Ultimately, “A War on Two Fronts” didn’t work for me.
The planet of Onderon (a nice, old school nod to the Tales of the Jedi comic series from back in the day) has sided with the Separatists and rebel fighters are struggling against the droid armies. Anain Sywalker proposes that the Jedi train the guerrilla fighters so that they can act as a new threat for the Separatists (forcing the droids to have to fight two armies — the Republic’s and those of the freedom fighters — and is where the episode draws its title). He, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, and Rex head to Onderon, meet up with rebels Saw Gerrara, Steela, and Ahsoka’s friend Lux Bonteri, train them in tactics against the droids, and then have to employ those tactics against a battle droid army when their secret base is discovered.
Now, before we get to my beef with this episode, there were some good things going on. The brief debate about terrorism versus freedom fighters by the Jedi caught me off guard, but was welcome as it added a bit of a gray area to what Anakin was doing. Also, that it was Anakin’s idea to start funding the rebels was a nice touch of irony to the whole affair.
My favorite bits of the episode were the subtleties of Ahsoka as the outsider in a group of youth. Her Jedi duties put her beyond the normal social interactions with those who would otherwise be her peers, and I thought the side-long glances towards Lux as he focused his attention on Steela not only captured the differentiation between Jedi and regular people well, but also added slight overtones of teen angst that the series hasn’t really delved into. And having Ahsoka welcome the attention of Saw was another nice layer to the “love square” (as I’ve read it called); she never does anything that goes against her Jedi principles, but it felt completely natural as something a teenager may do. Honestly, the entirety of how it was handled with Ahsoka was enough to make me think, “Are they foreshadowing her fate? Is her downfall/demise going to mirror that of her master?” Probably not, but it was interesting none-the-less.
So, if I loved the subtle way they handed the emotional complexity, why didn’t I like this episode? Well, it all comes down to it being a set up episode, and I don’t think it stands well on its own. It really is “here are tactics to use on droids, now use them on the droids” and that’s it. We get introduced to the idea of rebel forces and some of the individuals, but it leaves off with “Well, now that we know how to fight, we better go fight.” Which is likely what will start happening next week as this is the first in a four part arc. I loved the way the Second Battle of Geonosis was handled in Season 2, with five episodes ultimately telling that tale. But each episode worked as an individual story – “Senate Spy” set up that the Geonosians were rebuilding, “Landing at Point Rain” was the initial phase of the invasion, “Weapons Factory” was a specific objective in the mission, “Legacy of Terror” had complications during the final leg of the battle, and “Brain Invaders” featured complications after the battle. But this episode, much like most of the Krell four-parter last season, felt like it was treading water until the “good stuff” happens later in the arc. Why are we spending an entire episode showing how to defeat battle droids? As an audience member, I’ve spent four seasons and four movies (if you include the animated feature) seeing battle droids get beaten. As a plot point, it’s pretty much moot by now. All of the interesting stuff that happens in this episode is happening when they aren’t going, “This is a Destroyer Droid. It has shield generators.”
This one episode perfectly exemplifies my problem with the last two seasons. It, like them, is about 1/3 substance, 2/3 wasting time. C’mon, Clone Wars team, stop putting so much filler into this things! You *can* tell good stories! You do it often enough that when what happens here, where the entire second act of training the rebels could have happened off screen (and been replaced with practically anything else… an action sequence involving the probe droids, leading the rebels to have to fortify their position before the main wave arrived mixed with some more debate between the Jedi about terrorism vs. liberating would have been nice), it smacks of lazy storytelling.
And maybe the episode will fare better once placed with the other three parts, but it’s my belief that even if you’re telling a multi-episode story, since you’re doing it on an episodic, weekly basis, each part needs to stand on its own. This one doesn’t do well at that, which is why I felt let down.
As a whole, it never descends below being anything but mediocre, but still, there are flashes of greatness with the ethical debate and the complexities of being a Jedi teen that could have elevated the episode had they been focused on a little more. Then again, the kids watching probably won’t notice or care about those things, though I’m not sure there’s enough going on until the third act for them to care much at all. I almost didn’t.