Hello again! After a brief hiatus we’re back with another retro review. This week we are taking a look back and the The Clone Wars (2008-2014) cartoon to present a case for why they not only are better than all of the prequels, but almost entirely erase the need for the first three movies altogether.
It’s fair to say that 2 hours isn’t enough time to tell a longitudinal story, and it’s difficult…nigh impossible, to compare a movie to the ability of a good series to do the same thing. Weekly 30 min episodes are able to flesh out multiple story lines and develop characters in a why that just isn’t possible during a 2 hour movie. I’m also not afraid to admit that there were some Clone Wars episodes that made me cringe, and if the original Clone Wars cartoon movie was any indication, I had little hope for the series. But the series grew on me over time, and as I finished watching the final episode and the series wrapped up, not only was I more satisfied with the series, but I found a greater appreciation for the entire Star Wars saga (including the prequels!). Some minor spoilers to follow. Let me explain…
- Anakin and Obi Wan are friends, and it’s apparent
The prequels were somewhat notorious for their lack of depth in terms of character development. Redlettermedia does a fantastic job of deconstructing the prequels and explaining why the relationship between Obi Wan and Anakin lacks any emotional weight. This is arguably one of the most important components of a movie; watching the development of a relationship between characters and becoming emotionally invested so we care what happens to them during the movie. However, because we watched the Star Wars saga essentially in reverse, an emphasis on the friendship between Kenobi and Anakin in Episode IV that feels empty during the prequels. Episode IV was the first time we were introduced to Obi Wan and Anakin, and this is where the foundation was set. Kenobi goes so far as to call Anakin “a good friend”, lauding him with praise for the positive qualities he possessed. The Clone Wars cartoon took this idea of a friendship and created a relationship that felt real and earned. Throughout the series these two characters are faced with opportunities to bond and grow, as they faced off against Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress, Mandalorians, and Force-sensitive creatures. All of these encounters are merely hinted at during the prequel movies, and their interactions feel more like those of peers rather than those of a failed teacher and a whiny student (see Episode II and III). “Child” Anakin could be eliminated altogether, though that might have meant we would have missed out on Darth Maul…
- Clones, clones, and the development of clones!
Surprisingly, one of my favorite parts of The Clone Wars cartoon were the clone troopers themselves. The clones were humanized by giving them individual personalities, setting them apart from their Storm Trooper counterparts. (See General Krell, Season 4, Episodes 8-10). They had independent thought, they weren’t cannon fodder, they expressed a range of complex emotions, and they had individual personalities. They were brave, and they grew close to their brothers and the generals (Jedi) they served. This character development of the clones and the Jedi made it all the more depressing when we learn they’re acting against their will as they follow Order 66.
Some notable clones:
Captain Rex: Rex is probably the most popular of all of the clones. Loyal (almost to a fault), trustworthy, the epitome of what made the clones superior to the Storm Troopers, Rex showed valor in battle and demonstrated friendship off of it. He followed orders simply as the standard operating procedure, but when the ethics of putting men in harms way contradicted the chain of command, he reluctantly overturned decisions of his superiors, a decision made in direct opposition to his training. Rex was one to put his men first when he could, demonstrating once and for all that the clones were truly worthy of their individuality. For a solid glimpse into Rex’s personality, watch Season 4, Episodes 8-10.
Cody: Commander Cody was typically found serving alongside Obi Wan Kenobi throughout the prequels as well as The Clone Wars cartoon. You got the sense that Master Kenobi and Cody were friends and war buddies, with Cody often exchanging witty quips with Kenobi to bring levity to dire situations. Throughout the cartoon however, Cody and Rex develop a closer bond, and we are able to see more of his personality his character developed over the seasons. Unfortunately, Cody was still indoctrinated, and when Order 66 was given, he did not hesitate to command his men to fire upon the Jedi (Obi Wan in particular).
