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.