Arts & Life, Movies

Navigating Netflix: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The prequel movies in the Star Wars franchise have a pretty bad reputation, and having recently re-watched all three for the first time in years that reputation is accurate. They’re poorly paced, often tedious at times, and the CGI effects do not hold up even just 10 to 15 years later. The original trilogy had its flaws but it has an adventurous charm the prequel trilogy lacks.

But those flaws are somewhat redeemed by the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

To be clear, there are two animated series that go by a similar name. Star Wars: Clone Wars is a microseries of traditional 2D animated shorts created for the Cartoon Network by Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack). While a brilliant series of shorts, what is available on Netflix is Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a 30 minute 3D animated series that ran for six seasons. It follows up on the plotlines and characters designs laid out in the Tartakovsky 2D microseries, though he was not involved in the 3D series in the least.

Just to add a bit more confusion, there is an animated feature film also called The Clone Wars that leads into the TV show but it is, to be frank, quite bad. The TV show is much, much better.

The Clone Wars series is the stories of the Jedi and their clone army defending the Republic against the Sith-controlled Separatist’s droid army. You see snippets of this war in the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith prequel films but those movies spend too much time focusing on the wooden, emotionless relationship between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.

While main characters from the movies like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala, and others appear in the series, lesser characters get the chance to shine through and play bigger roles. Frequently, Anakin and Obi-Wan do not even appear in episodes. This includes the multitude of Jedi we see throughout the prequels and never learn anything about, as well as a variety of prequel unique species. Beyond that, there are a variety of characters that pop up only in this and the Tartakovsky series.

The benefit of a TV shows is the ability to elaborate on so many of the small plot points dropped throughout the films, something the Expanded Universe has always been good at. Stories range in length, from one episode to a few to arcing throughout the entire series. It’s good storytelling.

What is strange is how the progression of the story changes between seasons five and six. The Clone Wars was actually cancelled after season five with season six being produced and exclusively distributed by Netflix. It was a good season but a lot of characters and plotlines that are big throughout the first five seasons disappear in the last one. It focuses on wrapping up The Clone Wars by connecting its events to Revenge of the Sith, not tying up loose ends from the rest of the series. Some of these characters are left in the wind in such a way that it suggests they survived the Order 66 purge of the Jedi.

It’s also an odd experience watching this film specifically because of Order 66.

The watcher knows that the Chancellor is Darth Sidious and behind the whole plot. The watcher knows that the clone army has been programmed to turn on and kill the Jedi. The watcher knows that everything the Jedi are doing in the series is playing right into the hands of the Sith Lord they work beside every day yet are somehow unable to see. You frequently hope that the Jedi will put the plan together and stop it but you know they won’t. The future for these characters has already happened but you still root for them. That’s a big part of what makes The Clone Wars so engaging, the fact that you hope for these characters despite knowing how events will ultimately play out.

While much of the Expanded Universe created by companies like Dark Horse over the past couple of decades is now considered null and void, TV shows and movie continuity should still apply and be useable. It isn’t unreasonable to expect that the loose end characters from The Clone Wars could pop up in new content coming out under the tenure of Disney and Marvel.

And if not, The Clone Wars is still a highly engaging series that does more with great characters from the prequel film than those movies were able to.