November 05, 2011 at 04:30 PM EDT

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Current Status
99 minutes
Wide Release Date
Ashley Eckstein, Matt Lanter, Anthony Daniels
Dave Filoni
Warner Bros.
George Lucas
Animation, Action Adventure

Apocalypse wow.

I know that feeling that’s probably nagging at the back of your fandom right about now. Why hasn’t The Clone Wars given us episodes with the level of mature storytelling and visual complexity we’ve seen in “Darkness on Umbara” and “The General” before now? The answer is pretty simple. These are installments that are clearly the culmination of everything the Lucasfilm animation team has learned over the previous 72 episodes. In fact, one of the greatest pleasures of The Clone Wars over its four seasons has been witnessing its progressive stylistic growth. Last year’s breakthrough was the lush jungle environment of Wasskah, a visual rebuttal to the rocky planets that had been the series’ go-to landscapes. This season it seemed to be the water world of Mon Calamari. Now, it’s the crepuscular shadows and fog of Umbara, the perfect hellscape for an assumption-upending arc that debunks a few nagging myths of Star Wars lore: that the Jedi are always noble, that the Clone Wars are merely the arena for fun displays of heroism and bloodless action, and, most importantly, that it’s difficult to emotionally invest in a conflict that’s, you know, mostly about clones fighting droids.

And the perfect man to direct all this into an aesthetic whole? None other than the man who gave a coherent shape to Apocalypse Now, Walter Murch, the legendary Oscar-winning film and sound editor who revolutionized the cutting of action scenes with his work on Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic. (He also served as George Lucas’s sound editor on American Graffiti.) “The General” was Murch’s directorial debut in animation, and what a debut! No, it didn’t feature Anakin Skywalker sprawled out in a drunken stupor in an Umbaran hotel room or Ziro the Hutt as a Brando stand-in, as I had predicted last week, but it did have a startling subjectivity.

Tom Kane stressed the “disastrous defeat” General Pong Krell’s clones suffered last week due to the harsh demands of their four-armed commander. Krell’s not just determined to gain victory; he’s adamant that he secure — and, if possible, enhance — his reputation as a battlefield leader. When Obi-Wan holocommed him with orders to take an Umbaran airbase, you could bet that Krell was going to do whatever it took to achieve that objective.

NEXT: Is General Krell secretly consumed by the Dark Side?

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