The geeked out website IGN offers a glowing review of the latest episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars so I won’t completely rehash it here and quite frankly, like much of the material on IGN it assumes that one has a basic knowledge of what ever it is they are discussing or reviewing. I’m assuming that most folks that read this blog, all twelve of you* (except when I post a review of Phish, which surpasses 100 sometimes!!) haven’t watched much of the Clone Wars. I’m here to tell you that it is worth watching.
*twelve seems to be the average hit after posts, and it amazes me that I have twelve regular readers. All that BS about communicating and sharing with one person makes it all worthwhile? Well it’s true. I don’t know if my writing has improved with this blog, but even if no one read it, which granted would suck, I really have embraced and enjoy the process of writing much more than before. The fact that people read it is gravy, yummy, yummy gravy.
The Clone Wars is set between the second and third chapters of the Star Wars Hexalogy, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Like so many fans, I was disappointed in the prequel movies, but not quite as much as some. Phantom Menace was just a bad movie, but I didn’t hate the next two movies and found Attack of the Clones to be the most entertaining of bunch. Ultimately, I think Lucas tried to do too much in the films and by the time he gets to the fall of Anakin Skywalker it feels clumsy and rushed, like much of Lucas’ directing in general. The Clone Wars actually gives us some of the insight that we wanted but never got from the films and it also provides much, much more.
There are a few things to get out of the way: First, it’s a TV series. I can’t think of a single television series that doesn’t have its share of clunker episodes each season. The Clone Wars is no exception. Not every episode can provide insight into the character and eventual downfall of Anakin or the politics of the Republic or Anakin’s and Padme’s relationship. There are a few Jar Jar episodes and the odd droid centered episode, but overall the show hits the mark more often than it misses. Second, it is animated and for some folks that’s a non-starter. All I can say is that you’re missing out. It is brilliantly done and the renderings of the characters matches their film counter parts, but also shows the influence of the first Clone Wars mini-series and anime in general. Third, it does introduce a fair amount of new characters and worlds, which according to some is going out of the cannon that the films represent. I understand that position, but I think it gives much more body and heft to that galaxy far far away. Finally, it does raise questions and fosters a certain amount of frustration with all of the films, especially the first three chapters. I’ll get to some of those questions in a moment, but suffice it to say I try very hard to let go of my frustrations and embrace the questions and think of answers that satisfy the holes, or inconsistencies that the Clone Wars raises.
As I’ve already alluded to, the fall of Anakin Skywalker is the central theme of The Clone Wars. It is unfortunate that by making the first three episodes about this and ultimately rendering the final three, New Hope-Jedi, about this the entire Star Wars saga is very Anakin/Darth Vader-centric. However, the first episode is pretty much an awful movie and it really is an awful way to start the saga in general. Anakin as a small boy just doesn’t work. When we get to Attack of The Clones, Anakin is pretty much a brat and we don’t really care about him much at this point either. We do see him give way to his anger and unleash his vengeance, but I always felt that entire sequence was heavy handed and didn’t allow for much nuance in Anakin’s development. The Clone Wars gives us a much better picture of how Anakin can be seduced by the dark side and ultimately become Darth Vader. In numerous episodes we see Anakin break the Jedi code and perhaps even more telling convince other Jedi to follow his course of action. In particular there have been multiple scenes of torture conducted by Anakin and the Jedi. In one case, Anakin’s fellow Jedi questioned him, but he simply said, “don’t worry about it.” In another instance with a bounty hunter, the wonderful character Cad Bane, Anakin convinces Obi Wan and Mace Windu to combine their mind powers and push Bane into revealing the truth about the location of important information.
In the most recent episode, the third part of three episode arc, more is revealed about Anakin and his feelings toward the Jedi and how the war is being conducted. Some of these hints have been dropped in other episodes, but here Anakin talks to Captain Tarkin, the eventual commander of the Death Star in Episode IV. Tarkin states that he feels the Jedi are hindered by their code of conduct, making them less than effective leaders in the war. To Tarkin’s surprise, Anakin agrees. By the end of the episode, we find out that Tarkin is also in tight with the Chancellor (later the emperor) and Anakin and he form a bit of an alliance within the political landscape of the Republic. It’s moments like these, where it isn’t a grip of madness like killing the sand people or slaying Count Dooku, that a much more interesting Anakin develops. He is a very Machiavellian character and as the Clone Wars unfolds we see him abandon his principles making his ultimate conversion to the dark side much more plausible.
Two characters and their relationship to Anakin also shed some light on who Anakin is and what that means to his overall development. The first is a familiar face, that of Mace Windu. Though not in a lot of episodes, it is apparent that Mace does not like Anakin very much. He is not impressed with his success on the battlefield and feels he is to impulsive. If ever there is a question about Anakin’s methods or tactics it almost always comes from Mace. The other character is new to the Star Wars universe, Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s padawan. Ahsoka has been the best surprise of the series. She is a spirited, energetic Jedi who is also confused, uncertain and vulnerable much like any adolescent. The bond between her and Anakin has matured since the first episode to the point where, in keeping with Anakin’s character, he has become very attached to Ahsoka. Because of this he tries to keep her from harm causing a bit of a strain in their relationship. Her role in the down fall of Anakin is going to be interesting. Is she going to leave him because of his overprotective ways, causing resentment within Anakin, pushing him further to the dark side? Or will Ahsoka meet an untimely end as some have speculated, furthering Anakin’s quest to conquer death through the dark arts? Either way, Ahsoka has shown a side of Anakin that we don’t see from the films and she’s an interesting character in her own right as well.
Aside from the development of Anakin The Clone Wars is just more entertaining than first three chapters of the film series. It really captures the spirit that Lucas claims to have influenced him when making the Star Wars movies and Indiana Jones movies as well. The Clone Wars is much more like a weekly serial, a la Flash Gordon, than the movies ever were. Yet they still manage to captivate the imagination with the scope and grandeur of an entirely new universe. It’s here though, that disappointment in the movies, and Lucas for that matter, comes into play. First, The Clone Wars demonstrates that when talented writers are given charge to create the script, wonderful things can happen. I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about directing animation, whoever is in charge of pacing and storytelling does a great job, especially in comparison to Lucas’ efforts. The television series gives us a weekly reminder of how good the prequel movies could have been if Lucas had given up some control. One other problem that The Clone Wars creates is this: If this was such a legendary time in the galaxy, if Anakin, Obi Wan and all the rest of the Jedi were such legends, why is it that by Episode IV they seem to be largely forgotten? It always seemed like the Clone Wars when mentioned in A New Hope is from a very distant past, a time almost forgotten, not a 10-15 year war that consumed the galaxy. The introduction of more and more characters from the later episodes only complicates matters. Does Chewbacca forget all of this by the time he meets Han Solo? When Darth puts the choke on the administrator in the Death Star, the guy referring to ancient religions, did this guy live in a cave and not at least hear about the exploits of the Jedi which now we are led to believe was only 20 years prior to the construction of the Death Star? Finally, what of all those clones? There were literally millions of them fighting for the Republic during the war, but we know now storm troopers are not exactly the same as clones. Like I said, it’s best to just forget these, and many other questions, and focus on how much fun The Clone Wars are.