– By J.W. Fox and Paulie Spiceflow –
We are pretty late to the party. Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiered eight years ago. Hell, we already have a new Disney animated series that has taken its place. So why are we writing a post on it? Well, we are entering a new Star Wars era with Rogue One coming out in December and Episode VIII looming in 2017. We also have the season 3 premiere of Star Wars: Rebels in a month. It seemed like a good time to look back and reflect on how the new canon has impacted the franchise and fans.
Both of us began watching Clone Wars in July after several hardcore Star Wars fans recommended giving it a try. They stressed that we should be patient and not give up after a season. Naturally we weren’t too enthusiastic. It was a cartoon after all, and we are grown men. They said in later seasons the show developed surprising depth and took on a more mature tone. All we had to do was get through the first season or two.
It wasn’t easy. The first two seasons were straight up Saturday morning cartoons, utilizing the universe and characters we love so much. To see the great space opera reduced to kiddie action was painful at times. The war was treated more or less as a recess game, and Jedi philosophy watered down or sometimes outright contradicted. Clones and droids fought like idiot pawns, even kids had to roll their eyes at some of the battle sequences. Some of the force-powers shown were also way over the top. After reaching the end of season 2, we were ready to give up. It was looking like our friends were wrong; it just was not for us.
Eventually our friends turned out to be right, although it took more than two seasons to get to the good stuff. Slowly but surely episodes started shifting course away from blasters, explosions, and mayhem. One of the key protagonists, Ahsoka Tano, got a badly needed wardrobe change and became much less of an intolerable brat. Instead of being a smart ass kid fighting in a war, some subtlety started to emerge. The shift culminated in the episode “Heroes on Both Sides” where Padme and Ahsoka travel to a Separatist World in hopes of arranging peace talks. Their efforts failed but the experience demonstrated that there aren’t always clear good guys and bad guys in battle. A surprising graying of right and wrong for a kids show. Later, the betrayal of Asajj Ventress, the emergence of the Nightsisters, and the big reveal of “The Overlords” demonstrated the show was expanding its reach. We had to admit we were becoming entertained and appreciative of the growing complexity of the characters. Too bad it took 50 episodes!
The Franchise Awakens
In terms of entertaining the younglings, the show was a wild success. It was a ratings record-breaker and even got the attention of hardcore Star Wars fans beyond the age of 15. It introduced the universe and the characters to an entire generation that probably knew next to nothing about Star Wars. Millennials in particular, all born well after the first trilogy, probably did not develop the greatest impression of Star Wars from the prequels. The mostly mediocre movies probably left them wondering what the big deal was. By 2008, the franchise was probably looking at an entire lost generation of potential fans. There were no new movies on the horizon, a failed animated pilot, and troubled legacy left after Revenge of the Sith. By reintroducing kids to the franchise through a new animated show, LucasFilms was able to build a growing fan base among millennials and children born in the new century.
The series was the first work to be declared canon since the six films, which drew the attention of veteran Star Wars fans everywhere. More importantly, Lucas and Co. found the perfect narrative vehicle to introduce Star Wars to a next generation: padawan Ahsoka Tano. At 14, she was obviously the most relatable character for younger viewers. Like most new millennials, she was being introduced to the larger world of the Star Wars Saga as the series progressed. She had no direct connection to the Skywalker family drama, the Jedi-Sith cosmic war, or the political turmoil taking place in the Senate. Her bio and experience was entirely outside the six movies.
She sure didn’t start off on the right foot. In the first two seasons, she was an obnoxious brat who did not sound or act like a Jedi apprentice. It certainly became a cause for concern among the writers and voice actors, but the bratty stage was necessary for the rest of her story arc to be compelling in later seasons. We were shocked to see that animators chose to dress a 14 year old Jedi in a tiny tube top and miniskirt (albeit with white leggings underneath). I highly doubt parents would ever let their middle school daughter leave the house dressed that way, so why would an ascetic order? Fortunately, the show never portrayed a sexual dimension to her character until much later when her costume was changed to something a lot less slutty. Even then, it was very subtle innuendo.
In later seasons, she began to see the battle lines blurred and a growing inner turmoil in her master. Her feelings on the war became mixed, as well as her feelings towards the Jedi Order. When she is framed for the bombing of the Jedi Temple, the Council expels her with little reservation, an acknowledgment that each of them felt she was probably guilty. In any event, they could not afford the political shit storm that would come from refusing to hand her over to the Republic for trial. Not exactly a Jedi move.
Their betrayal resulted in her to leaving the Jedi Order permanently even after being invited back. Anakin, who also expressed doubt time and again about the Jedi Council, understands her decision but cannot leave the Order himself. Not yet. A little ironic: A teenage apprentice saw things with greater foresight then the chosen one.
