Star Wars: The Clone Wars

⭐⭐⭐½ based on 7 reviews.

tl;dr: A competent fleshing out of the wider Star Wars narrative in a way that gives a lot of much-loved characters room to breath. Nicely builds on the themes of the prequels whilst setting in play the themes of the original trilogy at the same time.


Star Wars

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

After a slightly lacklustre movie, the first season of The Clone Wars does a decent job of fleshing out the new characters and the current state of the galaxy far, far away. It's a lot of fun getting to meet various additional Jedi and flesh out General Grievous as a character, but the actual narrative strikes a weird balance between standalone plots and multipart episodes. Right from the start of the season we get sequences that directly lead into one another, but then in the middle we just jump all over the place. Just because it's a show aimed at kids doesn't mean we can't get a clear narrative.

I'm also not a fan of making Kit Fisto Jamaican, but maybe that was already canon. It certainly fits with the mildly racist undertones of a lot of other Star Wars races from the prequel era. Speaking of, The Clone Wars continues to prove that Jar Jar Binks is a terrible character and clearly a Sith Lord. It's remarkable how irritating he is and how all of the other characters in the show agree on that point too 😂

Still, whilst it lacks the beautiful animation and the incredible flair of the original Clone Wars series, The Clone Wars (I hate that they did this with the naming 🤦‍♂️) is starting to bring back some elements of its predecessor well. In particular, the episodes that focus on the actual clones tend to stand out, and I love that we're getting recurring characters within their regiments with their own personalities and nuances. More of things like Rookies please! I'm also enjoying the introduction of some new characters, like Cad Bane the bounty hero. Overall, then, it's a solid "meh". It's enjoyable enough but it still lacks the substance of other shows like Avatar or the visual elegance of the original Clone Wars, but it's definitely improving, and I'm slowly beginning to feel comfortable with it's animation style.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

So we're doing this whole "TV seasons with titles" thing then are we, The Clone Wars? Okay, well, Rise of the Bounty Hunters was a solid route to take the series in and I approve. The introduction of Cad Bane and the other hunters at the end of season one was a highlight, so getting to spend a season largely exploring those stories felt a lot better. Not least of all because – an occasional cameo from the like of Greedo and Boba Fett aside – these are characters that can have stakes. One of the big issues that The Clone Wars has is that we know that most of the characters are going to survive given situations, because they're in future films. This is Star Wars so I never expect one of the core cast to die, but all of the plots around capturing or trying to kill either Dooku or Grievous just lack any bite because they're both in Revenge of the Sith. Ditto any peril that Obi-Wan, Yoda, or Anakin get into: you know they'll live. Not so with the bounty hunters, whose fate is unknown.

That said, largely thanks to its focus on Rex and the concept of the clone army, the episode The Deserter stands out as a genuinely interesting story. Whilst the clones hunt Grievous (who actually could be captured, albeit temporarily), the plot around a clone deserter and Rex's own morality is pretty well done.

The second season also gives us some much more interesting additional lore. The exploration of Mandalore and introduction of Satine is really interesting, though I can't quite bring myself to trust her yet. Similarly, the exploration of Geonosian hive minds and mind control is fun and directly leads to an ominous moment where we briefly see the Vader come through. It's nice to see the show actively highlighting and playing with Anakin's descent, as well as feeling a little freer to toy with the ridiculous nature of a war being run by the same person on both sides in Palpatine, as we get Republic WMDs and genetic experimentation. We're also getting less clear "evil race, good race" stuff, which is positive, though the Separatist's still largely get vessels named after negative emotions and are more likely to be things like spiders or snakes, which is less so.

As a whole though, I'm not sure season two does much more than carry us forward a little from season one. Characters aren't really progressed or evolved much and we get a fair amount of retreading, although it is nice to see some of the other Jedi begin to show cracks in their own thinking. So much time in Star Wars is spent highlighting how Anakin is different or a monster for having emotions, but The Clone Wars is beginning to show us that all Jedi have feelings and that there are many interpretations of how to live their rules, none of which are perfect. That alone is probably worth the price of entry, so to say.

