George Lucas officially stepped away from Star Wars in December of 2012, but that didn’t mean his influence over the series he created and guided over nearly 40 years would disappear overnight. In a very real way, The Clone Wars was Lucas’s final act in securing his legacy, chipping away at aspects of the Expanded Universe he never liked and passing his sensibilities on to a new generation of storytellers; key among them Dave Filoni, who apprenticed under Lucas in a way that is exceedingly rare in the American film and television industry. But even beyond these more esoteric ideas, Lucas’s influence continued to be felt because there were more stories he authored that had yet to be released.
The Clone Wars was cancelled following the end of its fifth season in 2013, but there were still dozens of scripts that were written and in many cases recorded and previsualized under the guidance of Lucas prior to his departure. Thirteen of these were already so close to completion that, rather than scrap them entirely, the decision was made to release a sixth, truncated season of the show titled “The Lost Missions”.
A lot of fans will tell you that the work done in The Clone Wars “fixes” the prequels. I wouldn’t go quite that far. To whatever extent you do or do not like the prequel films, 100+ episodes of a cartoon show released years after the fact can’t retroactively make these movies any better than they were to begin with. What the series did do, though, was give Lucas a much longer runway to explore the ideas he was interested in in the prequels, along with a team of collaborators to help hone those ideas in a way that was largely absent from the feature films. Anakin’s turn to the dark side still doesn’t work at all in Revenge of the Sith, but The Clone Wars backfills in a much greater deal of context for his anger, frustration, and disillusionment with the Jedi. So too does the series delve deeper into the failure of the Republic as a political institution and the fascistic conspiracy that took advantage of it. “The Lost Missions” sees two significant story arcs that serve, on the one hand, to gently massage some continuity problems that still existed between the prequels and the original trilogy, but more significantly they gave Lucas a chance to add some context and clarity to some particular points of controversy. To start, let’s talk about Order 66.
There are a number of reasons why the “Jedi purge” as it has come to be known didn’t land the way it needed to in Revenge of the Sith. Part of it certainly comes down to expectations; for 30 years we’d heard about Darth Vader hunting down and destroying the Jedi Knights, and then when it finally happens, we see them all get shot in the back by clones. Setting that aside and just looking at the prequels on their own terms, the way the whole thing plays out makes the Jedi look like chumps. The Jedi falling victim to their own hubris is definitely the point, but there’s a fine line to walk between showing the Jedi brought down by their arrogance and painting them as inept. In my article on Attack of the Clones I mentioned how frustrating it was for the Jedi to be confronted with a very obvious conspiracy in the creation of the clones only to shrug it off and just roll with it, and that’s only made worse when they all get gunned down by these same clones they should have recognized as a bad idea from the start. With the context of The Clone Wars, though, it makes just a little bit more sense.
One of the biggest things that The Clone Wars adds to the overarching mythology is the idea that the clone troopers are not merely mindless drones, but are intelligent, creative, free-thinking individuals, fiercely loyal to the Jedi and the Republic, but capable of independent thought and choice. It’s a creative decision that shines a stark light on the fact that the Republic waged a war on the back of slave labor, while also creating an interesting dynamic between the Jedi fighting as generals in this war and the soldiers under their command. Despite both being pawns in someone else’s game, the Jedi and the clones quickly establish a deep trust in one another. The Jedi treat the clones as individuals, calling them by their chosen names rather than their designated numbers, all the while the clones respect the Jedi’s prowess in combat and their dedication to valuing the clones as living beings and working to protect them as best as possible. By the time the series gets into its later seasons, it would be inconceivable for a clone like Rex or Jesse or Fives to turn on the Jedi and gun them down in cold blood without a moment’s hesitation based on nothing more than an executive order. And thus The Clone Wars found itself in something of a pickle.
That’s where this arc comes in. As Republic forces are engaged in battle on the Ringo Vinda space station, one of the clones, Tup, seems to snap. He disengages from the fight, seemingly disoriented until he spots one of the Jedi. Tup goes into a sort of trance, quietly chanting “good soldiers follow orders” until he approaches General Tiplar at point-blank range and fires. As the clones take the apparent traitor into custody and retreat from the battle, Tup comes in and out of lucidity; one moment he’ll regain his senses having no memory of what he’s done, and the next he’ll fly into a violent rage, lashing out at anyone standing between him and the other Jedi. Unsure of the reason behind the clone’s apparent mental break and fearing a potential neurological attack from enemy forces, Tup, along with ARC trooper Fives (a fellow member of Tup’s unit), are sent back to Kamino to undergo testing in an effort to diagnose the problem.
What plays out from there is a conspiracy thriller as Fives, suspecting the Kaminoans know more than they’re letting on, tries to get to the bottom of what happened to his fellow soldier, all the while Palpatine and Dooku work to ensure that their sinister plot remains secret. You see, the Kaminoans, at the behest of Tyranus, implanted a biological control chip into the minds of each and every clone; a supposed safeguard that would override the clones’ free will in the event of the Jedi going rogue and turning against the Republic. Naturally, the Kaminoans were instructed to keep this secret from the Jedi because what good would such a safeguard be if the people it was guarding against knew of its existence?
