Tenshot: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
I know I am many months behind on this, but I just completed a watch of the Cartoon Network-Netflix-Disney animated series Clone Wars, which started in 2008 and was given a long-awaited series finale earlier this year. As one of several resident Star Wars fans, here are my thoughts. Some spoiler warnings on point 8 and 10.
- The series is really good. Like most series, the first two seasons are kind of rough. But once it gets its feet under it, it excels. The finales of Season 5 and 7 are not just good, they’re some of the better Star Wars stuff that has been made.
- A big reason the series gets better is because it develops the confidence to step outside bridging the movies. It starts adding to the universe and adding the lore, kind of like the way The Mandalorian did. Mandalore, the Nightsisters, the crime syndicates, Hondo, Zygerria, Mortis — all of these expand the universe in new paths instead of folding the universe back on itself to the same small group of people.
- However, it still does a great job of filling in the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Anakin’s fall is set up much better, his disillusionment with the Jedi and his increasing ruthlessness being better developed. What’s more, the people’s disillusionment with the Jedi and their acceptance of the Jedi’s destruction, is much better foreshadowed. The corruption and inefficacy of the Republic is plainer. By the end, the very architecture has changed to more resemble the Death Star than the Senate Chamber.
- Even sans the writing, the series is well made. The music, sound design, scale and universe just resonate with familiarity. Even things like casual camera pans and shots of spaceships are done in Lucas’ visual style. From top to bottom, the series shows a love of and respect for the source material, evoking the movies without slavishly copying them.
- A fair number of characters from the universe make cameos. But the thing is … they work. Tarkin is a perfect example of this. He makes several appearances as a younger Admiral in the series. But he doesn’t just appear so we can say, “Hey, that’s Tarkin! Isn’t that cool!”. He has something to contribute, specifically to Anakin’s character development. The rise of Tarkin through the ranks is foreshadowing of the pending rise of the Empire. His behavior, attitudes and mannerisms are consistent with what we saw in A New Hope. If you had never seen an ANH before, you could pop it in and see nothing unusual about the character being there. The series also hints at something I’ve long thought that Tarkin knew who Vader really was.
- One of the remarkable achievements of the series is to make two rather flat characters of the movies — Anakin and Darth Maul — into two of the best characters. Darth Maul becomes a chilling and engrossing adversary, thanks in no small part to Sam Witwer’s excellent voicework. I will never be able to read Obi-Wan’s name without hearing Maul grind out the word “Kenobi” like a curse. And Anakin shows more of the cockiness, brashness and devil-may-care attitude that was only hinted at by Christensen.
- Padme still remains one of the weakest characters in Star Wars. Without Natalie Portman’s charm, you realize that she is a dull tedious person who has no character arc. She starts out as an idealist and her idealism is never really leavened by RealPolitik.
- The final four episodes — which rival anything this side of The Empire Strikes Back — puts an exclamation point on one thing: this is not a series about Anakin Skywalker. No, the bigger protagonist of the series is Ahsoka Tano, his padawan. .
She has the most dramatic character arc — from spunky annoying teenager to fearsome warrior. From idealism to realism. She gets taller, her headtails get longer, her outfit changes from skirt-and-tube top to ninja armor. But the real change is in her worldview. Like Anakin, she comes to see the Jedi as having fallen from the true faith. But unlike him, she doesn’t think this makes them evil or irredeemable. Her disillusionment doesn’t make her grasp for power as Anakin does, but makes her forge her own path. In the finales of Seasons 5 and 7, it is she who makes a series of critical and sometimes surprising choices that causes her arc to part from Anakin’s. Her arc does a better job than the prequels did of showing Anakin’s arc through comparison and contrast. I found that watching the Clone Wars improved by experience of Revenge of the Sith (which I already liked a lot).
- While finishing the series, I read a great article about why Clone Wars worked so well: because it has the audacity to return to ideas of faith and belief. Not religion, per se. But the idea of a creed and a moral code. That there are moral choices to make and consequences of those choices. Even though Clone Wars is a prequel and we know where the plot is going, it still manages to make characters’ choices matter. To us, to them and to the fictional universe.
- The series manages to make the clones interesting characters. They may look alike and sound alike, but the ones who recur throughout the series have distinctive personalities, quirks and fighting styles — just like real clones would. Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all of the clones, manages to make each one sound subtlety different. The clones become more than a plot device; they become people. Which makes their betrayal all the more heart-wrenching and Ahsoka’s choices in the last episode (“They may be willing to die. But I am not the one who is going to kill them.”) all the more powerful. This is their series too.