Season Three

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

As we enter the third season, it feels like the showrunners were wanting to get away from the Clone Wars as an event and start delving a bit deeper into the rest of the Galaxy. We get the introduction of the Night Sisters and (seemingly) actual magic, alongside the fun side plot revolving around the "Force Planet" (Mortis) and the three pseudo-gods that live there. Yes, Anakin's revelation as The Chosen One and immediate descent to/infection by the Dark Side is a little on the nose, but it's done well enough I didn't mind.

There's also a strong focus on "redeeming" Ahsoka as a character, which comes eerily close to genuine, intentional character development. Between her training mission on Mandalore (and ultimate discovery of a conspiracy) and the season finale, in which she is effectively thrown into a Predator movie and forced to deal with young Padawans even more head-strong than her, she is finally beginning to flesh out as more than an annoying foil for Anakin. Plus, I thought that using her as a conduit for the "neither side is evil" discussion around peace talks was a good idea. We get to see some of the non-evil reasons why planets are siding with the Separatists and whilst I could leave the growing love story with the young Separatist, I am intrigued how Anakin will handle his Padawan falling for someone else (given his own illicit marriage).

That said, the opening episodes highlighting the training process that the clones go through, including showing what happens with so-called "defective batches" is a very fun storyline. At the same time, the larger battles around various worlds are beginning to feel a little repetitive. In other words, once again this show is at its best when it focuses on the individuals in the war, rather than the war itself.

Season Four

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Huh, Clone Wars may actually be beginning to find its feet. Season four feels more like a narrative-driven show, rather than one simply having fun with these well-known characters and connecting a few dots from the films. Part of that is a seemingly deliberate decision to move away from movie-based characters like Grievous and Dooku, towards more time spent with homegrown ones like Cad Bane, Ventress, and Ahsoka, which I'm all for. It lends a certain level of threat to proceedings that is otherwise lacking.

Of course, it also leaves the door open for a small-screen final boss, and it looks like we're resurrecting Darth Maul. I'm... okay with this? 🤷‍♂️ Honestly, he was a cool design but the character never really felt that interesting to me. Still, it's already been interesting how they've fleshed him out and his motivation as one scorned by both Jedi and Sith, yet highly trained in the Force, is a positive step for the story. I was not expecting the spider body, though 😬

In other villain news, I really enjoyed the arc we got to see Ventress go on. She's evolved a lot during the course of the show, even if subtly, and with the introduction of the Night Sisters last season we got to see her come into her own. That she's now a fairly tragic figure is an interesting decision, but again gives us another powerful Force user who is an active loose-cannon. Honestly, one of my biggest issues with the Star Wars series has long been that we only ever see Jedi or Sith use the Force, yet it's so prevalent that surely Force-capable bounty hunters, farmers, all sorts would exist. With Maul and Ventress, we're starting to get to a much more diverse and interesting galaxy.

Outside of these characters, season four uses a lot less one-shots. Sure, the droid double-feature was a bit, well, pointless, though I personally really enjoyed the designs of the subterranean mineral creatures, but other than these most of the episodes were part of 3-4 shot proper arcs. The opening battle on the water world was meh, but the follow-up once again showed why the clones are some of the more interesting characters. Following Rex and company through an increasingly bloody battle that really drives home the bleakness of warfare would have been good enough, but actively allowing them to begin questioning their orders and uncovering a Sith infiltrator within the Jedi army (and defeating him) is a pretty major escalation. So far, we haven't seen the repercussions of these actions, which is a shame because I think it would make for a very interesting plotline.

On the other hand, we also get a look at some of the ways the ongoing war is beginning to cause the galaxy to become less safe, with Obi-Wan going undercover as a bounty hunter giving us a look into their cut-throat world, plus the reinstatement of a slaving Empire in the Outer Rim. The latter was a brilliant sequence, not least because we fleshed out a bit of Ahsoka's past, but also because we see Obi-Wan truly tested as a captive slave. Plus, there are some more interesting moments for Anakin to really flex his Force muscles whilst showing a surprising amount of constraint around this culture he (rightfully) hates so much (even if a Jedi shouldn't emote, let alone hate, tut tut).

