The Clone Wars Is The Prequel Star Wars Deserves

Very few things are as universally loathed and shunned by their own fanbase as the Star Wars prequel trilogy. While there were points where you could almost tell what George Lucas was trying to do with Darth Vader's origin story, it was mostly just a mess.

No one expected anything good when The Clone Wars came creeping in, as the dust from the prequels' fallout was still settling. Yet even though the animated show started out just as you would expect, it managed to achieve what the prequels never could.

This article originally appeared in May 2016, and has been retimed following the announcement that Clone Wars will return for one final season.

The Clone Wars is a bit of an anomaly — it's one of the few bits of Star Wars media that was not de-canonised prior to the release of The Force Awakens. It, along with the films, Star Wars Rebels and a handful of novelisations, currently makes up the entire official Star Wars Canon.

While this means that some incredibly odd things like the Iego angels, Jar Jar Binks playing politics with General Grievous and Anakin fighting literal embodiments of the light side and the dark side to bring balance to the Force are now canon, it also adds depth to both Anakin's character and the storyline of the prequels in general.

This is partly thanks to Matt Lanter's voice acting (I swear they even made Anakin look more like him than Hayden Christensen) and overall better writing, but in large part The Clone Wars distinguishes itself by giving Anakin a padawan — Ahsoka Tano.

The relationship between padawan and master is a theme through many of the Star Wars films — Qui Gon and Obi Wan, Obi Wan and Anakin, Obi Wan and Luke, Yoda and Luke, even multiple Siths and their apprentices mirror this theme. In hindsight, it just makes sense to give Anakin a padawan of his own, though when Clone Wars was made the character of Ahsoka must have presented a considerable risk.

She's a headstrong female Force user, years before Rey's mysterious parents ever dumped her on Jakku, and one of the first non-human aliens to be a main character in Star Wars since Jar Jar incited the hatred of millions. She was introduced as a character with room to grow, with her personality in the first season being almost as obnoxious as padawan Anakin was in Attack of the Clones. Yet despite all this, her viewpoint makes Anakin a sympathetic character where two movies of teenaged brooding and a clandestine marriage to Padmé never could.

Ahsoka's not the only interesting character created for The Clone Wars — the series was full of nuanced female characters with leading roles on both sides of the conflict, years before anyone started kicking up a fuss about the female leads in The Force Awakens and Rogue Once. There's Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress and her planet of 'witches', a multitude of female Jedi and padawans, Obi Wan's former lover Satine (yes, they went there), the Duchess of Mandalore and her sister Bo-Katan, eventual leader of a militaristic group of Mandalorians.

Even the male characters added something new — bounty hunter Cad Bane became a fan favourite, and even the clones eventually became distinct, compelling characters — which changed the impact of the previously baffling Order 66 scene entirely.

But I digress — the prequels were always about Anakin, and it is here where The Clone Wars distinguishes itself the most.

The Clone Wars spans the long period of time that was skipped between Episodes II and III — in the films, Anakin goes from pesky padawan to being put on the Jedi council, from bantering with Obi Wan to distrusting the entire Jedi order.

The series fills out this time a little jerkily at first — the first episode is a highly forgettable one that focuses on highly forgettable clones, and many of the episodes in the first season are pure filler. There's a somewhat tiring cycle of space battles where General Grievous loses ships/battles/limbs but never actually dies (because we have to save that for Revenge of the Sith), along with two whole episodes devoted to Jar Jar, and a few abortive attempts to humanise the clones.

The series starts to come into its own when it focuses on the relationship between Anakin and his padawan. After the first season, it's far more of a focus than Anakin's marriage to Padmé (but we already get enough of that in the films). Ahsoka is similar to Anakin in a lot of ways — unconventional and not as likely to blindly follow the rules and traditions of the Jedi order. Anakin risks himself to save her a number of times, and they form a bond that is pointedly unconventional among Jedi and their padawans.

It's here that the Clone Wars starts to creep in on the themes of the prequel trilogy. We all know these movies were meant to show Anakin's gradual disillusionment with the Jedi Order, but in reality it's more like six hours of Anakin throwing tantrums and being a creepy sex-pest.

The animated series, on the other hand, shows a Jedi Order with questionable morals — clones, and even other Jedi being sacrificed when there are other options, Jedi determined to continue the Clone Wars even when given a chance for peace, corruption within their ranks and betrayal coming from even the highest members of the council.

I won't spoil anything, as I think all Star Wars fans need to watch at least some of Clone Wars, but when the series gets going, it doesn't stop.

Suddenly, Anakin's defection seems justifiable, rather than an entirely overblown fit of teen angst and the culmination of a penchant for wearing black leather.

Because I'm a masochist, I went back and watched Episode III to cap off the timeline of six seasons worth of Clone Wars.

It's odd. We already know it's bad, but this time it was like watching a really long, overblown fanfilm, where Hayden Christensen was a cosplayer trying his best to imitate the Clone Wars version of Anakin — you know, the real version.


Comments

    Yup this series was excellent, wish they explored the Clone Trooper stuff a bit more though.

