The easiest thing to defend on the internet is how much the Star Wars prequels sucked. They let down an entire generation of fans who were hoping that the biggest movie franchise ever wouldn’t resort to magic amoebas and taxation as necessary plot points. But before Disney secured the right to empty our wallets every December with a new movie, one piece of official Star Wars media saved the George Lucas-branded Star Wars from ending on a bad note: Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This series, which ran from 2008 to 2014, showed new Star Wars stories, over multiple episodes, from the time between Episodes 2 and 3, and in the process, provided us with the motivations to make the rise of the Empire and Anakin’s fall to the dark side a little less painful.
How did a kids television show manage to accomplish that? Well let’s take a look back on some defining moments of the show and see how they fix a lot of what went wrong in the Prequels.
- Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship
Hayden Christiansen is a fine actor, but I don’t think any actor could have saved the character of Anakin Skywalker, who is shown to still be a padawan at the age of 20 in Attack of the Clones, and apparently, his first solo mission in his entire career as a Jedi, the Chosen One no less, is to sit on Naboo guarding Senator Padme Amidala. This tortured student dynamic plays a little better when the student isn’t a whining man-baby wishing his dad would let him go on big-boy missions. Which is why in the Clone Wars cartoon, the idea of Anakin as a padawan is quietly dismissed without anyone even mentioning it. He starts the tie-in movie (which is just the first few episodes of the show re-worked into a theatrical release) every bit as Obi-Wan’s equal, allowing for more genuine discussions during battle and less scolding from a distressed teacher. They are partners, working together to kill dismantle every battle droid they come across.
- The Love Lives of Padme and Obi-Wan
Isn’t it kind of weird that Anakin starts freaking out over Obi-Wan and Padme’s relationship in Revenge of the Sith? Many fan theorists posit that Obi-Wan secretly being in love with Padme could fix a lot of the out-of-the-blue jealousy Anakin has in Sith and re-center the prequels overall narrative around those three. The problem is, Obi-Wan shows no hint of romantic entanglements at any point during the story. He is, in essence, the ideal Jedi: committed to the order and willing to defend it to his death. But in the show, we are introduced to Duchess Satine, the pacifist leader of the planet Mandalore, who Obi-wan has known since he was Padawan. Their sexual tension is palpable, which Anakin picks up on immediately, allowing him to see a new side to his friend. In a later episode, Satine is kidnapped by Darth Maul (cause they weren’t going to let the one one cool thing from The Phantom Menace be lost forever) and killed in front of Obi-Wan, and the devastation is enough to nearly break him.
But’s he’s not alone in his romantic escapades, as the secretly married Anakin and Padme are also shown to have a rocky relationship, thanks to an old senatorial flame of Padme’s, Rush Clovis.
By showing Obi-Wan is capable of attachment outside the Jedi Order, and that Anakin is already wary of Padme having feelings for people other than him, this triangle’s conclusion can now be seen in the Skywalkers’ “spat” on Mustafar.
- Why do the clones kill their Jedi Generals?
Revenge of the Sith features the Clone Army carrying out the ultimate goal of Emperor Palpatine and executing their Jedi commanders, no questions asked. The movies never show the clones as anything but cannon fodder (which the show thankfully went above and beyond in disproving), but this doesn’t mean they’re unthinking automatons like their droid counterparts, so why would they so quickly turn on the Jedi? Well once again, the show provides us some answers. At the start of one story arc, a clone trooper kills his Jedi commander for seemingly no reason.
Arc Trooper Fives, who had previously shown up in some of the series’ best episodes, then goes on his own mission to find out why, and discovers each clone has been implanted with an inhibitor chip, seemingly to curb their aggressive behaviors. But these are actually the way Palpatine can immediately tell his army to follow out his orders. How does Fives figure this out? Because, as the show later reveals, Palpatine told him straight to his face.