Overall, then, we get a diverse range of more complex, nuanced stories that may focus a little too much on the war once again, but nevertheless have some pretty significant impacts in terms of character development.

Season Five

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

If the fourth season showed how Clone Wars could begin being more than a cash-in on the prequels, season five is where it finally begins to feel like a show with the power to move the Star Wars universe forward in its own right. In no small part, that's because this season finally puts the Clone Wars characters front-and-centre. We still get some nice character arcs for the likes of Anakin and Obi-Wan, but the main focus here is on the show's homegrown heroes and villains. Ahsoka, Darth Maul, Satine, Hondo, and Bo-Katan all get some excellent plotlines that both push their characters forward (well, apart from Satine, who's story comes to an end) and broaden the wider lore.

I particularly enjoyed Maul's arc. It was hard to believe that Maul and Savage could coexist alongside Darth Sidious and Count Dooku, what with the whole "rule of two" mythology. Whilst it was fun seeing more Sith run around, this was a loose thread that needed to be addressed, and the show dealt with it well. Not only does Maul get a proper chance to show off his tactical acumen and Force powers, but we finally get to see Sidious get his hands dirty directly. The ease with which he brings down Savage and cripples Maul, leaving the latter begging for his life, is brutal and genuinely unsettling. More importantly, it makes Sidious into something more than an abstract threat. We've seen Maul and Savage both kill Jedi Masters with relative ease, so if Sidious is able to crush them this completely really highlights how impressive his own power truly is.

The death of Satine is also an interesting moment for both Obi-Wan and Bo-Katan, providing more nuance to both characters in the process. Plus, it really helps shift Mandalore into a place that makes more sense for the film timeline, without it feeling forced.

We also get a fun early plot based around Onderon (not Alderon, like I got excited for 😁) which does a good job of both introducing Saw Gerrera and presenting a balanced overview of military tactics in guerrilla/insurgence warfare. Sure, it's treated with kids gloves and a nearly pantomime-esque villain, plus some super droids that we never see again, but it still hits the key issues (and benefits) of waging secret wars with endemic fighting forces. That it also gives us a few moments where Anakin (and Ahsoka) get to question the Jedi's logic is a nice touch as well.

The droid missions are less interesting, though are better than previous R2 and 3PO outings; at least they give us some interesting looks into what droid culture is like. Similarly, Ahsoka episodes around the Younglings training (and rescue) are a bit forced, but fun for the lore implications and allow the writers to show us just how much she has developed into a worthy Jedi by this stage, all of which leads nicely into the finale. Oof, it's a heavy one!

I'm not sure how I feel about the setup for Ahsoka's exit. The Temple bombing and subsequent investigation all work well, but we don't get a strong enough reason for Barriss's betrayal to really make it feel earned. Still, I guess she's given more reason than prior Jedi-turned-bad plotlines, and at least here Barriss isn't going to the Dark Side, she's just fed up with the hypocrisy of the Jedi going to war. At any rate, the arc it sets up is one of the finest the show has crafted to date. Everything from the unlikely team-up with Ventress, to Anakin's despair with the Council, to Ahsoka's final choice to leave the Jedi behind are all interesting and earned story points for the show to hit on. It explains why Ahsoka isn't in The Revenge of the Sith and (once again) highlights how the Jedi's overly zealous interpretation of their own rules often results in more harm than good. Plus, it gives yet another strong reason for Anakin to turn on his former friends, as they so quickly turned on his Padawan.

In fact, my one main complaint here is that the Council don't attempt at all to consider the impact on Anakin. We know that they are concerned about his emotional control, and (rightfully) fear how powerful he could be if turned to the Dark Side, yet don't seem to consider the impact their actions with Ahsoka might have. Whether through blind hubris or just lazy writing, the Council does seem intent on kicking Anakin at every turn. For such wise beings, it seems a little odd to not address the impact that having his first Padawan expelled for treason could have.

