Guest Writer: Michael J. Miller
As I’ve been re-binge watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars to prepare for my new elective course on the theological and mythological dimensions of the Star Wars Saga (yes, I’m being serious…life is good!) I noticed something I didn’t catch before. There is a story arc in Season Two that revolves around the Second Battle of Geonosis and the episodes masterfully employ some classic horror tropes along the way. While not as outright terrifying as say The Shining, they are certainly creepy in their own right. These episodes of The Clone Wars can serve simultaneously as a child’s introduction to the horror genre as well as a loving homage an adult fan can appreciate.
The Clone Wars were a period of civil war where the Separatists tore across the galaxy using their massive droid army in an attempt to break free from the Republic the Jedi were sworn to protect. In these particular episodes, Republic forces learn of a new droid factory being built on the planet Geonosis. In an attempt to halt the production of more battle droids, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and Jedi Master Luminara Unduli take their respective Padawan learners (or Jedi-in-training) Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee to the planet in an attempt to destroy the facility. After the factory falls, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi arrives to help clean-up the aftermath of the battle and track down the leader of the Geonosians, Poggle the Lesser. This is where the creepily crafted horror homage begins!
It’s worth noting, when I first watched these episodes it was before I started dating Kalie so I had NO exposure to the horror genre whatsoever. As a result, I couldn’t recognize the horror themes being applied but I knew these episodes freaked me out. Now, as a more seasoned veteran of the world of horror, they don’t scare my quite like they used to but I can appreciate how much thought went into putting together episodes with so many intelligent references to classic horror films. Just as the episode “Bounty Hunters” (S2 E17) is a loving tribute to The Seven Samurai and the Zillo Beast episodes (S2 E18, 19) are a spot on reference of the Godzilla films, so too do these episodes allude to some of our favorite horror movie moments.
In “Legacy Of Terror” (S2 E7), Luminara tracks Poggle to an ancient temple, where she must descend into the catacombs beneath it to find him. Right off the bat, we see the idea of an ancient temple from an “other” culture being the source of fear and danger. Off the top of my head I can think of The Descent, Pyramid (ugh), The Other Side of the Door, and The Darkness as contemporary examples that use a similar setup. Due to a sandstorm, her transmission cuts out forcing Anakin and Obi-Wan to wait for the storm to lift before following her. So Luminara is isolated and her friends have no idea where she is, what’s happened, or how long they must wait before they go to see if she needs their help.
Once Anakin and Obi-Wan arrive, they notice the markings on the temple seems to point to the presence of the fabled Geonosian Queen. Now, the Geonosians are insect like creatures so they’re kind of creepy on their own. Adding the potential threat of a super-sized one that controls all of her underlings through a hive mind just makes it even more uncomfortable. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and their clone troopers enter looking for Luminara and the scenes that unfold mirror the classic horror aesthetic, evoking the same feelings in the viewer.
Entering the temple forces them to descend through cramped, tiny, tight tunnels in a single-file line. They are vulnerable. To underscore this, it cuts to images of Luminara being dragged by what the viewer begins to realize are undead Geonosians with glowing eyes through a darkened tunnel. The legend tells of a hive mind so powerful it can still control the Geonosians even after death. We learn, with disturbing establishing shots, that the Queen doesn’t just control her living subjects but uses brain worms to reanimate and control the dead. The undead Geonosians march through the tunnels as we see worms crawling in and out of the noses of the zombified bugs.
As these creatures attack Anakin and Obi-Wan’s team, all the fighting occurs in total darkness, with light only coming from blaster fire and their lightsabers. The bugs keep moving after they’ve been cut apart or blasted too. As in most horror films, the dark is not a safe place and what they are facing can’t be stopped by the usual means. Employing yet another frighteningly familiar plot device, the clone troopers are ambushed, one or two at a time, and killed in the tunnels. The group slowly becomes smaller and smaller as they move, those who separate from the group dying without help or notice. When the time comes, Anakin and Obi-Wan do battle with the Queen and her hive of undead Geonosians in an attempt to free Luminara. In a macabre moment, the Queen informs the Jedi she doesn’t want to destroy them but rather “devour” and “control” them. Speaking of Luminara, with worms writhing around her head, the Queen instructs Obi-Wan and Anakin, “Watch as my child enters your friend. And once inside, her mind becomes my mind, her thoughts, my thoughts.” It’s a horrifying idea! And the episode is put together in a way to maximize that horror.
