A Guide to ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’

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It’s gotten to the point where hearing fans completely write-off the prequel era turns my stomach. That’s because over the course of six seasons (all on Netflix), Star Wars: The Clone Wars delivered stories that rival the original trilogy in terms of quality, emotionality, and character work (one of the many advantages of long-form visual storytelling that lead to the golden age of television). But The Clone Wars is also a wildly uneven mess in its early seasons, and would continue to occasionally give into the prequels’ most tedious tendencies up to and through its final season, depending on the writer (for better and worse, George Lucas played had a heavy hand in the early seasons). There are 121 episodes and a movie, and it’s not all worth watching. What I’ve done here is cut that in roughly half while, hopefully, keeping fulfilling character arcs intact and retaining all the best the series has to offer in hopes of making this venture more manageable for skeptical but curious Star Wars fans. To achieve this, some weaker episodes with pivotal moments had to sneak in here, but the rewards I believe are worth it for those who open-minded to what the prequel era has to offer.

 

Where to Start-

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008 theatrical release): No, it should have never been released in theaters. It works much better as a TV pilot than a standalone feature. Either way, it’s not great. But it introduces Ahsoka, Anakin’s apprentice between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and the show’s greatest creation, as well as series staples Captain Rex and Asajj Ventress.

“Clone Cadets” (Season 3 Episode 1): So, in the first half of season three, Lucas, drunk on power, decided a bunch of the episodes from the first two seasons needed prequels. Most don’t work, but this one does, establishing the clones as human beings more capable of thought than droids through a simple, low-stakes tale of their training that puts the focus on their individual personalities, a theme that continues through the rest of the series.

 

Season 1-

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“Rookies” (Season 1 Episode 5): The great episode that put the series on the map for more mature audiences, the soldiers from “Clone Cadets” enter the field, and learn that the stakes are real outside of their training, suffering heavy losses along the way.

“Cloak of Darkness” (Season 1 Episode 9): The series’ best villain from outside the films, Asajj Ventress, doesn’t actually get a whole lot of worthwhile screentime until the later seasons when her role significantly changes. This episode is a chance to show how powerful she is as Dooku’s apprentice.

“Dooku Captured/The Gungan General” (Season 1 Episodes 11 & 12): A two-part introduction to the scene-stealing pirate Hondo Onaka, who becomes important later. In the second half, however, you will have to deal with Jar Jar Binks (don’t worry, this is the only time I have him appearing on this list).

 

Season 2-

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“Holocron Heist/Cargo of Doom/Children of the Force” (Season 2 Episodes 1-3): This thrilling three-part story kicking off season two accomplishes a lot with a little. We get a more proper introduction to bounty hunter Cad Bane, one of the show’s best villains. We see Sidious low-key making arrangements for after he’s overthrown the Republic. And we get a lot of Anakin showing signs of turning to the Dark Side, as well as a renewed, more genuine dynamic between he and Ahsoka, who’s still very young here and in need of the Jedi’s lessons, though written to be far less annoying.

“Senate Spy/Landing at Point Rain/Weapons Factory” (Season 2 Episodes 4-6): Three very different episodes that all lead into each other, and build toward the rest of the series, “Senate Spy” introduces the idea that maybe Anakin and Padme were just two hormonal teenagers that were never right for each other by incorporating Padme’s ex Rush Clovis. “Landing on Point Rain” dives deep into the broader war genre like Star Wars never has before. And “Weapons Factory” showcases the friendly relationship between fellow padawans Ahsoka and Barriss Offee, which is also hugely important for their respective fates.

“The Mandalore Plot/Voyage of Temptation/Duchess of Mandalore” (Season 2 Episodes 12-14): The Mandalore storyline is easily one of the best throughout the series, and it starts here. Introducing us to the planet’s ruler, and Obi Wan’s former flame, Duchess Satine, we see the war torn planet, who is neutral in the Republic/Separatist conflict, fighting to stay that way in the face of their local terrorist group Death Watch, who has allegiances with Dooku (for now). But the real draw here is seeing Obi Wan navigate the Jedi Code while clearly still harboring feelings for Satine, showing us a side of the classic hero we never thought we’d see.

 

Season 3-

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“ARC Troopers/The Academy” (Season 3 Episodes 2 & 6): Though taking place at the same time, with Anakin dropping Ahsoka off to teach on Mandalore before flying off to the epic Battle of Kamino, these episodes are wildly different from each other despite their link in the timeline (remember, this is where Lucas was the most drunk on power). “ARC Troopers” wonderfully continues the clone storyline from “Rookies” and also shows one of Ventress’ most pivotal failures. “The Academy” clumsily introduces some important players for a later, much more magnificent Mandalore arc.

“Heroes on Both Sides” (Season 3 Episode 10): Immediately notable for its serious upgrade in the show’s animation, this rewarding Ahsoka and Padme pairing initiates a mindset in the young padawan that the Clone Wars are much more complicated than good vs. evil, while also introducing her Separatist crush Lux Bonteri.

“Nightsisters/Monster/Witches of the Mist” (Season 3 Episodes 12-14): Well, we know from her absence in Revenge of the Sith that Ventress’ time as Dooku’s apprentice has to come to an end. That story is told here, while thrillingly filling in her backstory and giving us many red-on-red lightsaber duels. It also introduces Savage Opress, better known as the brother of Darth Maul.

