First episode impressions: ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Season 4 (TV review)

As if to not overwhelm “Star Wars” fans who were also picking up the Blu-ray release of the films on Friday, the fourth season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (7 p.m. Central Fridays on Cartoon Network) starts with a one-hour technical showcase that has very little story and character. It’s basically just a big underwater battle on Mon Calamari featuring four underwater races — the Mon Cala (a.k.a. Mon Cal in previous fiction) and Gungans on the side of the Republic, and the Quarren and a new shark-faced race on the side of the Separatists.

There’s some lip service paid to a young Mon Cala king learning to lead his people; he’s not a natural leader, and it doesn’t help that he gets contradictory advice from Anakin, who tells him to hide, and Ackbar, who tells him to fight. Ultimately, it’s really Ackbar’s story: He’s a captain at this point, wearing a helmet seen in production stills from “Return of the Jedi.” The voice actor does a nice job with the gravely voice, and we see that he’s a natural leader of men (or fish).

In “Water War”/“Gungan Attack,” the animators do a fine job of signifying the underwater setting by having the characters bob in the water and murking up the visuals (while still allowing us to see what’s going on). Interestingly, even things like political meetings take place in water-filled rooms, necessitating that Anakin, Padme and Ahsoka wear underwater gear. I guess it shows that they are the true fish out of water on this planet; although since Mon Cala and Quarren can both breathe air, I figured most of their structures would be above the water (also, I think they were in previous fiction I’ve read; I’m sure retconners are already busy at work).

The sound design is strong except that everyone’s voice’s carry exactly like they do in open air; that defies physics, but technically there’s not supposed to be noise in space either, so I’ll give ’em a pass.

Although not as vibrant as last year’s season finale, which featured Chewbacca and Bossk in a fun “Most Dangerous Game” homage, “Water War”/”Gungan Attack” is a decent start to Season 4, and it’s good to have Ackbar in the “Clone Wars” fold. The animators show they can handle aquatic battles (The biggest test is still out there: To render forest settings a la Endor), but it’s also a bit claustrophobic to watch an entire hour underwater (an especially harrowing moment comes when Anakin loses his helmet).

I’ll be glad when things move back aboveground next week and get into meatier material such as the Asajj Ventress and Savage Opress character arcs. Also, the Season 4 previews suggest we’ll get a fair amount of Anakin turning darker, and his colleagues being concerned about it; that, of course, gets right to the heart of “Star Wars,” although it’s tempered a bit by our knowledge of what happens in “Revenge of the Sith.”

What were your thoughts on “Water War”/”Gungan Attack” and what are your hopes for Season 4?