Rex and Fives butting heads over the issue. I’m reminded of the events of his earliest episode in the timeline, where a Kaminoian complains that Jango Fett’s DNA has started to break down, and thus later generations of clones have started to display more individualistic tendencies. Which might contribute as to why Fives is certainly a lot less willing to march right into his own death and argues with Rex about it. But Rex, who has been mostly represented as something of a less conventional soldier is the one who surprisingly insists they follow the chain of command, as much as he might not like it.
In the end, Rex does stand up to Krell when the Jedi screams in his face for a third time and then even goes as far as to threaten Fives with his ignited Lightsaber for simply speaking up to him. At this Rex gives Krell a piece of his mind and says that the forward assault cost them “It cost us men, not clones, men!”
To which Krell seems to give Rex some credit. Leaving them without causing a bloodbath. Or cauterize heap in this case I guess.
Season 4, Episode 08: The General
We pick up right where we left off; with Republic Forces getting hammered by the Umbaran defences. Krell is talking to Obi-Wan via comm and learns that his unit needs to occupy a nearby airbase, reminding Krell that the entire invasion relies on his battalion succeeding. So yeah, pressure.
Despite seeming to warm to Rex slightly, he still refuses to hear his recommendation and orders another suicidal frontal assault on the airbase. As the clones march down to the base, they seem to have had their fill of the Jedi General and start bickering amongst themselves. Which is the first time we’ve really seen the clones outright questioning orders en masse. Fives continues to be the most outspoken in his disdain for Krell and his leadership tactics.
At which point Rex pulls Fives aside and asks him to try and calm the men down and just follow orders. To which Fives replies, “Do you believe that, or is that what you were engineered to think.” It’s an interesting look at not only the chain of command but the ability for the clones to actually think for themselves and how much of their minds have been “programmed” to an extent.
This isn’t the first time Rex has met with clones not content with their lot in life, having dealt with the traitor in the season 1 episode Hidden Enemy and The Deserter in the season 2 episode by the same name. Honestly though, I feel for Rex here. He’s in a crap situation as a leader stuck between his men and a crappy commanding officer, it honestly reminds me of some managers I’ve had in my time as a manager.
When you’ve got a person above you simply telling you to “get it done” without any thought for how you’re supposed to do it or even if it’s a possible task in the first place. To them; it’s not their problem whether you can do a job or not, only that you do it anyway, and if you can’t then they’ll just replace you, and then replace them and keep replacing people until someone figures out how to cheat the system and get around the job.
It’s simply poor management and poor leadership. And Krell is a poor leader. Exemplified when three giant spider tanks crest the hill between the clones and the airbase, an enemy force the clones aren’t remotely equipped to deal with. Krell’s response to this? To get angry and tell them to destroy the tanks anyway. Even getting angry at Rex for trying to come up with a strategy that doesn’t involve them just marching right at the enemy.
In the end, Rex ignores Krell and sends Fives and Hardcase to infiltrate the base and steal two starfighters which they can use to destroy the tanks. Which they do, something that Krell admits is impressive, despite the fact that he threatened to relieve Rex of command if he actually went through with the plan beforehand. At which point the camera zooms into Krell’s yellow eye. It’s not Sith yellow, but the fire reflecting within it is certainly giving an implication.
With the base taken Rex again questions Krell, saying that a lot of men died so they could take that base. Something to which Krell states is the price for such victory, “maybe someday you’ll realise this.” Echoing the exact words that Rex himself said to Fives earlier in the episode when trying to keep everything together. It’s something Rex visibility struggles to not bite back about.
Clone episodes are great. I actually do remember seeing these episodes back when they came out for some reason and thinking they were a really cool look at how evil Jedi could be. Now, it all feels a little heavy-handed. That being said, I’d have no issues with the story if this General were not a Jedi Master, and just a normal person. So I’m curious as to whether this will go down a path of a Jedi falling to the dark side and if the clones mutinying against him or not.
Guess I’ll find out next time.
And I’ll be talking about the conclusion to the Umbara story arc next time with:
- Season 4, Episode 09: Plan of Dissent
- Season 5, Episode 10: Carnage of Krell