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Every time an episode of The Clone Wars lands, Fantha Tracks will be giving their responses, and here are our initial gut feelings, deep dives and thoughts on the tenth episode of season seven – The Phantom Apprentice. Beware of spoilerific elements in here.

Ross Hollebon

Ahsoka Tano yields the spotlight, at least in part, to a splendid Maul in this episode of The Clone Wars. Sam Witwer’s thoughtful, manipulative, unforgiving delivery for the Sith-turned-criminal-opportunist is genius and brings even more layered depth to the tortured character.

Maul unravels more and more of Sidious’ plot as he learns from Ahsoka and also pulls from the mind of a captured Arc Trooper Jesse. He becomes the narrator for the present and the future as he ties new information into his visions, realizing everyone has served the role of pawn in this one player game of high-stakes holochess.

Maul, Count Dooku, the Jedi Council, the Republic—they are all victims to the will of Palpatine and the coming Empire. There is also Anakin Skywalker—who is brought up by Maul and Prime Minister Almec only after Obi-Wan Kenobi reveals his former padawan is on a special assignment to report on the actions of Palpatine.

As Maul explains to Ahsoka that Anakin is the key to all of Sidious’ plans the Togruta reaches her breaking point—and to the benefit of the audience it results in possibly the greatest lightsaber duel in all of Star Wars history. From Mandalorian throne room to treacherous balance beams in the sky, the electric blue and red laser swords crackle and hiss while Ahsoka and Maul take turns with kicks, elbows and resulting grunts, framing this epic battle—and setting up two more episodes of action and heartbreak as the good guys ready for a fall.

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Mark Newbold

Not that The Clone Wars hasn’t always been cinematic, taking us to more worlds than any other moving Star Wars project and showing us the state of the galaxy at the time of its greatest war, but this final Siege of Mandalore arc has upped the ante in a quite spectacular way. Old Friends, Not Forgotten gave us the return of the iconic and long retired green Lucasfilm opening as we leapt into the classic opening fanfare and the familiar narration but The Phantom Apprentice – a sweet riff on The Phantom Menace of course – brings us something entirely unexpected.

The Lucasfilm green remains, but no Star Wars fanfare, no moral, no narration, just the blood red Clone Wars logo receding and a musical opening very reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the other great 1977 sci-fi classic. For older fans who remember those early Lucasfilm days, pre-Empire, pre-Raiders, pre-E.T when Star Wars and CE3K were everything, when adverts for the Close Encounters Marvel Comics special rested on the back cover of Star Wars Weekly and Lucas and Spielberg completely owned the world of cinema and imagination, this was a very sweet choice. This arc is current, dominating social media discourse and podcast conversations; right now this is everything….and it couldn’t be more deliciously old school.

We fade into the final frame of the last episode as Ahsoka faces down Maul, and as the episode progresses we quickly learn that we are now within the timeframe of Revenge of the Sith. The saga episode with the most heavy lifting to do, setting the table for the original trilogy while deftly wrapping up the two films that preceded it, Filoni riffs off moments in Sith and the growing sense of dread that Lucas built in Episode 3. Anakin needed a lifeline, something he could cling on to. Ben was too rigid in his loyalty to the order, Padme too dedicated to the Republic and democracy, Mace too suspicious of his motives and place in everything, Yoda too remote and senior to be a confidante. Only Chancellor Palpatine listened, but perhaps Ahsoka could have been the counterbalance. Taking a step back from the minutia it’s very clever plotting. Roads not taken…

Much will be said about the lightsaber battle between Maul and Ahsoka. Some struggle to accept that Ahsoka could defeat Maul, and it’s also worth noting that Anakin and Maul have something else in common; their severe injuries took away their full potential in the dark side. Just as Vader pre-Mustafar battle would almost certainly have gone on to kill and succeed the Emperor, as Palpatine had forseen, could a pre-Naboo Maul (half the man, half the power in the Force?) have been strong enough to defeat Ahsoka one-on-one in combat? Perhaps, but that never happened, so it’s an irrelevance and it’s really not the point.

Maul tells Ahsoka everything, offers his hand (as the bad guys do; see Count Dooku on Geonosis, Darth Vader on Bespin or Kylo Ren on the Supremacy) giving her the slim opportunity to save the Jedi and the Republic; understandably, she refuses it.

