The Cynical Optimist – 24/4/09


The Clone Wars. In 1977, no one had a clue what in the hell Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker were talking about when they mentioned the Clone Wars. That’s why we love Star Wars so much. We’re dropped smack-dab in the middle of this universe, surrounded by thousands of aliens and robots and all matter of exotic scenery, and yet there’s something very real and familiar to it. Ratable characters and dialogue provide the emotional anchor that keeps us invested in the story.

Luke and Obi-Wan’s conversation about the Clone Wars in ”A New Hope” gives us a brief history lesson. Put in context, we realize that this story does not begin and end with the adventures of Luke Skywalker. This is a fully formed universe filled with ages upon ages of history. Secondly, this conversation gives us some background on Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father.

“He was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior,” says Kenobi. “And he was a good friend.” So, there’s the back story. Anakin was betrayed by Darth Vader, who helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi.

Of course, we know this isn’t the whole truth – but a version of reality told from Kenobi’s own point of view. As a kid watching Star Wars, you begin to pick apart everything after a couple hundred repeated viewings. What do Jawas look like under their hoods? What do Sand People eat? How did Darth Vader get in that suit? What were the Clone Wars?

At best you could say it was a war that involved clones and Jedi. I always imagined it was this galaxy’s version of World War II. It was probably an epic war that spanned for several years, and in my head I always imagined it was thousands of Jedi battling thousands of clones – but I didn’t know what exactly a clone was or why there was a whole war dedicated to them.

”Attack of the Clones” showed us the beginning of the Clone Wars and who these clones were. Turns out they were all clones of Jango Fett, Boba Fett’s clone father. Wait a second, they’re clones of bounty hunters, dressed as stormtroopers and they’re taking orders from Jedi generals? What in the hell is going on here?

Again, in standard Lucas fashion, we only see the beginning of the War and later, the end of it in ”Revenge of the Sith”. Luckily, there has been plenty of Expanded Universe material that fills in the gaps of the Clone Wars. This brings us to the Cartoon Network animated series, which focuses on the heroics of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and other Jedi during the wars.

Probably the most surprising aspect of this animated series is the introduction of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s padawan learner. Young Ahsoka displays the same type of rash and rebellious behavior that her master is known for. The series shows the ongoing skirmishes between the Trade Federation, Led by Count Dooku and General Grievous, and the Republic’s clone forces.

As any scholar of Star Wars will tell you, the series is based in the style of 1930s Saturday morning Serials like ”Flash Gordon” and ”Buck Rogers”. These serials would be comprised of multiple chapters which ended on a cliffhanger. While George Lucas did the best he could in making this format work for a feature film series, I’ve got to say it works brilliantly in a television series.

Unlike the films, we’re really able to get a sense of development and growth in the characters in this series. We see the friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan and yes, we see Anakin as a cunning warrior and ace star pilot. Jedi Masters Plo Koon, Kit Fisto, Mace Windu and Yoda all their time in the limelight, with whole episodes devoted to adventures in the war.

We also gain insight on the clones themselves. We see them as more than faceless entities under helmets. Clone commanders from Revenge of the Sith, guys like Cody and Bly get more screen time in the series which makes their betrayal during Order 66 even more disheartening.

The main thing to be gained from watching The Clone Wars is the unmistakable feel of Star Wars – the sweeping space battles, the pulp action and adventure and of those epic lightsaber battles. There’s plenty of humor and action to keep the kids entertained, while lots of great character development and homage to the Original Trilogy for older fans.

The only thing that really holds ”The Clone Wars” back from being as great as the original films is the fact that it is, in reality, a cartoon for kids. You’ve got to wonder if the opening voiceover was a stylistic decision or a necessary change in order to explain the story to kids who aren’t old enough to read yet. On that same note, all alien characters seem to speak basic (the English of the Star Wars universe). This makes the universe feel smaller. Part of what made the original films so great were the variety of creatures and languages – namely Huttese, the preferred language of scoundrels, crime lords and bounty hunters everywhere.

As the series continues, I’m sure it will mature and as the audience grows with it. I hope the battle droid humor is toned down, and the makers of this series have a great opportunity to flesh out Jar Jar and redeem him in the eyes of fans. Jar Jar needs to grow up – plain and simple. If director Dave Filoni can smooth over the flaws of the prequels, he will have done a great service to fandom and the saga itself.

”The Clone Wars” is a great part of the Star Wars mythos, and this television series (along with the 2003 micro-series) do a wonderful job of fleshing out characters that simply couldn’t get enough screen time in the films. I look forward to seeing what happens to Anakin’s padawan – obviously Ahsoka isn’t in Revenge of the Sith or even mentioned by Anakin. I’d love to see more on characters like Plo Koon and Ki-Adi-Mundi, as well as glimpses of planets like Ithor, Cato Neimoidia, and Nar Shaddaa.

Give us some Count Dooku flashbacks to his days on the Jedi Council and the creation of the clone army. Show us some Mandalorian lore and how Jango Fett became to be involved with Dooku. Show more of Darth Sidious pulling the strings of this war the strategy behind Palpatine’s madness.

All in all, the ”Clone Wars” animated series is on the right track and I can’t help by smile when I think about 100 total episodes of ”Star Wars” action added to the already deep, spanning mythos. The Force is still strong after all these years!