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How to Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

In the tradition of my previous blog posts How to Start Watching (and Fall in Love with) Star Trek and How to Watch Battlestar Galactica, I am proud to present my guide to How to Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

Is there a better time to dig into this Star Wars animated series than following last week’s spectacular episode of The Mandalorian??  Not only did we get to see Katee Sackhoff play Mandalorian Bo-Katan, a character who she voiced on the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series, in live-action for the first time (a brilliant and joyous development), but we also heard the name Ahsoka Tano — a central figure in the animated Clone Wars — spoken aloud!!  (There have been rumors for months that Ahsoka would make the leap into live-action in this season of The Mandalorian.)

It’s very cool to me that there is an entire universe of animated Star Wars stories that many fans of the live-action films have not experienced.  The brilliant final episodes of The Clone Wars series were some of the greatest Star Wars stories I have ever seen, and those final episodes cemented the series, in my mind, as an essential part of the overall Star Wars saga.

It’s incredibly exciting to me that The Mandalorian is bringing characters and story-lines from the animated shows into the live-action Star Wars universe!  This makes sense, because there is continuity behind the scenes.  Jon Favreau, who crated The Mandalorian, voiced a Mandalorian character, Pre Vizla, on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  And Dave Filoni, who oversees The Mandalorian along with Mr. Favreau, was also in charge of both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the subsequent animated series, Star Wars: Rebels!  

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is set between Episode II and Episode III.  It tells the full story of the Clone Wars.  The series began with a movie released to theaters in 2008, and then ran for five seasons on Cartoon Network from 2008-2012.  Although eight series were originally planned, the series was cancelled when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.  Thirteen episodes that had already been completed for season six were released to Netflix in 2014.  Then, just last year, Mr. Filoni and his team reassembled to complete and release twelve additional episodes for Disney+, including the originally-planned four-part series finale.

I am a huge fan of this series!  I would argue that the Clone Wars cartoon (and the subsequent series, Rebels), contain some of the best characters and stories Star Wars has ever told!  Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, and Darth Maul are now among my very favorite all-time Star Wars characters.  Yes, you read that right.  The first two are characters who never appeared in a Star Wars film, and the third, Maul, got everyone excited when we first glimpsed him in that first trailer for Episode I, but wound up being mostly just a big disappointment when he only appeared in the film for five minutes and then was killed off.  But Clone Wars and Rebels executed an unbelievably incredible renovation of the character, turning him into one of the most pivotal — and tragic — characters in the entire saga.  It’s hard to believe, I know!

Like many, I thought Ahsoka Tano was a terrible idea when the character was first introduced in that original Clone Wars animated film.  The idea that Anakin Skywalker, himself an apprentice to Obi-Wan Kenobi, had a Padawan himself — who we’d never heard of before!! — seemed ridiculous.  And when Ahsoka was first introduced, she was an annoying, bratty kid.  But now I love Ahsoka more than almost any other character!!  There’s a reason that Clone Wars fans like myself went so nuts just hearing her name spoken on last week’s episode of The Mandalorian!!  

Heck, I actually like the character of Anakin Skywalker on The Clone Wars!  He’s a much more interesting character than we saw in the prequel films!  This is the Anakin I always wanted: competent and heroic but with a dark streak lying not so far below the surface.

The series brilliantly deepened and widened the Star Wars universe, giving us episodes exploring all sorts of alien planets and species that we’d glimpsed throughout the films.  I couldn’t believe that the Clone Wars basically happened off-camera between the movies.  Yet here in the cartoon, we got to experience the Clone Wars as the galaxy-spanning epic conflict I’d always dreamed about.

While the series began as mostly simple one-off episodes, it developed into a pattern of three and four-part stories that were each, together, basically a new Star Wars movie!  This allowed the show to tell complicated extended stories.  I really enjoyed this mode of story-telling, and as we got deeper into the show, the complexities of the stories built and built.

That all sounds great, right??

And yet, it’s been somewhat hard for me to recommend that my fellow Star Wars fans dive into the animated Clone Wars series.  It’s a long series (with well over a hundred episodes), and they’re — how shall I put this — not all spectacular.  The series began with the very weak animated film (which was really the first four episodes edited together).  And while the initial episodes were better than that film, for a long time the show told fairly simplistic stories that seemed aimed more at kids than adults.  The series developed beautifully, with the stories gradually growing more adult and complex; the animation improving by leaps and bounds; and the at-first one-dimensional characters developing into wonderfully well-rounded creations.  But it was a slow, gradual process.  This isn’t a show with a clear demarcation point between the earlier weaker episodes and the stronger later episodes.  So on the one hand, it’s a show that could be a bit of a slog if you set out to watch every single episode.  And yet, I can’t easily recommend simply skipping to the later seasons, because you need to experience the ground covered by the early seasons to fully appreciate the pay-offs to the character development that arrive later.  Those final episodes wouldn’t be so incredible and heartbreaking if you didn’t go on the journey with these characters.

