Gianni Aliotti, the Lighting and VX supervisor for The Clone Wars, said that this week’s episode of the show would be the best we’ve ever seen.
He was right.
With “The Phantom Apprentice,” we experienced part two of the long-awaited Siege of Mandalore arc, and it continued to absolutely amaze and blow away all expectations. It’s some of the very best Star Wars we’ve ever seen.
Let’s dive in to the review.
Picking up immediately where last week’s episode ended (without so much as the normal opening theme or newsreel, furthering belief that this is intended to be a film), Maul questions Ahsoka, who tells him that Obi-Wan Kenobi had more important matters to attend to. Rather than infuriate Maul, this leads him to conclude that it’s already happening. When Ahsoka asks what, Maul explains that Darth Sidious has been in control all this time and is about to reveal himself. Rex and the 501st come to Ahsoka’s aid, and though Ahsoka and Maul briefly clash sabers, Maul says “not yet” and flees. Ahsoka and Rex give pursuit, but lose his trail.
Back in the throne room, Ahsoka, Rex, and Bo-Katan speak with Obi-Wan via hologram to update him on the siege. Ahsoka mentions Darth Sidious, and Kenobi reveals what the Council knows: that Sidious is behind the war and has been manipulating both sides. Obi-Wan says Count Dooku first told him the name on Geonosis, but they won’t be able to get any more information from Dooku, because Anakin killed him while rescuing the Chancellor. Because of this, Obi-Wan says that it’s all the more important to capture Maul, since he might be able to help them put the pieces together about Sidious. Ahsoka asks Kenobi for more men, but he explains that he’s heading for Utapau in pursuit of Grievous. When Ahsoka asks for him to send Anakin, Kenobi asks to speak privately with her. He reveals Anakin’s new assignment – to spy on the Chancellor – and how it has convicted him. Kenobi asks Ahsoka to talk to him, acknowledging that the Council isn’t always right. But just then Rex interrupts, saying they have a new lead, and Ahsoka leaves at Kenobi’s urging.
In the sewers, Ahsoka and Rex discover that Maul went right through a squad of troopers, taking Jesse. Meanwhile, Maul uses the Force to find out everything Jesse knows about this Ahsoka Tano, and he dispatches Gar Saxon to take care of Prime Minister Almec. Ahsoka, Rex, and Bo-Katan visit Almec’s prison cell to find out Maul’s plan, and Almec reveals that Maul set this whole thing up to lure the Jedi here – but he reveals that Maul didn’t just want Kenobi. Before he can say anything more Almec is shot by Saxon. Just before dying, he tells Ahsoka that Maul wanted Skywalker. Bo-Katan gives pursuit to Saxon, fighting him in an elevator shaft before he eventually escapes. After ordering the crime bosses (including Dryden Vos) into hiding, Maul then rallies his troops by explaining that the end is here, and that if they’re going to die, it will be a warrior’s death.
As Ahsoka, Bo-Katan, and Rex supervise the evacuation of Mandalorians from the city, they are greeted by Maul, sitting on the throne. He gives Jesse back to them, and Rex takes the clone to safety. Explosions outside cause Bo-Katan to leave to lead the fight against Maul’s forces, which leaves Maul and Ahsoka alone. He talks with her, explaining how they’re very similar: he cast out by his master, she cast out by her Order. He explains that the Jedi have already fallen and the Republic would soon, but asks her to join him to help defeat Sidious. Ahsoka agrees. But Ahsoka asks just one question, and Maul is happy to answer: what does he want with Anakin Skywalker? Maul explains that he is the key, not to bringing balance to the Force, but to destroy; Maul wanted Anakin to come so that he could kill him and thus deprive Sidious of his greatest weapon. Ahsoka uses this to conclude that Maul’s vision is flawed, because she knows that’s not Anakin.
This leads the two former apprentices to engage in a lightsaber duel, all the while Rex and the 501st fight back against Gar Saxon and his forces outside. They are being overrun, but Bo-Katan shows up and turns the tide. After a lengthy battle in the throne room, meanwhile, Ahsoka chases Maul to the rafters above the city. Gar Saxon pleads for help, but Maul refuses, leaving him to die and heading toward his ship to flee. Ahsoka meets him before this and they duel in the rafters, where she ultimately gets the upper hand. She uses the Force to prevent Maul from falling to his death, which infuriates him as he pleads for them to let him die as the clones show up in gunships and take him prisoner.