Maul: “The time of the Jedi has passed. They cannot defeat Sidious. But together, you and I can. Every choice you have made has led you to this moment.”

She can’t see it; the Force, as Mace and Yoda said in Sith, is in flux. Decisions that would once seem clear were now obfuscated, and so her own blindness took control. Maul tells her of his plan, to bring Anakin here to defeat him and rob Sidious of his prize, his very own revenge of the sith. Ahsoka is fooled, just as Padme and the whole Jedi Order were, unable to accept that Anakin Skywalker could turn to the dark side, and her belief in Anakin fuels her rage against Maul. Maul had his own machinations that almost came to fruition, but once again Palpatine steers the fate of the galaxy. Just as Ahsoka had almost persuaded Anakin and Ben to come to Mandalore, Palpatine has engineered his own kidnapping, instead taking them to Coruscant leaving Ahsoka to take the 332nd to Mandalore.

That a warrior as powerful as Ahsoka could outwit and defeat Maul in combat is of no surprise whatsoever – we know her tenacity, her grit and inventiveness – but the real twist, led beautifully by the events of Sith, is looking the gift horse in the mouth and ignoring it. The story could go no other way – we know the history of the galaxy as laid down by the events of Episode 3 – but in that moment Maul – DARTH FRIKKIN’ MAUL – is the slim route that could lead to victory. Superb writing, and now the pieces are in place for the final play as the last 2 episodes bring us home.

Ben Turfrey

The Clone Wars wasted no time this week as we were thrown headfirst into an episode rife with intense action and fantastic foreshadowing. The Phantom Apprentice has, so far, been the most impressive episode of The Clone Wars that I’ve seen, bringing phenomenal visuals and writing to the table in a way that rivals even the best of the Star Wars movies.

I was tremendously intrigued by the direction the writing team decided to go with Maul. Using him as a mirror for the viewer’s fear of the inevitable was compelling, and at times, terrifying. To see a fearsome ex-Sith such as him rattle in his boots at the very thought of Palpatine’s ascendance to Emperor goes a long way in driving home the severity of the events that are about to unfold. And for us to be given the opportunity to see the rise of the Empire from the perspective of characters we have spent countless seasons, rather than a few movies with, really heightens the emotional tension. I find that despite knowing that Ahsoka will be okay, I still fear for her and for the clones that she serves with, and I even pity Maul, which is something I could not have imagined myself doing back when the Clone Wars was airing for the first time.

Intricate writing aside, the episode stunned me with the detail and performance that was put into the duel between our outcast Jedi and Sith. It would take far too long to talk about every moment in the episode that took my breath away, as there were certainly many, but I’d like to focus specifically on the beginning of their duel when a window is shattered by an explosion. That moment alone caused me to realise just how much the animation quality has improved since the original airing of the show. The little details such as the embers and glass shards, combined with the lighting and the fantastic slow motion camera work, stunned me into silence.

Of course there are many other moments during the episode that are visually stunning, as well as some brilliantly choreographed fighting and some nice Easter eggs for the eagle eyed viewer (Dryden Vos anyone?) that had a small but impactful role in tying the episode to other Star Wars works.

Overall I cannot wait for the final two episodes, and I am very grateful that I will only have to wait a few days between them. Bring on the semi-finale, and unfortunately, Order 66.

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Joey Clark

Two Parts down, two to go… I never want it to end! The Siege of Mandalore is a beautifully crafted story arc by Dave Filoni and team; all the pieces are finally falling into place as we get deeper into season seven of The Clone Wars. Episode 10 is upping the ante of its predecessor.

There are many surprises to be had throughout Part 2, and all are truly welcomed. We are immediately picking up where we left off as expected, but the unexpected is all this episode lays out before us. Maul is an extremely complex character. The last time we saw Maul was during a confrontation with Palpatine, which resulted in the death of Maul’s brother, Savage Oppress. As a means to survive, he pledged false allegiance to Palpatine. Since then, he has grown in his hatred and in his knowledge of Palpatine’s endgame, in the midst of building his criminal empire.

All this knowledge and power, but Maul is unsure of what he truly wants, he is blinded by his rage. He’s a vile tragedy of a character, but an immaculate one. I think his character perfectly mirrors who Ahsoka could’ve turned into, had she chosen a darker path post season 5. Filoni made the right decision to have these two meet and confront one another; they’re two sides of the same coin.