Clone Wars also shows, in a not so subtle way, how Anakin Skywalker was different from other Jedi. He did not have it together, as if he never received any Jedi training at all. Even as he violates Jedi teachings and the rules of war, the Jedi Council tolerate it out of necessity. It was painful to watch as Anakin, time and again, showed himself to be at serious risk of turning to the Dark Side yet nobody does anything about it.
Then again, it was just a cartoon.
Asajj Ventress had a somewhat interesting arc that was explored in the novel Dark Disciple. For the first time we see a Sith that turned to a neutral character and eventually toward the Light. Her story only carried a couple episodes and she could be pretty annoying with her petty posturing and sarcasm. Her Sith colleagues: Count Dooku, General Grievous, and Savage Opress were not nearly as developed. They tried hard with Savage and his connection to Darth Maul, but the whole thing fell flat, in our humble opinion.
Some of the bounty hunters and criminals were interesting and have roles in Rebels. Hondo, in particular, evolved into an amusing wild card, with a great sense of humor. Cad Bane, Ziro, and others were more of the bad guys in dark costumes that do mean things just to be mean. Great for cartoons but didn’t leave much to work with in future series or novels.
What Went Wrong
For Star Wars fans there were a few elements that were definitely problematic. The resurrection of Darth Maul was absolutely ludicrous. Not only was he cut in half he fell, a very long way down. He died in Phantom Menace, period. To bring him back made both of us throw our hands up like “well I guess anything is possible. Maybe no one is really dead.” Many of the clone-centered episodes were painful to watch. They look and sound identical! It was so bizarre watching a show about soldiers in a war, written by cartoon writers. Imagine if a horror writer tried to write a teenage coming-of-age romance… (shudders). All the political intrigue episodes were probably too boring for kids and too naive for adults. The episodes of Season 6 were all just bridges to upcoming movies, TV shows, and novels. On their own, they were pretty weird whether you are an older Star Wars fan or a kid. Yoda’s journey was particularly confusing.
So what did we learn about the Clone Wars? The Jedi failed epically, unable to foresee the machinations of the Sith and failing to notice one of their star Jedi knights was on the path to the Dark Side. Mace Windu, a brilliant swordsman, decided to maneuver the Jedi like a political faction allied with the Republic, acting to protect their special status in the Galactic government. There is definitely hints of arrogance in both he and Yoda. The Sith are far from a closely-knit team. The rule of two (there can only be two in the galaxy at one time, a master and an apprentice) is violated habitually. They often distrust each other, which sometimes undermined their war efforts. Darth Sidious executed Savage Opress and ordered Asajj Ventress be cut loose, both actions that clearly weakened them. Of course, we see in the movies Darth Vader contemplate overthrowing Darth Sidious in Revenge of the Sith and Empire Strikes Back.
There Are Women in the Galaxy!
Oh yeah, and we find there is more than one woman in a galaxy far, far away (reference to Family Guy It’s a Trap, joke starts at about 1:50 in clip). In the original-3, we had Princess Leia and…Princess Leia. Go ahead, give me one named female character from the original movies. Yes there are women in the movies but how many had names or made a damn bit of difference in the plot? As for the prequels, it was Padme. At least there, Anakin’s mother has a few lines and a name. There were also Padme’s bodyguards and her successor. Oh and in a few scenes we see female Jedi. Yes Jedi with boobs!
Let’s face it. The first six movies are a sausage fest.
In Clone Wars, we meet Ahsoka Tano, of course, the protagonist in at least 20 episodes. Padme is a major player throughout the show. There is also Duchess Satine, love interest of Obi-Wan Kenobi and ruler of Mandalore. Jedi master Luminara Unduli, her padawan Barris Offee, master Shaak Ti, master Aayla Secura (providing only cleavage in whole war), Asajj Ventress, the Nightsisters, and a number of secondary and tertiary characters that are not dudes. It was also a major change to see said female characters actually impact the plot in many episodes and have an influence on the overall course of the war. The series takes place between movies so none of them were ever going to impact the course of the saga. Still, props to the writers, specifically David Filoni, for making an obviously conscious effort to include a second gender in the Star Wars canon.
With the gap filled in between Episodes 2 and 3, Disney predictably decided to fill in the 3-4 gap with Rebels. If you can make money from every gap, by all means fill them in and give the hardcore fans the expanded canon they have been dying to see. Rogue One and Rebels take place between Revenge and A New Hope. In a few years, I assume we’ll see something covering the rebellion, and the exploits of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewy. Then comes the 5-6 gap, then 6-7. It is the 6-7 gap that could prove to be a treasure trove for fans and for Disney. We have been asking ourselves countless questions about what happened between Endor and what we see in Force Awakens. Will it be an animated series or maybe one of these “Star Wars Stories” that will be on the big screen.
With Clone Wars completed, we have moved on the Star Wars: Rebels. We are working our way through season 1 right now and hope to have finished all the previous episodes before season 3 premiered. Stay tuned.
Jacob Foxx is the Editor of Prescientcifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.