What makes this arc work so well is that, for the first time, the Sith conspiracy feels like it’s teetering on a razor’s edge. If you map out Palpatine’s plan, the whole thing is patently ridiculous and relies so much on taking advantage of coincidence and people behaving exactly in the way he needs them to. In an almost paradoxical way, seeing the plot come so dangerously close to being uncovered actually strengthens the plausibility of the whole thing. It makes it clear that even when confronted with evidence of wrongdoing, people will choose to have faith in the institutions that are meant to protect them. It’s the reasons why it’s so rare for juries to find a police officer guilty even in the face of overwhelming evidence. It’s the reason why our President can commit obvious, dumb crimes and perpetrate human rights violations and congress is still reluctant to impeach. Seeing Fives figure it out, gather all the evidence, come so close to blowing the lid off the whole thing only to die while his discoveries fall on deaf ears is devastating because it’s an unflinching reflection of the real world in which we live.
It also lends a sense of profound tragedy to Order 66. Not so much for the deaths of the Jedi, but because these soldiers for the Republic, who were allowed to believe they were fighting for something real, that they had a purpose of their own, in the end are reminded in the cruelest of fashions that they were never anything more than slaves.
The other big arc of this at the time final season of The Clone Wars also delves deeper into the conspiracy at the heart of this conflict as, after years of searching, the Jedi finally uncover evidence of what happened to Sifo-Dyas. As you may recall, Sifo-Dyas was the Jedi Master who supposedly ordered the creation of the clone army years before the start of the Clone Wars, once thought to have died in a skirmish on Felucia, his starship and lightsaber are discovered on a moon orbiting the planet Oba Diah. Through their investigation, the Jedi discover that Sifo-Dyas went to Oba Diah on a secret mission for then-Chancellor Valorum, only to be killed by the native Pykes at the command of Tyranus, who the Jedi now know to be Count Dooku. This lays bare essentially the entire conspiracy. Sifo-Dyas ordered the creation of the clones only for control to then be taken over by Count Dooku and the Sith. The problem is that the Jedi are so deep into this war that they’ve boxed themselves in. If they reveal the conspiracy, and sacrifice their army, they are effectively surrendering the war. Yoda makes the call to keep it secret, and try to win the war as quickly as possible in the hopes that they can preempt whatever plans the enemy has for them. As Yoda meditates deep into the Force, seeking wisdom, that’s when he encounters something unexpected: guidance from an old friend.
Qui-Gon Jinn communicates to Yoda through the Force, something that all conventional wisdom would indicate is impossible. Once a living being dies, their essence becomes part of the cosmic Force, but their consciousness is lost. Qui-Gon, however, found a way to retain his identity within the cosmic Force, though his training was incomplete – he can only manifest as a voice, he can’t take form. He instructs Yoda to go to Dagobah where he tells Qui-Gon of what he’s learned and sets him on a mission to discover the secrets to immortality by traveling to a world from which the living Force flows, meeting with the Force Priestesses – the first to unlock this power – and eventually to the Sith homeworld of Moraband.
This arc is right up there with the Mortis arc from Season Three in its big ideas and out-there cosmic weirdness, this time coupled with obvious Miyazakian influence. It also directly addresses one of the most common gripes of the prequels by taking the widely detested idea of midi-chlorians and bringing them back into the realm of something ethereal and unknowable. You see, the Force exists in two forms, the living Force contained within all living beings, and the cosmic Force as the energy field that binds the universe together. One feeds the other; when something dies, its energy becomes one with the cosmic Force until it is later reborn as part of the living Force. The Jedi have attempted to quantify this living Force through the midi-chlorians, but like so many other things, their assumed expertise belies so much more that they don’t know.
It’s fitting that the final piece of Star Wars media directly overseen by George Lucas would be one that serves to pointedly underline everything he was trying to get at in the prequels that failed to resonate in the way he hoped: the hubris of the Jedi, spiritualism being replaced with religious dogma, the true nature of the Force as something vast and unknowable. It also goes a long way to completing the picture of Yoda’s arc, from the head of a failing religion courting war to an eccentric old man extolling the virtues of pacifism and being open to the unknown secrets of the universe.
The Clone Wars never really ended, it continued on in unfinished story reels, comics, and novels adapted from episode scripts, and even story threads carried forward into Star Wars Rebels. The ending that was planned never materialized, but it maybe got something better. I’m excited for the series to get a proper conclusion with the final run of episodes coming to Disney+ this November, but even though those are based on scripts overseen by Lucas, Lucas will no longer be part of the creative process. Whatever it ends up being, the Siege of Mandalore would not have felt as fitting an end to the 37-some-odd years George Lucas spent in this universe than this weird, quirky story about a frog man learning how to achieve true enlightenment.
Leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I am endeavoring to watch every canonical Star Wars movie and TV show in the in-universe chronological order. Follow along with…
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