      Thats literally where Disney Cancelled it. the stories had already been written, so had the stories for Ashoka. It was so upsetting to see them cancel it, especially there.

    I actually thought the prequel trilogy wasn't that bad.....

      Were you 10 y/o when it came out? Cause that is what the target audience appeared to be :P

        I didn't mind the movies and yes, I was 10.

        close I would of been 12 when phantom menace came out, don't get me wrong, I don't think they are a master class of the same standard of the first 3, I just don't think they were really as bad as everyone makes out them to be.

        Its like ice cream, sure everyone has their favourite flavour like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, but im not going to say no if someone offers me rum and raisin even though I think its an abomination, in the end its still ice cream :)

          I usually fix myself a big bowl of pickled-mynock and tawn-tawn guts flavoured ice cream when I sit down and rewatch the prequels. The complex flavours that perfectly complement a difficult but rewar... difficult cinematic experience.

        I was 22 when TPM came out and I loved it. Still do. Ditto AOTC, and ROTS.

          I was about the same age and saw it 3 times in the theatre's. Because I loved star wars.

          Then I saw the sequel and just checked out. Felt like a 2hr ad for toys to me. I went home and played Jedi Outcast so I could remember when star wars was cool again.

          These days I just pretend that the original trilogy was the only trilogy. It's cool that you like it though. A lot of young 'uns think they're cool too and if I'd seen them at 5, I'd probably agree.

      The prequel series wasn't all that bad I thought. but somehow its becomes popular amongst the 'hardcore" fans to hate on it.

        It hasn't really become popular, it was a huge movement from the get go. After waiting for something for so long, people were disappointed.

        I was crushed. Angry. Bitter. For a long time. Then I realised they're just movies and I was being insufferable and I got over myself. I'm glad people like them. It's just not my cup of tea.

      After watching TLJ, I agree.

      I gave George a lot of shit back in the day, but in the end, he understood his creation far better than this new generation does.

      It's sad, that Star Wars has come to this.

    The Clone Wars was a bit patchy in places but overall it was an excellent show, easily worth a watch if you like Star Wars

      I like them, but they're not the same type of movie at all.
      The original trilogy are fairly fast action based movies with some exposition thrown in to link it all together.
      The Prequels, on the other hand, are stately political thrillers punctuated with some flashy but often useless action sequences.
      Looked at in this light they're still not great movies, but they're much more enjoyable.

    Love the series. For anyone about to dive in, probably best to follow the official viewing order. I imagine it will soften the blow of the less-than-good baby-hutt rescue movie to have watched a couple of episodes first.
    http://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-the-clone-wars-chronological-episodeorder/

      I generally find it really hard to recommend an order for people to watch it in so that they don't lose interest. The first season in general is fairly weak, though season 4 and 5 are absolutely stellar (aside from that 4-ep droid arc *shudders*)

        Yeah, definitely true. It's been a while since I've seen those particular pre-movie eps but there seemed to be a bunch of people back in the day who bailed on the tv series sight unseen because of that movie so I figure it's a bad idea for anyone on the fence to start there. Although I expect there will be a ton of people who see the fantastic Rebels finale and will be able to push through the janky early Clone Wars just to get the whole back story. Great article, by the way!

          TBH I find that Clone Wars as a whole is more consistently good than Rebels, though maybe that's because season 3-6 is still in my head. I think I'm just not as invested in Ezra as I was in Ahsoka. I'm pretty much watching Rebels for Ahsoka, Hera and (kind of) Maul.

            For rebels; in a time of the universe where Jedi have & are being wiped out, there is a surprising amount of people with force powers. They also happen to all meet and know each other despite them all being "in hiding".

            The one great thing the clone wars has the Rebels is lacking is the ability to kill off characters (it's what makes game of thrones, and band of brothers great struggle stories). There are only so many times a bunch of rag tags can infiltrate a heavily armed military facility and not suffer some loss. It also suffers from the same problems the comics have, trying to fill in gaps to main characters of the trilogy, in reference to the SW style guide, "its a big universe not everything has to surround the five main characters".

    Yer somewhat ironically the kids show had a better story than the movies. Tragic really, but the prequels did give birth to some awesome skits like

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x115u4_triumph-the-insult-comic-dog-star-w_fun
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdS2kCUGvfo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7Uc84U04Sk

    on a more serious note i wish lucas had the balls to go through with https://www.reddit.com/comments/3qvj6w if that was indeed his plan.

      Seriously, I think the animated series was aimed at a more mature audience than Ep. 1, at least, was... especially in the later seasons.

    They shouldn't have cut the KOTOR storyline out of canon though.

      only reason I can see for them doing that is that they have something else planned down the track for its time slot.

      Technically it's not, yet. While it has been relegated to Legacy, Legacy isn't entirely non-canon (and is its own canon); best to consider anything that hasn't been retconned yet to remain canon for your sanity.

        That's true I guess... Heroes of the Galaxy has HK-47 as a character. So its still kinda alive in the Disney-verse.

    I've just this year watched Star Wars with my daughters (6 & 8), we watched episodes 4, 5, 6 and 7 and it all flowed really nice. I didn't skip the first 3 for stupid/Jar Jar/medichlorean reasons, more because I felt the content of Ep3 was a bit much at their age (beheadings, dismemberments, infanticide and the cremation of Ani at the end).