What ultimately happens? Nope, sorry. I’m not spoiling it. Where’s the fun in that?? We’re not done yet though as the horror-inspired fun continues in the next episode, “Brain Invaders” (S2 E8). Here, we catch up with the Padawans. As Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Luminara try to deal with Poggle and the Queen, Ahsoka and Barriss board a ship to take supplies to Jedi Master Kit Fisto’s forces on the planet Ord Cestus. However, they are not alone on the ship. One of the Queen’s creepy brain worms has crawled into a clone soldier and taken control of him. While onboard, he hatches dozens of eggs with more of those creepy worms inside them to take control of other clones. Slowly (and violently too to a degree…watching the worms take control of the clones is not a comforting sight), in a wonderful nod to both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, the clones begin to be taken over and the menace spreads through the ship. Ahsoka, Barriss, and the uninfected clones are left wondering what’s happening and who can be trusted.
Ahsoka serves as the character kids who watch The Clone Wars most readily identify with. Padawans are still students, still kids themselves (who, in another sort of horror, are forces to come to maturity in the midst of fighting a war). So as the clones fall, one by one, leaving Ahsoka and Barriss alone onboard a ship filled with clone troopers trying to kill them, it can evoke a sense of fear in the children watching that the adults don’t necessarily feel as prominently. Ahsoka and Barriss are trapped, the adults who teach, guide, and protect them – Anakin, Luminara, Obi-Wan, etc. – aren’t with them and can’t get to them. They become more and more isolated as the danger grows around them…until Barriss too is taken by one of the brain worms.
This inducts Ahsoka into the hall of all the famous Final Girls from horror films. Like Ellen Ripley (Alien), Nancy Thompson (Nightmare On Elm Street), Laurie Strode (Halloween), and Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) before her, Ahsoka is now alone against the evil trying to consume her. The whole ship is infected and no help can reach her. In one of the episodes darkest scenes, Barriss momentarily overcomes the brain worm’s control and begs Ahsoka to kill her as they battle each other on the bridge. It’s a heavy, scary moment…especially for a kid’s show! Ahsoka’s looking into the eyes of her friend and must wrestle with whether or not to kill her.
Again, I’m not going to spoil how the horrific voyage ends. It’s far more fun (if you don’t already know) if you go and watch it yourself! Also, as luck would have it, all of the seasons of The Clone Wars are on Netflix. So, yay! If you’d like to see these lovingly crafted homages to the horror genre for yourself, the internet’s made it easy. I will say the scenes stay with you after you’ve viewed them. At least they did for me…
So, if you’re in the mood for a little horror-light, would like to watch some brilliant nods to classic horror films, or just really enjoy lightsabers (whether or not the episode also has the potential to really scare the children (or me) watching) then maybe it’s time to queue up a little Star Wars: The Clone Wars and enjoy what they have to offer. If nothing else, I have to admit that I enjoyed these episodes soooo much more now that I was able to appreciate all the references they made use of. I also respect the crews that created the episodes in a whole new way now too! So, as much as I tease Kalie for “forcing” me to watch horror movies with her (and inadvertently giving me nightmares as a result), I guess I owe her a “thank you” too. She’s allowed me to appreciate STAR WARS on a whole new level now because of all I’ve learned in our horror movie marathons. Yay!
On the Kalie note, for regular readers of her blog, she’s still deep in her PhD work at the moment and it’s the end of the term! Gah! Final papers (which she’s handling far more gracefully and capably than I could) are coming due and she’s writing and writing…with a little break for reading and reading…and then back to some more writing and writing. Feel free to send her some positive vibes :). Now, as far as I’m concerned, it’s time to go watch a little more of The Clone Wars. May the Force be with you!