Chronological Episode: 10
Original Air Date: October 24, 2008
Runtime: 22 minutes
Poor Cutup. SPOILERS.
Most great television series experience a period of growing pains before they realize their full potential. There are exceptions of course. Lost for example started out with a stunning pilot episode that remained a highlight of the series. More often than not though, a television series will struggle to define itself in its earliest episodes. It may even take a full season to make the jump from good or promising to great. Usually a single episode will make the audience sit up and realize what they are watching could be something special. For Star Wars: The Clone Wars, that episode was Rookies. Even after six seasons and a movie, Rookies is still one of the The Clone Wars’ finest achievements. The Clone Wars struggled with consistency throughout its run, but Rookies was an early showcase for the full potential of a weekly animated series set during the Clone Wars. I’m not trying to discount the episodes that came before it, but I do believe Rookies is a creative turning point for The Clone Wars.
The reason this episode works so well for me is because this is first time we’ve seen a story that is focused solely on a group of clone troopers, at least on screen. In the prequels, the clone troopers were used as a plot device. There was no time to focus on them as individuals, and that’s where this episode truly shines. Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a whole adds a lot to and retroactively improves the prequel trilogy. The exploration of the clone troopers as individuals in The Clone Wars adds a whole new dimension to this time period, and it began with Rookies. The Clone Troopers can no longer simply be viewed as the tool Palpatine used to eliminate the Jedi. Seeing the clone troopers as heroes and getting know some of them like Rex or Fives or Heavy makes Order 66 even more painful to watch and adds another layer of tragedy to the prequel era. The life of the Clone Troopers is among the most tragic stories in the saga, but perhaps that discussion is for another time. Let’s focus on the episode itself.
At the beginning of the episode, we are introduced to small, inexperienced group of clone troopers stationed at a distant Republic outpost. This was our first introduction to the fan favorite Domino Squad, and what an introduction it was. The outpost was the last line of defense for the clone home world of Kamino. I appreciated the opening scene because it gave us a brief glimpse of the life of a clone trooper who isn’t fighting on the front lines. Small things like the arm wrestling contest or the Republic radio broadcast may be familiar elements for stories focused on soldiers but they provided context and insight into the world of the clone troopers. The “excitement” of the day for these clones appeared to be a meteor shower, but in actuality it was Separatist attack. Which brings me to one of my favorite parts of the episode, the commando droids. The battle droids in The Clone Wars are laughably incompetent and are normally used as a source of juvenile humor. They’re a non-threat to our heroes and their cringe-worthy “humor” plagued previous episodes such as Ambush. Thankfully, the writers decided to introduce a new type of battle droid in the commando droid. They’re everything the battle droids should’ve been in the prequels. Effective, cold killing machines with a sleek and intimidating design. The commando droids are a welcome addition to Star Wars canon. The commando droids swept through the Republic outpost with ease and brutally killed several clone troopers, including the Sergeant who oversaw the base. The commando droid assault on the outpost was a highlight of the episode and it demonstrated a level brutality we haven’t quite seen on The Clone Wars at this point. Four clone troopers (Fives, Echo, Heavy, and Cutup) escaped the massacre, although Cutup was quickly eaten by a giant eel. Poor Cutup.
Shortly after the attack, Commander Cody and Captain Rex arrived at the Rishi outpost to perform an inspection of the base. A commando droid disguised as a clone trooper attempted to get Rex and Cody to leave without inspecting the base, but a flare from the remnants of Domino squad confirmed Rex’s suspicions and he decisively shot the disguised droid in the head. This was a standout episode for Captain Rex who had limited screen time at best before this episode. Rex had his share of great moments throughout the episode such as his quick disposal of the eel that killed Cutup or his interactions with the rookie soldiers of Domino squad. Rex imprinted his hand with the blue blood from the eel on Echo’s armor in one of the most recognizable moments from these early episodes. Rex, Cody, and the surviving members of Domino squad retook the base from the commando droids and discovered the Separatist plan was to transmit the all clear signal from the base so General Grievous could lead a surprise attack on Kamino. As Separatist reinforcements arrived, the clones realized they had to destroy the outpost and stop the all clear signal from transmitting if they wanted to stop the attack on Kamino. The stakes were high, but I appreciated the relatively small scale of the episode. There were no Jedi or Sith and the action took place within this small base. This story wasn’t about the some massive battle. It focused in on this small group of clone troopers, so the small scale and claustrophobic action felt appropriate. A malfunction meant the explosives had to be detonated manually or the signal would continue to transmit. Heavy stayed behind and made his last stand. Heavy sacrificed himself and prevented the invasion of Kamino. Heavy’s last stand was the standout sequence in an already great episode. The episode ended with Fives and Echo joining the 501st, and both of them joined the series in a recurring role. I also want to commend Dee Bradley Baker for voice work in this episode. Despite being genetic copies of one another, Baker was able give each clone trooper their own personality and voice. Rookies offered a great standalone story that served as turning point for the creative direction of the series and began the exploration of the clone troopers as characters.
-Click HERE to return to the home page-