So what to do?  Well, here I am to help you out!  I have created a guide to the show, allowing you to skip the weaker episodes while still experiencing the bulk of the show and the breadth of this journey.  I’ve also leaned into the pattern of the later seasons, with their three or four-part mini-movies.  So I’ve generally grouped the series into three or four-episode batches, which you could watch together, each as a sort of mini Star Wars movie.  I think that’s a fun way to experience this show.

My approach involves watching about two-thirds of the show’s episodes.  So that is still a lot!  This is a time commitment, for sure.  It is possible to narrow this list down even further, to a shorter “best of” list.  But I think that would significantly lessen your connection to and investment in these characters, which would in turn dilute the over-all impact of the show.  So my advice is to relax and take your time.  This isn’t a quick binge, but a longer-term project.  My recommended list, below, will skip the show’s worst episodes and guide you to the good stuff while also allowing you the time to get to know these characters.  I think this is the best approach, and I feel confident that, in the end, you’ll agree that the investment of your time will prove worth it.

(Before we dive in, a quick note.  Before this multi-season series called Star Wars: The Clone Wars, there was also a shorter animated Clone Wars series overseen by animation genius Genndy Tartakovsky.  That two-season show consisted of a series of 2D animated shorts (generally 2-5 minutes in length).  That show was pushed out of continuity by the computer-animated Clone Wars series that came after.  (Although this second Clone Wars series did include a fun wink and nod to this prior series in its series finale!)  The first animated Clone Wars show is fun, and it’s definitely worth watching!  But that is not the show we’re discussing here.)

OK, here are my recommendations for how to watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie — Grin and bear it.  This series-opening movie isn’t terrible… but it’s pretty bad.  This is the show at its weakest.  You could skip this movie entirely.  But my recommendation is to watch it, because not only does this movie introduce the animated series’ version of all the Prequel characters (Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme, Palpatine, Dooku, etc.), it also introduces several new-for-the-series characters who will prove to be of critical importance: Ahsoka, Rex, Asajj Ventress, etc.

Season One:

Episodes 1-4 — The first episode, “Ambush,” is a fun Yoda story.  Episodes 2-4, the “Malevolence” trilogy, are a better intro to the series than the movie was.  Episode 5, “Rookies”, introduces several Clone troopers who will be important in the series.

Skip episodes 6-7, then watch episodes 9-11 — “Cloak of Darkness”, “Lair of Grievous”, and “Dooku Captured”.  (Episode 11, “Dooku Captured” is worth watching because it introduces a great Clone Wars character, the pirate Hondo Onaka.  That episode ends on a cliffhanger, but I recommend you skip part 2, because it turns into a dumb Jar-Jar adventure.  Just know that Count Dooku escapes from Anakin & Obi-Wan and move on with your life.)

Skip episodes 12-18 and jump to the “Ryloth trilogy”, episodes 19-21.  Wrap up with episode 22, “Hostage Crisis”, that introduces the bounty hunter Cad Bane.

Season Two:

Episodes 1-3 — This three-parter tells another adventure with the bounty hunter Cad Bane.

Episodes 4-8 — The “Senate Spy” episode isn’t great but it introduces the character of Clovis who will be important later.  Episodes 5-8 tell the story of the second battle of Geonosis, a fun follow-up to Episode II.

Episodes 9-11 — Three stand-alones with some good stuff with Grievous, the Clones, and Ahsoka.

Episodes 12-14 — “The Mandalore Plot”, “Voyage of Temptation”, and “The Duchess of Mandalore” — This is the series’ first truly great story, as we get to visit Mandalore for the first time!  This is the start of a lengthy story-line that will wind through all of the Clone Wars show and Rebels... and now it connects to The Mandalorian as well!!!

Skip episode 15 (which actually takes place during season three — it’s better to watch it then).  Watch episode 16, “Cat and Mouse,” which takes place before the Clone Wars movie and features the Separatist Admiral Trench who will be important.  Watch episode 17, “Bounty Hunters,” which brings back the pirate Hondo (a character I really like).  Skip episodes 18-19.  (I know some fans love this Zillo Beast two-parter, but I find it boring.)  Watch episodes 20-22, which has some fun stuff with bounty hunters, a young Boba Fett, Mace Windu, and more.

Season Three:

Episodes 1-2 — “Clone Cadets” and “ARC Troopers” — set before the start of the series, we dig deeper into the origin of some of the central Clone troopers.

Skip episodes 3-4.  Watch episodes 5-7, as the story returns to Mandalore.

Skip episodes 8-9.  Watch episodes 10 and 11, and then go back and watch season 2 episode 15, “Senate Murders”.  These episodes are a little slow and talky (just like the Prequels themselves!), but I think they’re worth watching to see a little more of Padme and Bail Organa (Leia’s father) and learn how the Republic Senate functioned (or didn’t) during the Prequel era.

