The Rise of Skywalker is almost here, and it’s supposedly the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. So, I’ve decided to attempt a full canon rewatch before it releases, reviewing each chapter as I go. That’s all the movies, as well as the Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance TV series. We continue with the theatrical film Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
An (animated) breath of fresh air
What happens when you make a children’s animated series to retroactively follow up the absolute worst Star Wars movie ever? Well, you unsurprisingly get a bit of a mixed bag. The next canonical chunk after Attack of the Clones is the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon series. This show has had quite a ride, and it’s technically not even finished yet, as there’s a (presumably) final season hitting Disney+ next year. It originally premiered as a theatrical movie which was actually just the first 6 episodes of the show strung together into one feature-length movie, and that’s what we’re focusing on today, but there’s a little more to the story.
It seems The Clone Wars aired out of chronological order. So if you were to log into Disney+ and just watch The Clone Wars from season 1 episode 1, there are more than a few things that would seem a little off. Specifically, that the Clone Wars movie comes before episode 1 of the series. Thankfully, StarWars.com has an official chronological watch order for the show, and it includes 2 random episodes that take place before the Clone Wars movie does. Season 2 Episode 16: Cat and Mouse is technically the earliest episode of Clone Wars, followed by Season 1 Episode 16: Hidden Enemy.
Attack of the Clones
The thing about Clone Wars is that it’s exactly what’s written on the tin. It doesn’t waste any time setting up any sort of world or characters or anything. It assumes you’ve seen the movies and you know that “begun the Clone War has.” So the first episode just drops us in the middle of some random battle in the Clone Wars. There’s this spider guy who set up a blockade, and Anakin and Obi-Wan have been deployed with a bunch of clone troopers to take care of business. This episode really plays out like a TV pilot. There are certain characterizations with Anakin that haven’t been established yet, there’s a one-off villain, the whole thing is a little wonky and self-contained, and while it was entertaining enough, it felt ultimately pointless in the end.
The second episode, Hidden Enemy, was a bit more interesting, though it suffers from the whole show’s out of order nature. This episode is about there being a hidden mole somewhere in the republic, which turns out to be a clone himself. It’s our first look into what these clone troopers are actually like as people, which is a rather interesting thing this show does throughout its run. The whole thing plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect from a one-off cartoon, which isn’t to say it’s bad, but it isn’t exactly unpredictable. The real problem in the episode though, comes when Anakin and Obi-Wan are drawn away from the Clones to investigate elsewhere and they have a run-in with Asajj Ventress.
Ventress is a really cool character who was introduced in the Clone Wars cartoon. No, not this Clone Wars cartoon,
The other Clone Wars cartoon. Let’s back up.
Before this series started, there was a hand-drawn animated Clone Wars micro-series from Genndy Tartakovsky, the mind behind Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack. It was very much done in his style, and it was incredibly cool. It was also completely wiped from the official canon after this show arrived. However, two of the characters introduced in the series went on to become part of official Star Wars canon. Asajj Ventress, who shows up here, and General Grievous. We’re going to get to how Star Wars treated Grievous when he eventually shows up in this show and Revenge of the Sith, but for now, we’ll focus on Ventress.
A new (old) threat
Ventress was Count Dooku’s apprentice. She wanted to be a Sith, but she never quite made it there. She goes around being all evil and fights with two lightsabers. She’s awesome, and was originally introduced as a rather mysterious character in Clone Wars. However, in this show, she shows up and Obi-Wan and Anakin already know who she is. They have a rapport, and we never get to know why. It’s weird, and I wish they had shown them meeting her for the first time in the show. But alas, they don’t. But that’s really par for the course for this show’s weird beginning. It replaced a different show with the same characters and the same name, its first episodes are actually a movie and not technically part of Season 1, it aired its episodes out of order, and it was made to follow up the worst Star Wars movie ever. The fact this show got as good as it did, and lasted as long as it did, is a testament to the ideas it represents. There are good stories to be told in this timeline, and while The Clone Wars is some pretty flawed stuff, it’s worth the effort if you have the time.
