When it comes to the prequel trilogy, there’s no shortage of good ideas met with poor execution.
Good idea: foreshadow Anakin’s aptitude for flying and mechanics in his childhood.
Poor execution: spend a full hour of a two-hour plot for podracing
Good idea: utilize Jar Jar’s incompetence as the crux for Palpatine to gain dictatorial powers.
Poor execution: Jar Jar’s truly insufferable language.
Good idea: explore the rigidity and emotionality of the Jedi via notoriously fearful Anakin.
Poor execution: depict Anakin’s disconnect with the Jedi through constant temper tantrums.
One of the more frustrating aspects of these films is that they could have been so endlessly fulfilling, but instead they often feel hollow. Strong ideas appear scattered throughout the films like dots on a paper, but there just isn’t enough context to connect them into a grander picture. Instead of an epic prequel arc to enhance the genius original trilogy, audiences cringed as the films failed to live up to the expectations. Close, but just not quite there.
But every now and again, if someone were to look very closely (as Star Wars fans are wont to do), there are moments of clarity when the prequels get an idea so completely right that it almost manages to redeem them. The development of Sith lore, Yoda’s reluctance to teach Anakin, and every single scene Ewan McGregor had anything to do with ever—these movies are not without their accomplishments. In fact, the prequels are responsible for one of the best gifts Star Wars ever gave its audiences: clone troopers.
Listen. I know it seems like a bold statement. Clone troopers? Really? But hear me out. At its core Star Wars is a highly political story. It’s right there in the name. Star Wars. Since its initial release, this franchise has been tackling fascism, class consciousness, rebellion, and so many other heavy subjects. So often stories that try to take on this much politicized content will die in the details of battle and neglect the far more interesting and more relevant humanity of war. Not Star Wars. This universe is a character-driven masterpiece with a heartbeat throughout and this is due in no small part to the existence of the clones.
Anakin Skywalker is the chosen one, born beyond human. Padmé is a queen, Obi-Wan a Jedi Master. Luke and Leia, Skywalkers themselves and Han Solo, a legend in his own right. All of these characters slip out of the realm of humanity and instead become capital-h Heroes—a theme that is touched on time and time again in The Last Jedi. While certainly deserving of their widespread admiration, they do little to incite questions of consciousness and existence in wartime, which is without a doubt one of the most fascinating themes Star Wars explores. They save the day, which is a valuable act, but they do not live in it. They are not subject to it in the same ways.
Clone troopers, on the other hand, were bred to be humans of war. Their humanity is what makes them so appealing in the first place. Living, thinking, strategizing beings far superior to droids. “Born” and raised in a training facility, they act as a direct allegory for indoctrinated youth. All of them have identical faces, but possess their own personhood in a stellar representation of uniformed soldiers and society’s tendency to dehumanize them. Then, finally, with the implementation of Order 66, a command that completely strips the clones of their free will, their consciousness, their education, and their relationships, the story begs for humanity in times of conflict.
What’s better is that the prequels are only the spark to a greater flame. Through the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and a number of additions to the EU, clone troopers provide creators and consumers with the language necessary to discuss war in even greater detail. It’s a big ask, and there are definitely some missteps along the way, but when done right, the clones are an absolute empathy machine.
Are the clone troopers perfect? No. In fact, I would venture to say that nothing in Star Wars is truly perfect (except for—and I cannot emphasize this enough—the beautiful, beautiful Ewan McGregor). But when it comes to wartime themes, a focus on the necessity of humanity is about as perfect as it gets. These troopers are more than just an interesting conflict for the Jedi. They’re a plea for understanding. They are the little voice in the back of your head, so that the next time you encounter a clone trooper, you take pause and ask yourself what’s under the helmet.
Clone Troopers: The Heart of the Clone Wars
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