3.01 – Clone Cadets – Clone Wars Review

“Brothers in arms are brothers for life.”

“Clone Cadets” launches the opening salvo of The Clone Wars ‘ third season. As is expected, the production values remain exceptionally strong — the visuals are excellent and the music fits the bill perfectly. Unfortunately, the story is not up to the usual standards that the series has set for itself. The result is an installment that is less than average.

The premise of the episode — to see the training of the Clone Army — is an intriguing one. As an added bonus, we get to see the training of characters already featured in the excellent Season One episode, “Rookies.” Some viewers may ask whether or not we really need such an exploration, but even it it’s not entirely necessary, it fits with the longstanding tradition of The Clone Wars to humanize the clones as much as, well, humanly possible. To that end, seeing how cadets struggle with, and ultimately overcome, adversity is a great idea that ought to make for a solid episode.

But the devil is in the details.

The most glaring issue with the episode is its decision to make our “hero” group of cadets little more than a glorified Bad News Bears bunch. They are misfits who are selfish, arrogant, and on the verge of washing out. The problem stems from the fact that the cadets are so hopelessly aggravating to watch. The episode goes to great lengths to demonstrate their dysfunction and, along the way, it leaves little room for any redeeming qualities.

This group – the Domino Squad – squabbles in every bit of dialogue for a good three-quarters of the episode. They bicker about their names, about who is in charge, about following orders, about who to blame for failure. And they are grossly disrespectful to boot. It’s enough to make you wish their “test” utilized real droids so they’d get wiped out, just to get them to shut the hell up.

The supporting characters don’t help much either. Shaak Ti fares well as a the Jedi in charge of the overall training program. Seeing some older clones as janitors is a fairly inspired addition — indeed, one of them has a pivotal role in the story. But the Bounty Hunters-as-Teachers concept was simply ill-conceived from the start. I’m not sure why training wouldn’t be conducted by military personnel, since the clones are a military unit. But even worse are the characters themselves. Bric is a walking cliché and El-Les is more softhearted than even Shaak Ti.

The final criticism comes from the story itself. It, too, is relatively uninspired. For some odd reason, we’re meant to sympathize with Domino Squad, despite being given no reason to find them the least bit likable. Worse still, we’re meant to believe that they turn around all of their differences and become “one of the best” squads, despite being given no clear indication that they had any abilities beyond arguing and insubordination. Furthermore, for some odd reason, this group gets special treatment — the opportunity to retake the test. The only indication that these characters are worthy of our attention is the notion that we see them behave so nobly in “Rookies.” But honestly, I didn’t even recognize the names of these characters right away. It wasn’t until after the episode was over that I realized that the episode was, in fact, a prequel story.

But all of this means that the final “pep talk” from the janitor rings hollow and the successful test run manages to be sappy and boring. Of course they all eventually succeed. Of course everyone is proven correct. Of course we get a happy ending — complete with a clone giving his medal to the janitor.

Overall Grade: C-

The Clone Wars has had better episodes which showcased the unity and brotherhood of the clones than “Clone Cadets.” While the premise was worthy, especially in terms of continuity, the storytelling left a lot to be desired. Lastly, this episode, more than any other in the series thus far, seemed to glorify war and battle — a break from the usual sober, balanced tone previously portrayed.