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Josh Reviews the Final Episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Shockingly, the animated TV show Star Wars: The Clone Wars has, over the years, grown into a pretty terrific show and a fascinating expansion of the Star Wars saga.  When the animated film was released to theatres back in 2008, I skipped it.  I was totally soured on the prequels, and the animated project didn’t interest me at all.  The CG animation looked stiff and fake, and the project seemed too kid-focused to interest me.  When the series began airing on cartoon network, I avoided it at first, but eventually watched a few episodes.  It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to keep me periodically checking back in with the show.  There were a lot of episodes I missed, but I’d catch one here and there.  By the third or fourth season, I felt the quality had increased dramatically, and I started watching the show more regularly.  When it was announced at the end of the fifth season that the show was being cancelled, I actually found myself rather upset!

I was disappointed at the end of a show I’d been enjoying, and more to the point I was disappointed that the story was being left incomplete.  Half the fun of the show wasn’t just my enjoyment of the episodes themselves, but my growing interest in how all of the character-arcs and story-lines would be wrapped up, as the show inched closer and closer to the events of Episode III — which would, of course, mean the brutal, tragic deaths of all the show’s characters!  Just like the whole point of the prequels was to eventually get to the end of Episode III and the events of Anakin’s fall and the destruction of the Jedi, it feels like half the point of this show was to arrive at that same end, and to see the story cut down in the middle was extremely frustrating.  (I’ve read the show was planned to last eight seasons.)

It’s all the more painful that the show was cut down at its creative height, and for something as stupid as the corporate bottom line.  (From what I understand, once Lucasfilm was sold to Disney, Disney didn’t want to be locked into Cartoon Network’s ownership of the show.)  And the show really was at a creative height.  The animation had improved dramatically, to the point where I found the episodes to be quite gorgeous.  This show gave us some phenomenal fight sequences: massive space battles; complex planet-based fights on land, in the air, and in the sea; and some extraordinary lightsaber fights.  We really got to explore the universe of the Star Wars, and the epic conflict of the Clone Wars, far more than the prequels ever did.  (Once more I shake my head at Lucas’ misguided decision to have the Clone Wars basically transpire off-camera, during the 2-3 year break between Episode II and Episode III.)

More importantly, the show explored the characters of the various Jedi — including Obi-Wan and Anakin, but also all the other members of the Jedi Council — far more deeply than the movies ever did.  Although the early shows focused primarily on Anakin and Obi-Wan, and Anakin’s new apprentice, the young Ahsoka (Ahsoka eventually developed into a terrific character, but at the beginning having this new kid side-kick was a main reason I wasn’t interested in the show), in recent years the show’s canvas has broadened dramatically, with many episodes spent focusing on other Jedi as well as several of the Clones fighting beside them.  (In fact, if I have any complaint about the last few seasons it’s that sometimes I felt the focus might have drifted a little too far away from Obi-Wan and Anakin.)  Speaking of Anakin, I’ve really grown to love the depiction of Anakin given to us in the show.  This is what Anakin should have been like in the prequels!  He’s an incredibly skilled Jedi, an amazing pilot and a fierce warrior.  He’s also young and reckless in a way that often serves him well — making him a more fierce, unpredictable fighter than the other Jedi — but we can also see the growing darkness inside him, and his inability to avoid fear and anger.  If this show did nothing else well, it should be commended for making Anakin into the great character he should have been in the movies.

When The Clone Wars was cancelled, season six was already in production.  At first it seemed we might never see those episodes, then for a while the rumor was that several in-progress season six episodes would be included as a special feature on the season five DVD set.  I was pleased when it was announced that THIRTEEN new episodes would be completed and released on Netflix.  And I was even more pleased when they dropped the planned “The Lost Missions” subtitle and just labeled these episodes “season six.”  Here’s a trailer:

So, what did I think of these final episodes?

