This past May the Fourth, I finally got closure on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I remember going to the movie theater (remember those?) in 2012 to see the original movie-pilot for the new Star Wars animated series. I don’t think our regular theater ever got it, or if it did it didn’t keep it for long, so we had to drive 45 minutes to a smaller theater that specialized in limited-release screenings (usually art films and the like). It was cringe-worthy, and it remains the worst grossing theatrical release for any Star Wars movie. A quest to save Stinky the Hutt was a dumb plot, and Anakin’s out-of-nowhere, never-before-mentioned padawan Ahsoka Tano was only slightly better than Jar-Jar Binks. I almost quit watching during season 1. I’m glad I didn’t, because the series got so much better. When Disney bought up the Star Wars franchise in 2012, the Clone Wars was cut short prematurely in favor of Star Wars Rebels, a similar CGI cartoon set during The Dark Times, when the Empire was at its height. The in-production episodes of Clone Wars (the so-called “Lost Missions”) eventually made their way to Netflix, but Clone Wars frustratingly never got a satisfactory ending. Honestly, Rebels turned out to be a better show, and it did its best to eventually give as many characters from Clone Wars cameos so you know how their lives turned out, but the fact remained that, because of the way its production was cancelled, the show never really got a proper ending. Until now.
Spoiler warning: The below contains spoilers for the Disney+ Season 7 of Clone Wars, as well as Star Wars Rebels.
As I watched the closing episodes of Clone Wars, I was struck by how, over the series’ 7 seasons, Ahsoka had gone from a barely tolerable, bratty teenager to one of my favorite characters in either Star Wars canon. Similarly, the portrayal of Anakin ended up being so much better in Clone Wars than it ever was in the movies. The series took Anakin from being Hayden Christensen’s flat, mopey, unlikable character to one that actually makes sense within the narrative: A charismatic, impulsive, arrogant-but-in-a-fun-way Jedi prodigy who genuinely wants to help the galaxy, but doesn’t always go about it in a way that his peers agree with. It also shows his manipulative, even abusive, side that really only comes out on film near the end of Revenge of the Sith. I now more closely associate Matt Lanter’s voice with the character of Anakin, and watching Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith feel more like watching a mediocre live-action remake of a cartoon rather than the reverse. At least Ewan McGregor made a great young Obi-Wan.
The final season of Clone Wars had a somewhat mediocre start, with an arc that was semi-finished when Darth Mouse pulled the plug on the Clone Wars. Yay, we rescued Echo, who is now a Borg, with the help of some mutant clones in Mass Effect cosplay. When do we get to see what happens to Ahsoka? We already knew she survived Order 66, since a much older Ahsoka appeared in Star Wars Rebels, but I was eager to actually see how it happened.
It turns out we didn’t have long to wait. From the teaser trailers, I kind of thought we would go straight into Order 66 and be there for the remainder of the season, but the series takes kind of a detour first, which was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. Trace and Rafa Martez were fun, interesting characters that represented a lot of what made Rebels a better show than Clone Wars: They were normal people. Clone Wars was all about Jedi, whose are basically ninjas with telekenesis (Force abilities in Clone Wars seem a lot less powerful than in other Star Wars media, but we’ll chalk that up to the weakening of the Jedi’s power that Yoda talks about in the movies, and/or plot convenience), and Clones, lifelong soldiers who are as close to literally faceless as you can get without them being just creepy. There really weren’t a lot of just regular people in Clone Wars. In Rebels, however, there was one master Jedi, one apprentice, and a crew of “just regular people.” The Leias and Hans of the series have always been more interesting than the guys with lightsabers (as cool as lightsabers are).
It was also interesting seeing some people who dislike Jedi without their reason being “because I’m the evil bad guy” for once. Without getting too deep into the philosophy of fictional sci-fantasy worlds, it has always been a part of canon that the Jedi were declining long before the Clone Wars because they had become rigid and lost their way from their original mission of maintaining the balance of the Force. That’s why The Chosen One had to destroy both the Sith and the Jedi to create balance, and Ahsoka realizing that the Jedi have lost what they were supposed to be is why she left the order. Her interactions with the Martez sisters shows her that this was the right decision; they were the kind of people the Jedi were supposed to serve and protect, but they haven’t really done anything worthwhile for them.
Maul has always been one of the best bad guys in the series, and killing him off in the first prequel movie (to be replaced by… an old human guy? Whose fight scenes are mostly him standing in place while his enemy fights around him? Really?) was one of the worst decisions Lucas ever made. Bringing him back was super contrived (he was only mostly dead, which is slightly alive), but it’s far from the worst sin this franchise has committed. It was nice to wrap up this part of his story, although I was sad we didn’t get more tie-ins to his cameo appearance in Solo. Do they still have more up their sleeve for that? Who knows. If they do, I’m here for it.
Then it finally happened. I loved how the series wove in some scenes from Revenge of the Sith, just to let the fans know without a doubt that we’re overlapping the movie now. It created a tension for the rest of the episode, because the audience knows that Order 66 is coming any minute now and Ahsoka is on a ship filled with clones who will no doubt want her dead. Ahsoka’s refusal to kill any of the brainwashed clones, even after they are all doomed anyway, was touching, and showed that Ahsoka was a better Jedi than most of the order, even after leaving it. I thought Ahsoka removing Rex’s helmet as they contemplated their plight was a nice rhyme to Luke removing Vader’s helmet at the very end of Return of the Jedi. If I didn’t know both characters survive until the time of Rebels, I would have guessed one of them was about to sacrifice themselves, and that knowledge kind of steals some of the tension of the whole episode.
There was some great cinematography in these episodes — it’s crazy how far TV-budget CGI animation has come in the last 12 years — and the soundtrack, while different from what I have come to expect from Clone Wars and Star Wars in general, was really good. I almost wonder if the switch from traditional orchestral score to a more droning, synth-heavy soundtrack was somewhat symbolic; the galaxy is suddenly different now. The Sith won. None of this ended the way they expected. Or maybe they just had a different composer who wanted a different feel, I don’t know.
The final scene, with Vader finding Ahsoka’s lightsaber at the crash site some time later, with Morai circling overhead, was an elegant tie-in for Rebels. Like Revenge of the Sith, this would have been a terrible place to leave the characters, if we didn’t already know where they end up. But, Star Wars storytelling has always been weirdly un-linear, so it works.
It’s kind of sad that, between Clone Wars, Rebels, and Mandalorian, Star Wars TV series have become so much better than the movies. When it was first announced that they were doing one last season of Clone Wars, I was excited to have more, but I wasn’t sure it was necessary. It seemed like a vanity project. But the ending we finally got was so much more satisfying, and will hopefully lead into more good things for Star Wars. Will the rumors that Ahsoka is set to appear in The Mandalorian Season 2 pan out? I would love it if they did. Even if not, I’m really happy with what Season 7 did for Clone Wars.
May the Force be with you!