In anticipation of Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi, MakingStarWars.net correspondent John Bishop is re-watching the saga’s entire visual canon.
Even if you’re not planning to write about it, a journey through the 121 episode (141 part!) Clone Wars television series is a daunting task. So, like any good explorers, we’ll start with a map. In this case, our “map” is the chronological episode guide provided by StarWars.com. And, In order to properly digest the depth and breadth of the epic show, our re-watch of the visual cannon will take on the series in reasonable chunks beginning with the first nine episodes and The Clone Wars theatrical release. Spoilers ahead…
|1||216||Cat and Mouse|
|T||The Clone Wars theatrical release|
|7||103||Shadow of Malevolence|
The first paragraph of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’s opening crawl minces no words:
War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.
Thankfully, The Clone Wars television series fleshes out this paragraph and gives fans an avenue by which to access the pervasive evil that turned Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side, defeated the Jedi, and installed Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord, in a position of near-unlimited power.
It’s a worthwhile task. The Star Wars universe, as first introduced by George Lucas in Episode IV: A New Hope, is predicated on the events of the Clone War and Princess Leia herself speaks of the conflict as she pleads with Obi-Wan Kenobi by way of the hologram she placed in R2-D2 while both hid the the escape pod bay of the Tantive IV:
“General Kenobi: Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars,” she said into the ether. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”
As viewers catch up with Anakin Skywalker and Kenobi at the chronological beginning of the Clone War, Bail Organa makes a similar request of Obi-Wan; asking the Jedi to come to the aid of the planet Christophsis, and finishing his own urgent hologram with the phrase that will echo in his adopted-daughter’s request years later:
“We can’t hold out any longer,” he said. “There’s little chance for survival. Help us General Kenobi. You’re our only hope.”
The word “hope” is omnipresent throughout Star Wars canon, and is often associated closely with the will of the Force. Even the phrase “May the Force be with you…” is hopeful, spoken as a blessing or a prayer, but inherently acknowledging how difficult it may be to understand what the Force might dictate, and then — so apprised — ride the wave of the transcendent energy to a proper course of action.
That said, the right course of action could depend greatly on your point of view…
Case in point: The beginning of the Clone Wars (depicted in Episode II: Attack of the Clones) found the Jedi, the Republic’s guardians of peace and justice, making (or being forced/Forced into) some heavy decisions; courses of action that will have dire ramifications for the galaxy.
For example, the acceptance of the Kaminoan clone army and transition from peacekeeping arbiters to war-waging Force-wielders seems counter intuitive to even the most rudimentary Jedi teaching.
As Yoda told Luke Skywalker in Episode V: The Empire Strike Back, the Force should be used for “knowledge and defense; never for attack.” Another instance occurs when Qui-Gon Jinn told Padme Amidala in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, “I can only protect you, I cannot fight a war for you.” Furthermore, Yoda, a Jedi Council member and the de facto head of the order, admonished Kenobi after the young Jedi proclaimed the first Battle of Geonosis a victory thanks to the use of the clones:
“Victory you say? Master Obi-wan, not victory; the shroud of the Dark Side has fallen – begun, the Clone War, has.”
However, and even beyond the obvious philosophical changes in the Jedi, there are physically-manifested changes that are quickly discerned in the television series. Gone are the demure robes seen throughout the cinematic saga, replaced — at least in a practical sense — with armor; body protection heretofore eschewed by Jedi knights (and, metaphorically, bringing Jedi a step closer to the clones and, perhaps, the armored figure of Darth Vader).
These first episodes of the series, and the much maligned Clone Wars theatrical release (which, if watched as part of the regular order of the television series, regains more than a measure of respectability if you discount the phrases “Snips”, “Sky Guy”, “Artooie” and the most over-the-top moments of Ziro the Hutt), set-up several important storylines, which may help viewers settle into and fully absorb the conflict (and the extraordinary series as a whole).
As early as the first chronological episodes, Anakin and Obi-Wan both begin to see the pull between the light side and the dark, as clone after clone is killed in defense of the Republic. Clearly, we’re — as viewers — meant to understand that much of the Jedi order is torn between what they understand to be “the Jedi Way” and the rules of war.
