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Josh Reviews the Triumphant Final Season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

I quite enjoyed the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series when it ran on Cartoon Network from 2008-2012.  Although the series started out a little wobbly (the first four episodes, which were edited together into a film that was released theatrically, were mediocre at best), it gradually grew into a wonderfully rich and complex series that fleshed out the Star Wars universe.  I was sad when the show was cancelled before its planned eight seasons could be completed (a casualty of Lucasfilm’s purchase by Disney).  I was thrilled that Dave Filoni & co. were able to sneakily bring back several characters and storylines from The Clone Wars into their next animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, thus giving Clone Wars fans some much-needed resolution.  I never dreamed we’d ever see an actual return of the series, and so I was blown away last year when the news broke that The Clone Wars would be returning with twelve additional episodes to wrap up the series!

This final batch of twelve episodes, which were released on Disney+, consisted of three four-episode stories.  The first two story-arcs were enjoyable.  The final four episodes were, without question, the best new Star Wars stories I have seen in years.  I am not exaggerating!  I was BLOWN AWAY by the final four episodes!!!  The animation was spectacular, beyond anything the show had done before.  But it was the character storylines that made these episodes so jaw-dropping.  Deeply emotional, richly nuanced, these episodes gave us the payoff to more than a decade of story-telling, and it was incredible.  This was ESSENTIAL Star Wars, and cements the legacy of this Clone Wars series as a critical part of the Star Wars saga.  I wouldn’t have said this before these final episodes, but I’ll say it now: if you haven’t seen these episodes, you haven’t seen the full Star Wars story.

If you haven’t watched The Clone Wars, but you’re swayed by my bold statement above that this is critical Star Wars storytelling, where to begin?  It’s tough, because while I think most of the show is watchable, there’s no question that the early seasons are a little shaky and more kid-focused.  But you can’t just skip the first few seasons, because you’ll miss a lot of important character-development and world-building.  So my suggestion is this: watch the final episodes of what Disney+ lists as season six (these were the “Lost Missions,” a final batch of completed episodes that were first shown on Netflix, after the show was cancelled on Cartoon Network).  The final four episodes are: “The Lost Ones”, “Voices”, “Destiny”, and “Sacrifice”.  Those four episodes tell a complete story that is super-awesome and ties very closely into the events of Episode II and Episode III, without spoiling any other character or plot developments of the Clone Wars series.  So you can totally jump into those episodes and you won’t feel like you’re coming into the middle of the story.  Watching these episodes on this own will allow you to see a very cool, interesting, movie-length adventure.  If you don’t care for those episodes, then this show isn’t for you.  But if you DO enjoy them, then I’d suggest starting at the beginning to enjoy the series.  (If you want to jump to the best stuff, rather than watching every episode, this is a pretty solid guide.  The author skips some episodes I love and includes a few I don’t think are the best, but nevertheless it’s a pretty great guide to the strongest and most essential episodes of the series.)

If you haven’t seen the show, then I advise you to stop reading here.  There are SPOILERS ahead.  For fans, let’s dive in!

This final season began with a four-episode arc called “The Bad Batch”.  I must admit, I was a bit disappointed when I realized that this final run would begin with these episodes, because I’d seen them before!  Well, sort of.  When the show was originally cancelled, significant work had already been done on the episodes that would have made up the final seasons of the show.  “The Bad Batch” had been written, the voices recorded, and animatics created — and the animatics of all four episodes were released to fans online.  I totally understand why these episodes were completed as part of this final season.  They’re great episodes, and they bring closure to the story of one of the Clone Troopers who’d appeared throughout the series.  Dave Filoni has said that he wanted the first two story-lines of this final season to focus on what he saw as the two critical elements of the show: clones (in the first arc) and Ahsoka (in the second).  That makes sense.  It was great to see these episodes finished!  (The final animation was gorgeous.)  Nevertheless, I was somewhat disappointed to realize that, of these twelve final episodes, four were ones whose story I already knew.

