This week: kaiju! And more kaiju!
1. Full on kaiju action
While there have been hints of kaiju before on this show, Star Wars has usually relegated those types of creatures to small appearances and/or novels. But the Zillo Beast is quite literally a kaiju, with Godzilla-esque scream and all. The story of “The Zillo Beast” is almost exactly that of Gojira (aka the first Godzilla film) – a bomb is dropped, which awakens an ancient creature, which then begins its path of destruction.
The episodes also fully embrace the sometimes surprising pathos that can be wringed from an inarticulate monster. By the end of “The Zillo Beast Strikes Back,” you feel more for the beast than you do for many characters we’ve spent significant time with over the course of the series. For a series that rarely dabbles in such stories, they sure know how to do a kaiju story right.
2. Jedi morality
One of the inherent contradictions in the Star Wars universe is the Jedi’s respect for all life and their position as generals in a war. Granted, they mostly are going after droids, but I’m sure many ‘innocent lives’ have been lost in their battles thus far. This contradiction is somewhat ignored in the prequel films, but The Clone Wars attempts to make some sort of peace with this at various points throughout the series.
Here, Mace Windu takes a stand as a protector of the Zillo Beast, arguing that its innocent life needs to be considered. He is met with, and I think this is the technical term, a bunch of derpy bullshit for this. From the planet’s natives, who want to kill it (but have no effective way to do so) to Palpatine (more on him later), just about everyone wants Windo to just buck up and murder this creature. And while I totally understand the rationale of needing to destroy a life you cannot safely contain for the good of the masses (not unlike the early Christian church’s view of the death penalty, if we’re getting super nerdy and obtuse), I appreciate the series putting Windu’s beliefs above the easier solution.
When I was describing the prequels to a friend a few years ago, I explained them this way: “Imagine if the Jedi, who a generation of kids grew up wanting to be, despite knowing little about them, turned out to be giant hypocrites without an ounce of compassion.” This series has done quite a bit to address those concerns, even if they’ve never fully fixed them.
3. Paplatine’s intentions…
Another problem with the prequels I’ve discussed in the past is that Palpatine goes from slightly slimy politician to demon almost overnight. Sure, we see him amass more and more power, but it is always presented through this faux-benevolence. Even when he takes near total control of the senate, it is lamented for its anti-democratic ideals, not because he’s a bad dude. It doesn’t make his eventual betrayal mean any more, because the betrayal is already done by that point. It is akin to showing Charles Manson, post-murders, serving at a soup kitchen, but refusing to wash his hands.
But here, we begin to see others take notice of Palpatine’s not just political ambitions, but some hazy morality on as a whole. While no one really calls him out on it, Padme, Windu, and Dr. Boll all express some serious concern about his plan to both bring the beast to Coruscant and to kill it to harvest its incredibly tough scales. Palpatine does a good enough job expressing his positions as logical and/or for the good of the Republic, but he doesn’t try that hard. You can see his smirk and, of course, knowing how his story ends, it’s not surprising to see him act this way.
4. …and Anakin’s weakness
This episode also addresses how Anakin is, perhaps, not quite in line with Jedi teachings. He is easily swayed by Palpatine’s ideas, even if they are in opposition with what his fellow Jedi believe. This can be attributed to a few things, but likely to the fact that his Jedi training began at an advanced age, by a Jedi who was more willing to operate in grey areas, then really trained by a Jedi whose own training was cut short, and then placed in a huge, all-encompassing war. Anakin is a Jedi, sure, but he did not take the complete or preferred path to get there.Continued below
And because of his predilection towards the Dark Side, he’s an easy mark for Palpatine, and falls for his bullshit hook, line, and sinker. This is really important, and helps contextualize his wishy-washy response to Palpatine’s reveal as Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith.
“The Zillo Beast Strikes Back” ends with Palpatine ordering a clone of the beast be produced. This is not surprising, but was handled in a way that truly felt it. Palpatine is starting to act more and more like the Emperor he is destined to become, and is doing a poor job of hiding his ambition and moral ambiguity.
In many ways, this is the most nuanced we’ve seen politics handled in Star Wars. Leia, Padme, Bail Organa – they’ve all been presented as upstanding citizens of the highest order. Politics is often a dirty business, and this does a nice job of showing how Palpatine can be seemingly acting on behalf of ‘the people,’ but also doing whatever he wants. It’s not exactly The West Wing, but we’ve got to start somewhere.