No one expected the big STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS reveal at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. At first glance, the tenth-anniversary panel was just that: a celebration of the animated TV show’s mainstream impact. But seeing the trailer for the upcoming seventh season meant that fans were finally getting closure after four long years.

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Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Of course, this hype really underscores just how impressive STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS was. Released as a follow-up to the lackluster 2008 movie, the Dave Filoni-directed show lasted for six seasons, one of which was only available on Netflix. In that time, we were treated to massive galactic conflicts, political drama, and character-driven storylines. Condensed to the 22-minute timeframe, each episode offered a brief chapter of a multilayered militaristic conflict.

This highlights THE CLONE WARS’ biggest achievement: it succeeded where the STAR WARS prequels failed. There was no stilted dialogue, poor romance or confusing exposition dumps. Just some old-fashioned character development that provided much-needed depth to the prequel-era heroes. This new look into Anakin Skywalker’s journey helped make his eventual fall to the dark side feel more believable.

A Long Time Ago…

The Clone Wars — a legendary battle between the Galactic Republic and Confederacy of Independent Systems — was the missing piece of the Prequel trilogy. It bridged the gap between Episodes II and III regarding Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s bond and their adventures together. Yet THE CLONE WARS felt extremely grand in just how many narratives and plot threads it covered throughout six seasons.

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Clone Troopers vs. Battle Droids, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Some stories involved iconic Jedi like Obi-Wan and Mace Windu, while others focused on lesser-known characters like Kit Fisto or Plo Koon. Some even observed the criminal underworld and its ensemble of bounty hunters who worked for the highest bidder. Whether the show analyzed the backstory of a Sith Lord or Clone Troopers on patrol, it always contributed to a narrative with multiple layers.

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But even more impressive was how THE CLONE WARS exposed the moral ambiguity of fighting a galactic conflict. Unlike the original trilogy’s blatant “good vs. evil” setup, there were multiple instances of the Jedi Council making inherently dubious decisions. Episodes like ‘Heroes on Both Sides’ highlighted our misguided perception of the Separatists as just Siths and battle droids. Betrayal, questionable alliances, and disillusionment with the state were prominent themes across the show’s entire run.

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As great as the battles and space fights were, THE CLONE WARS also exceeded expectations at further developing its characters. Rather than reintroduce Anakin and Obi-Wan, the show instead expanded their brotherly bond as Master and Padawan. Obi-Wan was elegant, wise and incredibly witty, while Anakin’s bravery and courage were only matched by his recklessness. Thanks to Matt Lanter and James Arnold Taylor’s vocal performances, their banter-like dynamic felt believable and compelling.

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Anakin Skywalker, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship was only matched by their ties to other characters. Anakin’s relationship with Padme Amidala further established his internal struggle to balance romantic feelings against Jedi duties. Obi-Wan’s encounters with Mandalorean leader Duchess Satine, someone with whom he previously shared romantic feelings, also provided insight into the Jedi master’s backstory. Building these relationships across multiple episodes further accentuated the TV format as central to the show’s success.

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In addition to the protagonists, THE CLONE WARS introduced original characters while also adapting individuals from the Expanded Universe. This included Asajj Ventress, a Sith apprentice of Count Dooku who proved a formidable foe for Anakin and Obi-Wan. However, after Dooku attempts to kill her out of loyalty to Sidious, Ventress embarks on a journey of self-discovery. From then on, she became an anti-hero whose questionable sense of morality made for some fun encounters.

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Asajj Ventress, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Another fan-favorite was Cad Bane, a ruthless bounty hunter who debuted in the first season finale. His attire was akin to a Sergio Leone character and his personality was a tactician who always prepared for any outcome. What Bane lacked in backstory, he made up for in his tenacity at finishing the job and eliminating opponents. Even Jedi barely fazed Bane so long as he got his credits afterward.

New and Familiar Faces

Easily the best character from THE CLONE WARS was Ahsoka Tano, the Jedi apprentice fans never knew Anakin had. Of course, when she debuted in the 2008 movie, people really had no idea what to expect. She had the vibe of a slightly annoying tagalong teenager and came seemingly out of nowhere.

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Ahsoka Tano, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Through Ahsoka, however, Anakin adopted a role few would have expected: a mentor figure. As her Master, Anakin taught Ahsoka the values of being a Jedi while also encouraging her to occasionally break the rules. As both, his Padawan and confidence, their student-teacher bond proved much similar to that of Anakin and Obi-Wan. This, in turn, allowed Ashoka to become her own character and embark on multiple solo adventures.