This is absolutely the best Maul story we’ve ever gotten. And it’s actually a quite different version of Maul than we’ve seen before, but that only serves to deepen the story. In this episode, he is terrified of his former master and dreading what’s about to happen. He knows that he’s ultimately powerless to stop the plan he knows too much about, but that leaves him desperate to do something. He’s trying to consolidate and protect whatever power he has. Sam Witwer absolutely NAILED the performance as Maul, giving by far his best performance in the series to coincide with Maul’s best story. Especially the final scene, with Maul screaming and pleading with the clones and Ahsoka to let him die and that they don’t know what they’re doing, was chilling and haunting. The thing Maul fears most is being delivered right back into the hands of his master.
One of the most ironic aspects of this episode is that Maul is actually the only one who is right. He’s the one who knows of the plan. He’s always known part of it – that much was made clear in previous seasons of the show – but he always assumed that Sidious’s rightful apprentice was Dooku. But he had recently had a vision of the true plan, which made him realize that he and Dooku were both alike, apprentices cast aside by Sidious on his way to his true apprentice: Anakin Skywalker. Maul’s plan, therefore, was actually totally understandable; we always assumed he just wanted Kenobi for revenge, but it was more than that (though I’m sure not less than that): he wanted Skywalker so that he could kill him. He didn’t think he could totally stop Sidious, but he could take away his greatest prize and asset. Now, I think Ahsoka is right that Maul couldn’t have beaten Anakin, but that just goes to show all the more how desperate Maul is.
And Ahsoka almost joined Maul, too, which I thought was a great touch. Maul is right that the two of them share a lot in common: one was failed by the Sith, one by the Jedi. One was rejected by his master, one by her Order. One holds to the dark side but sees the flaws of the Sith, one holds to the light side but sees the flaws of the Jedi. It’s like poetry; it rhymes. Ahsoka asks only one question of Maul, and it’s what he wanted with Anakin Skywalker. That’s a reasonable question for her to ask, and when Maul explains that he’s been groomed to be Sidious’s apprentice, she rejects him. Thinking about it from Ahsoka’s perspective, this is quite reasonable: she’s willing to join Maul to stop Sidious, but after his revelation about Anakin, Ahsoka concludes that Maul is wrong, because she knows Anakin. So if Maul is wrong on such an important detail like that… well, maybe he’s wrong on more. Thus it’s reasonable for Ahsoka to decline his offer to join him, but the truly tragic part that we all know is that Maul is actually right. He’s right about everything. Anakin is the phantom apprentice, just as Sidious was the phantom menace.
Moving on from Maul a bit, there were two appearances I thought were especially noteworthy. The first (and less significant) one was Dryden Vos! He appears as Maul talks with the crime lords, and we obviously know Vos from Solo: A Star Wars Story, working for Crimson Dawn. That was a really cool cameo. The second appearance is from Obi-Wan Kenobi. His appearance helps us know the timeline (he’s getting ready to head to Utapau), and it’s cool to see that he hasn’t just forgotten about the efforts on Mandalore. But we also get a chance to hear him reveal that Count Dooku is dead, killed by Anakin, and the animation is spectacular enough that you can tell he’s conflicted about that. And part of that conflict is that now they won’t be able to find out more info from Dooku, who was the one to first tell Kenobi about Sidious all those years earlier. That makes things even more desperate with the Siege of Mandalore, as the Republic needs Maul’s info. But the scene that I found most heartbreaking in the whole episode was when Obi-Wan and Ahsoka speak privately about Anakin. Here Obi-Wan admits to Ahsoka that the Jedi Council isn’t always right (which could also be seen as an indirect apology to her), and he asks her to speak with Anakin. I wonder how much could have been different had she been able to do so.
Anyway, the climax of the episode was of course that duel between Ahsoka and Maul. And it was incredibly well done and thrilling; it might just be confirmation bias, but I certainly could see a difference from having mo-capped Ray Park fighting. This looked so smooth and tremendous. But let’s be honest: everything about this episode looks tremendous. The animation quality of these episodes are stunningly good and beautiful.
Everything about “The Phantom Apprentice” blew me away. The storytelling, the action, the tension and intrigue, the voice acting, the animation, the music – all of it. I’m amazed how good, intriguing, and tense this story is when we already know what happens – we just don’t know how.
This truly is the best The Clone Wars has ever been, and it’s up there among the best Star Wars has ever been, period.
My grade: 10/10