Still, overall I thought this was a solid season with some interesting story arcs and some deftly written character moments. It's still a kids show, but Clone Wars is feeling increasingly like a first-class citizen of the Star Wars family.

Season Six

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

We're in full hyperdrive now, kids! Season six hits the ground running and doesn't let up. Yes, it's a shorter season overall, but that just means there isn't as much filler. Instead, we're focusing on immediate setups for the third prequel film, and even beginning to hint at the galaxy beyond Revenge of the Sith.

The show still suffers from the issue that you know that certain things can't happen. Specific characters can't die, because they're in the third movie (or beyond); certain plots have to resolve in specific ways so that other events can happen in the films. Despite that, season six still manages to provide some film-related moments with genuine suspense. The opening arc revolving around clone trooper Fives discovery of the inhibitor chips, and partial discovery of the Order 66 initiative, is a prime example. You know, categorically, that the Jedi never find out about Order 66 and that the Sith's plan goes off without a hitch, but these are still tense episodes where you are left hoping that somehow he is able to convince the Jedi of what he's discovered. It's also interesting to note how wide the conspiracy is and get a clone's perspective on everything going down; once again, the stories focusing on the clone troopers themselves are some of the most interesting that the show creates.

It also gives us a deeper hint at how well planned out the whole scheme is, something which season six consistently returns to. Whether it's the Sith's plan to take control of the banks, or learning more about how they've manufactured the war and secretly taken control of the Senate, this season finally begins to show just how clever Sidious truly is. Far from just being a puppet master having fun with chaos, Palpatine is carefully aligning his pieces for one final showdown, and Clone Wars is happy to highlight how close he comes to both failure and success in that process. Between malfunctioning clones and the Jedi's discovery of Sifo-Dyas' friend, the Sith come perilously close to discovery.

At the same time, season six still gives us a moment to explore Jedi relations with the wider galaxy, and offers a hint at how magic fits into everything else. The plot with Jar Jar and Mace Windu isn't the most interesting sidequest, but I enjoyed the look at yet more non-Jedi/Sith Force users, as well as the expansion on the Night Sisters that it provides. Plus, it gives us some more Windu kicking butt, so that gets a thumbs up from me 👍

Yet all of this becomes background noise to the final arc, where we get some answers about Qui-Gon and Force ghosts, as well as some much deeper understanding of Yoda. His entire quest to unlock the Force ghost powers is an interesting one that really helps drive the Jedi story forward (and plugs a few gaps in terms of how the Force works). I like the marrying of original trilogy Force powers with prequel Midichlorians that we get as a result too. The final reveal of a new prophecy is an interesting one. The "other Skywalker" is clearly pointing Yoda towards training Luke, which is a nice touch; unfortunately, the fact that we now know that Sidious survives Vader's attack and is ultimately defeated by Rey, who is not a Skywalker (not directly, at least) does somewhat undercut the neatness of that scene.

Still, Yoda's quest and realisation that the Clone Wars were likely a mistake from the start is a powerful one that goes a small way towards redeeming the Jedi as a whole. His defeat of Sidious is a nice nod towards his own power, and drives home how the Sith are not truly as in control as they might appear. It leaves the show on an interesting note, and feels like they're tieing things together with the movies well, without having to constantly retcon or ignore aspects that prior seasons have set up. Overall, a solid season.

Season Seven

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I'd forgotten that Disney had brought this show back to tie it all off. You can tell that budgets and design teams have changed a bit for two reasons: the CGI is suddenly a whole lot better and the stories are given a little more space to breathe. Honestly, in some ways this is an entirely different show, just with the same characters, and I think it's a better show.

Still, the season opens with some fairly "typical" Clone Wars fare. As ever, focusing the Clones themselves remains a winning formula, and whilst I found the Bad Batch a bit too trope-filled, I liked that the story revolved around Rex. This show has done a great job of telling the arc that the Clones have gone through, from nameless cannon fodder to fully fleshed-out characters as they have grown in real-world experience.