    I guess what I'm asking here is, would the Clone Wars series work as a suitable alternative for movie #3? I'd take them through the suggested viewing order (cheers @st0mp ), just looking at the caps in the article, it looks like Anikin is all set for burning.

      There's no burning in the Clone Wars (those caps are actually from a very different scene) but there are some pretty dark themes in later seasons. A lot of it is made to go around the prequels, but considering how much the politics of the films went over my head when I was young I reckon Clone Wars would make for a pretty good substitute for kids. Star Wars Rebels also bridges the gap between episode 3 and 4, and that builds a little more on Darth Vader's development as well.

    To be honest, I don't really understand why people think The Clone Wars is so good. I guess I haven't watched many episodes but every time I've tried, I've found it almost unwatchable. I've found the voice acting mediocre, the dialogue often cringeworthy, and the animation is nothing to write home about.

    Anyway, just my thoughts, pls don't roast me

      I get you. Season 1 is hard to get into (it was one of those on-in-the-background shows while I made cosplay) but once it starts coming into its own it's worth it. You really do have to last past a certain point though.

        Thanks for the fair reply (probably fairer than my negativity deserved haha). Maybe I should give it another go

      I'm the same, I always thought that the same people who decry the writing in the prequels whilst singing the praises of this cartoon are, well, silly :P

    That cheesy announcer guy just shat me to tears.

    So true, so much better than the prequel trilogy

    Anything looks good when you compare them to the prequels. Unfortunately the Clone Wars still suffers the same problems. Wooden acting, One dimensional characters (General Grevious for example is the laziest character of them all). Compare that to the excellent "The Last Airbender" for example which is also for kids and The Clone Wars is no competition.

    I find the animation to be rather unpleasant in general. That second image of Anakin in particular is so freaky - his head a neck are huge compared to the rest of his body.

    I find the 2003 version of the Clone Wars to have far better animation style and story.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_Clone_Wars_%282003_TV_series%29

    Last edited 05/05/16 6:57 pm

    Should also check out Genndy Tartakovsky's excellent Clone Wars cartoon mini series that aired a while back, it's quite short but well worth it.

    Edit: See above comment

    Last edited 05/05/16 7:14 pm

    Snips would have to be one of my favourite Star Wars characters, loved her story line.

    I never watched the show, but I found what I heard about their approach to canon to be alarming. Prime example, the Mandalorians. Culture of badass bounty hunter Boba Fett, renowned as perhaps the greatest warriors in the galaxy, past or present, a society that glorified honour and skill. The Clone Wars turned them into pacifists, said they'd been pacifists for a very long time, and then portrayed their homeworld as totally different from all other sources. They retconned everything.

    I liked the prequels. They had some poor moments but I enjoyed them for the most part.

    I admit, the prequels are terrible. I can't however hate them because I was also 10 when they came out and fell in love with them.

    I know they're bad.

    I love them anyway.

    I started The Clone Wars last year and then went on to Rebels right before Rogue 1 both are amazing to me!! I'm one of those mid 30's guys who loves the OT release (shout out to Harmy, thank you!), cant stand the Special Editions and I love the prequel story but hate the movies.

    I started watching Clone Wars when they came on Netflix, started very skeptic but by the end of the very first episode I was in! It had all the feels of the OT movies, same shots, editing, music, etc!

    What I wanted to bring up here is...how amazing would it be to have the same team/cast of the Clone Wars re-do the prequel movies!!! I'd love to see the prequels animated with the same exact team last the Clone Wars. Change up the script a bit, make some scenes better, etc.

    Ahh, one can dream. Please Disney!

    I would argue that the reason the Clone Wars became what it did and is so highly though of is because of Dave Filoni.

    I have always looked at George Lucas as a creative genius who struggles to execute the ideas in his head.

    If you specifically look at the Star Wars on the screen the best parts have had Lucas ideas distilled through another person.

    The first movie (Episode 4) was saved in the editing room by his then wife Marsha, Empire through Irvin Kershner. Even with Episode 3, which is regarded as the strongest of the prequels, Lucas was thought to have heavy input from Stephen Spielberg to help shape the final film.

    @nicktofficial Why are you downvoting all these people making reasonable, well thought out comments?

    Save the downvotes for the jerks!

      I subscribe to the downvote = disagree mentality.

      I wish I could section off comments and be like, "I downvote this sentence and this sentence only" because that'd make my life a lot easier.

      I probably should forge a dialogue with them instead of downvoting but I really can't be bothered discussing things on the internet anymore, man, it's like shouting into the void most days.

        Haha. On some sites but Kotaku is different. You can totally dialogue it up here.

    Hayden Christensen played Anakin perfectly. I love the prequels & George Lucas, May the force be with you.

      Woah. Really? I think he's a good actor working with bad material and a director who's notorious for being terrible at directing actors.

      It's cool that you liked the prequels though. I found them to be massive, massive disappointments myself.

    The ability to speak does not make you intelligent

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