The conflict of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is, quite literally, man versus machine: droids and clones, durasteel and synthetic flesh and bone, hurled at each other at the behest of one shadowy architect. Sometimes, that means those tools of war will question that dichotomy, and that’s good. Sometimes, that means there’s just a lot of explosions. And that’s...also good.
Picking up where we left off last week, “On the Wings of Keeradaks” is primarily focused with getting the newly-recovered ARC Trooper Echo, transformed by the Techno Union into an unwilling cyborg battle computer tool for the Separatists, out of dodge. Initially, that means literally unplugging him and making an escape from Wat Tambor’s base in Purkoll City, with Echo getting to use some of his acquired cybernetic “upgrades” from years of torture and experimentation against his former masters in the process. But after he, Rex, Anakin, and the Bad Batch make their escape from Purkoll City thanks to those titular Keeradak wings and seek refuge in the Poletec village they first encountered upon arriving on Skako Minor, things get a little more complicated than blasting their way out of a base full of droids.
This is a scenario Clone Wars has tackled time and time again—a neutral native third party our heroes must convince that neutrality is no longer an option in the face of inevitable conflict...even if said conflict, hypocritically, is brought to their doorstep by our heroes. But what makes it interesting this time is the way that pitch is sold by Anakin, and then ultimately Rex to the Poletec chieftain and his people.
After Anakin’s pleas seemingly fall on deaf ears, Rex turns to Echo as an example the Poletec should fear, the cyborg parts of him that just aided their escape from Purkoll acting as an additional helpful tool for their argument. For now, the Techno Union has been fine experimenting on Republic captives, content with their droid forces rather than organic servants. But what has happened to Echo, Rex argues, being rendered this hybrid tool of flesh and steel, like Wat Tambor and his fellow Skakoans in their wheezing pressure suits, could one day happen to them, losing what makes them different in the process. That argument—the conflict of what it means to be organic in the face of oppression and hybridization against a non-organic foe—is what ultimately pushes the Poletec onto the clones’ side.
On a primal level, what this man versus machine debate actually means is that the episode is mostly just literal fight after fight between man and machine (and Keeradak). From the Bad Batch’s Keeradak-aided flight from the Techno Union base to their battle alongside the Poletec when Wat Tambor’s forces come to reclaim their “experiment,” this episode of any in this arc (and, technically the debut story, this season) so far is one driven by an almost constant explosion of action. As with the previous two episodes, this action is once again exquisitely rendered—whether it’s in the graceful, almost balletic coordination of the Bad Batch as they slice and blast their way effortlessly through droid squads, or the sheer scope of the droid attack on the Poletec settlement, clouds of smoke and dirt torn up by blaster fire and stomping, ginormous droid tripods.
Yet it’s also compellingly horrifying at times (except for, naturally, the slapstick of Wrecker flinging his fellow clones around as if playing a party game). Clone Wars is primarily a family show, yes, and Star Wars at large has always been a relatively bloodless franchise—even if a few spots have evaded the cauterizing convenience of blaster bolts and lightsaber blades searing the holes and slices they leave behind over the years. But what sticks out most about the action in this episode, in particular when the Poletecs are begrudgingly brought into the fight against the Techno Union, is how Clone Wars does not shy away from depicting conflict as brutal chaos. There is a pace and kinetic energy to the scenes of the droid force’s assault that is almost headspinningly hectic, punctuated by moments of clarity that pause primarily to show you those poor Poletecs being cut down relentlessly. If you were concerned Clone Wars’ move to Disney+—and Disney’s own professed desire to keep content on the platform family-safe, for better or worse—could rob it of its ability to shock when it comes to depictions of war, well, rest assured: This episode does not skimp.
But for the base glee—and occasional horror—of all this action, it’s Echo that continues to be the most fascinating lens through which this story arc has focused on so far. He represents so much of the thematic messaging here—the hope Rex needs, the lingering tiredness of soldiers as a pawn in conflicts beyond their control, and a reminder of what it is to be machine or man. The costs of war (whether it’s the traumas Echo has endured, or, in Tambor’s eyes, more literal costs, as he rues in defeat not that he’s failed to re-secure an asset, but that his profit margins may be damaged) are etched deep within him. The unease he feels, even in spite of Rex’s praise for his strength in the battle, at how he’ll be returned into the Republic fold as the episode closes indicates we’re far from done examining the final days of this bitter conflict through his eyes.
Sometimes all you need in an episode of Clone Wars is the duality of that conflict—of nature versus technology, of gut feeling versus artificial intellect, of heart versus reason—made incredibly literal by an explosion or seventy. But when you have an interesting wrench in the works that crosses the boundaries of what is man and what is machine, as Echo now does, trying to reconcile that dichotomy suddenly becomes much more complicated. How his friends in the Republic beyond Rex, Anakin, and the Bad Batch will meet that challenge as this arc draws to its conclusion will indeed be interesting to see.
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