Wolffe: Another notable clone, Commander Wolffe fought alongside Jedi Master Plo Koon for most of his service tenure. Wolffe was generally seen as a no-nonsense type, and was the commander of the tight and formidable unit known as the “Wolfpack”. Wolffe was involved in numerous close calls and has seen the worst of what became the Clone War, eventually becoming scarred and losing his eye to the war. We later find out in Star Wars Rebels (Season 2) that Wolffe survived the Clone War, having removed his programming chip long before Order 66 was given.
5’s: 5’s has a fantastic story arc; from his time as a rookie coming up the ranks all the way to becoming an ARC trooper and discovering the Kaminoan programming that lead to the Jedi purge with Order 66. 5’s argued that the clones were more than just a number, and adopted the name “5’s” due to his clone trooper call number of “CT 5555”. 5’s was involved in a number of the key battles throughout the latter part of The Clone Wars series, and eventually joined Anakin’s 501st Legion. 5’s is an integral part of the investigation into the programming of the clones how that might affect the Jedi.
The prequels painted a picture of Anakin that was not flattering, to say the least. He was a bit whiny as a boy, as a teenager, and as a young adult. Basically he just whined in between sessions of brooding. We got little of his sense of humor, no sense of what truly drove his decision making (outside of what they tell you may have happened off-screen), and only a glimpse into the relationships that we are supposed to believe create the foundation for his character. Most all of his behavior is explained through expository dialogue in the prequels, and this I found to be completely unsatisfying. Darth Vader/Anakin was a character that I wanted to know more about, and by the end of Episode VI I developed an idea of who he was. I could see how troubled and torn he was between his son and what he felt was his obligation to the dark side of the force. His redemption IS the point of the original trilogy, and you feel his relief once he throws the Emperor over the ledge into the comically deep reactor abyss…dying in the process.
The Clone Wars shows us all sides of Anakin, but where it is different from the movies is how it portrays his strength and wisdom. We even get to see a better explanation for his being the chosen one, that has nothing to do with midichlorians! In a 3-part episode (Season 3, episodes 15-17), Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi Wan are drawn towards and trapped on a Force-infused planet, governed by polarized versions of light and dark Force siblings and their father. During these episodes Anakin is recognized as the chosen one, and receives a glimpse of his future and his path to bring balance to the force. Anakin sees his terrible future, yet in the end his choice to save everyone instead of himself forces him to lose those dark memories in exchange for leaving that planet with Obi Wan and Ahsoka. Anakin is able to demonstrate just how powerful he can be throughout this trial, and it seems to deepen the inner struggle Anakin carries as the chosen one.
Ahsoka might be the best part of the whole series, and that is high praise considering how much The Clone Wars got right. Ahsoka is also involved in the only scene from a Star Wars related film/series that actually brought me to tears, (SPOILER, AGAIN, I THINK?) with her decision to leave the Jedi Order. Ahsoka is the one character in all of the Star Wars universe that may know Anakin better than even Padme. She has seen him at his worst, his lowest, fought side by side in the most dire of circumstances, and eventually (spoiler?) walked away from The Order regardless of how close she had grown to her master. The swelling in Ahsoka’s eyes, the frustration and yet…the understanding in Anakin’s reaction knowing she was right to walk away…all very powerful moments if you invested the time and watched these characters grow. Even Anakin’s speech to prevent her from leaving sounds more like he’s trying to convince himself than it does trying to convince Ahsoka. She saw the err in the Jedi’s decisions leading up to Order 66, including the decisions of Yoda and Mace Windu, and had the courage to question authority when it was most shortsighted. The dynamic between Ahsoka and Anakin was full of teaching moments for Anakin, yet it seemed that sometimes he learned as much from her as she seemed to learn from him. Her decision to leave the Order weighed on Anakin’s mind, and no doubt played a part in his own eventual fall from the Order.
So what do you think? Did this solve your issues with the prequels? Are you an adamant defender of the Prequels to the death? Have you been living under a rock and not seen The Clone Wars series yet? Let us know in the comments! And go watch The Clone Wars/Star Wars Rebels!