Looking back at one of the strangest -- and most daring -- episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Happy Rancor explores hidden gems in and around the orbit of Star Wars -- from old video games to comics to underrated novels -- that have maybe been forgotten, but deserve a little more consideration. In this installment, we take a look at one of Star Wars: The Clone Wars' strangest episodes.
Star Wars has always been comprised of different influences, layers, and tones, mashed together to create something unique. I love action Star Wars. I love thoughtful Star Wars. I love mystical Star Wars. But I've always really loved weird Star Wars. From the wet, slimy dianoga to the dark feel and odd creatures of Jabba's palace to a teddy bear species ready to eat roast scoundrel, weird has been an essential part of the saga. And it doesn't get any weirder than the controversial Star Wars: The Clone Wars fifth season episode, "A Sunny Day in the Void."
"A Sunny Day in the Void" is the second installment of a four-episode, droid-centric arc, featuring D-Squad. D-Squad is an elite all-droid team, consisting of R2-D2, QT-KT, M5-B7, U9-C4, and Corporal WAC-47, assembled by Mace Windu and new character Colonel Meebur Gascon (a very, very small Zilkin with a very, very big ego) to covertly steal a Separatist encryption module. The mission complete, the group looks to return the module, which has details on a Separatist terror plot, to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant -- until their ship is caught in a comet storm. Forced out of hyperspace, the ship is pummeled with ice comets and crash lands on a nearby, featureless planet. This is where things get weird.
The team emerges from the downed craft to find an empty void of a world. The terrain is a bland chalky white, the horizon a never-ending orange nothingness. The landscape is barren. No trees, no buildings, no animals, no droids, no people. There is nothing. It's impossibly hot. Artoo has no data on the planet, and knows only its name: Abafar. The group heads off in search of something, bicker about who should lead, and Gascon slowly descends into madness. (Don't worry -- they all find an outpost at the episode's end.)
Written by Brent Friedman and based on an story concept from George Lucas, "A Sunny Day in the Void" is unlike anything seen in Star Wars before or since. It's not what we expect from Star Wars, and it's definitely not what we expect from a Star Wars animated series or "kids" show. The Star Wars universe is known -- nay, beloved -- for its details, its lived-in look, its feeling of history. "A Sunny Day in the Void" dares to throw all that away and show something very different. It gives us a world of nothing where nothing happens, and it does so when we'd least think it possible: in a very kid-friendly arc.
The episode's visuals are beautiful and successful on multiple levels. The simple look of Abafar is a triumph of minimalist design, reinforcing the creative risk of the episode. The white ground is blank, offering no hope of life or help or anything; the orange sky is oppressive and never-ending, making it unclear if it's night or day or if there's any difference between the two on Abafar. Taken from a distance as a viewer, the color scheme is pleasing to behold; from a character perspective, it's frightening and isolating. If the vastness of space can be scary, so can the vastness of a nothing you can walk on.
Then there's the character dynamics. Our protagonists are droids -- four of which don't talk -- and a tiny green alien. On an empty void planet, that's a strange cast to follow. And to see Gascon hallucinate and eventually reduced to a cackling loon is bizarre -- but also very funny. For all his faux-military bravado, Gascon is no match for an existential crisis and a little dehydration. Even the episode's title, while appropriately accurate, has a wry ironic wink; I don't imagine the weather changing much in voids of any kind.
For a season that featured many high-stakes moments and sequences (the Onderon rebellion, Darth Sidious versus Darth Maul and Savage Opress, Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order), "A Sunny Day in the Void" stands as a brilliant reminder that Star Wars is strong enough to veer off into the weird, to take chances, to show us the opposite of what we think we know. There can be a city-planet; there can be a void-planet. There can be a thrilling lightsaber duel; there can be a half hour of a palm-sized, antennae-eyed military commander walking in an orange expanse of nothing. The truly great thing, though, is that it's all Star Wars. It somehow all fits together, and it's all integral to this galaxy and its stories that we love.
Availability: "A Sunny Day in the Void" is available on Netflix instant streaming and in the Blu-ray and DVD collections of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season Five.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm's senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.