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So this is the first episode of Droids that ever aired, “The White Witch.” I have to say, the name was pretty provocative. Spoiler alert, in future cartoons there are witches in Star Wars, having never seen this episode, I wondered if there was going to be a witch in it or what the plot was. Well, it was about a car / speeder called the White Witch. I guess in a way that confirms that there are witches in the universe, so that by itself is pretty cool.
This episode aired all the way back in September of 1985. The writing credit goes to Peter Sauder, who apparently wrote for every cartoon you remember in the 80s.
This is also, outside of the cartoon short covered in the previous post, our introduction to cartoons in the Star Wars universe and our introduction to droids. As stated previously, this takes place at an undefined period of time that would fall somewhere between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope” in the current (2017) Star Wars timeline, but this is not “canon” so its placement is not really an issue.
So the episode opens up with quite the backstory, a smuggler dumps his cargo with R2-D2 and C-3PO on a random planet, Ingo is the name. C-3PO narrates that they were lost in a game of chance. The tension is high as C-3PO immediately thinks R2-D2 died in the process. Of course, he didn’t die and they are on their way to….wherever. C-3PO wants to be rescued and find a new master.
After a while, a land-speeder comes by and C-3PO tries to charm his way aboard. The pilot and his friend in another land-speeder are interested in “the R2 unit.” The two humans reveal themselves to be Jord Dusat and Thall Joben. They scoop up the droids and take them back to their shop. That is they race back to the shop…cause they are racers.
Along the way, they cross over into the “restricted zone” where a couple of automated explosives begin a pursuit of the land-speeders. The two human characters are completely unaware that they have crossed this line. At this time, it is revealed that the two men are being spied on by a female character, but no details are revealed. Jord’s landspeeder is destroyed by one of the explosives but Jord is not hurt, he ejects at the last moment. C-3PO is approached by some automated droid, which is quickly destroyed by the woman in hiding (although C-3PO thinks he destroyed it).
Tig Fromm makes his first appearance, revealing that he was behind the attack on the land-speeders. There is a lot going on with Fromm, but it is almost all happening off screen at this point. There’s some sort of weapon and the “other gangs” don’t know about it…hopefully that will all be explained later. The name of the weapon is the Trigon One, pictured below. There is no explanation as to what the weapon does or why they are hiding it.
We meet back up with Jord and Thall in the shop, a sci-fi car repair shop where they are tinkering on some speeders. This is the setting where we are introduced to the titular “White Witch”….which is another speeder. A passion project for the crew. The conflict (or one of them) is that they have to get the White Witch off of the planet to the speeder races.
Thall leaves the shop with C-3PO and R2-D2 and it appears they are being followed. Next, it cuts back into the shop where Jord is attacked by “muscle droids.” After realizing he’s been followed, Thall returns to the shop to check on Jord, but Jord is gone. This is the moment where the woman spy, Kea Moll, reveals herself. She claims she needs a mechanic. Thall goes outside to investigate some movement detected by R2-D2 and is surrounded by droids. He is about to be captured when the White Witch shows up piloted by Kea Moll and R2-D2 to save the day. They all speed off into the night.
Tig Fromm was controlling the droids that attacked Jord and Thall, even though the droids were modest in their effectiveness. He wants to capture the two characters, because they stumbled upon Tig’s secret base and Tig assumes that they will reveal his secret weapon.
Kea Moll takes Thall to Tig’s secret base, she has apparently been spying on Tig this entire time. She tells Thall that Jord must be inside somewhere. R2-D2 infiltrates the base (off camera) and downloads some information from the computer before escaping again. Using the map of the compound R2-D2 downloaded, Thall makes a plan to rescue Jord by flying through the underground caverns into the base. He asks C-3PO for the odds and he says “about 700,000 to 1″…so again, never tell me the odds.
We then go inside the base where Tig and Jord are having a chat about what’s going on. Jord is afraid of Tig’s dad, apparently a big mob boss but his son thinks building droids and deploying technology is the way to go to better serve the underworld. It is accidentally revealed that he wants to use droids to take over the other gangs (Jabba the Hutt’s name was dropped in the list of gangs).
Thall, Kea, C-3PO and R2-D2 in the White Witch end up at some sort of gate blocking the way into the compound. But Thall has a lightsaber (left behind by someone who hired him to work on their speeder…) and he cuts through the door. C-3PO and Kea are left at the control station while Thall and R2-D2 continue ahead. C-3PO is supposed to help Thall arrive by redirecting traffic in the tunnels around his path, how he is supposed to do this is never explained. C-3PO gets in a fight with some other maintenance droid, which adds to the tension because he’s suppose to help Thall at this time. During the fight, C-3PO has a nice call back trying to tell the story of the time he destroyed the droid earlier in the episode, this is the third time he refers to this incident in the episode.
