Image Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd. & TMIn my recap of the last episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I said that watching it felt like 1999 all over again. Mostly because of Jar Jar, of course. Tonight, the series went all the way back to 1977, revisiting some of the locales (The Mos Eisley Cantina! Jabba’s Palace!) that first made us all fall in love with that Galaxy Far, Far Away (GFFA) 33 years ago. Not to mention that “Sphere of Influence” saw the return of a certain Rodian bounty hunter, who, since his first appearance in A New Hope, has become the subject of a “Who Shot First?” debate the Warren Commission wouldn’t have dared touch. And you thought only Star Trek did time travel.
“Sphere of Influence” bridged the stylistic gap between the prequels and the Original Trilogy more effectively than any previous episode of The Clone Wars. Sure, there was a lot of Episode I in there. That famously derided line from the opening crawl of The Phantom Menace about the “taxation of trade routes,” took on a new meaning as the greedy Trade Federation blockaded the planet Pantora, much like they did more than ten years earlier (in GFFA history) to Padmé Amidala’s homeworld of Naboo. This time, though, the Trade Federation was trying to get the Pantorans to join the Separatists. The message was clear: Side with Count Dooku against the Republic, and we’ll lift our blockade.
Don’t remember the Pantorans? They actually made their first appearance in Revenge of the Sith, when we saw their leader Baron Papanoida and his daughter, Chi Eekway, at the Coruscant Opera. Best of all, the esteemed Baron was played by The Maker himself, George Lucas, and Chi by Lucas’s daughter, Katie, who co-wrote this episode.
Don’t worry, “Sphere of Influence” featured a lot of Clone Wars-derived content too. The Pantorans were fleshed out for the first time in the brilliant season 1 episode, “Trespass,” which was like a 22-minute version of Avatar—only better. Why? Well, the episode shared the anti-militarist, anti-colonialist bent of James Cameron’s opus, but made it all the more complicated by casting the blue-skinned, yellow-eyed Pantorans—who are the spitting image of the Na’vi—as the villains! In the time after the events of “Trespass,” the Pantorans seem to have mellowed quite a bit, especially under Papanoida’s leadership. At least until the Trade Federation came a callin’—and blockadin’.
Adorable Pantoran Senator Chuchi pleaded her people’s case before the Senate—much as Padmé had once done before her. But it was to no avail. In fact, the Federation raised the ante, hiring the bounty hunter Greedo (!) to kidnap the Baron’s daughters. Who’s Greedo, you ask? The lovable, green-skinned, tube-snouted rogue who, some 20 years later, will meet his end from one Mr. Han Solo in a dank corner of the Mos Eisley Cantina, that’s who!
Greedo took one of Papanoida’s daughters directly to the Trade Federation ship orbiting Pantora, prompting Senator Chuchi to team up with Ahsoka for a rescue. This is when “Sphere of Influence” went all A New Hope on us. As Chu Chi and Ahsoka strolled the monochromatic gray corridors of the Federation ship, it could have been Luke and Han blasting their way into a cellblock deep in the bowels of the Death Star trying to rescue Princess Leia. By the Force, I half expected Little Miss Padawan to say as she rescued Papanoida’s daughter, “I’m Ahsoka Tano, and I’m here to rescue you!”
Greedo took the Baron’s other daughter to that sand-swept refuge for all the Galaxy’s demimonde, Tatooine. You’ve got to hand it to Papanoida for being hands on, though. He boarded the first ship to the Skywalkers’ home planet, and, knowing that the space slug controls everything on that wretched hive of scum and villainy, strolled right in to Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Turns out, Greedo was there, chilling out with his hot Twi’lek girlfriend. The Baron appealed to Jabba’s parental instincts—remember, the Hutt’s own son was kidnapped in the The Clone Wars movie, so he could relate—and Greedo was forced to lead him back to his daughter in Mos Eisley. But a trip to Mos Eisley is never complete without a stop to its infamous cantina, and it turns out that that’s where Papanoida’s daughter was being held. Sadly, we did not hear that legendary Charleston-derived Mos Eisley cantina theme—the #1 selling John Williams track on iTunes. (I guess Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes had the night off.) But we did get a pretty thrilling shootout, instead.
So I guess you can tell I geeked out pretty hard on “Sphere of Influence.” It’s easily my favorite episode of the season thus far. Was it yours? Did you enjoy all the references to the OT? Or did it just make you wish you were watching A New Hope instead? And why didn’t George Lucas voice Baron Papanoida himself?