“George [Lucas] has been so involved to basically […] teach me how to make a Star Wars film and be right there with me to do it.”
~ Dave Filoni, Supervising Director of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, 2010.
Five years earlier, as the dust settled on (what was, at the time) the final Star Wars movie, vague confirmations of a new animated TV series began to circulate, telling stories from the Clone Wars in more detail. Little was known and spoilers were rarer than fans had been used to with the big-screen entries. George Lucas was still heavily involved, teasing his desire for ‘a Band of Brothers, in space’, and had chosen Dave Filoni to helm the show, best known for his work on Avatar: The Last Airbender.
In August 2008, The Clone Wars landed in cinemas, the feature length lead-in for October’s half-hour, weekly TV run. Less of a film and more ‘four-episodes-stitched-together’, it was unevenly paced and oddly underwhelming. Although Lucasfilm Animation weren’t creating their own software from scratch, budgetary restraints meant the film had the air of a work-in-progress with many scenes feeling sparsely populated by moving entities, while the design was highly stylised in some areas and almost photo-realistic in others.
On top of all this, Warner Bros had won the distribution rights, and it quickly became clear that they had no idea how to sell the next phase of the world’s largest entertainment franchise (many criticisms have been levelled at the prequel trilogy, under-marketing is not among them). Trailers were run in front of animated features, posters were sent to cinemas, no-one other than hardcore Star Wars fans really cared and poor critical feedback followed accordingly. While ‘Episode 2.5’ was technically a box-office success, this had more to do with low production overheads than sold-out performances.
On television the show was able to bed in more firmly, but there were still hurdles for the casual fan to overcome. Story-arcs throughout the first three seasons were presented in non-linear order, and the array of writers and episode-directors involved meant that wildly different types of story were being told within the framework. Anakin Skywalker having a previously un-mentioned padawan provided an unknown-quantity at one end, balanced out by the knowledge that each heroic Clone Trooper was on a ticking-countdown to Order 66 treachery.
This was a series of opposites and equals, all within the range of age-appropriateness but all set during a war nonetheless. From the light slapstick of Jar Jar Binks, to socio-political grandstanding on Coruscant; from Jedi Knights having a group hallucination on a planet which is the metaphysical embodiment of the Force, to the raging return of Darth Maul; from Artoo and Threepio shopping for ingredients for a cake (no, really), to thematic homages to Seven Samurai, Apocalypse Now and Aliens. Viewers were never quite sure of the tone until they were watching that week’s installment.
Over a run of 121 episodes they can’t all be winners, of course. But for a show with such an ungainly beginning, the great things came to outweigh those moments of unsure footing. Chancellor Palpatine’s continued power grabbing was given more context, as was Anakin and Obi-Wan’s fraternal antagonism.
The fourth season saw a more linear, plot-driven structure being maintained as the overall narrative drew closer to the blockade of Coruscant at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith. The fan community wondered where the crossover would be, if any. Would Episode III’s opening battle be recreated in animation or would the series finale close with Anakin and Obi-Wan taking to their starfighters beforehand?
Alas, we weren’t to know. The 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney saw the rapid and undignified winding-down of The Clone Wars, with the 13 completed episodes of the sixth season being released straight to home-video and a further eight appearing as animatic bonus-features. Uncle George finally took retirement, his legacy assured in the hands of those he trained to carry on the saga.
Disney’s concerted effort to bring the Original Trilogy-era back into public consciousness saw Filoni’s creative team drafted onto Star Wars: Rebels, an ongoing tale which took place around five years before A New Hope. Several prominent characters introduced in The Clone Wars made their return, at least indirectly answering what happened to them in the end.
Without the anchor of the established war and foreshadowing of Order 66, Disney’s replacement never had quite the same focus as Filoni’s previous series. Now that the Rebels are in their final lap, we’ll soon get to look back and reassess their impact on the Galaxy Far, Far Away. And it will be an intriguing study, because I don’t think we really appreciated The Clone Wars until it was snatched away…
Were you a fan of The Clone Wars? Let us know…