So eventually, Thall in the White Witch breaks through an elevator door and into the base, near Jord, who quickly hops in the speeder and escapes. The White Witch powers through more obstacles and droids, dodging lasers and escaping. C-3PO deceives more droids by pretending to capture Kea as a distraction. The team makes their way to the hanger and they lower the ramp, to come into contact with “cruisers.” Cruisers are attack droids that hover in space somehow. The team decides if they can active the automated explosives that chased them in the beginning of the episode, those would destroy the cruisers. So C-3PO reactivates the sentinel droids so the defense system gets activated as well.
During the friendly fire portion of the episode where the droids are firing other droids, the White Witch escapes by outrunning the defenses. The White Witch and the passengers all end up back at some space cruiser that was parked nearby, assuming it was Kea’s. Tig Fromm’s base is left in ruins from the battle, I assume, it isn’t explained.
As the ship pulls away from the planet (just realized I have no idea what planet this is), Jord takes credit for the adventures in the episode and figuring out a way to get the White Witch to the races, the Boonta speeder race.
The episode closes with some witty banter between our titular droids.
DOES IT LOOK LIKE STAR WARS? DOES IT FEEL LIKE STAR WARS?
This is the section where I discuss if I think the episode “holds up” as a piece of Star Wars media. Basically, does it make me think of Star Wars and is there anything in the production that makes it feel dated or poorly constructed and executed.
Like I stated above, this is the first episode of this series and probably the first cartoon many people saw that took place in the Star Wars universe, this is a relatively important piece of literature as a first impression. Interestingly, this episode doesn’t deal with the usual tropes that Star Wars had up until this point. This isn’t about the rebellion or the empire, this isn’t about the Jedi or the Sith, the light side or the dark side. These concepts aren’t even mentioned in this episode. Sure, Kea seems like she’s a rebellion spy or at least a spy for someone but that concept isn’t even approached here.
This is more about that THIRD RAIL that Star Wars always has, from the beginning, the crime dimension. Sure the movies are basically Luke versus Vader, or the Empire versus the Rebellion, but what about thieves, smugglers, and bounty hunters. The universe is a big place and a lot of characters don’t care who’s in charge, as long as they get paid. This added level provides an amazing amount of depth to this universe. It is refreshing that they were brave enough to not touch the big picture stuff and give us this smaller story about a couple of friends who accidentally find a secret base of some mob boss.
So does it hold up? These are difficult concepts to apply here. First, this episode is not canon, this is at best some alternative timeline for these characters…but there is a lot here that is appropriate for Star Wars.
I’ll discuss the production itself. It looks like a cheap old cartoon. The plot moves at an illogical pace, often skipping important details or having characters speak unnecessarily to telegraph to the audience a point. In small doses that could be OK, however it is done a lot. The look of the cartoon is very 1980s Saturday morning, maybe a slight step up, not a large step though.
Now, the plot….it’s not a terrible plot. It definitely drops you into the middle of a story which is what Star Wars does. The first thing in “A New Hope” is a battle happening…with very little explanation. Starting out with a large unexplained backstory…yeah that’s fine. The plot of floating from situation to situation is also very Star Wars….will of the force stuff (or is it Whills?). Seriously though, this universe feels like Star Wars…there are aliens, people trying to make their way (struggling) through life, a rebel spy, everyone working their own agenda. The goal in general is mutual apathy between Thall and Tig, but they cross each other’s paths and it has to be resolved.
The pace of the episode is where I find it most lacking. This episode flies so quickly that it is hard to follow the simple plot. It really is. The production from an editing point of view is pretty rough, weird cuts, odd lighting, odd music queues, the whole thing could have used a better touch.
Overall, it is worth the watch, if for nothing else for what comes later.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE GREATER UNIVERSE?
So I have a theory that many of the names and ideas from the prequels (that come more than a decade later) are in these cartoons. This episode has a few references that are interesting. First, the race they are trying to get to is called “Boonta Classic.” So in this case, Boonta is referring to a planet, named after a Hutt. The Hutt ascended to a God in the Hutt religion after doing something (trust me, we will talk about this Hutt in the future). Boonta might sound familiar to you, as in Boonta Eve Classic, the podrace in “The Phantom Menace”. So this reference to a race called the Boonta Classic in this episode is called back years later in “The Phantom Menace”.
Kea Moll is a white human woman with brown hair, just like all heroines in Star Wars, so that feels familiar.
I think these early cartoons should be viewed as bottle episodes, stories contained within themselves. There isn’t a whole lot here to analyze, just some interesting new aliens, a new location, and perhaps a reference to a movie that won’t come out for another 14 years.
I liked this episode. I had to watch it about 10 times to do the write up the way I wanted but even after all those times I was still finding new things to enjoy and write about. It’s not complicated but it gives fans two of the best characters, shows them interacting in a completely random setting. We get some exploration of the universe and almost a “To Be Continued” ending on this episode. All and all, this is a great start to this series.
Next, we continue the saga of the White Witch and this cast of characters in the next episode, “Escape into Terror.” It is nice to see a story line carry over a few episodes, a little revolutionary in its day, especially for a kid’s show.
I hope you join me in the upcoming episodes while we follow what happens to Jord, Thall, Kea, C-3PO, and R2-D2 as this arc of the show is drawn to an end.