Anyway, Ventress gets away, Anakin and Obi-Wan come back to find the clone traitor had been found by the other clones, and that’s pretty much the end of it. However, the clone turncoat (who was recruited by Ventress) did have some very interesting things to say about freedom and how he feels the clones are basically the Jedi’s slaves. It’s kind of heavy, and it’s something that the show will eventually deal with in more detail, but yeah. There’s a lot more heft to the end of this little one-shot than you’d expect. So, these two Clone Wars episodes were a nice little intro to the new world order. Now for the big stuff, The Clone Wars movie.
I remember not liking this movie very much when it came out. It didn’t happen until 2008, about 3 years after Revenge of the Sith hit theaters, so the established Anakin/Obi-Wan relationship in my head was that of Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor. It’s also worth noting that at this time in my life I was very much in the “prequels were actually really good” camp. I knew in my heart that I was wrong, but was nothing if not susceptible to zealous fandom at the time. (Thankfully, I grew out of that phase for the most part, and have come to be able to criticize things much better). I was also a pretty big fan of Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, so this new show coming in to usurp the rest of what was done in that series really put me off, and I don’t think I gave it a very fair shake. This was the first time I’ve rewatched this movie since 2008, and I tell you, 11 years makes a whole lot of difference. I don’t love it, it isn’t a masterpiece or anything, but it’s not nearly as mediocre as I remember, and it’s leagues better than Attack of the Clones.
The original “Star Wars Story”
Since this isn’t a mainline Star Wars movie, I feel like some recap is probably in order. The Clone Wars are in full swing, as established in the two episodes that take place before this movie kicks off. (No, really. The events of those episodes that I wrote off as self contained, particularly the planet they were trying to take control of, are directly referenced in the movie). Jabba the Hutt’s son, (apparently Jabba the Hutt has a kid) has been kidnapped, and Jabba is looking for anyone in the galaxy to help find him as his own forces have failed to do so already. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity to gain Jabba’s favor and possibly gain access to Jabba’s trade routes in the Outer Rim for the Republic, Chancellor Palpatine orders the Jedi, specifically Anakin and Obi-Wan, to find Jabba’s son and negotiate with him for access to his routes. Jabba was introduced in The Phantom Menace at the pod races, so he actually theoretically works here. However, he neither looks or sounds very much like Jabba, which is pretty off-putting. It’s also strange to see Jabba in a position of somewhat vulnerability, and not necessarily being straight up evil.
Anyway, as we pick up things with our heroes, they’re in the midst of a super cool looking battle with the clones blowing up some shield generators and battle droids, and the benefits of the animated format are on full display. The fight choreography is a bit over the top in terms of what a Jedi can and can not do in the live action movies, but not so far removed that it breaks anything, and it all looks really good, especially for CG circa 2008. After the battle is over, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that he’s expecting his new padawan to show up so he can start training them, confirming that Anakin is officially a Jedi Knight at this point, and no longer Obi-Wan’s apprentice, but his partner and friend. This is all established by some straightforward, well written dialogue, and the natural chemistry between Matt Lanter (Aakin) and James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan). It’s hard to fault Ewan McGregor for his Obi-Wan, because it’s one of the few genuinely outstanding things about the prequel trilogy, and Taylor’s Obi-Wan is pretty much just an impression of McGregor’s, but Lanter’s Anakin is an astounding improvement over Christensen’s. Anakin in this movie is everything you would imagine him to be. He’s incredibly powerful and confident. He tends to be a bit of a rule breaker when it comes to getting results, and he has a genuinely imposing demeanor. But he’s also friendly, fun, charismatic, and kind. He’s what a good guy Darth Vader would be, 100%. It’s really fun to see, and incredibly frustrating at the same time because this movie, and subsequent series, prove that the concept of telling the story of Anakin Skywalker is a good one. Making prequel content wasn’t a mistake. Or at least it wouldn’t have been in more capable hands.
So Obi-Wan and Anakin are talking about padawans and Anakin tells him he never wants to have one. Obi-Wan, on the other hand, thinks Anakin would be a great teacher, and having a padawan would be good for him. It’s at this point that we’re introduced to Ashoka Tano.