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In addition to Ahsoka, THE CLONE WARS also brought back a seemingly deceased adversary: Darth Maul. At first, glance, reviving a character previously bisected via lightsaber seemed far-fetched even for STAR WARS. Yet Maul’s revival, thanks to Dathomir witch Mother Talzin and his brother Savage Oppress, surprisingly worked. His hatred for Kenobi was only matched by his lengthy ambition, uniting multiple crime syndicates together as part of a growing criminal empire. However, Maul’s ambition ultimately got the best of him, with Darth Sidious directly confronting his former apprentice in one of the show’s best lightsaber duels.

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Darth Maul + Savage Oppress vs. Darth Sidious, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Older versions of Ahsoka and Maul would eventually become reoccurring characters in Filoni’s sequel show STAR WARS REBELS. Despite reflecting opposite side of the Force, each sought a similar goal: the Galactic Empire’s defeat. Yet their ties to the old world made for some of REBEL’s best encounters Ahsoka vs. Darth Vader and Maul vs. Old Kenobi.

Clone Connection

While THE CLONE WARS was a show about the Jedi, it also made spectacular use of the titular clones. Despite being literal carbon copies of one another, each clone possessed their own distinct personality in battle. This extended not only to high-ranking clone commanders like Rex and Cody but the “grunt” troopers as well. Props to voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, who voiced every single clone character and ensured that no two performances sounded alike.

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This evolution of clone individuality is observed through their shared experiences on and off the field of battle. Some of it is simple camaraderie, but others go deeper into the psyche of these characters beyond their prime directive. One story has Rex discovering a deserter clone who started a family on another planet. Another involved a group of droids discovering a Clone Commando with amnesia. And the Umbara storyline saw Rex and his squad commit potential treason to apprehend a general turned traitor.

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Captain Rex and the 501st Legion, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Developing the clones as physical characters, rather than disposable goons, was a brilliant choice on Filoni’s part. After all, the Clone Wars brought clone troopers and their Jedi commanders closer together. They were comrades in arms and fought side by side in order to protect the Republic from harm. This makes it even more tragic when the show reveals the extent to which clones were programmed to obey Darth Sidious’ commands.

Trust in the Force 

The STAR WARS movies’ attempts to describe the Force have been…. mixed at best. The original trilogy played it safe and treated the Force as completely spiritual, an “energy field” that binds all of life together. The prequels controversially took a more scientific approach, using cell-like midichlorians to determine how Force-sensitive a person might be. THE CLONE WARS’ leaned more towards the former but tried to fill in certain vague gaps.

One storyline that particularly comes to mind is the Mortis trilogy. In this three-parter, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka are transported to an unknown location deeply connected to the Force. There, they meet the Father, Daughter, and Son: physical embodiments of the Light Side, Dark Side and the Balance that binds them together. All three figures seek to test Anakin in hopes that he’ll either rejuvenate the balance or empower the Dark Side.

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Anakin and the Father, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

Here, the Force is perceived as a literal battle for dominance. The Mortis world is a spiritual conduit for the Force’s power, with its three residents being affected differently by the outside conflict. Thematically, this setup analyzes and questions the efficiency of Balance as inherently necessary to bring peace to the galaxy. Placing that burden in the hands of Anakin, who ultimately proves susceptible to the Dark Side’s influence, cleverly foreshadows his future.

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THE CLONE WARS Returns

Compared to Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 STAR WARS: CLONE WARS micro-series, THE CLONE WARS was more dialogue than action-driven. There were some early hiccups due to oddly non-chronological entries in the first two seasons, but ultimately the show’s impact cannot be denied. It provided depth to now-iconic characters while also exploring surprisingly mature themes about war and politics. Even modern entries like REBELS, SOLO and ROGUE ONE directly reference THE CLONE WARS as part of their timeline.

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Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

THE CLONE WARS’ final season will consist of twelve episode and only be accessible through Disney’s upcoming streaming service. My guess: these remaining episodes will culminate in Maul’s defeat on Mandalore and the aftermath of Order 66. It’s a bittersweet ending, as we all must accept this story as a precursor to REVENGE OF THE SITH. But not since SAMURAI JACK have I been this eager to see an animated show finally end on its own terms. May the Force be with us all in 2019.

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