“Overlords/Altar of Mortis/Ghosts of Mortis” (Season 3 Episodes 15-17): The Mortis trilogy is the first true Star Wars masterpiece that The Clone Wars delivered. Rendering midichlorians irrelevant, these episodes provide a far more mystical—and utterly weird—explanation of the Force, with the Light and Dark Sides personified through the children of a powerful elder being representing the middle. Suddenly, the fate of this “family” becomes intertwined with the fates of Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi Wan, changing our understanding of their purpose in the larger saga along the way.

 

Season 4-

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“Darkness on Umbara/The General/Plan of Dissent/Carnage of Krell” (Season 4 Episodes 7-10): And here starts when the show’s many masterful arcs come pouring in. This dark, beautifully animated war story puts the clones front and center as they deal with a Jedi general who treats them like droids. Perhaps the best showcase of Catpain Rex throughout the series, the Umbara arc tackles the question of the clone’s place in the galaxy—both during and after the war—head on.

“A Friend in Need” (Season 4 Episode 14): In a season that does almost too little in advancing Ahsoka’s arc, here’s an episode that shows how powerful she’s grown while also giving us a check-in with Death Watch before their crucial role in one of the show’s best ever arcs next season.

“Deception/Friends and Enemies/The Box/Crisis on Naboo” (Season 4 Episodes 15-18): When Revenge of the Sith starts, Anakin seems to be already questioning the Jedi way, albeit with as much whining as Hayden Christensen can muster. This arc plants the seeds for that distrust in a way that makes Anakin’s anger more than justifiable. Here, Yoda and Mace Windu have Obi Wan fake his death to go undercover and investigate a Sith plot involving a fun group of bounty hunters, including Cad Bane. Only they don’t tell Anakin until long after the deed is done, bringing out of him some of that anger and suffering in a natural way.

“Massacre/Bounty/Brothers/Revenge” (Season 4 Episodes 19-22): The decision to resurrect Darth Maul for the series was initially controversial among fans, but now it’s regarded as one of the best things Clone Wars ever did, as it gave the fallen Dark Sider far more personality than Phantom Menace did without sacrificing any of his haunting aura. This arc also features all of Ventress’ best material for the series.

 

Season 5-

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“A War on Two Fronts/Front Runners/The Soft War/Tipping Points” (Season 5 Episodes 2-5): Most notable now for introducing Saw Gerrera, who would later be played by Forrest Whitaker in both Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels, this arc is a bit slow by its very nature. Much of the plot deals with Ahsoka’s frustrations as she oversees a small civil war that the Republic is legally unable to get involved in. It’s another important time for her to see the political limitations on the Jedi, even if these aren’t the most exciting episodes.

“Revival/Eminence/Shades of Reason/The Lawless” (Season 5 Episodes 1 & 14-16): Instead of watching “Revival” as the season premiere, just slap it on to the rest of this perfect, endlessly thrilling story arc that marries Darth Maul’s renewed mission with the fight to preserve peace on Mandalore. The Sith brothers join with Death Watch to build an army consisting the galaxy’s most notorious crime syndicates, including the Hutts, all in service of achieving power on Manfalore and, for Maul, drawing out Obi Wan to enact his revenge. All of the series’ best lightsaber duels can be found in this surprisingly emotional group of episodes.

“Sabotage/The Jedi Who Knew Too Much/To Catch a Jedi/The Wrong Jedi” (Season 5 Episodes 17-20): This is why we’re here. There are a lot of brilliant stories in Clone Wars, but none better than the arc that tells us why Ahsoka isn’t in Revenge of the Sith. With each episode named after a different Hitchcock film, Ahsoka’s final episodes play like a thrilling noir mystery, though one with the end of the padawan’s series-long coming-of-age tale in sight. The final moment of “The Wrong Jedi” is the peak of Star Wars’ ability to make us feel something.

 

Season 6-

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“The Unknown/Conspiracy/Fugitive/Orders” (Season 6 Episodes 1-4): The Netflix season after Disney cancelled Clone Wars in favor of pursuing Rebels (albeit with a lot of the same creative team) had the tough job of connecting the unfinished series to Revenge of the Sith. Seemingly by accident, it does a pretty amazing job. The first four episodes deal with the problem of the clones’ loyalty to the Jedi as showcased on the series and what we know they’ll do to them by the end of the war. It’s an emotional story starring one of the clones from “Clone Cadets” and “Rookies,” Fives, that quietly delivers some resolution on the issue.

“An Old Friend/The Rise of Clovis/Crisis at the Heart” (Season 6 Episodes 5-7): Following Ahsoka’s departure, this three-part storyline gives us a better idea of Anakin’s mindset going into Episode III. He’s practically on the verge of cracking here, having lost his apprentice, much of his faith in the Jedi, and now his marriage facing the greatest test it has yet.

“The Lost One/Voices/Destiny/Sacrifice” (Season 6 Episodes 10-13): Never meant to be a series finale, yet somehow a very fitting one, this final batch of episodes ties the entire saga together. What starts as Yoda’s journey investigating the Republic’s transfer of power in Phantom Menace and the origins of the Clone Army takes the most respected Jedi on a journey to learn how to become one with the Force and live on as something else after his death. He revisits the origins of the Sith and is shown vague details of a future brighter than the one he’ll face in Revenge of the Sith. Yoda’s journey here, in a way, ends up resembling the show itself, which, after struck down by Disney, became more powerful than they could ever imagine.

 

By Matt Dougherty

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