Star Wars: The Clone Wars Returns for a Moving Climax 

The revived series finds unexpected relevance in 2020

click to enlarge Ashoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) takes center stage in the final season of The Clone Wars.
  • Ashoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) takes center stage in the final season of The Clone Wars.

News broke this week that Lucasfilm was moving the Disney+ release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker from July to Star Wars Day, May 4th. This was done presumably to sate the appetites of the quarantined masses with some fresh Star Wars content after The Mandalorian proved to be the new streaming service's biggest draw. But the best thing going in the galaxy far, far away right now is something of an afterthought.

The conventional wisdom is the prequel trilogy was a big collective letdown, but for many Millennials, they were an introduction to not just Star Wars, but all sci-fi and fantasy. Looking back from 2020, the execution may have been lacking, but the basic story of a group of heroes making hard moral choices in the face of a Republic in crisis with a megalomaniacal villain hiding in plain sight feels spookily relevant.

The Clone Wars animated series spun off the main saga in 2008 with a cringingly bad animated movie, then ran for six seasons on Cartoon Network. As it went on and George Lucas turned it over to showrunner Dave Filoni, it got better every season. The animated Aanakin Skywalker, voiced by Matt Lanter, was much more charismatic than the prequels' Hayden Christensen. The prequels were basically animated movies with live action inserts, and the production design was always top-notch, even when the plots were confusing and the acting regrettable. The Clone Wars solved those problems (mostly) and expanded the scope of the visual universe in digestible, 30-minute chunks. Best of all, the show introduced the character of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein). Her arc from Skywalker's idealistic apprentice to the disillusioned warrior who walked away from the Jedi Order is as nuanced as Star Wars storytelling gets.
click to enlarge The Clone Wars' version of Aanakin Skywalker (left), voiced by Matt Lanter, is an improvement over the live action version.
  • The Clone Wars' version of Aanakin Skywalker (left), voiced by Matt Lanter, is an improvement over the live action version.
The Clone Wars was the biggest casualty when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, leading to a hasty release of season 6 that was more like a dumping of half-completed product. Showrunner Filoni let it be known that there were plans afoot for a spectacular conclusion at the Siege of Mandalore, but no one seriously expected to see it happen until Disney's surprise announcement that they would reunite the Clone Wars crew for a full season 7 on Disney+.

In the endgame, the show is better than ever. In the first three-episode arc, Aanakin leads a Dirty Dozen-type group of clone commandos called The Bad Batch to rescue a valuable prisoner who has become a mind-controlled military asset for the Separatists. Then the future Darth Vader leaves the stage while we catch up with Ahsoka's first solo venture. She hooks up with Trace and Rafa, a pair of would-be smugglers who stumble into a double cross by the Pyke crime syndicate. (Does anyone have any job in the Star Wars universe that's not soldier, smuggler, or criminal mastermind?)

But there are eyes watching the former Jedi, and she soon finds herself in the middle of a negotiation between the remnants of the Mandalorian Death Watch and her old boss Obi-Wan Kenobi. Stretched thin as the war turns against the Republic, the Jedi agree to give Ahsoka her lightsabers back and send her on a mission to tip the scales in the ongoing Mandalorian civil war. As a result, she is put on a collision course with Darth Maul, who also happens to be the disillusioned former apprentice of a powerful space wizard.

So far, The Siege of Mandalore is living up to its promise with jetpack-powered air battles and primo lightsaber duels. With two episodes to go before the inevitable fall of the Republic, the gathering darkness of The Clone Wars feels all too relevant right now.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars streams on Disney+.

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