Episodes 12-14 — The show gets super-weird with this “Nightsisters” three-parter, but this will prove very important down the road!

Episodes 15-17 — The controversial “Mortis” three-parter!!  I absolutely love this super-weird three-parter that explores all sorts of new ideas about the Force.  Some fans hate these episodes and even consider them out of continuity.  But I think they’re fascinating (and Rebels will circle back to some of the ideas raised here!).

Episodes 18-20 — The “Citadel” three-parter brings Tarkin into the show!

Episodes 21-22 — “Padawan Lost” and “Wookee Hunt” — There are some great moments for Ahsoka here, and we get to see Chewie!

Season Four:

Episodes 1-4 — This four-parter explores the water world of Mon Cala, the home of Admiral Ackbar!

Skip episodes 5-6.  Watch episodes 7-10, the “Umbara” four-parter, an extremely dark story about a Jedi Master who doesn’t seem to care about the lives of the Clones under his command.

Episodes 11-13 — In this interesting three-parter, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka infiltrate a ring of Slavers, and Anakin must confront the emotions this brings up about his past as a slave on Tatooine.  Then continue and watch episode 14 — “A Friend in Need” — a one-off which is set on Mandalore.

I suggest skipping episodes 15-18.  I know some fans enjoy this “The Box” storyline, in which Obi-Wan fakes his own death and goes undercover with bounty hunters, but I don’t have much patience for it.

Episodes 19-22 — “Massacre”, “Bounty”, “Brothers”, and “Revenge” — This action-packed (and very dark) four-parter brings Maul into the Clone Wars story!  This is a terrific four-parter!

Season Five:

Episode 1, “Revival,” picks up the story of Maul and Savage Opress from the season four finale.

Episode 2-5 — This “Onderon” four-parter introduces the character of guerrilla leader Saw Guerra, who would later appear in live-action in Rogue One!

Episodes 6-9 — This fun four-parter explores how Jedi create their light-sabers and brings back Hondo.

Skip episodes 10-13, a droid-focused four-parter.

Episodes 14-16 — One of the best story-lines in the entire run of the series.  Darth Maul takes over Mandalore and confronts Obi-Wan Kenobi (again)… and Darth Sidious enters the fray big-time and fights Maul!!!  Big emotions and big action in these episodes.  It’s glorious.

Episodes 17-20 — The original finale of the series, as Ahsoka faces a life-changing event.  Beautiful animation, incredible action, and deeply emotional moments.  An amazing story-line and a high-point of the series, for me.

Season Six (Called “The Lost Missions” when originally released on Netflix):

Episodes 1-4 — In this incredible four-parter, the Clone called “Fives” discovers a secret hidden within the Clones…

Episodes 5-7 — The story of Padme and Clovis reaches its conclusion.

Skip episodes 8-9.

Episodes 10-13 — In this beautiful four-parter, the series explores the unanswered questions from Episode II regarding Jedi Master Syfo-Dias and the creation of the Clone Army… while Yoda explores the Force and faces the magnitude of the Jedi’s failure during the Clone Wars.  This is one of my favorites.

Season Seven (the final season, released on Disney+):

Watch all twelve episodes.  The first arc, “The Bad Batch”, is a solid Clone-centric story.  The middle arc checks back in with Ahsoka.  The final four episodes bring the series to a beautiful, sweepingly epic, heartbreaking conclusion.  These are by far the best four episodes of the entire series.

Note: Even though these twelve episodes were released AFTER the subsequent series, Star Wars Rebels, I think it’s best to watch them here, to wrap up The Clone Wars, and then you can (and should!) move on to Rebels.  Speaking of which:

Star Wars: Rebels

This four-season animated series ran from 2014-2018.  It’s set about 15 years after the end of The Clone Wars, beginning about 5 years before the events of the original Star Wars film.

Rebels will at first seem like a completely separate show, telling new stories with new characters.  But I was delighted to discover how the series gradually became a beautiful counterpart to The Clone Wars.  Eventually, many characters and story-lines from The Clone Wars were woven into Rebels, in an incredibly satisfying way.  The two series, together, tell a huge, epic story.  If you watched The Clone Wars, I strongly encourage you to continue on with Rebels.

Like The Clone Wars, Rebels begins by telling mostly stand-alone episodes.  Like The Clone Wars, those early episodes often feel aimed more at kids than adults.  But also like The Clone Wars, Rebels gradually develops into a much richer and more sophisticated story.  By the end, I was deeply in love with it.

Rebels consists of four seasons.  There are a few weaker episodes in the mix, but I think you can (and should) watch the series straight through.

(Both Clone Wars and Rebels are streaming on Disney+.  If you’re watching on Amazon Prime, beware: some episodes of Rebels seem to be missing, specifically the premieres of season 1 and 2 — so I recommend double-checking with an online episode guide to make sure you don’t miss anything.)

Enjoy!!!

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