Fans will also note the close bond between “brother” clones, which is (beyond their predestined and “pre-programmed” duty to the Republic) the most important bond the genetically-engineered progeny of Jango Fett maintain throughout their (often short and brutal) lives.
During these opening episodes, obvious allusions (and scripted references) to the Empire and Rebel Alliance are found, with the white-clad clone troopers and Republic Navy — a human-only, all male enterprise (with the infrequent exception of the Jedi) — fighting a very well-equiped mixed race Separatist force, whose acquisition of technology (i.e. the ion-cannon-equipped warship Malevolence) creates havoc in the galaxy and makes the phrase “there are heroes on both sides” more appropriate.
The war footing of the Jedi Order is reinforced by the holonet-style newsreel at the beginning of each episode. Meanwhile, obvious homages to classic war films are peppered throughout the first nine shows, what with World War II combat scenarios complete with turret gunners (Twelve O’clock High), submarine-style warfare (Hunt for Red October), and pitched battles (The Longest Day). Meanwhile, the plight of the clones themselves takes center stage as individual troopers exhibit personality, sacrifice and heroism (The Story of G.I. Joe).
Several mainstay characters are added to the show in the first ten episodes, with Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress, and General Grievous being the most prominent.
Tano’s initial introduction to the canon was not well-received, perhaps because it wasn’t possible to shoehorn the depth and meaning that the series eventually achieves through 121 complete TV shows in a 98-minute animated feature. To wit, the Boston Globe’s Tom Russo describes the underlying issue with the film thusly:
[Tano and Skywalker’s] mission: to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s kidnapped slug, er, son. Anakin isn’t corrupted yet, just peeved about his unwanted gig as Jedi tutor; Ahsoka is sk8er-grrrl spunky, insists on calling him “Sky-guy,” and has patterned terra cotta skin that makes her look world-culture hip (if a bit like Navajo pottery). In other words, they’re unlikely buddy cops. Let the bickering and adventure commence.
A welcome respite from the early juvenile-Jedi banter is provided by the seething, seductive and downright scary Sith-stylings of Ventress. Her countenance and constant flirtation with Kenobi (“I’m all yours Obi-wan…”) provides a stark contrast to the always boring Count Dooku and the unconvincing “mustache twirling” of the proto-Vader Grievous (whose portrayal was much more effective in Genndy Tartakovsky’s original, now Legends, Star Wars: Clone Wars mini-series).
Thus, the real heroes early in the Lucasfilm’s groundbreaking series are actually the clones themselves.
Little need be said at the moment about super soldiers Commander Cody and Captain Rex – they’ll get their due. However, during the initial arcs, viewers should pay close attention to the troopers in “Clone Cadets” and “Rookies” (namely: Hevy, Cutup, Droidbait, Fives and Echo and the “bad batcher” 99, ) as we follow the Domino Squad’s path from Jedi Master Shaak Ti’s clone training center on Kamino into actual combat.
As you watch these nine episodes, notice the ancillary humanity displayed by the genetically engineered troopers in battle, everything from calling for medics to help a fallen brother, to the nose art and pin-ups on display on transports and in barracks, respectively.
With that in mind, I believe the most important moment of our initial set comes in the episode “Hidden Enemy.”
In a very uncharacteristic act, one clone is found to be passing information to the Separatists. When caught and called a traitor, he tells his superior officer, a fellow clone, “I’m not the traitor, you are…always blindly following orders – for what?” Asked if he sold his fellow clones out purely for money, he retorts, “She offered me something more important – freedom!”
And finally, when a disappointed Anakin asks, “How could you do this to your brothers?” The traitorous clone answers, “Only a Jedi would ask that.”
“it’s the Jedi who keep my brothers enslaved,” he added, snarling. “We do your bidding, we serve at your whim – I just want something more.”
It’s apropos, because everyone in the Clone War wants something more.
Up Next: Finding R2-D2…