Does the Art Design of Ambush help to tell the story of the episode?
When watching The Clone Wars, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the series’ unique visual style. In the early development of the show, artists spent months creating a look that would simultaneously evoke memories of the aesthetically distinct original and prequel trilogies, while presenting Star Wars in a way it has never been seen before. However, the art design is more than just an attractive front to the series – it is also symbiotic of the story being told. Not only in that the mesh of classic angular star wars design and smooth, rounded prequel style design is reflective of the narrative event that ties these two vastly different worlds together, but in each week audiences are treated to new planets, races, landscapes and colour schemes that relate and greatly contribute to an individual episode’s story and theme.
The eponymous battles of The Clone Wars even extend to the aesthetics of the show, as is evident when comparing the contrasting design motifs of the opposing armies. The Republic elements are heavily influenced by the work of Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston and John Mollo, who worked on the original trilogy. As such, we see this army utilising vehicles, clothing and spaces that present the “used universe” concept made famous by A New Hope and narratively tie into the coldness of the Galactic Empire, which the Republic and its officers later become a part of.
Blue is a colour traditionally associated with positive qualities, such as trust, loyalty wisdom and truth. It is also strongly associated with water and as a result, life. To see the Separatists adorning this colour throughout the war given the nature of their allegiances may seem incongruous, but truly, it is particularly fitting of the story. The tones are applied to the ships crafted by the Trade Federation, who are one of the premier corporate entities in this time frame.
Along with the elegant, rounded nouveau-esque designs of the ships, the colouring helps to represent the vibrancy, lust, and indulgence of the republic and its inhabitants at the time. The gradual fading out of these designs over the course the series is also of the arc of the prequel trilogy in which this way of life is slowly torn apart.
Ambush tells the story of Yoda and a small squad of clone troopers as they make their way to the planet Rugosa, where they hope to form an allegiance with the neutral Toydarian race. Count Dooku, who is also seeking to establish a political relationship with Toydaria sends his apprentice, Asajj Ventress, and an army of battle droids to stop Yoda completing his mission.The true focus of the episode, however, is Yoda’s relationship with the clones. In the standout scene of the episode, the small hunted republic force retreat to a cave to take shelter for the night. There, Yoda reassures the clones that it is their unique minds and personalities that will ultimately make them victorious, not their number or the strength of their weapons. For fans of Star Wars the warm lighting and intimate staging of this scene will be reminiscent of the Dagobah hut scenes in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Fundamentally an affirming scene, this is the only time in the episode the natural conditions on Rugosa are utilised to create a positive atmosphere. The planet was conceived by Filoni to be an oceanic planet, whose vast bodies of water have long since dried up, taking the majority of life on the planet with them. This backstory is conveyed visually through the use of colour and lighting as orange skies to project a sense of heat, while a stronger lighting exposes more detail of background scenery, including fossilised life forms. These conditions contribute to the struggle between life and death that is a prominent part of the episode’s narrative, being a battle faced not only by Yoda and the clones but also by King Katuunko, who must choose to align himself with one of two forces who represent each side of the struggle.
In fact, looking at the conditions of Rugosa it’s hard not to think of the other famous oceanic planet in Star Wars and consider what the relationship may be. If water represents life, it is fitting that Kamino is the birthplace of millions of clone troopers. Expanding on this idea, it’s not a stretch to argue that these dried lands represent death and that Rugosa could be foreshadowing Order 66 and the eventual downfall of the Jedi at the hands of the clones. There is a looming presence in the episode that helps to support this idea. Though the earthy tones do dominate the colour palette of Ambush, the previously mentioned shades of blue and purple that are so closely associated with the separatists also feature in almost every shot. This comes in the shape of the coral formations that are emerging from the earth. These ubiquitous, curving, rounded, blue-hued structures can be read as the corruption seeding out of the republic and transforming the landscape.