Over-all they’re great, and they deliver on the awesomeness promised by that trailer.  These last episodes provide some juicy bits of important Star Wars backstory, some great character moments, and several spectacular action sequences.  The final arc, in which Yoda senses the presence of Qui-Gon Jin in the Force, and seeks to learn the method by which a Jedi’s spirit can survive the body’s death (something hinted at in the final moments of Revenge of the Sith, an explanation for why Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin were able to survive as blue Force-spirits in the Original Trilogy while none of the many Jedi killed in the prequels were able to do that), is a great capstone to the series.

But these episodes were not designed to wrap up the show, and not much — if anything — was changed as these episodes were brought to completion to give the series more closure.  So while these episodes are fantastic, and I am delighted to get these thirteen top-notch episodes after the show’s cancellation, this short extra season does not represent a proper finale to the series.

Here are some more detailed comments:

Episodes 1-4 — In this four-part arc, a Clone Trooper goes mad and shoots a Jedi in the head.  The Clone is brought back to Kamino, in an attempt to discover what went wrong.  The Kaminoans blame the Clone’s misbehavior on a virus, but another Clone nicknamed “Fives” doesn’t believe that explanation and attempts to learn the truth.  In the process, he (and the audience) discover the mechanics of the Sith’s secret “Order 66” (that will result in the Clones’ turning on the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith).  It’s a lot of fun learning the details of how exactly Palpatine was able to control the Clones, and it’s also interesting to see the way the growing individuality we’ve seen in the Clones over the course of this show — and the loyalty and bravery they’ve been learning from the Jedi — nearly derailed Palpatine’s plan.  This arc also embodies the growing darkness that I had been pleased to see this show embracing as the timeline inched ever closer to Revenge of the Sith.  Once Fives discovers the truth, we know he is doomed, and sure enough, despite Fives being the hero we follow throughout these four episodes, the poor fellow doesn’t make it out alive, and his attempts to warn the Jedi and the other Clones of the truth end in complete failure.  It was a bit shocking for me to realize that, with the death of Fives, all of the young Clones who were introduced in the great season one episode “Rookies” (one of the first episodes that made me think this show had potential) had now been killed.  This was a phenomenal arc.

Episodes 5-7 — This three-part arc focusing on Padme would have been a solid part of a full season, though as one of the final episodes it couldn’t help but be a little disappointing.  Still, this story-line had a lot going for it.  I was pleased to see a definitive ending given to the character of Clovis, a former flame of Padme’s who had popped up a few times previously on the show.  I liked seeing the show address Padme and Anakin’s secret marriage (something usually ignored), and I was pleased to not only see the friction between Padme and Anakin but that everything wasn’t wrapped up all tidily at the end.  This arc was focused on the Banking Clan, and the Republic and the Separatists’ competing attempts to maintain control of the flow of money.  This could have been very dry, but I was fascinated by the exploration of this facet of Palpatine’s ultimate plan.  By the end of this arc, Palpatine has manipulated events to allow him, as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, to assume control of the Banking Clan.  Thus we see an important step in the mechanics of Palpatine’s long-game plan to assume total control as Emperor.  I found that pretty cool.  There’s also one brief moment that I loved in which Obi-Wan senses how upset Anakin is because of his rift with Padme, and attempts to help his apprentice.  It’s nice to be reminded of the bond that exists between Obi-Wan and Anakin, and it’s nice for Obi-Wan to be smart enough to sort of realize what’s going on with Anakin and to try to help.  Of course, Obi-Wan will never quite be able to get through to Anakin.

Episodes 8-9 — Jar-Jar and Mace Windu go on an Indiana Jones-style adventure.  Every now and then this show would give Jar-Jar some focus, and while they always managed to make him far more tolerable than he was in the Prequels, it’s still a shame that two of these precious final episodes had to feature Jar-Jar.  The character is fine here, miraculously not annoying, and I sort of was amused by the pairing of him and the deadly serious Mace.  That was a good idea.  It just feels like a waste of time with so few episodes remaining (something the show-runners obviously didn’t know at the time these episodes were made).  I did like seeing Mace get to kick some ass with that purple lightsaber of his.

