Return to the Jedi.
I know that “May the Fourth” has now passed (if you don’t know the meaning of that, you might want to stop reading now), as has “Revenge of the Fifth” (I never got that one; wouldn’t a better title be “Revenge of the Sixth”?). Nevertheless, I decided to throw out a few belated thoughts on the latest, last season of Lucasfilm/Disney’s “The Clone Wars” CGI animated cartoon series, available now for streaming on Disney Plus (along with most available Star Wars movies and TV series).
Before I get into the last few episodes of this final season of “The Clone Wars” (2008-2020), I need to clarify that this will be from a unique perspective; I am a lifelong Star Wars movie fan (since I first saw the original at age 10, back in 1977), but I am not up to speed on the minutiae of the entire Star Wars Extended Universe, nor was I a fan of the current Clone Wars series. Saw a few of them here and there, but dropped out early. More on that later…
After getting deep into the cartoon series “Rebels” (2014-2018) a couple of years ago (thanks to a very persistent friend’s recommendation), I decided it was time to give “The Clone Wars” another shot now that the series was ended. I didn’t want to go back and watch all of it (I’m too old for that). I only wanted to see how it concluded, and how it dovetailed with “Revenge of the Sith” (2005). Though I’d not seen much of “Clone Wars, I knew the gist of it (thanks to appearances by Darth Maul, Rex, Ahsoka Tano and other Clone War vets in “Rebels”), and of course, I’d seen the live-action prequel movies, so I more-or-less knew where the story was ultimately going.
Earlier this millennium, I did enjoy the Genndy (“Samurai Jack”) Tartakovsky 2D animated “Clone Wars” cartoon series (2003-5), which I understand are no longer canonical within the greater Star Wars universe, hence the reason it is not on Disney Plus. Disney Plus has most other Star Wars series/movies/specials at the moment (another exception being the mercifully lost CBS’ 1978 Holiday Special abomination). As a longtime Star Wars fan, shifting continuities are a fact of fandom life (“Splinter of the Mind’s Eye,” anyone?), so I accept that decision. No animosity towards Disney. No shattered childhood.
My first exposure to 2008’s computer-generated “The Clone Wars” came by way of the 2008 theatrically released movie, which I saw previews for at San Diego Comic Con. Well, it came out in August of that year, and I won’t lie, I absolutely despised it. I thought I couldn’t hate a Star Wars movie more than 2002’s dreadful “Attack of the Clones” until I saw this film (theatrically, no less). The character of Jedi pupil “Ahsoka Tano” (Ashley Eckstein) had a disastrous introduction, getting on my nerves right out of the box; she was like some kind of bizarre, lightsaber-wielding Olsen twin (calling Anakin Skywalker “Sky Guy”… yech). The main story of Jabba’s the Hutt’s kidnapped slug-like son (Baby Yoda-cute, he was not) and the Jedi knights’ ridiculously convoluted plan to free him all felt very TV-scale, despite its theatrical rollout. I won’t even get into Jabba’s ridiculously stereotypical gay uncle (I so wish I were making that up). After wasting about 100 minutes of my life watching this computer-generated dreck, I immediately abandoned any notion of watching its subsequent TV series debut. Life is just too short, even for new Star Wars…
A New Hope?
Over the years, I kept hearing more and more good things about the “Clone Wars” TV series, but none of it was enough to make me commit to it full time. I’d watch a handful of episodes here and there, but none of really them took hold of my imagination (even one or two of the reputedly ‘good’ ones).
Now, during the current Coronavirus quarantine, with my entire slate of scheduled conventions presumably cancelled, I had a bit more time. Disney also announced that this would be the end of the “Clone Wars” series, so I was feeling a mild twinge of curiosity. This curiosity reached a peak when two trusted friends began telling me how terrific the final few episodes were; that they were on a par with “Rebels” (also overseen by Dave Filoni, whose work I’ve come to appreciate, especially in the recent live-action Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian”).
Okay, I told myself…I would give “The Clone Wars” another shot, if, for no other reason, just to see how the damn thing ends.
But rather than go back and watch each and every single episode across all seven seasons, I decided to wing it and watch only those 7th season episodes which more or less aligned with “Revenge of the Sith”; those would be episodes 9 through 12. From what I understand, the final season of “Clone Wars” is not in chronological order, but the episodes I would be seeing were in order, so that wouldn’t be a problem. Having seen all four seasons of “Rebels” and the aforementioned handful of random “Clone Wars” episodes over the years, I found myself surprisingly well-prepared when I jumped into the deep end of the show’s final season…
Season Seven’s Final Few.
