In this ongoing series, Ian Blackout revisits Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in a (roughly) chronological order of events and grouped (roughly) into story-arcs.
A War On Two Fronts (2012)
Season 5, Episode 2. Written by Chris Collins, directed by Dave Filoni.
“Fear is a malleable weapon.”
Until recently a planet sympathetic to the Republic, Onderon has seceded to CIS rule following an invasion and change of government. A band of rebel loyalists hides in the jungle out of the authorities’ view, and contacts the Jedi Council on Coruscant to ask for assistance in reclaiming their homeworld…
A strong start to the fifth season of The Clone Wars now, covering the hands-on politics of rebellion and the line at which it becomes terrorism. Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan openly acknowledge that by training Onderon’s resistance in guerilla warfare tactics, they’re assisting a coup against an ostensibly legitimate government. It’s also not lost on our heroes that by doing this off-the-record, the Jedi’s political and moral stance is on even shakier ground. This leads to a fascinating sequence in which the soldiers are instructed on the best ways to neutralise different types of battle droids. It’s a real shame this briefing wasn’t included in the first season.
As well as screen-canonising Onderon from Dark Horse’s Tales Of The Jedi comic series, this 2012 episode also brings us rebel leaders Steela Gerrera (a play on ‘Guerre Stellari’, the Italian for Star Wars which appeared on Kenner’s tri-logo vintage action figure cards) and her brother Saw, who would go on to be a pivotal figure in 2016’s Rogue One.
The Saw we meet here (some 19 years before the events of that film) neither looks, sounds nor acts like Forest Whitaker of course, but that doesn’t get in the way of a great story.
Front Runners (2012)
Season 5, Episode 3. Written by Chris Collins, directed by Steward Lee.
“To seek something is to believe in its possibility.”
The Jedi-backed band of rebels has infiltrated Onderon’s capital city of Iziz, beginning a series of strikes against Separatist forces while ensuring there are no civilian casualties. Meanwhile, the recently installed King Rash is under increasing pressure from Count Dooku to deal with the disruption and make an example of those who would defy the new order…
And so the practice-runs become stark execution, and the opening act of ‘Front Runners’ feels like a single player mission in Star Wars Battlefront. Covert attacks against the battle droids begin to have a cumulative effect not only on enemy numbers, but also in spreading seditious word throughout the city – just as desired. This also plants the seed for just how far Saw Gerrera is prepared to go, looking for bigger and riskier targets.
Things run on a slightly more predictable level in the seat of government however, with King Rash being particularly partial to moustache twirling while barking orders at underlings, yet crumbling under his own master. With hindsight, perhaps this aspect bears too much of a resemblance to the Mandalore storyline, one which will we’ll return to later this season.
The Soft War (2012)
Season 5, Episode 4. Written by Chris Collins, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“Struggles often begin and end with the truth.”
As Steela Gerrera’s freedom fighters continue attacks against the CIS occupation, Anakin and Obi-Wan return to Coruscant leaving Ahsoka to observe and advise them. Not to be outdone, the Separatists plan to execute the former King Dendup in a bid to draw out the rebels…
The battle for Onderon moves on to the hearts-and-minds stage now, as Steela openly addresses the citizens of Iziz via hologram with a message of hope and judicial fury. Elsewhere, Saw Gerrera learns the value of words over actions as he attempts to sway General Tandin back toward loyalty to Dendup, adding more texture to the ongoing struggle than bombing Separatist tanks ever could.
It turns out the solution is a neat combination of all of these approaches, although stuck in the middle is Ahsoka, torn between babysitting her charges and letting them overplay their hand out of enthusiasm.
Note for viewers in the UK: Watching in 2019, ‘The Soft War’ contains an unintentionally uncomfortable repetition of the phrase “the will of the people”. Anyone wanting contemporary escapism from Star Wars should take note.
Tipping Points (2012)
Season 5, Episode 5. Written by Chris Collins, directed by Bosco Ng.
“Disobedience is a demand for change.”
With the military and former regent now on-side, public support turns to the Onderon rebels and their democratic cause. Naturally this can never do, and Count Dooku organises a final devastating attack on the band’s remote encampment. Unable to officially assign Republic support, Anakin enlists the aid of a ‘friendly’ pirate and arms-dealer, hoping to swing the fight in his padawan’s favour…
This four part Clone Wars story has made full use of its 88 minute runtime, with each chapter progressing both narratively and tonally. The final battle is testament to how far the series has come, and the depth and complexity of the animation on display is awe-inspiring.
What’s also notable is that the show is not only willing to address more ambiguous topics surrounding the execution of the war (it always has been), but by this point it’s developed the vocabulary to ask the questions more eloquently. It’s a political thread which will be picked up later in the season to monumental effect.
As well as presenting real character development for Ahsoka Tano, the Onderon arc begins to lay serious foundations for the hands-dirty side of the Rebel Alliance.
But join us next time as the adventure takes a younger – but no less dangerous – turn in the snow…