“Like fire across the Galaxy, the Clone Wars spread…”
In the wake of the announcement that Star Wars: The Clone Wars will be getting another season before the decade is out, it seems only fitting to look back at the progenitor of all ‘Clone Wars’ TV media – the original Star Wars: Clone Wars show which aired on Cartoon Network in 2003 and was directed, produced and co-written by Genndy Tartakovsky. This series is well-known among the fanbase for famously bridging the gap between Episodes II and III before Episode III itself had even been released. It’s distinctive style and impressive scope makes this series a must-watch for any Star Wars fan, particularly those interested in the prequel era.
Firstly and most obviously, this series is renowned for its depiction of some of the most epic and large-scale battles of the Clone Wars. The battles on Muunilinst, Dantooine, Hypori, Yavin, Mon Calamari and numerous others were brilliantly depicted in this series, with some battles taking up entire episodes and others spanning several episodes in a sequence of mini-arcs spanning the first series. Each of these depicts a totally unique Star Wars battle in enviroments that were not explored in the main films, such as the mass-fighter space battle above Muunilinst in the first few episodes or the uniquely fought battle of the dust fields featuring Mace ‘Keyhole’ Windu and his impressive jumping and punching techniques.
A particular highlight of the series is the Battle of Mon Calamari, a plot thread that takes up only one episode yet depicts several unique scenarios in Star Wars lore – notably, the appearance of a lightsaber working underwater, how factions in Star Wars battle underwater in the first place, and more insight into how the Mon Calamari and Quarren races fight in their native habitat. The inclusion of Kit Fisto as the star of his own individual episode was a nice touch too, seeing as how he is brutally murdered in the next movie.
Oddly enough, one of this series’ major strengths is how it uses dialogue-less sequences with the Clones to depict plot development. A perfect example of this is the entire ARC troopers sequence, which spans several episodes, many of which are totally dialogue-free as the ARC troopers wordlessly delegate commands to each other through the visual hierarchy of the Red Sergeant and his Blue and White subordinates, all of whom work together to form a deadly and efficient squad who recur throughout the series, taking on a threats ranging from a giant cannon to General Grievous himself. Aside from the ARC troopers, the depiction of regular Clones in the Republic Army is effective in demonstrating both their tactical importance and their disposibility.
Whilst the series emphasises the true nature of the Clone Wars, the lack of respect for its Clone characters compared to its successor, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is a major disadvantage to the series. However, whilst the Clones are not used for emotional impact, they are effective in their role as the show’s cannon fodder – in fact, the Clone death toll in this series is probably higher than any other piece of Star Wars TV media.
Star Wars: Clone Wars introduced several interesting characters to the Star Wars on-screen canon, particularly fan-favourites like Durge and Asajj Ventress. Both of these new characters get special focus throughout the show, but what is perhaps more important is how Star Wars: Clone Wars depicts its returning characters – and the answer is, it is spot-on. Characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Palpatine, Amidala and Mace Windu seem by all accounts to be accurate depictions of their appearances in the movies, and although this show focuses primarily on combat and less on dialogue, there are still some great character moments, particularly the scenes involving Anakin and Obi-Wan.
Like the later Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the 2003 series does a great job of showing the friendship that existed between Anakin and Obi-Wan before the tragic events of Revenge of the Sith – but unlike its successor, Star Wars: Clone Wars actually shows the evolution of the rivalry between Master and Apprentice that was apparent in Attack of the Clones to a genuine friendship over the course of the series.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without the villains, and Star Wars: Clone Wars features the return of many iconic villains from the prequels as well as the debut of even more fan-favourite villains from the prequel era like Asajj Ventress, Durge and General Grievous. An interesting trend in the Star Wars prequel-era TV shows is that they use their villains a lot better than the prequel movies themselves did, and the same is definitely true of this show. A perfect example of this is General Grievous – he makes his debut in this series in one of the most epic lightsaber duels in the show, makes mincemeat of half a dozen Jedi, and then comes back for more later in the series leading up to its cliffhanger – yet his appearance in Episode III makes him seem as though in the meantime he had half of his brain removed. The show even acknowledges this by having Mace Windu crush Grievous’ chest in the finale, causing his signature cough. The character of Durge, a fascinating antagonist to Obi-Wan’s first story arc, is another example of a really interesting villain idea – without giving too much away, he finds some interesting ways to fight toe-to-toe with a Jedi despite not owning a lightsaber, and his terrifying physiology makes him a memorable character in the series.
Needless to say, there are some epic duels in this series. From the more literal interpretation of a Star Wars ‘duel’ involving lightsabers, such as Grievous vs Ki-Adi Mundi or Ventress vs Anakin, to the less conventional such as Durge vs Obi-Wan or Ventress vs Dooku, each and every duel in this series is truly fantastic. This is particularly evident thanks to the wide variety of locations in this series, and the duel between Anakin and Asajj Ventress that involves a lot of jumping between trees in the jungles of Yavin, for example, become immediately memorable. The previously mentioned duel between Grievous and the Jedi on Hypori is a rare example of a Star Wars duel that involves multiple combatants fighting one immensely powerful duelist, and Grievous doesn’t even make use of his four arms and yet he is still able to wipe the floor with many of the Jedi in various brutal ways. Of all the factors that contribute to what makes this series so good, the quality of the lightsaber duels is definitely one of the stand outs.
Overall, even after all this time, Star Wars: Clone Wars is still a thoroughly enjoyable piece of Star Wars media and, whilst it is certainly no Empire Strikes Back, it works wonders to redeem many of the elements of the first two prequels and paved the way for the fantastic pseudo-sequel Star Wars: The Clone Wars years later.
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