Ashoka is a teenage girl who wants very much to be a Jedi. She’s a bit defiant, full of pep, and gives silly nicknames to everyone. She’s also been assigned to Anakin, not Obi-Wan, by order of Yoda. This is played off as a cute comedy bit, but when you look at it just a little deeper, it’s kind of amazing. Yoda and Obi-Wan actually teamed up to force Anakin to take a padawan because they thought it would be good for him, and it really was. Yoda already sensed the danger in Anakin becoming a Jedi back in The Phantom Menace, and Obi-Wan only took him on because Qui-Gon asked him to before he died. That darkness is still in Anakin, and this was the movie’s subtle way of addressing it, and it’s actually quite clever if you ask me.
Before long we learn that Count Dooku (voiced here again by Christopher Lee) and Ventress were behind the kidnapping of Jabba’s son, and it’s part of a plot to turn Jabba against the Republic and have him join their side. It’s all pretty low-stakes stuff in terms of Star Wars movie plots, but it works well enough. You eventually learn that another Hutt was involved in the plot too, and here is where we meet my only major gripe with the movie, and probably why I remember it so negatively.
A less attractive Hutt
The other Hutt is named Ziro. He’s a pink, flamboyant Hutt who is a gangster like Jabba, but he speaks English and does business on Coruscant. This is a fantastic idea, minus some of the design choices. But just like the Gungans, the voice tosses the whole thing right in the trash. Ziro the Hutt is voiced by Corey Burton, who if you look at his IMDB page, you’ll see is a very accomplished voice actor. But they have him doing this weird, gross “southern belle” voice that’s incredibly goofy and really doesn’t jive with the overall tone of the movie. I get that this is very much a kids movie, but still, this was a terrible choice.
As you’d expect, Anakin and Ashoka (well, Ashoka really) gets Jabba his son back, the bad guys plot is exposed, and the good guys win the day. Anakin and his new Padawan develop a great relationship, Padme was kinda shoehorned in there for a bit, and the whole thing really feels like what it is, a string of TV show episodes glued together to make a movie. It’s entertaining enough, and does some great stuff to build the world the show would eventually expand on, but it’s not really all that special in the end. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining watch.
Having just watched Star Wars Rebels for the first time recently, it’s incredibly fun going back to this movie and seeing where some of these characters came from. Ashoka is such a tiny kid in this movie, and by the end of Rebels she’s, well, we’ll get there when we get there, but needless to say, she’s a remarkably well done character who surprisingly doesn’t break the movies. You’d think that Anakin having a padawan would have come up in the original trilogy, especially after they eventually meet again in Rebels after Anakin becomes Darth Vader, but they accomplished in these shows what the prequels couldn’t. They made it work in a believable way that didn’t come at the expense of anything in the original movies.
Ashoka was cute in this movie, if a little annoying, calling Anakin “Skyguy” and R2D2 “Artooie” but she’s a wonderful addition to the Star Wars canon, and this movie is the start of that.
There’s some other stuff to nitpick, like the voice actor for Yoda not being Frank Oz, the music being occasionally very non-Star Wars like, and Obi-Wan’s weird two finger pointy thing he does when he’s fighting someone, but this is another case of the good stuff definitely outweighing the bad. If you’ve only ever watched the movies, the phrase “Anakin Skywalker is really cool” might seem weird to hear, but in this context, he really is. Obi-Wan and Ventress have this weird kind of flirty relationship too, which is a neat little layer to Obi-Wan’s character I never expected to see. It’s ultimately fairly forgettable as a movie, but as a part of a multi season animated series, it works pretty darn well as an entry point. The two episodes that precede it in the timeline are a nice touch if you want to be a completist, but they’re hardly necessary. Overall, The Clone Wars is off to a pretty good start.
Now I get to start the series proper with the first episode of season 1. I’ll be watching the show according to the official chronology listed at StarWars.com, so it does skip around a bunch, but for the most part the seasons are what they are, and I’ll be reviewing them by the season from here on out. Let’s see if this show is as good as I remember.