After spending another episode on the run for attempted assassination, Fives tries to tell Anakin and Captain Rex about the secret plot, but his ranting and raving leads to his death before he can convince anyone of the deception.
Its a sad an ironic moment that underscores how well the series was at trying to help explain some of the more confusing elements of a trilogy that became bogged down in bigger and more expansive CGI scenes.
- Why are the Jedi even fighting in this war?
For a group that was supposed to bring peace and justice to the galaxy, the Jedi certainly have a lot of military standing. A not-yet-Grand-Moff Tarkin even calls Anakin out on this too, claiming the Jedi code doesn’t let them go far enough to claim victory. Anakin doesn’t disagree, which is already better characterization for him than three movies ever provided.
Another arc has the Jedi training rebels on a planet instead of actively involving themselves in the conflict, but this further stresses how quickly some Jedi (read: Anakin) are abandoning their teachings to win the war.
When a Jedi turns to dark side in a later episode, it can be seen as the progression of a more militaristic Jedi Order. What we’re seeing is a thread Lucas was only able to toy with in the movies: the Jedi abandoning their morals to fight in this war is not a good thing. . We’re supposed to question why they’re leading troops in battle, but we can assume that after a thousand years with no Sith to challenge them, they’ve grown complacent in their status yet have a need to involve themselves in every aspect of the galaxy. This idea is perfectly presented in the Umbara arc, where Jedi Master Pong Krell treats his clone troopers with little respect, and is revealed by the end of the story as a wannabe-Sith. If there wasn’t this outlet for his darker tendencies, he probably would never had turned, but as the saying go, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Why does Anakin hate the Jedi so much?
Revenge of the Sith shows an Anakin so frustrated with the Jedi, simply because they wouldn’t let him be a Master, that he willingly betrays them to join Sidious to save his wife. It’s an incredibly forced plotline, and doesn’t lead to any noticeable payoff. What the cartoon shows us, however, is that this isn’t the first time the Jedi Council have messed with him. One storyline features Obi-Wan faking his death to infiltrate a group of bounty hunters working for the Separatists, but the Jedi Council neglects to tell Anakin in order to make it more believable.
But to really understand Anakin’s mistrust of the Council, we have to talk about his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Tano was introduced at the beginning of the show, and after a season or two acting like a kid sidekick (including a penchant for giving everyone stupid nicknames) she got some worthwhile development and fun stories to show off her unique place in the Clone Wars era.
Also, this scene.
But, in case you didn’t notice, she is completely absent from Revenge of the Sith. Now, obviously this is because she was introduced years after the movie came out, but the in-universe explanation for her disappearance is just so damn depressing. In the original run’s finale, Ahsoka is framed for a terrorist attack and is forced to go on the run from her former friends, in one of the coolest moments of the entire series.
When she is caught, she is expelled from the Jedi Order before going on trial for war crimes, but Anakin never doubts her innocence.
When he eventually does proves it, and she is welcomed back by the Jedi, she instead refuses, preferring not to go back to a group that was so ready to condemn her.
Over five seasons, Anakin’s bond with Ahsoka had its ups and downs, but always provided him the chance to be a teacher instead of a student. He had been saved by her countless times, forging a bond that was more special than even Obi-Wan’s. Her leaving the Jedi is a signal to Anakin that they can always be wrong, and the rigid nature of the Jedi will never align with his attitudes. In Anakin’s eyes, being snubbed from the rank of Master is now the final straw to break his faith in the Jedi, the last step in his journey to becoming Darth Vader.
The currently airing Star Wars: Rebels may be run by the same group that did The Clone Wars, but I don’t think they’ll ever be able to top the storytelling on display in this show. On some level, I think they know that, since they’ve brought back Ahsoka and Captain Rex for multiple episode cameos, and while it’s fun to see them, they can’t help but feel out of place at points. It’s a shame the show never caught up to Revenge of the Sith, but I’ll take the episodes we have.