• Joel Ryan

How "The Clone Wars" Bridges the Gap Between the "Star Wars" Prequels and Original Trilogy


Image via Lucasfilm Animation

When it first premiered in 2008 on Cartoon Network, The Clones Wars animated series set out to bridge the three-year gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, focusing on the various military campaigns between the Galactic Republic’s Jedi- led clone army and the droid battalions of the Separatist Alliance.


Sadly, with the exception of a few key battles, we never got to see much of that actual conflict on screen.


The Clone Wars began at the end of Attack of the Clones and ended around the midpoint of Revenge of the Sith. That’s a lot of conflict and story left to our imagination and the pages of supplemental literature.


But what actually happened during the three years that gave rise to the Galactic Empire we know and dread from the original Star Wars trilogy? The Clone Wars answered many of those questions and more in what has become one of the best entries in the Star Wars canon.


With its gorgeous animation, incredible set pieces (and world building), and strong writing, The Clone Wars developed existing characters (while introducing several beloved new ones) while fleshing out the often-criticized Star Wars prequels in a way that make Episodes 1-III infinitely more enjoyable the second time around.


So how did George Lucas, Dave Filoni, and the writers at Lucasfilm Animation do it?


Here are six observations and writing strengths of The Clone Wars series, which recently concluded on Disney+


1. Proper Character Development: The Anakin Skywalker of Legend


Anakin Skywalker was always going to be a tricky character to write for the Star Wars prequels given his reputation, the age he is introduced, and how much time would pass between each film in the trilogy.


As the original trilogy focused on the redemption of Anakin Skywalker, the prequels explored his fall from grace.


In The Phantom Menace, Anakin is just a little boy, hardly the Dark Lord of the Sith. We know going into Episode I that this boy is destined to becoming Darth Vader, however, Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the darkside was always just that, a journey.


Anakin’s introduction brings him into the world of the Jedi, introduces him to his eventual mentor/master (Obi-Wan) and wife (Padme Amidala), and establishes the powers that will shape his destiny, for good or for ill, forever.


We then jump forward ten years.


In Attack of the Clones, we see who Anakin has become under the guidance of Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, he’s still a padawan and more of an arrogant, lovestruck, impulsive teenager than a competent leader or war hero.

We also see that Obi-Wan, unlike Qui-Gon Jinn is more of an overbearing older brother than an actual father figure. That role seems to have been taken up by Chancellor Palpatine, who has latched onto Anakin and begun grooming him for the darkside.


Episode II allows Anakin to fall in love, breaking from the traditions of the Jedi, and allows us to see how he reacts when the things (or people) he loves are taken from him.


Furthermore, the death of Anakin’s mother exposes just how fearful Anakin really is. And as we are frequently reminded, “fear is the path to the dark side.”


Unlike the stoic and by-the-book Obi-Wan, Anakin is a much more emotional and relational hero, one who’s unwilling to rid himself of all human attachments (perhaps for justifiable reasons)


Flash forward three years.


In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin is now a respected, military commander. This is a much different man than the lovestruck, hot-tempered, whiny teenager of Episode II.


My point here is that a lot of Anakin’s growth and development happen in between films.


Though it makes sense that a young Anakin wouldn’t be as powerful as Darth Vader or as respected as the Anakin Skywalker of legend, the Anakin Skywalker of the Clone Wars should still be a competent leader and formidable foe.


In The Clone Wars, we actually get to Anakin Skywalker at his best.


We see how he has become such a tactical and capable leader. We see him showcase his immense skills as a pilot. We see him channel his power and learn patience in battle. We see his growth as a Jedi and maturity as a man. We also get to see his softer side in his friendship with Obi-Wan, his mentorship of Ahsoka Tano, and his relationship with Padme Amidala.


The final shot of The Clone Wars captures Anakin’s fall from grace perfectly, as the once great hero of light now stands in shadow and ash above the ruins of a downed Star Destroyer and the world he just helped destroy. In a lot of ways, this shot is a perfect semicolon to the prequel trilogy and the arc of Anakin Skywalker as he tragically embraces his new identity as Darth Vader.


2. Better World-Building: Exploring All the Galaxy Has to Offer


One of my favorite things about Star Wars is the extensive world George Lucas created. Every planet in the galaxy has its own unique ecosystem, culture, and political structure. Credit to George Lucas for taking us to as many locations as possible in the original trilogy and prequels.


However, given the size and scope of the Star Wars galaxy, the Skywalker Saga would only scratch the surface of what George Lucas’ world had to offer. There was always more… lot’s more when it came to planets and locations that we were never going to have time to visit in just nine movies.


When it comes to The Clones Wars, a central conflict like a galactic war leaves no corner of the galaxy unscathed for long. This kind of war provided the vehicle to take the story and its characters to lavish new worlds, allowing the animators to flex their muscles in ways live action film often could not.

3. Suspense Created from a Looming Threat: Order 66


One of the big questions at the start of The Clone Wars was, how are they going to end it? Would they bring us right to the start of Episode III? Would the story bleed into Revenge of the Sith? With the last few episodes of The Clone Wars, we got our answer.


As Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex continue the Siege of Mandalore and attempt to capture the resurgent Darth Maul, we learn that the events of Revenge of the Sith are already in motion, culminating with the execution of Order 66 and Emperor’s master plan to destroy the Jedi Order.

