“Star Wars: the Clone Wars”: a Few Kind Words at the Funeral

Star Wars: the Clone Wars Clonetrooper Gatling laser

What do you call a Clonetrooper with a Gatling laser? The winner.

While Star Wars fans worldwide have been agog ever since the Walt Disney Company commenced production of the still-untitled Episode VII, a large segment of the fan base has been in mourning this month over the news that the season-five finale of Star Wars: the Clone Wars, which aired March 2nd, would be the final episode of the Cartoon Network series. Though ratings didn’t seem to be an issue and production on a sixth season had already been underway, the message between the lines in the official Lucasfilm press release was that the company’s new long-term mission would be focusing on the ostensible Episode VII era, the future of the Star Wars galaxy after Return of the Jedi, rather than filling in gaps between the previous films. Anyone still in denial had their hopes crushed this week by new reports that Lucasfilm is actively reassigning some Clone Wars contributors to different projects and downsizing others.

Fans are hoping the completed season-six material is allowed to see the light of day in some fashion (as DVD extras? as exclusive online content? as a Disney XD miniseries? as convention bootlegs alongside The Star Wars Holiday Special?), but no promises have been made. The final episode, “The Wrong Jedi”, gave cold comfort and depressing closure to the Jedi training of the series’ central figure, young Ahsoka Tano, providing one last twist of fate that would allow her a gateway into potential further adventures, either in season six or in other media. Now that Episode VII has become Lucasfilm Job One, Ahsoka fans probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.

We know the show was far from perfect, and sometimes not excellent. The stylized marionette faces took time to accept. Some episodes were geared less toward adults and more toward undiscerning kids who don’t recognize decades-old clichés. The Expanded Universe novels and comics were by and large treated as meaningless and disposable. And I’m still bitter that their version of John Ostrander and Jan Duursema’s Quinlan Vos sounded way off-base.

Regardless, the show had its strengths and its high points. The starship battles were as well-crafted and as exciting as any we witnessed in the movies. The vocal performances grew stronger and the facial animations grew more nuanced in the later seasons. The list of contributing writers included names recognizable from other solid, geek-based projects. New concepts were introduced to the universe. The dramatic stakes were pushed so hard that characters from the live-action movies sometimes died, creating an unexpected sense that in the grand scheme of the Star Wars universe, The Clone Wars truly mattered. I’m sorry to see that chapter in the saga decommissioned and sent to the Star Wars graveyard of misfit concepts, especially since my wife and I have nephews who were rather fond of it.

Before we step away forever, finish the healing process, and move on to the new product coming in 2015, please allow me one last look back at some of my favorite episodes of the series, including but not limited to the following:

* Season 1, episode 5: “Rookies”. One of the earliest episodes to spotlight the Clonetroopers rather than those scene-hogging Jedi. I always preferred Clonetrooper camaraderie over Clonetroopers as cannon fodder. Also, there’s a Clonetrooper with a Gatling laser. That term again: A GATLING LASER. In a braver world that Clonetrooper would’ve removed his helmet in that scene and revealed himself as Jesse Ventura.

* Season 1, episode 7: “Duel of the Droids”. R2D2 in pitched battle against another, more sinister astromech droid who dared usurp his copilot role. Artoo’s action figures may look cute, but that doesn’t mean it’s cool to mess with him. At all.

* Season 1, episode 9: “Cloak of Darkness”. A Jedi team-up between Ahsoka Tano and Luminara Unduli, from the mind of top-flight Batman: the Animated Series writer Paul Dini, may be one of the very few Star Wars stories ever to pass the Bechdel test. And it was a great action yarn.

* Season 2, episode 17: “Bounty Hunters”. Jedi and bounty hunters work together for the good of a defenseless village, in homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Thumbs-up for that part alone.

* Season 3, episode 12: “Nightsisters”. The centerpiece of a mini-arc about Sith apprentice Asajj Ventress’ fall from grace with her master. Though I was originally unimpressed with her (Lady Dooku with two lightsabers? Meh), Ventress came into her own when the one-master/one-apprentice rule was invoked at her expense, turning her demeanor from smugness to desperation. The three-on-one lightsaber battle also showed us a ferocious side of Count Dooku that animation was more suited to capture than the films were.

* Season 3, episode 20: “Citadel Rescue”. Despite some continuity gaffes noted by my wife (a lovely, hardcore Expanded Universe purist), the action scenes were at turns breathtaking and dynamic, actual irrevocable major events occurred, and Ahsoka reached a turning point in her development as, in an extremely rare moment for the series, a Jedi successfully used a lightsaber on something — anything — that wasn’t a robot or a wall.

* Season 4, episode 1: “Water War”. Firefly veteran Jose Molina penned this episode, an extended battle sequence set entirely underwater. Granted, the logistics of underwater war are silly if you think too deeply about them, but it has some of the most captivating CG water effects since James Cameron’s The Abyss.

* Season 4, episode 17: “The Box”. Bounty hunters vs. a deadly obstacle course. I’m a sucker for stories in which characters are forced to run a deadly gauntlet.

Honorable mention: My all-time favorite battle in the series was a complicated maneuver involving Jedi and Clonetroopers advancing upon an enemy stronghold that required a lengthy vertical scaling and assault against a stories-tall, heavily armed fortress wall. It was a virtuoso sequence of vertiginous proportions, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which episode or season it was. That one thoroughly ruled.

May Clone Wars rest in peace, gone and hopefully not forgotten, even after the release of the next film(s). Many thanks are owed to its talented staff for five fun years, with extra gratitude for not foisting Jar-Jar on us too often.


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