The Clone Wars: a monumentally influential event in the Star Wars canon responsible for dividing the galaxy, upending galactic politics, and forging the most legendary Sith Lord in all of the extended universe. It’s an integral part of the Star Wars mythos, legendary in nature, that is all but skipped over in the films. Only shown the start and end of the war, audiences are teased with appetizers and desserts, leaving them hungry for the main course.
This is a common and well-known failing of the prequel trilogy. They’re stained with the dissatisfaction destined to movies that try to cover an extended period of time at such a quick pace. From beginning to end, the prequels cover the span of thirteen years—skipping ten of them right off the bat, then skipping another three. These jumps leave the story feeling disjointed and dismiss critical moments of character development that would allow for understanding, excitement, and projection within viewers. If ever audiences were supposed to empathize with Anakin Skywalker, they barely got the chance.
Admittedly, it takes time for a civil war to brew between two parties and when examined from a plot perspective, those thirteen years are a necessity. But Star Wars has always been a character-driven narrative. It has always been about the Skywalker legacy. When a story is told with such a heavy focus on character development, three movies is simply not enough time to adequately tell the numerous stories of turmoil, sacrifice, and strategy that are needed for satisfying emotional payoff (for reference, it took the Marvel Cinematic Universe twelve movies and a television series to get there). Rare is a viewer who will invest themselves in a plot fueled by underdeveloped characters.
Enter: The Clone Wars. Set in the once mysterious three year period between Episodes II and III, the animated series takes the time that the prequels so desperately needed. Six seasons of unbridled character development surrounding Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano, filling in the blanks left behind by the prequel trilogy’s scattered timeline.
Although its cartoonish style may prompt some to dismiss the series at an initial glance, rest assured that it would be a shame to consider this story anything less than the war driven, morally motivated epic that Star Wars fans of all ages deserve. Through a number of varied storylines, both episodic and overarching, Clone Wars is able to more thoroughly explore the original ideas behind the Star Wars films and execute them in a more satisfying way. Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without the turkey, and Star Wars isn’t complete without this show.
The reasons for this are vast and would likely take a novel to explain, but none illustrate the point quite as well as the development of Anakin Skywalker.
It is an unfortunate side effect of writing a young, fearful character that if not given the proper care, they will inevitably come across poorly to an audience. It’s a very particular type of reluctant heroism that often gets branded as whiney or annoying. Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and even some of the worser versions of Peter Parker have all fallen victim to this trap at one point or another, but none insofar as our highly emotional Jedi.
Anakin is frequently cited as one of the most impudent and bratty characters in film, and not without reason. Viewers only see him in his most tested states—grappling with the loss of his mother, fostering a forbidden love, and acting under the manipulation of a truly evil man. The prequels focus on the moments that break Anakin down and this creates a desire in audiences to separate themselves from the character, rather than sympathize with him.
We know who he becomes and we do not wish to justify it.
It almost feels too easy, watching Anakin’s descent. There’s no real emotion to it. Audiences rarely have the chance to see anything redeemable in the character, so why would they care when he finally meets his fate? He’s a Sith. He was always supposed to be a Sith. It was obvious from the start.
This is where the animated series excels. Everything about Clone Wars focuses on the moments that build Anakin up. It lures willing viewers into heartbreak with the things we most adore—well constructed relationship dynamics, morally complex adventures, and a lot of bad ass light saber battles. Audiences are finally afforded the context necessary to empathize with the character in a way that shapes not only their view of the series, but of the entire franchise as well.
Take as an example Anakin’s relationship with Obi-Wan. In the original trilogy, we are told of the history they have together. In the prequel trilogy, we are given windows into their brotherly bond. But Clone Wars gives viewers an opportunity to see this relationship in action over the course of years. Time and time again, it demonstrates their trust in one another, their comfortable banter, their innate ability to sense one another in that wordless way that only the closest of friends ever can. They are constantly learning from one another, growing with one another. After watching this series, when the two duel on Mustafar and Obi-Wan tells Anakin that he loved him, you finally believe it.
In addition to their direct relationship, the show also develops Anakin indirectly by further developing Obi-Wan. No worries, he still stands well on his own. As an undeniable fan favorite, it might be considered some form of robbery if his only purpose was to bolster the show’s protagonist, but it’s worth noting that even the most significant Obi-Wan arcs serve the secondary purpose of deepening the emotional payoff of Anakin’s betrayal in Revenge of the Sith.
This is most obvious in Obi-Wan’s relationship with the leader of Mandalore, Satine Kryze. Theirs is a romance forbidden by Obi-Wan’s commitment to the Jedi and acts as a direct parallel to Padmé and Anakin. While fearful, dependent Anakin carries on his love in secrecy, Obi-Wan highlights the path not taken by refusing to pursue love in favor of his place within the Jedi Order, and at great personal cost to himself. These two characters have always tried to act as foils to one another, but only in Clone Wars do they truly succeed.
This style of multilayered growth is a surefire sign of solid storytelling, and it’s sprinkled across the entire series. It can be seen in Ahsoka, a solid character in her own right that nonetheless acts as a mirror to Anakin with the sole exception of her absolute fearlessness. It can be seen in the clones, each of whom are humanized throughout the series despite the Jedi Council’s tendency to view them only as soldiers, similar to their ascribing of Anakin as The Chosen One. Clone Wars is an exercise in empathy, using Anakin Skywalker as a lens to explore the seemingly endless Star Wars canon. Wrapped up in gorgeous animation, a beautiful soundtrack, and a carefully comedic tone, there’s no better way to satisfy the hunger that the prequels left behind.
This story so clearly comes from the heart. It is made by people who love Star Wars, for people who love Star Wars. It answers questions, explores ideas, and builds up a version of Anakin Skywalker that is worth the fall.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Main Course
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