The second arc was one I was really excited for: the return of Ahsoka, and a chance to learn what she was up to after leaving the Jedi order in the dramatic season five finale (which wound up being the series finale because of the show’s cancellation).  And while I enjoyed these episodes, they weren’t quite what I’d hoped.  I think this would have been a fantastic four-parter as part of a twenty-four episode normal season.  But as one of the final twelve episodes of the show that we will (likely) ever get, I was a bit underwhelmed.  There didn’t feel like quite enough story to fill four episodes, and nothing all that consequential happened.  That being said, getting to see Ahsoka again was fantastic, and I liked this sweet story of her struggling to find a place for herself in the universe, now that she was no longer a Jedi.  It was fun seeing the Pykes again (we glimpsed them in live-action in Solo), and I liked seeing a depiction of life for the people who live deep below the surface of Coruscant, as opposed to the elites (Jedi and politicians) we usually see.

So I enjoyed the first eight episodes, but I wasn’t blown away.  However, blown away does not begin to describe my reaction to the final four episodes, which brought the Clone Wars saga to a spectacular conclusion.  These four episodes were AMAZING.  I was not exaggerating, above, when I described these episodes as the best new Star Wars I have seen in years.  I think I enjoyed these episodes more than ANY of the recent movies.  They were certainly a universe better than The Rise of Skywalker.  

Things kicked off with a bang with part one, “Old Friends Not Forgotten”.  I LOVED the touch of seeing the old-style Lucasfilm logo at the beginning, and I was delighted that the episode began, not with the usual Clone Wars theme music, but with John Williams’ classic Star Wars fanfare.  (I desperately want these four episodes to be edited together and released theatrically someday!!!)  I love that the episode opens with a battle on a bridge with Anakin, Obi-Wan, and their Clone Troopers fighting Separatist droids, just like the beginning of the animated Clone Wars movie (the first four episodes of the series).  It’s heartbreaking to see the montage of Jedi masters dispatched to the various planets where we know they will all die once “Order 666” is issued in Episode III.  I loved the touch of seeing young Caleb Dune — who would grow up to be Kanan from Star Wars: Rebels — at the Jedi meeting!!  But the Star Wars reference that most filled me with delight was the line about Shaak Ti protecting the Chancellor during Grievous’ assault on Coruscant (which is the battle that opens Episode III).  That was a subtle reference to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars animated shorts, from 2003-2005.  Those great cartoons have been pushed out of canon by this subsequent Clone Wars show, but if you squint, you can sort of imagine most of the events of that show still having happened, and that reference was a wonderful point of connection.

But the “feels” really began when Anakin and Ahsoka were reunited.  This was the payoff to years and years of storytelling, and it was incredible.  This scene — and all of these final four episodes — demonstrates the power of long-form story-telling.  (I’ve made similar comments with regards to other long-form sagas, such as the twenty-plus movies of the Marvel cinematic universe.)  When Ahsoka was first introduced in the animated Clone Wars movie as a padawan to Anakin, I thought the character was annoying and the idea was stupid.  (Anakin was himself still an apprentice to Obi-Wan, so why was he getting an apprentice of his own?)  It’s incredible how well Dave Filoni and his team have developed Ahsoka.  She is now easily one of my favorite characters in the entire Star Wars saga!

The revelation that the Clone Troopers in Captain Rex’s unit had all painted their helmets to look like Ahsoka’s Togruta markings was very emotional, as was her farewell to Anakin.  Neither knows it yet, but they’ll never see one another again.  (Well, at least not until the amazing “Twilight of the Apprentice”… heh heh…)

And then we finally got to the start of the events that have been teased for years: The Siege of Mandalore.  It’s incredible to see Bo Katan again, along with Gar Saxon (and, if you pay attention, Ursa Wren, the mother of Sabine from Star Wars: Rebels!).  The animated shows did an incredible job in exploring Mandalore and its people and history; and particularly coming after season one of The Mandalorian (and the reveal of the Darksaber at the very end), it’s very cool to see this important missing piece of Mandalore’s history finally depicted.  The initial assault on Mandalore was amazing, and the full-throated rendition of the Star Wars theme as Ahsoka kicks ass, leaping from ship to ship on her way down to Mandalore’s surface, was incredibly joyous.  And then, at the end, came Maul.