Episode 10 — Here’s where things get great.  This episode is probably the strongest of the bunch, as we dig deeply into some of the big mysteries left unanswered by the prequels.  In a gorgeously-animated opening sequence, Jedi Master Plo Koon discovers the wreckage of a ship belonging to the long-dead Jedi Sifo-Dyas.  That is the Jedi who, we learned in Episode II, ordered the creation of the Clone Army.  But we never found out who he was or why he did that. In this episode, Anakin and Obi-Wan attempt to pick up the pieces of this decade-old mystery.  This episode doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it gives us some tantalizing morsels (and only makes me regret more that we never got to see where the show might have been taking this story-line).  It’s great to see the Jedi finally curious about Sifo-Dyas and the creation of the Clone Army.  It’s great to see Count Dooku back in the thick of things, as Palpatine sends Dooku to make absolutely certain there are no remaining loose ends for the Jedi to discover.  I loved seeing Anakin and Obi-Wan together again — it had been years in the show since the two characters had gone on a mission together.  The end of the episode gave us a spectacular lightsaber battle as Obi-Wan and Anakin fight Dooku.  Incredible, gorgeous stuff.  The only flaw in the episode (though it keeps the episode consistent with the Prequels) is how hapless the Jedi are here.  Anakin and Obi-Wan are, over and over again, utterly useless at stopping Dooku from killing a whole lot of people, and they ultimately let him get away.  And, of course, despite everything that happened in the opening four-parter with a clone actually murdering a Jedi, the Jedi seem remarkably unconcerned to learn of Dooku’s connection with Syfo-Dias and the creation of the Clone army.  Hello, McFly???

Episodes 11-13 — This phenomenal three-parter brings the show to a strong end.  Yoda begins hearing the voice of Qui-Gon Jin.  Qui-Gon’s spirit has somehow survived his death, and Yoda begins a perilous journey in an attempt to learn how to do the same.  This arc is just fantastic.  I loved this exploration of the Force, and the details of why certain Jedi in the original trilogy could come back as blue Force-ghosts.  I was thrilled that Liam Neeson reprised his character of Qui-Gon, and the final episode also featured the voice of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker himself!) as an important new character who Yoda encounters on the home planet of the first Sith Lord.  This is what the Clone Wars show was so good at: making a fantastic meal out of exploring these corners of the Star Wars universe, turning over rocks and answering questions and fleshing out details.  This arc was also thrilling in that it drew the most direct connections ever to Revenge of the Sith, as in several visions Yoda actually glimpses several of the tragic events of that film.  Very cool.  Also, in a great bit of serendipity, considering these wound up being the final Clone Wars episodes ever, this arc gave us a brief return appearance of an important Clone Wars character who I’d never expected to see again.

I tore through these final episodes, and I loved them.  Even the lesser episodes (cough Jar-Jar cough) were still very watchable, while the opening 4-parter and the final four episodes were spectacular, among the show’s best installments.

I am sorry to see this series go, and I am sad that we’re left with many questions.  Would we have learned any more about Sifo-Dyas and the creation of the Clones?  Would we have learned any more about General Grievous?  What was Palpatine’s plan for the resurrected Darth Maul?  What is the final fate of Anakin’s loyal Clone Captain, Rex?  What is the final fate of Ahsoka?  I wish Disney would have allowed the show’s creators to have put together some-kind of final arc to bring the show’s story-lines to something closer to their intended conclusion.  I am sort of shocked that Disney and Lucasfilm are allowing to leave this aspect of the Star Wars story so unfinished.

On the surface I am not that interested in the in-production new Star Wars animated series, called Rebels.  It seems more kid-friendly than I am interested in, but then again I felt the same way about the Clone Wars at the beginning.  Being set between Episode III and Episode IV is intriguing, and part of me hopes that perhaps they’ll sneak in answers to some of these questions left hanging by the premature end of The Clone Wars.  We’ll see.  For now, I bid farewell to this show, which astonished me by making me actually be interested in new Star Wars stories for the first time in a long, long time.

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