Last week Star Wars: The Clone Wars made the final leap in fulfilling its ultimate destiny: definitively bridging the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. This week’s episode, titled The Phantom Apprentice, takes this even further by serving the main entree that has been teased for far too long. Maul’s time to shine has come yet again – as if the character’s relevancy has not defied expiration before. The Siege of Mandalore is at its climax, and Ahsoka Tano is the only one capable of dethroning Maul’s reign. Fans have known of this duel since before the show’s revival. The prospect of probably never indulging in its visual greatness made it fable-like. Lucasfilm turns legend into actuality with The Phantom Apprentice and it is the most gratifying.
Picking up right away from last week’s episode, Maul and Ahsoka quickly realize that their face-off may be their last. However, not for the most obvious reasons. Maul revealing his whereabouts on Mandalore was not an uncautious slip, that much has been made clear. The bait in his master plan may have been irresistible, but it unfortunately brought the wrong force user. Anyone, regardless of how big of a Star Wars fan they are, knows that Maul’s quarry with Obi-Wan Kenobi is one for the books. Ahsoka and Maul may be loosely connected, but they truly do not have any personal feud besides one being a former Sith Lord. Then why is their convergence exceptionally pivotal? Maul’s true plans far exceed control over Mandalore, in fact, they concern the galaxy’s imminent future.
Way more than what many fans initially believed is at stake in The Phantom Apprentice. The glorious part of it all is that as exponentially higher the ante gets, so does the clarity. Unforeseen pieces fall in line to make this piece of canon fit perfectly. The Siege of Mandalore was always going to be epic to a degree, but now it carries far more purpose. Nathaniel Villanueva continues his directing duties from last week with Dave Filoni bringing it all home with a hefty script. Many reasonably doubted that The Clone Wars could live on to lead into Revenge of the Sith, also now concurrently in this episode no less, but Filoni and his team really pulled it off seemingly with no regrets.
Although, the real MVPs here are Ashley Eckstein and Sam Witwer. Rightfully, their vocal performances as the two major opposing forces carry a gravitas to complement the heightened cinematics. There are a handful of awe-inspiring moments that will surely leave a stamp on the entire series, and its fandom, with ease. Witwer’s performance, in particular, is praiseworthy for its ingenuity. The actor has voiced Maul numerous times for almost a decade, most cases under unique circumstances. Yet, his sheer talent always aids in unveiling new layers to the character. This episode is no different and many will be craving to see even more of Maul for the countless time (especially with one spoilery tease that will make viewers blink twice). What this series has done for what was once a paper-thin villain can only be described as the pinnacle glow up.
This is the first time live-action Maul actor Ray Park lends his talents to Lucasfilm animation. His stunt choreography that defined Maul’s live-action screen presence has grown its own huge following. His actions for the lightsaber duel alongside Ahsoka’s, performed by fellow stunt actress Lauren Mary Kim, were physically recorded using mo-cap technology and then were translated digitally. The Clone Wars always took slight levity within lightsaber battles due to the disbelief that comes with animation. However, this method involving stunt aficionados Park and Kim has birthed what could be the most tangible animated lightsaber duel from Lucasfilm. The choreography carries palpable weight as the two characters move fluidly. The fight even feels more believable and kinetically alive than some seen in the prequel films.
Of course, there is more to this episode than the much-anticipated duel. Villanueva and Filoni manage to fit in more delights in just under 25 minutes. Bo-Katan, voiced by icon Katee Sackhoff, uses some of the limelight to create an absolute scene-stealer. The fantastic use of cross editing throughout the episode further elevates the intensity. This along with Kevin Kiner’s original score will continuously grow appreciation upon rewatching. Kiner’s work this entire season is noteworthy and quite due for more praise. Here, he opts out of what could have been a typical approach for one less convenient. With Maul being the main antagonist, he still borrows heavily from themes heard in The Phantom Menace. What he chooses to home on still stays true to the character while not being predictable.
The Phantom Apprentice episode title is an obvious ode to Maul’s first appearance. Though as the story progresses, it takes on new meanings. The unlikely association between Ahsoka and Maul, that is visited again in Star Wars Rebels, becomes more consequential than ever. The episode does not shy away from putting itself in positions to parallel other Star Wars media. Some are more transparent than others. This is something that gave George Lucas’ work on the prequel films a notorious reputation. The Clone Wars, like it has done many times before, proves that this can be done authentically with the viewer’s earned interest. It is like poetry, it rhymes.