So Netflix recently added Star Wars: The Clone Wars to their catalog of streaming shows, and I decided to give it a try. As much as I hated the prequel trilogies, I still love Star Wars and I wanted to see if the Clone Wars could do anything worthwhile with the Clone War setting. Not only is the show thoroughly enjoyable but it managed to do the impossible: it redeemed the mistakes of the prequel trilogy!
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
A Storyteller’s Review
The Clone Wars begins badly, the first season ends up feeling like a kid’s show where the young main character, Ahsoka Tano, helps teach those stupid kids about life and love. The characters are goofy, and the Battledroids “Roger, Roger” gag gets old the first time they use it, and there is a disconcerting lack of violence. I don’t mean disconcerting because I’m a sociopath who thrives on bloody death and mayhem… well okay maybe I am, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Obviously I wasn’t expecting this show to be a Tarantino-esque slaughterfest where humans contain more blood than most hospitals, but this is called The Clone Wars, I was expecting at least some violence. Instead, any actual deaths seemed to occur off camera and the show even seemed squeamish about showing Battledroids being destroyed.
I almost gave up after the first couple of episodes but then, I thought, most series have a rough first season. Even The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, two of my favorite shows, had some pretty awful opening seasons. So I skipped the first season and started on season 2.
The Clone Wars Season 2, fortunately, starts maturing rapidly and begins drawing you into the story. The show wisely begins phasing out the wacky dialogue of the battledroids, General Grievous becomes a cruel and calculating general instead of a bumbling comic relief character, and Anakin and Obi-wan start showing the friendship that Alec Guinness manage to establish with a single line of dialogue.
By the third season the Clone Wars is truly exceptional with interesting characters, good action, and excellent effects.
Whereas Anakin was an insufferable ass in the prequel trilogy, he actually turns into quite a likable and ultimately tragic character in The Clone Wars. You can also see the frustration and rage hiding just beneath the surface, and watch it erupt every time something goes wrong for him. Obi-wan remains mostly unchanged from the prequel, which is fine because I actually liked his character in the movies, but we also get some more backstory for him that makes him more relatable. Amidala is shown to be a shrewd and capable politician whose dedication to peaceful negotiation not only makes sense, but deepens her character (unlike the movie where her pleas for peace seemed to come straight out of her ass like a bad case of royal flatulence). Finally, Chancellor Palpatine is revealed to be the cunning master manipulator he’s supposed to be, and as you watch his schemes develop you’ll come to understand why he is Lord of the Sith.
The most surprising characters of all, however, are the Clones. The battles in the prequel series lacked any kind of emotional impact because it was a bunch of droids vs a bunch of soulless clones, and since we never got to see any civilians get hurt, the clone wars of Star Wars III felt like one of the cleanest and most polite wars ever fought. Giving the clones character was not only a brilliant move, but a completely necessary one as well, because without them the story loses all its humanity. Rex, Cody, Headcase, Fives, Echo and the rest all have their own personalities and you’ll come to know every one of them. “We’re men, not machines” is the line they use whenever they encounter someone who dismisses them as ‘just clones’ and its absolutely true. They’re the only thing that makes the ‘war’ in Clone Wars real, because as the war expands, the cast of clones shrinks as more of them are killed in battle until only a few remain standing. And as the war grows, so too does the intensity of the action.
Their squeamishness over showing violence completely evaporates as well, and some of it becomes downright brutal for a kid’s show. Thanks to the fact that lasers and lightsabers cauterize wounds instantly, the show can show decapitations and severed limbs like no other (non-HBO) show out there. Even the blaster wounds start looking nasty when you see the burning hole left over in some poor clone’s chest, or worse, some young kid that die shockingly often in this series. Again this isn’t some kind of psychopathic desire for violence I’m expressing, it’s the fact that this kind of real action adds weight and meaning to the action. Seeing a single young Jedi get a blaster bolt through the chest in The Clone Wars packed a much bigger emotional punch than the entire Jedi massacre scene in Revenge of the Sith. In fact all the scenes featuring the Jedi are infinitely improved in this show.
As the prequel trilogy wore on, the lightsaber fights grew more and more ridiculous until it all ended in a 45-minute ballet between Anakin and Obi-wan that succeeded in doing the impossible: making a lightsaber fight boring. Fortunately The Clone Wars has struck a nice balance between style and action. There are still enough acrobatic maneuvers to make the fight interesting to watch without slowing down the action and pace of the fight itself. When a character pulls out his lightsaber in The Clone Wars you’ll be saying to yourself “Yeah! Let’s do this shit!” instead of “Oh God, not again!” like you probably said in the prequels.
It’s in Season 5 and 6 where this show goes from excellent to downright exceptional. The show begins tackling issues that Star Wars has usually been unwilling to address, such as: the Jedi’s use of children as recruits, their role in galactic affairs, and their use as a military force. Finally, without giving too much away, season 5 sees the completion of Ahsoka Tano’s character arc. Ahsoka probably grew the most as a character throughout the show, going from an overly enthusiastic and naive kid to a capable and effective Jedi. In fact it’s through her eyes that we really get to see how the Jedi order operates, and through her experiences that we get to see the flaws in the Jedi teachings. She turns out to be the wisest character in the show and watching her grow throughout the show was probably one of the best parts of the show.
Season 6 is where the show really hits its stride, and the beginning episode arc of Season 6 is absolutely phenomenal. Since Order 66 is known to everyone I’m gonna go ahead and say that the first four episodes are about Order 66 and one of the character’s brave attempt to uncover it. You might think that, knowing Order 66 is executed successfully, it would be a boring episode because you know the outcome. But then you’d be wrong. Knowing that the character fails in his mission is what makes these episodes so emotional to watch, because even though you know he has to fail, you’ll be rooting so hard for him to succeed and watching him fail will so much more difficult for it. His bravery and creativity in the face of overwhelming odds is truly one of the shining moments of the show.
The Clone Wars is not only a worthy successor to the Star Wars canon, but in many ways exceeds its predecessors. There a few bumps here and there; some of the episodes appear out of order, Palpatine’s voice actor changes for some reason in a couple episodes, and of course there are a few goofy episodes that don’t add anything to the story. These are all minor ripples compared to the one big ripple that disrupts what was an otherwise enjoyable saga: Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars brand. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Disney buying Star Wars might do wonders for a series that was on the edge of becoming a self-parody, but it came at an inconvenient time for The Clone Wars. Following their purchase of Star Wars, Disney put a hold on all current Star Wars productions, which unfortunately means The Clone Wars ended without having the opportunity to wrap up several important storylines or include any kind of closure whatsoever. So you’ll end up getting involved the show only to have the carpet ripped out from under you and leave you crying for more.
Though I don’t appreciate the abrupt ending, it might be for the best because in the end I’d rather be left wanting more, and the final season of the show happens close enough to the events of Episode III that you’ll be able to pretty much guess what would’ve come next.
Though I admit I would have liked to have seen Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader occur in the show, if only to give us the tragic downfall of a good man that we were robbed of in the prequels. And if Disney can get the same writers and cast back to do a new season I certainly wouldn’t say no.
If you’re still not sure about the Clone Wars, you can check out my review later this week which will cover what I thought were the best episode arcs. I’ll also be comparing and contrasting The Clone Wars against Revenge of the Sith to illustrate how they both attempted the same thing, and why only Clone Wars was successful at it.