When The Clone Wars first aired back in late 2008, Lightsabre.co.uk guest reviewers looked at the show, giving their initial gut impressions on that groundbreaking first season – but not every review was completed, and so those reviews written at the time were never published. In a new article, Mark Mulcaster looks back at the seventeenth episode of season one – Blue Shadow Virus.
“Fear is a disease; hope is its only cure.”
Battle droids on Naboo! As the Separatist rebellion rages through the galaxy, even peaceful planets are threatened. Following the discovery of Separatist droids wandering the grassy wasteland, Naboo is once again on high alert.
Fearing their home is facing another invasion, Senator Amidala and Representative Binks race to Naboo to assess the situation. Meanwhile, near the Gungan swamplands, an even graver threat is about to be discovered….
If ever there was a fortune cookie for modern times this is probably it, and with a mad scientist concocting an airborne pathogen intent on destroying the whole galaxy, the conspiracy theorists among us who may be looking for parallels to the real world will be slightly disappointed as the only real influence is from the melodramatic episodic serials of the 1930s and 40s.
Following the discovery of Separatist Battle droids in the grassy plains of Naboo by Captain Typho and Palace security. Theed is placed on high alert. Fearing another invasion is imminent Senator Padme Amidala and Representative Binks race home to discover that Typo and his team have captured a couple of battle droids. Before Padme can return to the senate to request military support she needs to find evidence as to what the battle droids were doing on Naboo. As Queen Neeyutnee put it “you can be sure they aren’t tourists”.
Using See-Threepio to trick the tactical battle droid into thinking its aboard Count Dooku’s ship, Padme learns that a small amount of the Blue Shadow virus has leaked out the Naboo environment.
With typical Jar-Jar slapstick shenanigans during the droids interrogation down plays the seriousness of what has happened. This is typical of the early Clone Wars seasons where they are still awkwardly straddling the world of children’s cartoons and a more mature animated television series. But in typical Clone Wars fashion Jar Jar’s clumsiness leads Padme to figure out the location of the lab in the eastern swamps.
Before heading off to the swamps Padme contacts the Jedi council and request Jedi assistance suggesting that Master Obi-Wan and Anakin be the Jedi who assist citing Obi-Wan’s previous experience with the Gungans as being a real benefit for the investigation.
Looking back on the exchange it’s amazing how easily Padme coerced Master Yoda into acquiescing to her request, whilst the pair are still the Jedi’s golden boys, the desire to steal some alone time between Padme and Anakin also has to be a strong motivator for her suggestion.
As Padme and Jar Jar don hazmat suits, a nice nod to the episode’s golden era sci-fi vibe, they land on the eastern planes to discover a number of poisoned Shaaks lying belly up on the grass. It’s at that point they meet the Gunguan Shaak herder Peppi Bow, voiced by Gwendoline Yeo. She directs them to follow the river which leads them to the laboratory.
As they head deeper and deeper into the forest Jar Jar’s clumsiness yet again proves to be fortuitous as he manages to trip on twig – the only twig on the ground and land right on top of a hatch that can only be the hidden lab. Tripping the lab’s perimeter security Jar Jar and Padme are captured by battle droids. Luckily just before their capture Padme asks Captain Typho to run a scan at her coordinates.
Padme and Jar Jar are taken down into the laboratory where they are introduced to Dr Nuvo Vindi – a insane Faust scientist from the planet Adana.
Like all great megalomaniacs and mad professors, Dr Vindi reveals he has revived the Blue Shadow Virus and improved upon its design. Whereas the original virus was only deadly in water Vindi has perfected an airborne strain of the blue shadow virus. By combining the virus with some explosives Vindi plans to weaponize the virus and release it back into the galaxy. You literally cannot find a better example of a moustache-twirling villain in Dr vindi. Because the series on a whole and this episode in particular has never been shy about embracing the campier side of science fiction and fantasy genres this episode lead antagonist just about gets away with it.
The use of high voltage electricity to mutate the virus, followed by the close-ups of Vinidi laughing maniacally is another great nod to the Mad professor trope. Vindi seems perfectly willing to kill everything and everyone with the virus including himself making him a very dangerous doctor to deal with. Anyone with this sort of omnicidal tendencies does not care about the collateral damage, as there is none. Instead self-preservation is replaced with a misguided altruistic notion that by releasing the virus he is creating life. One does wonder what university or medical institution granted Vindi a doctorate as his demeanour can’t be something that came about overnight.
Whilst this in itself is quite fun, the character of Dr Vindi, voiced by Michael York. York goes for a very on the nose strong German accent that feels more at home in a BBC sitcom and at times I thought I was listening to Alexander the meerkat.
