“Star Wars” has never been better than the animated “The Clone Wars” series.
Coming off the disappointing conclusion to the “Skywalker Saga,” last year’s “Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker,” the franchise found itself in familiar territory — with no future movies officially announced and public opinion soured. Much like how an overlooked animated series helped resuscitate the franchise following the disappointing prequel trilogy, the final season of that same overlooked animated series has helped resuscitate the franchise following the disappointing sequel trilogy.
The final season of “The Clone Wars” debuted on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, in February and has slowly and methodically marched its way to a heartbreaking conclusion that ties back to “The Revenge of the Sith” and “The Mandalorian.” It cements its main character, Ahsoka Tano, as one of the best developed individuals in the franchise, and ultimately improves upon the prequel trilogy to add depth and heart to many events George Lucas alluded to throughout “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of Sith.” The seven-season series somehow managed to make Darth Maul, the near-silent antagonist of “The Phantom Menace,” into a three-dimensional character that you can almost root for.
For someone who’s never watched “The Clone Wars” before, the show can be somewhat daunting to dive into. It’s much more of an anthology series for children in the early seasons. The entire series takes place during the titular Clone Wars between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.” The Sith Lord Palpatine has orchestrated a war between the clone army of the Galactic Republic and a faction of separatists across the galaxy. Episodes bounce between groups of clones as they complete missions, Jedi like Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker and other characters from the movies on various adventures.
During the first two to three seasons, much of these episodes are self-contained and don’t offer a coherent storyline in between. They’re mainly vignettes that showcase missions and conflicts throughout the various battlegrounds of the war. Between that fractured structure and the obvious child-friendly direction, some of those early episodes can be hard to watch. There are various “watch lists” on the Internet — each offering their own way to hit the best episodes and ignore the filler. But there are major callbacks to some of those early episodes later in the show. So it’s best to just go in blind and push through some of the less enjoyable shows. Once season three arrives, “The Clone Wars” really kicks into gear with much more serialized storytelling and events that are directly related to the movies.
Where “The Clone Wars” truly succeeds is giving depth and development to the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker, who will later become Darth Vader. So much of that relationship was glossed over in the movies, hindering the development of the downfall of the tragic Jedi. The show does a great job in showcasing the bond between master and apprentice, and showing why Obi-Wan cared so much for Anakin. It truly makes the events of “Revenge of the Sith” more heartbreaking to watch.
Part of Anakin’s character is developed through his own apprentice, Ahsoka. Her storyline is at the heart of the entire series — and especially the final season. We see the hubris and the slow decline of the Jedi order through her eyes, as she goes from being a naive padawan under Anakin to a Jedi disillusioned with what the order has become. It’s through her eyes that some of the worst and most tragic events of the show are portrayed.
It’s truly amazing to see “The Clone Wars” survive for its final season on Disney+. The streaming service is the third platform the series has aired on. Originally commissioned by Cartoon Network in 2008, the show was canceled after its fifth season. A set of 13 episodes were in development, which were later aired as a sixth season on Netflix before the show was canceled again. It was resurrected one last time on Disney+ to conclude the storyline that would culminate with the siege of Mandalore, the home planet of the Mandalorian race. The wait was worth it.
Admittedly, getting into the show will be difficult for some, as the child-friendly nature of the early seasons, the rough CG animation from the time and some of the storytelling are all detrimental to some. But if you can look beyond those early issues, you’ll be in for a treat. “The Clone Wars” isn’t required to enjoy the “Star Wars” franchise, but it provides more character development and insight than many of the movies. It also showcases Ahsoka, who has turned out to be one of the best characters in the franchise.
Seven seasons with 133 episodes of “Star Wars The Clone Wars” are available now on Disney+.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.