Okay, I’m a fairly big fan of The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network. I’m not one of those Star Wars fans that takes issue with them changing aspects of the Expanded Universe (I get that it’s George Lucas’ creation and he has the right to do with it what he wants, even to the frustration of millions), but I do have one problem with the show: there are too many filler episodes in the front half of most seasons.
What do I mean by “filler” episodes? Well, pretty much any episode that doesn’t add much in the way of character development or deepen the overall narrative of the show. If you watch Clone Wars, the fourth season episodes “Mercy Mission” or “Nomad Droids,” which feature the misadventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO, are perfect examples. While fun in their own right, they’re more or less filling time.
Now, I’ve read that the ratings for Clone Wars have been in decline every year, and it’s my belief that that is because people get excited each year to watch the show, and then when it premieres, the first few batches of episodes are just kind of so/so or filling time. When you look at the quality of episodes that are being placed as each season starts, they pale in comparison to those shown at the end of the season. This is most evident in Season 3, which while starting with a nice duology set on Kamino, pretty quickly gets bogged down in prequels/sequels to previous episodes, Senate-based episodes, or the notorious case of the poisoned Mandalorian tea. But by the end of Season 3, you’ve got some fairly intriguing stuff going on with Savage Opress, the Nightsisters, Asajj Ventress, Mortis, Tarkin, and Chewbacca.
To a lesser extent, you can also see this at work in Seasons 1 and 4. You can tell in Season 1 that the budget is lower, and the stories early on felt fairly restrained by that. Also, the tone of those episodes were a bit goofier with the battle droids providing some groan-inducing moments that I believe was intended as humor. But by the end of the season, the scope had opened up and the stories became larger and better. In Season 4, the first half of the season had a lot of battle-related episodes, and while cool, those are starting to get the feeling of “seen it” by now, even with the differences of a rogue Jedi and some underwater fighting going on (for the record, I hate fight scenes set underwater in general — not just on Clone Wars. The motion is too slow, and inevitably I get bored long before the action has ended).
Now, I understand the necessity of lower-budgeted episodes (gotta keep the books in balance!), battle episodes (it is The Clone Wars afterall), and filler episodes as an occasional break from the main action, but I think the series as a whole could benefit from those things being spread throughout the season a bit more. Kind of like how it was in Season 2.
Season 2, in my mind, is still the best overall season of the show. I don’t know that the episodes are individually the best, but the pacing of the season is great. It starts off with Cad Bane stealing a Holocron and dealing with that for three episodes before a political episode set on Cato Neimoidia. But even that one political episode isn’t bad as it sets up the next four episodes, which kick off with “Landing at Point Rain,” which for my money is still the best battle episode the series has yet produced. Even the next three episodes which all tie into it are strong, as each one is completely different in tone (I mean, c’mon, one has zombies and the other mind-controlling worms) and don’t simply repeat the battle. Then it’s three filler episodes, but you don’t really mind because what came before was good, and after those filler stories, you get three solid episodes with the Mandalorians (unless of course, you hate the show’s version of the Mandalorians). Then it’s back into filler territory, but again, they’re each different and strong on their own right, and finally the season wraps up with a good Boba Fett trilogy.
Apart from that season, the show’s putting too much of its heavy-hitting episodes at the back end. True, a string of high-intensity episodes gets us to come back for the next season, but the ratings will continue to get lower as more and more lose their patience waiting for the “good” second half of the season. Whereas, if they can wow us right away, and then every three or four episodes do it again, it’s enticing enough to keep with the show.
Then again, you have fans like me, who despite the frustration with a season’s pacing, will keep coming back to The Clone Wars because it is Star Wars. Maybe that’s what they’re banking on. But I think it’d be far wiser to try and appeal to more than just the already established fan base. Bring in new blood by stopping the “save the best for last” mentality of the show. I think the franchise as a whole would benefit from it.
Photo Source: General Kenobi