Part two, “The Phantom Apprentice”, gives us Maul and Ahsoka’s showdown, and it is a thing of pure beauty.  This might be my favorite single episode of this entire show.  Just as I’d never have believed, when she was first introduced, how great a character Ahsoka would become, it’s equally crazy to me that Darth Maul — who was super-cool in Episode I but only appeared on screen for about five minutes — has also now become one of my very favorite Star Wars characters!!  He’s certainly one of the most tragic.  I was skeptical when they brought him back on this show, but wow, what a great decision that has turned out to be.  In Episode I, Maul was basically irrelevant.  But now he’s been established as one of the most central characters in the entire Star Wars saga, around whom so much else pivots!!  It’s amazing!

I love hearing Maul talk about “THE plan… the ONLY plan” and realize that Maul knows more than almost any other character alive about what its about to happen.  (It’s a shock, in the early scene when Ahsoka speaks to Obi-Wan’s hologram, to realize that Anakin has already killed Dooku — we’re deep into Episode III at this point.  It’s tragic how Ahsoka realizes immediately that Anakin’s being asked to spy on his friend and mentor Chancellor Palpatine is a bad idea — if only she’d been able to speak to him, as Obi-Wan asks her to…)  Maul and Ahsoka’s confrontation in the Mandalore throne room is gorgeous and haunting.  (That moment when the glass shatters — wow!!)  Maul is correct that the Republic has already fallen; Ahsoka and the Jedi just don’t know it yet.  It’s crazy that Maul flat out tells Ahsoka that Darth Sidious plans to take Anakin Skywalker as his new apprentice.  The duel that follows, including an epic battle up in the rafters of Mandalore’s domed capital city, is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  It is super-cool that they brought back Ray Park to do mo-cap choreography (working with Lauren Mary Kim) for the battle!  The combination of Mr. Park’s physicality with Sam Witwer’s amazing vocal performance makes this the most memorable version of Maul we’ve ever seen.  I can’t believe Ahsoka actually beat Maul!  She’s more skilled than practically any other Jedi.  Maul’s desperation at the end is tragic and heartbreaking.  Once again, he’s probably right: he and Ahsoka (a not-quite-Sith and a not-quite Jedi) probably could have defeated Sidious if they had tried.

It’s overshadowed by the Ahsoka-Maul duel, but Bo Katan’s fight in the elevator shaft was also amazing, with incredibly beautiful animation.  And we got more great continuity fun when we see Maul speaking to the crime lords, including Dryden Voss from Solo!

Things get even darker and more heartbreaking in part three, “Shattered”.  I love the eerie, ominous (Blade Runner inspired) music for Ahsoka’s final scenes on Mandalore.  I love Ahsoka’s final conversation with Yoda.  (Yoda: “More to say, have you?”)  When we see Ahsoka’s shuttle dock with the orbiting Republic cruiser, it’s incredible how the context has completely changed — based where we are in the timeline, that familiar cruiser (seen throughout the series) means danger now!  Ahsoka’s conversation with Rex, where she salutes him, is heartbreaking, because we know what’s about to happen.

And then the moment we’d all been waiting for since the very start of this series happens.  Rex and the Clones receives Order 666 and turn on Ahsoka.  The sequence that follows is extraordinary.  I love that Rex finds the strength to resist his conditioning, just for a moment, to direct Ahsoka to Fives — thus giving us a fantastic payoff to that long-running story of Rex’s Clone comrades, and the fantastic four-parter from season six in which Fives discovered the secret of Order 666, and was killed for it. Ahsoka’s battle against the Clones is wrenching to see; it’s gorgeously animated; and it’s elevated into the stratosphere by the choice to score that scene with the “Anakin’s Dark Deeds” cue from Episode III.  WOW!!!  I was bowled over.