The duel between Maul and Ahsoka has been heavily teased through most of the marketing
material for this season, and it is something to behold. It would be criminal of me to not recognize the fine work of Ray Park and Lauren Mary Kim. The pair were motion captured for the choreography of this epic duel. Previous duels in the series have always been visually pleasing, but there is an indescribable feeling you get while watching this one unfold. It’s almost human.

Going into this fight, we knew that both were capable duelists, however, Maul is the better of the two. He is in control, so much so that he chooses the moment in which they engage one another. While Maul is methodical in his plan, his anger once again blindsides him, and Ahsoka is able to use her clever tactics to defeat him.

What I truly enjoyed about the fight was seeing Ahsoka redefine her fighting style after leaving the Jedi temple. Jedi are not supposed to be the aggressor; she is no Jedi. Tano drew her weapons first and a number of times went for the killing strike. Ahsoka didn’t allow Maul to die, which speaks volumes. She chooses to walk in the light, even after Maul reveals his plot to kill her former master. Ahsoka understands that he is more valuable alive, and does not wish to seek revenge.

Overall, the Siege of Mandalore is shaping up to be the finest arc we have received in The Clone Wars series. It will be sad day after the last episode hits, but I believe the show will end on the high note that it deserves.

Paul DePaola

The Clone Wars finale continues into its second chapter. The first episode was action on an epic scale, this chapter takes the intensity to a deeper and more emotional level. There is an underlying tension that is being masterfully cranked up a notch at a time as the episode progresses.

Throughout the series, the creators of The Clone Wars have found a way to continually call back and echo the rest of the Star Wars saga. Here they have taken our knowledge of what is to come and used it against us in the best possible way. The dramatic tension increases in each scene as we see the different pieces come together. I found myself engrossed by the episode but on edge waiting for that Order 66 shoe to drop.

Once again, the creators hold nothing back with the action. An epic duel between Maul and Ahsoka that balances precariously above the city below. I know I’ve wanted to see Mandalorians fighting Clone Troopers for years and this episode delivered on that. Sam Witwer and Ashley Eckstein deliver fantastic performances and the motion capture for the fighting from Ray Park and Lauren Mary Kim takes the fight to a whole new level.

One thing that stood out to me was all the connections to other Star Wars stories. This story truly feels like a linchpin to a significant portion of the Star Wars mythology. It’s hard to find fault here, it feels like the creative team has taken extra care to deliver the best possible story on every level and make this a special event for the fans.

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Paul Naylor

It’s 15 years since the release of Revenge of the Sith, yet with the events in this episode of The Clone Wars running parallel to those first seen in 2005, the threat of Order 66 looms – again. Who would have thought that a return to the prequel era could be this cool?

Maul clearly knows of Order 66 and that the clones will soon betray their Jedi friends. He duels with Ahsoka Tano but mutters “not yet” when it becomes apparent by the actions of the Republic army that the order has not yet been activated. With Maul in retreat, Ahsoka converses with Obi Wan in hologram form. Kenobi talks of his mission to Utapau, the death of Count Dooku at Anakin’s hands and the Jedi Council’s request that young Skywalker spy on Palpatine. It all feels so familiar and so good.

The next time I watch Revenge of the Sith I will be imagining Maul and Ahsoka lurking off screen, entering into their own battle.

In another scene we see Maul communicating with a falleen, the same race as Prince Xizor from the excellent Shadows of the Empire. The keen eyed might also spot crime lord Dryden Vos in this scene. Black Sun and Crimson Dawn together.

What I enjoyed most of all about this episode was watching Maul acting as the narrator, explaining the story – that we already know as a viewing audience – to a disbelieving Ahsoka.

Episodes 11 and 12 promise to unveil much more and I can only hope that we get to see Order 66 from another angle and the fall of Anakin to the dark side. However the story is told, it will be both emotionally charged and undoubtedly a beautiful tragedy.

Ben Földi

At half time of the Siege of Mandalore arc, we can say that Sam Witwer was right. He said the following to io9 a month ago: “(…) when I’m talking about the finale, I’m talking about the last four episodes because it’s really meant to be seen as a movie. These Clone Wars arcs that go on for three to four episodes, they could also be cut together as movies and they work as one story, but this one really is meant to be seen in its entirety together, more so than anything else we’ve ever done.