For those of you who don’t remember, Order 66 was the command programmed into the Clone Troopers that would force them turn on the Jedi when the time came. Little did the Jedi know, this command was implanted in the clones from their conception and could only be activated by Palpatine himself.


We saw the events of Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith and a little more in the game Jedi:Fallen Order. In the final two episodes of The Clones Wars, however, we get to see the events of Order 66 from Ahsoka and Captain Rex’s point of view, two characters we know survive the fall of the Republic because of their presence in Star Wars: Rebels.


Order 66 is a haunting undercurrent that foreshadows doom at every turn. In fact, there are a few episodes where Order 66 and the plot to destroy the Jedi are almost uncovered, first by the Clone Trooper Fives and then by Yoda himself. Unfortunately, Palpatine is always one step ahead, masking his true intentions and executing his sinister plan with terrifying precision.


In true Hitchcockian fashion, we know what’s coming for our heroes. We know what the Jedi don’t. And as we become more attached to these characters and the relationship they form with their trusted Clone Troopers, Order 66 and the Jedi purge become even more gut-wrenching when they happen.


4. A Villainous Archetype: The Discarded Disciple


Let’s be honest. Darth Maul was the real scene stealer of The Phantom Menace and perhaps even of the entire prequel trilogy. Unfortunately, Maul was killed off at the end of Episode I, and not even Count Dooku or General Grievous could compete with his gravitas, menace, and lightsaber prowess.


Once The Clone Wars was up and running, however, it was leaked by the story team at Lucasfilm Animation that the Zabrak Sith lord would make a return.


Incredulous as it seemed, given the fact that the last time we saw Maul he was half the man he used to be, David Filoni and the story team at Lucasfilm Animation found a way to bring Darth Maul back into the fold, giving him a pivotal role in the events of The Clone Wars, Rebels, and even Solo: A Star Wars Story.


A discarded disciple of Darth Sidious (a.k.a. Chancellor Palpatine) and a defeated, humiliated foe, Maul survived for years on his sheer hatred of Obi-Wan Kenobi and resentment of his former master, who’d ruthlessly cast him aside.


When he finally makes his return, his resolve is stronger, his power is more unbridled, and his lightsaber duel with Ahsoka Tano is arguably one of the best in Star Wars canon. Hands down!!!


Maul’s return in The Clone Wars also exposed just how cruel Palpatine really was as he was willing to use and discard anyone (including a former apprentice) to ensure his power. Maul, like Count Dooku, was simply a pawn in Palpatine’s larger game, which, as I mention before, was executed to perfection.


5. The Next Generation of Hero: Ahsoka Tano


When Ahsoka Tano was first introduced as a padawan for Anakin Skywalker, most fans weren’t really sure where they were going with the character.


Since there was no mention of Ahsoka Tano anywhere in the prequels or original trilogy, we all wondered what she was going to add, given that her presence didn’t seem to have much impact on events from the Skywalker saga.


Early on, many fans weren’t really fans of Ahsoka Tano at all.


In the early episodes of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka was petulant, brash, headstrong, and sometimes just plain annoying. Thankfully, Dave Filoni was able to course correct with the character, and by the end of the series, Ahsoka Tano would become a fan favorite.


During The Clone Wars, Ahsoka was also one of the few characters we actually got to see grow from an immature teenager to a mature young woman able to make her own choices.


Not only did Ahsoka give Anakin responsibility and someone to mentor, her innocence and independent spirit exposed much of narrowmindedness of the Jedi, who’d become so entrenched in the conflict of the Clone Wars and politics of the Republic, they could no longer see the Sith’s resurgence.


Furthermore, when Ahsoka walks away from the Jedi order, Anakin must question the very institution he has fought to protect. It rattles not only his confidence in himself as a teacher but also the Jedi who haven’t been doing a very good job at "keeping the peace" anymore.

6. A Beloved Supporting Cast: The Clones


Of course, the real heroes of The Clone Wars are the clones themselves.


In the original trilogy, the stormtroopers had no individuality or personality. They were faceless, helmeted blaster fodder who represented the might of the Empire.


With The Clone Wars, the same thing could have happened with the Clone Troopers, even more so given the fact that they were genetically and physically identical.

In the series, however, Filoni, the animators, and voice actor Dee Bradley Baker gave us more than just nameless, faceless foot soldiers. They introduced us to a brotherhood of sympathetic characters, loyal soldiers, and individual men who love each other and care about the Jedi they are called to fight beside.


With their unique haircuts, facial tattoos, and inherited nicknames, the Clone Troopers become a cast of unique and lovable heroes we can’t help but root for.


But as Captain Rex discovers much later in Star Wars: Rebels, they were also created, used, and manipulated, just like the droid army, to ensure Palpatine’s rise to power.


Never let a good galactic conflict go to waste.


Thankfully, we know that good will eventually triumph, but it’s a long road to redemption and restoration of light. The events of the prequels and The Clone Wars end in darkness and tragedy, but it is this tragedy that allows us to search for the one thing that will change the galaxy and the characters we know and love forever. That is hope.


Star Wars fans may be divided on the prequels, but the one thing I think most people can agree on, however, is that The Clone Wars gave us even more of what we love about Star Wars while improving upon, even fixing, the things we hate.


It took us to new places, told new stories, and made us fall in love with Star Wars and its characters in entirely new ways.


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Thank you again for your support.


May the Force be With You. Now get back to writing.

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