Then the show pivots away from the war and surprisingly back to Ahsoka. I liked this subplot with the two sisters Trace and Rafa, plus it was a good excuse to link Ahsoka up with Bo Katan and ultimately give her a reason to get back in touch with the Jedi. Still, it felt like a shame to do all this work to create two interesting new characters only to never see them again 🤷‍♀️ Similarly, I was surprised that Ventress never cropped up, given the last interactions she had with Ahsoka. I guess her story was either considered rounded off or they just didn't have the time to tell it. Still, the plot does its job and does it well, in particular showing us an Ahsoka that is maturing faster than ever as we enter the final part of the show.

Most importantly, the second half of the season creates the bridge between the show and the films that is necessary. I found it interesting that some aspects of the films I had expected to be set up weren't (almost providing space for the original Clone Wars hand-animated series to still work alongside the newer CG version), such as Grievous' cough, but actually the focus on characters not in the films worked well. Seeing Ahsoka's arc intertwine with Maul and Bo Katan was much more interesting, and gave the series scope to take some liberties with how it showed the unfolding of events.

This also allowed them to explore the parallels between Ahsoka and Anakin. These are both powerful Jedi who have been ostracised and condemned by the Order they had dedicated their life to. Both have struggled with aspects of the Jedi's core philosophies, and both ultimately choose to abandon those tenets. But when given the option, Ahsoka still chooses good over evil. Arguably, Maul's offer to join forces isn't just more logical, but it's less risky, yet as Anakin falls she stands tall. It's a nice symmetry and the show's writers are good enough for it to work without having to ram it into your face (unlike the films).

Yet the greatest triumph of The Clone Wars is undoubtedly Order 66. In the movie, this was just a tiny plot point, lacking context or justification, and the little screentime they gave to the repercussions had almost no impact because the characters affected weren't known entities. Yes, we see the deaths of Jedi like Ki Adi Mundi and Plo Koon in Revenge of the Sith, but they're nobodies; heck, Plo never even talks in the films. Yet having seen the show, he's now a hugely empathetic and wise mentor who has stood by Ahsoka and other characters many times; his death should hit. Of course, the films still have that part covered, so the show focuses on Ahsoka and Rex, and is all the better for it. Seeing her struggle to understand what's happening, desperately trying to survive without killing these soldiers who she has such respect for, and ultimately (finally) beginning to comprehend just how much the Jedi were deceived – it's heartbreaking to watch.

By viewing the events through Ahsoka, we finally get the empathy this story always deserved. Everything, from her disbelief at the reports coming back about Anakin, to helping Rex shrug off the control the Empire has over him, even to Maul sharing in her grief (just a touch) as he confirms that he also felt the death of so many Jedi, each moment finally has the impact that the films so sorely lacked. And whoever came up with the idea to have some of the Clones paint her tattoos on their helmets gets a standing ovation. It's a lovely final moment with Anakin, but it also adds so much to the chase sequence: she is literally being hunted by her friends, people who cared about her so much that hours earlier they were marking themselves in honour to her. And, of course, through Rex we feel the monstrousness of the Order and the inhibitor chips, the feelings of despair that his brothers, his friends, are now trying to undo everything they have worked for, that the Clones were never meant for anything other than war, pawns in a greater game.

It's heavy, and emotional, and very well done. That four-part finale (clearly designed to be viewed like a movie) contains some of the best moments in Star Wars canon, easily. And that almost post-credits sequence where Vader finds the downed ship, and Ahsoka's lightsaber, and just turns and walks away... it's chilling. And it reminds you that in The Clone Wars we have a version of Anakin who is still annoyingly headstrong, but is a seasoned General, an empathetic Jedi, a brilliant tactician, and an incredibly loyal friend. Here is an Anakin beyond the angst and arrogance of the movies; an Anakin that is a likeable character, yet so filled with folly that he nevertheless falls to the Dark Side. Still, it does leave me with some questions around his story, so... I guess we have some prequels to watch 😉

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