Back on Naboo…no sooner as Generals Kenobi and Skywalker and apprentice Ahsoka Tano arrive in Theed Captain Typho informs them of Padme and Jar-Jars trip to the eastern plains. Anakin sends Ashoka along with Peppi Bow to investigate whilst he and Obi-Wan learn of Vindi’s plans via a recovered piece of holorecording extracted from one of the captured battle droid. Realising the danger to the galaxy, Captain Typho and the Jedi Generals come-up with a plan rescue Padme. Obi-wan takes the view that its imperative to stop the spread of the virus intergalactically even at the cost of Naboo; “Better to have a planet infected than the entire galaxy”. Clearly to the Jedi, this form of collateral damage is palatable, whereas, as you would expect Anakin’s priority is rescuing Padme. Obi-Wan again reminds Anakin of the priority but you can see the tension in Skywalkers face and in Matt Lanter’s performance as he reassures Obi-Wan he knows what is at stake.
Nightfall on Naboo, and as General Skywalker and his Clone Strikeforce, consisting of squads Wildfire, Snow Wolves and Calm Tree travel to the laboratory, Ashoka sends a thermal detonator down the lab’s south entrance to act as a diversion. The tunnels that Kenobi, Skywalker, and their squad find themselves in are deserted thanks to Ashoka’s distraction. Aesthetically they look very similar to the circular corridors that Luke finds himself exploring in Cloud City. On the other side of the laboratory though Ashoka finds herself up against heavy battle droid resistance from Droidekas.
As Anakin cuts his way through a blast door into Vindi’s lab he is faced with the classic “Take another step and the girl gets it” line from Vindi who has Padme and Jar Jar tied up to the energy pylon he used to mutate the virus. Lowering their weapons Anakin orders the clones to stand down. On the other side of the laboratory Ashoka is holding her own against the battle droids but it’s a stalemate, until General Kenobi drops the ceiling on the droids. Whilst she may have been saved by Obi-Wan, this is great example of how the producers are starting to develop Ashoka in her own right, as well as being a stand in for the audience’s point of view up until now she really been more of a foil to Anakin by her constant nagging against his constant bravado. It’s nice to see Ashoka getting more autonomy.
As Dr Vindi uses some super battle droids as a diversion to distract Skywalker whilst he makes an escape, Obi-Wan heads for the bombs whilst Ashoka is left keeping more super battle droids busy. Obi-Wan and the clones find the bomb room which looks very similar to the bomb racks we see in the Resistance bombers from The Last Jedi.
Our mad Dr Vindi has activated all the bombs remotely but what’s more alarming to Obi-Wan is that one bomb seems to be missing!
Padme recalls Vindi giving a bomb to a rabbit droid; a short squad droid with large rabbit like ears, who is seen happily scurrying along the corridors with the activated rogue bomb. Padme and Jar Jar make chase and catch the little critter in a greenhouse room. Hiding under the table Padme approaches the droid to try and gently take precession of the bomb. This allows for a nice little jump scare when the droid growls at Padme before trying to make its escape. Jar Jar and Padme finally grab the bomb and contact Ahsoka to get a member of the bomb disposal team to come and disarm the Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Meanwhile Anakin and Obi-Wan are in hot pursuit of Dr Vindi, who uses vials of the Blue virus to distract the jedi. Vindi starts throwing vials of the virus as weapons, forcing the Jedi to catch them before they hit the ground and shatter, whilst this game of pathogen hot potato is animated well, I was left wondering why didn’t Anakin just use his powers to pull the vials to him?
As Vindi’s shuttle platform raises towards the surface of Naboo, Anakin tries to arrest Dr Vindi who once again attempts to hurl a vial at him, only to be taken down by Peppi Bow who was left outside to make sure no one escapes. But Dr Vindi thinks he will have the last laugh as the remote timer on his wrist counts down the final moments till the bombs detonation only to wink out as the Clone bomb squad disarm the last bomb just in time.
As a character Peppi Bow ends up being very pivotal across the entire episode, first by discovering the virus and then at the end foiling Dr Vindi. She come across as being a far more competent Gungun which is a stark contrast to the bumbling antics of Jar Jar Binks. Both characters work well in animation but it was refreshing to see more competent Gungan in Star Wars story telling.
Overall the episode was a fun campy episode with many nods to the Republic serials of the 1930s and 40s that George Lucas grew-up watching. It’s well paced and with Ahsoka, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme all busy throughout the episode, editorially the action flows really well. It’s not an episode that stands out as being the best, but stands out for the strong characterisation of Dr Vindi which can be a bit like marmite in that you either love the sheer over the top-i-ness of the character or hate it for the very same reason.