I love that Maul immediately realizes what’s happening, and is dazzled by the brilliance of Sidious’ plan.  It’s fun to see Ahsoka assisted by a group of droids, including one “cheep” droid that sounds a LOT like Chopper from Rebels!  The idea that Ahsoka let Maul loose is the one major misstep, for me, in this four-parter.  Maul goes on to wreak havoc — both in this episode (in an incredible corridor scene that parallels Vader’s amazing corridor scene in Rogue One) and in the future — so I don’t love the idea that Ahsoka is responsible for all that.  I’d have preferred had he escaped somehow when the Clones tried to execute him.

I didn’t think the episode could get more emotional than the Order 666 scene, but I was deeply moved when Ahsoka — desperate to locate the chip in Rex’s head that will free her friend and comrade from Sidious’ control — invokes the Jedi mantra, heard in Rogue One: “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.”  The episode ends on a spectacular cliffhanger, as Rex invokes Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars as he declares: “The Grand Army of the Republic has been ordered to hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights.”

The final episode, “Victory and Death,” brought the series to a beautiful, and very satisfying, conclusion.  I loved the choice of hearing the music from Padme’s funeral, in Episode I, over the opening.  (The music throughout all four of these final episodes was extraordinary!!)  I loved seeing Maul use the Force to destroy the ship’s hyperdrive, and the catastrophic descent into atmosphere that followed was extraordinary; spectacular animation, and gripping action.  The emotion of it all continued to built, and I loved the scene where Ahsoka removes Rex’s helmet and we see that he’s crying, devastated at the thought of fighting and killing his brothers.  It twists the knife that the Clone Trooper Jesse is leading the Clones against them.  Ahsoka once again kicks all sorts of ass here, taking on wave after wave of Clones.  She lasts longer than any of the other Jedi did!!  (It helps that, unlike other Jedi, she has the aid of Rex and her Droids.)  I loved the moment when Ahsoka used the Force to spin her lightsabers and cut a hole in the deck floor, so she could escape.  It’s brutal that the Clones destroy all of the Droids who were helping her.

The scene of Ahsoka and Rex on the planet’s surface, looking out at the sea of Clone graves, was so sad.  (The close-up on Jesse’s helmet was painful!)  It was awesome to see Ahsoka wearing a cloak similar to the one we saw her wear in the Rebels finale.  I was surprised and delighted by the final scene, set an indeterminate amount of time later, in which Vader finds the planet, and sees Ahsoka’s abandoned lightsabers.  These are a quiet and understated series of final moments, but they were so moving and worked perfectly.  And the final shot — Vader’s reflection in a cracked Clone Trooper’s helmet — was a perfect encapsulation of the story of the series.

My only complaint is that I wanted more!!  I really wish the final episode had given us a little more information as to what happened next for these characters.  (The epilogue at the end of the Rebels finale did a perfect job of that.)  There is so much story left to tell!  I want to know what happened next for Ahsoka and Rex.  Did they try to seek out other Clones and/or Jedi?  Surely Ahsoka would have seen Obi-Wan’s recorded message (from Episode III) warning Jedi NOT to return to the Temple.  Wouldn’t Ahsoka have tried to contact Obi-Wan?  What was her and Rex’s reaction to the revelation of Palpatine as the Emperor?  I’ll also mention that ever since seeing Episode III, I’ve always wondered what happened to Commander Cody after he betrayed Obi-Wan on Utapau.  Did he realize and/or regret what he’d done?  What became of him?  When I saw that Cody was a character in Clone Wars, I was excited and I’d hoped that, maybe by the end of the series, we’d get to see more of him.  I’m bummed that we didn’t.  Finally,  while perhaps it’s unfair of me to want Mr. Filoni & co. to diverge from the ending they’d originally planned for this show, since we have subsequently seen the events of Rebels, I was hoping that we’d maybe get a few more connections here at the end: I’d have loved to have seen Gregor and Wolfe, or how Rex and co. captured that Republic tank, or how Maul got the Darksaber back.  I do hope that we get some of those answers in future stories.

I am in awe of what Dave Filoni and his team accomplished.  I never thought The Clone Wars would get a proper ending.  That these episodes exist is a gift to the fans.  That they are so amazing is unbelievable.  Bravo.

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