*****STAR DESTROYER-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
Before I got into the final four, I decided to watch the 4th episode of the final season (“Unfinished Business”) at random, just to get my feet wet. Right off, I was impressed with how much the 3D animation had improved since the 2008 feature film, looking more more cinematic than before. “Unfinished Business” saw a squad of clone troopers, aided by “the Bad Batch”, rescuing one of their own, who was being used by Separatists as a human computer against his will. A nice enough standalone story, but nothing too special (felt a bit more like Star Trek’s “Borg” than Star Wars). My official reentry into “Clone Wars” began with Episode 9, “Old Friends Not Forgotten.” Two very different things about #9; it begins with the green, simple font of the original 1970s’ Lucasfilm logo, followed by the title card in Sith red, instead of yellow. The episode features Obi Wan Kenobi (voice of James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (voice of Matt Lanter) serving almost as side-characters in their own series. The real focus of the final few episodes is on Anakin’s former pupil, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) who returns to ask her former Jedi colleagues for a favor.
Ahsoka needs the Jedi’s aid in liberating the planet Mandalore (the world of armored warriors seen extensively in “Rebels” and referenced in “The Mandalorian”) from the despotic rule of once-bisected Sith Lord Darth Maul (voice of Sam Witwer), who lives on with a bionic lower half. With the Clone Wars nearing a climax and Coruscant under attack, the Republic can’t spare any Jedi knights to assist Ahsoka, but they do agree to send a detachment of clone troopers to liberate Mandalore from Maul’s influence. Ahsoka’s short-tempered Mandalorian ally, Bo-Katan (voice of Katee Sackhoff) grudgingly accepts their meager offer of assistance.
Note: both Katee Sackhoff and Sam Witwer are veterans of the amazing 2003-2009 version of “Battlestar Galactica”; a series not to be missed.
After forcing Maul’s forces into retreat, Ahsoka follows the crimson-faced Sith Lord into a trap, where he is patiently waiting for her in the Mandalore throne room. Episode 10, “The Phantom Apprentice”, sees the return of Maul (who had appearances earlier in this series, as well as in “Rebels” and 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story”). Before escaping, Maul tantalized Ahsoka with information about an all-powerful Sith Lord named “Darth Sidious”, who is controlling everything…the Clone Wars, the erosion of the Jedi, all of it. What he fails to mention is that Darth Sidious, is (as every Star Wars geek knows) is the alias of Emperor Palpatine (voiced by both Ian Abercrombie and actor Ian McDiarmid in Ahsoka’s visions).
During a ferocious duel with a surprisingly skilled Ahsoka, Maul also reveals that it was supposed to be Anakin returning to Mandalore, as Sidious hoped to make Anakin his apprentice. Darth Sidious, of course, does make Anakin his apprentice (aka “Darth Vader”) in “Revenge of the Sith”, the events of which are occurring elsewhere during these final episodes. The battle between Maul and Ahsoka begins to go south, until a squad of clone troopers arrives on the scene…
With a few well-timed stun blasts, Maul is captured by the clone troopers (way to go, guys!) and placed in a Hannibal Lector-style “force-proof” portable cell, a piece of ancient technology which came from a time when Mandalorians had more experience dealing with force-sensitives.
Episode 10 (“Shattered”) sees everything goes to hell in a hand basket. With Mandalore liberated, Maul is captured. The Sith Lord is to be transported in his force-proof cell aboard a Republic star destroyer back to the Jedi council for justice. However, this is around the time (during “Revenge of the Sith”) when Emperor Palpatine’s galaxy-wide “Order 66” kicks in, and a chip in the clone trooper’s brains causes them to involuntarily turn on their Jedi allies. All of this is according to Darth Sidious’ devious plan…even his former pupil Maul is impressed by the sheer scope of his ex-master’s duplicity.
Aboard the bridge of the destroyer, Ahsoka hears the voices of Jedi being slain by clone troopers, as well as Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side of the force (actual audio from “Revenge of the Sith” is used in Ahsoka’s aural perceptions of these events, featuring the voices of Ian McDiarmid, Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and even Samuel L. Jackson as the ill-fated Jedi Mace Windu). As Ahsoka realizes what this means, she notices her clone troopers aboard the ship are receiving Order 66 in real time as well…
As the troops raise their weapons towards their former ally, she is able to deflect their blaster fire with her lightsabers, before stunning her close clone trooper friend Rex (voice of Dee Bradley Baker). With no choice, Ahsoka decides to free Darth Maul from his force-proof cell, so that he might “create chaos” for her to escape. Hauling Rex off to the ship’s infirmary, she locates a chip in his brain and has her R-7 astromech droid remove it, which allows Rex to regain control of himself.