We can see from these last two episodes that this is something different. As we watch the editing, the visual world, the dialogues, etc. of these two chapters, we have the feeling we are watching a movie, for example, additional scenes for Revenge of the Sith. Dave Filoni learned a lot in the making of The Mandalorian; it’s undeniable.

The animation is unbelievably amazing, and the movements of the characters are almost as real as life. And they aren’t even motion capture! “We actually did a little test, where we saw what it looked like with straight mo-cap, and it felt very odd to see that compared to everything else. (…) We really ended up using it as a guideline”, The Clone Wars’ animation supervisor Keith Kellogg told Looper in the middle of April .

My favourite scene in The Phantom Apprentice was when the window blew up, and we see the characters in a rain of broken glass and ember. It was terrific, and it reminded two fantastic scenes at a time. First, the blew up of the skylight in the duel of Mace Windu and Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith, and second, the dialogue between Rey and Kylo Ren after killing all the Elite Praetorian Guards in The Last Jedi. Again: Dave Filoni learned a lot while making of The Mandalorian.

Readers of these reviews on Fantha Tracks know that I’m not a fan of Ahsoka Tano, but I didn’t mention that my favourite character of the prequel era is (Darth) Maul. Sam Witwer also said in that io9 interview that we would see something from him we have never seen before. “I believe you get to see sides of this character you’ve not quite seen. We see him trying things he’s never really quite tried – things he’s maybe not so good at”, he said. And Witwer was also right about this, the creators of this series show us a different Maul, a doomed character, who is always trying new things, who doesn’t utterly know what his part in the unfolding events is. Even who doesn’t like Maul feel sympathy towards him, and he says a lot of things which seem right. I am thankful that Dave Filoni and the other creators showed this side of the character, and I must say, Sam Witwer is completely genially lending his voice to Maul in The Phantom Apprentice.

As I wrote before, in these two episodes, we feel we are getting additional scenes for Revenge of the Sith. As the story unfolds on Mandalore, we are constantly reminded of the events we saw in the third movie of the Skywalker saga. The fantastic music of Kevin Kiner helps a lot in this, and I am incredibly proud that the score of this season of The Clone Wars has been recorded in my hometown of Budapest, the capital of Hungary.

We experience fascinating storytelling in the Siege of Mandalore story arc. I can’t wait to see how they are going the show us the Order 66. I am sure I’ll cry during the next episode, but I am curious how Rey and Ahsoka survived all of this. I think the closing two chapters of this fantastic finale will be more amazing.

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Becca Benjamin

The Phantom Apprentice was one of the best storytelling ever to come out of Star Wars! It actually enhances everything that happens around it and in parallel to the other events happening in real time. Honestly, most of us will never look at the events of Revenge the Sith the same again. It’s that good.

Ahsoka, the Lost Padawan of the chosen one and future fulcrum to the Rebellion, is the key element or wild card that could have drastically change Galactic Events. But, as always, Star Wars is about choices and the consequences that follow, change and cost.

I can’t wait to see it all play out on-screen.

Matt Neve

I started watching this whilst feeding my newborn at 4.00am – she fell asleep 5 minutes in, but her dad stayed up way too late so he could finish the episode; if that doesn’t say how good this was nothing will!

First, the story is just wonderful. We have been dreaming of the Siege of Mandalore and now we are finally getting it. Rex and his troopers with the paint on their helmets was magical, Anakin looking after her sabers was beautiful and the tie in with Revenge of the Sith gave real substance. Everything within this episode was so well constructed.

Secondly, that duel. We have been treated to very few lightsaber duels. They’re a luxury and we shouldn’t be inundated. Ahsoka and Maul’s was of the highest standard. It was beautifully animated, it had great dialogue and the ending was full of suspense.

Thirdly, Darth Maul. Sam Witwer’s incredible performance gave Maul real life and genuinely made me pity him. Maul can see it all, the deception and the destruction that is to come, and he wants to stop it. His life has been one of constant backstabbing and agony and Witwer’s performance enabled us to see the pain etched into his being. Beautiful portrayal.

Fourthly. I’m not sure my heart will be able to take the end of this series. We all know the tragedy that is about to come and I fear for what it’s going to do to Ahsoka. The execution of a certain order is coming. Are we truly ready?

Thanks to Ben Turfrey, Ross Hollebon, Ben Földi and Paul DePaola for their reviews.

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