The final episode, “Victory and Death”, sees Ahsoka and Rex facing off against their ship’s suddenly-lethal crew, as well as a now-freed Darth Maul. With most of the clone troops assembled and waiting for the ‘renegade’ Ahsoka in the vessel’s gargantuan hangar bay (after destroying all escape pods), Rex tries to buy Ahsoka time by negotiating with his former comrades. He tells the mind-controlled troopers that Order 66 is invalidated by the fact that Ahsoka is no longer a Jedi knight. This bit of reasoning doesn’t quite work with his former mates, and they accuse Rex of treason as well. Meanwhile, Ahsoka’s handful of allied droids override security protocols and open the drop bay doors beneath most of the assembled troopers, killing them from the impact of their fall. The remaining troopers are dealt with by both Rex’s stun beams (he doesn’t want to kill his former comrades, as they can’t help themselves) and Ahsoka’s lightsaber deflections. Things then go from bad to worse, as the freed Darth Maul uses the force to utterly destroy the vessel’s hyperdrive, causing it to fall out of light speed and right into a frozen moon’s gravity well. Maul, of course, escapes in a shuttlecraft, immediately jumping to light speed and leaving Ahsoka and Rex to fend for themselves…
With no engines and most of the clone troopers incapacitated or dead, the ship is spiraling in towards the moon and its own certain destruction. Ahsoka and Rex barely manage to flee before impact. We later see the aftermath, as the two survivors bury each and every body that they can pull from the ship’s wreckage, creating a field of grave markers with helmets atop of each. Rex and Ahsoka give the mind-controlled troops a fitting burial, as what they did was entirely out of their control. Ahsoka takes her lightsaber and drops it to the ground, losing the will to hold it again after so much senseless death…
Sometime after the events of “Revenge of the Sith” and the rise of Palpatine’s “Galactic Empire”, we see Darth Vader (formerly Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker) returning to the now snow-covered crash site. The newly minted Dark Lord of the Sith sees clone trooper helmets in the snow, as well as the lightsaber of his former “Padawan” pupil, Ahsoka Tano.
Taking her saber, Vader ignites the blade of blue energy…the color of his old lightsaber, before his turn to the Dark Side (the saber now in the possession of Obi Wan Kenobi, who’s in hiding on Tatooine). His black helmet and cloak mask all emotion as he stares skyward…
After being humbled by these final few episodes of “The Clone Wars”, I am more than happy to say that I’m now a big fan of Ahsoka Tano (I take it all back) and an even bigger fan of series writer/producer Dave Filoni. I was already changing my mind with Ahsoka after her appearances in “Rebels.” “Rebels” also made me reevaluate my earlier misinformed opinion of Filoni’s work as well. Filoni’s creative independence seems to have really blossomed under Disney, arguably more so than during his tenure under George Lucas.
Now that Filoni is also co-creator, writer, producer and sometimes director on the new “Mandalorian” streaming TV series, I can’t wait to see how he will reintroduce the character of Ahsoka Tano in live-action. No offense to Ashley Eckstein, who did some terrific voice work in these final episodes, but I’m looking forward to seeing Rosario Dawson in the role. I’ve been a fan of hers since “Clerks II” (2006) and I know she’ll be terrific (she’s also done a wonderful Audibles audiobook recording of “The Martian” writer Andy Weir’s “Artemis”).
“The Clone Wars” (2008-2020) has come a long way. The final four episodes put me in the mood for a rewatch of “Revenge of the Sith”, a movie that I haven’t had any desire to rewatch in years. “Revenge of the Sith” is arguably the best of the otherwise disappointing prequel trilogy, but truth be told? The closing episodes of “The Clone Wars” were a much more profound experience. Those final images of the series show the real toll of war, beyond the ‘pew-pew’ of blasters and the humming of lightsabers. We see helmets of dead pawns, lying in the snow, on forgotten grave markers… reinforcing the notion that war is an experience to be avoided, not glorified.
As Yoda would say, “Wars not make one great.”
Last year, at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, California, I got a chance to meet the voice of Darth Maul himself, actor Sam Witwer. Witwer was also the character of “Crashdown” on “Battlestar Galactica.” Witwer has voiced Maul in “The Clone Wars”, “Rebels” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” We talked about his work on “Galactica,” one of my favorite series of all time. I admired his character’s subtle slide into full-on mental breakdown, collapsing under the pressure of a planetside command which resulted in his getting “Fragged” (the title of his final episode in Season 2).
I’d mentioned that I thought his character’s breakdown was a bit more subtle than that of, say, Michael Biehn’s Navy SEAL “Lt. Coffy” in “The Abyss” (1989). Witwer seemed genuinely surprised that I referenced Biehn’s performance in that film, as he used that same example himself in a recent podcast (which I didn’t know of). Witwer said he didn’t want his performance to be like Biehn’s, since Biehn was playing acute pressure psychosis (a physical condition) whereas Crashdown’s break was purely psychological. We also got on the subject of the late Anthony Perkins when I mentioned that Witwer could play a terrific Norman Bates (luckily for me, he took that as the compliment it was intended). Sam Witwer is a really interesting guy, and if/when the current Coronavirus pandemic subsides and a treatment or vaccine is discovered, I hope to see Witwer again someday at a future convention.
Other Star Wars Streaming Options.
All seven seasons of “The Clone Wars” are available for streaming on Disney Plus, as are “Rebels”, “Resistance” and many other incarnations of “Star Wars”, including all nine Skywalker saga live-action movies. There are also a series of animated vignettes that fill in missing bits of the Star Wars universe called “Forces of Destiny” (they’re only a few minutes in length each, with two seasons worth), as well as a simply drawn, funny little series dealing with droids in the Star Wars universe called “Blips.” Cute series, and definitely chuckle-worthy.
To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. For the time being, please practice safe-distancing, wear masks in public, and avoid unnecessary outings as much as possible.
May the Force be with us all.