Star Wars: The Clone Wars was cancelled in 2013 following the conclusion of its fifth season, but it wasn’t finished – it continued with 13 additional episodes comprising the show’s sixth season. The Clone Wars finished its television run with the final episode of Season Six, but still the show was not done; truly The Clone Wars was a war unending.
Given the nature of the show’s production and the fact that episodes had to be planned, scripted, and previsualized years before they would ever air on television, when The Clone Wars was cancelled, there were still many, many stories developed by George Lucas himself that might never get to be told. So, in the fall of 2014 Lucasfilm announced what they called The Clone Wars “Legacy”. At the time 16 unfinished episodes from the show’s planned seventh and eighth seasons would be released across several different forms of media in order to continue the story left unfinished after the show’s premature cancellation. Four episodes released as incomplete, but fully voice acted animatics, four would be adapted into a comic series by Dark Horse, and eight used as the basis for a novel written by Christie Golden. That number would later expand with the release of four additional animatics, bringing the total episode count for this unconventional “season” of The Clone Wars up to 20.
And “unconventional” is indeed the operative word, and as such, this will be a more unconventional entry in my own series. Because, for all intents and purposes, this represents the show’s seventh season, I’m going to attempt to treat it as such while still bearing in mind that I’m discussing, at best, another artist’s interpretation of a work that was never finished by its original author. Unfinished as they may be, these stories are still fascinating in their own way as both esoteric pieces of official Star Wars canon and as odd snapshots of a major transitionary period in the history of one of the world’s most enduring fixtures of pop culture.
So with that in mind, let’s dive in.
The first piece in this multimedia tapestry is the Utapau arc, presented as a series of four storyreels (rough versions of the episode cut together with unfinished animation to get a sense for blocking and direction before the more expensive and time consuming process of animating begins). It’s an arc that sees Anakin and Obi-Wan sent to investigate the death of a Jedi Knight only to get caught in the middle of a weapons purchase by the Separatists from black market arms dealers. The merchandise in question? A Kyber crystal, like the ones that power lightsabers, but on an enormous scale.
What makes this arc so interesting in hindsight is how, even though it is technically considered canon, much of it was made redundant by other stories told later on. This episode was meant to introduce the notion that the Death Star superlaser was powered by Kyber crystals, but not only would that idea be much more firmly established by Rogue One, but the Star Wars Rebels episode “Breaking Ranks” would see Hera and Kanan attacking an Imperial convoy to stop them from delivering a massive Kyber crystal, ending with the crystal’s destruction in much the same fashion as it did here on Utapau. Even beyond story ideas, it’s impressive to see just how many animation assets were upcycled for Rebels as well. Many of the ship interiors feel like matches for ship interiors in the newer series, and the grassy plains broken up by towering earthen mounds that make up Utapau’s surface look a whole lot like the plains of Lothal, Rebels primary setting for its entire first season.
That’s not to say these episodes are totally disposable, though. It’s a pretty fun, classical Star Wars adventure with our heroes stumbling into something that’s not supposed to be known, getting in over their heads, and having to fight their way out against impossible odds. What really makes this arc special, though, comes in a quiet moment in the episode “In Search of the Crystal” that gives us our first real glimpse at Anakin’s emotional state after Ahsoka’s departure from the Jedi Order. On the surface he appears to be holding it together, but when he allows his defenses to be lowered and has an earnest heart-to-heart with Obi-Wan, it’s clear that these events took a big toll. Anakin, who was already frustrated with the Jedi, conflicted about his emotions, torn over his loyalties, now has to reckon with seeing all of that very definitively fail someone important to him, someone who is now off in places unknown, away from his protection. Anakin, always seeking control, is powerless to make this situation right, and it’s agonizing him. This is one of the most important pieces that The Clone Wars adds to the puzzle. Giving Anakin’s fall from grace a much more gradual progression and allowing us to see that in many ways he is right to feel the way he does, even as the decisions he ultimately makes are wrong. It can’t “fix” the problems of Revenge of the Sith, but it does give more definition to Anakin’s arcs than was ever achieved by the movies on their own.
While the Utapau episodes will only ever exist in storyreel form, it’s interesting that the next set of storyreels actually gives us a sneak peek at the upcoming final season of The Clone Wars coming to Disney+ this November. The “Bad Batch” storyreels, previously available on StarWars.com following their debut at Star Wars Celebration in 2015, were quietly taken down at some point after it was announced that finished versions of those episodes would be included as part of the series’ revival. It strikes me as an odd choice, though, that of all the “Legacy” story arcs that might have been given that final bit of polish, this is the one that was chosen.
Don’t get me wrong, this arc is a lot of fun. It’s a “Dirty Dozen in space” action story about a rescue mission led by a unique team of clones, genetically altered to enhance certain abilities. It’s a playful addition to the idea of cloning, and it’s a treat to get to hear Dee Bradley Baker really push the limits of the clone trooper voice he’s utilized over six seasons to make these guys all feel like weirdo mutants while still feeling related to the rest of the more “normal” clones. It’ll also be great to see a story as action heavy as this one get to play out in full animation.
What makes it a strange choice, though, is it doesn’t feel like an essential piece of the puzzle. The biggest thing that this story sets out to do is bring about the return of Echo, a clone trooper from Domino squadron who apparently died during the Season Three episode “Counterattack”. Bringing a fan favorite character back from the dead is certainly a big deal – and to these episode’s credit, it’s done to far more interesting purpose than Maul’s return – but with a limited run of 12 episodes and so many proposed arcs that were never finished, it feels like a bit of a waste to burn four of them on episodes we’ve already seen (albeit in an unfinished state). I can only assume that either Echo or the Bad Batch or both will have some significant role to play in the Siege of Mandalore series finale arc that would necessitate releasing these stories in a way more people will be likely to see them.
At least they didn’t do the Darth Maul episodes.
If you’ve been following along with this series for any period of time, you’ll know by now that I hate Maul, so go ahead and call me biased, but of the Clone Wars “Legacy” stories, this feels by far the most pointless. It deals with Maul following the coup he led on Mandalore and his subsequent defeat by Darth Sidious. Sidious takes Maul into custody in an effort to draw out Mother Talzin and destroy the witch for good, lest she prove to be a rival to his rise to power. I suppose there’s an interesting idea there, but the way it plays out in this comic series just feels like so much continuity house keeping. What happened to Mother Talzin? Grievous killed her. What happened to the Night Brothers? Dooku killed them. What happened to Maul’s Shadow Collective? A bunch of them got killed and the organization disbanded. It feels like a checklist of “what are the things that never show up again in Star Wars so we can just clear them off the table”, and I have less-than-zero interest in that.
What does interest me, however, is what happened to Asajj Ventress. Ventress’s arc throughout The Clone Wars starts to become really fascinating in later seasons of the show. Almost a mirror image of Ahsoka as she is cast out from every institution she’s ever found meaning in and has to carve out an identity for herself. The novel, Dark Disciple follows that story through to its conclusion as Ventress is tasked, alongside Jedi Master Quinlan Vos, to assassinate Count Dooku.
The book, adapted by Christie Golden from episode scripts written by Katie Lucas (yes, as in George’s daughter), definitely makes for one of The Clone Wars darker stories. That tracks to some extent, as Katie Lucas’s episodes tend skew pretty dark as a rule, but unlike a lot of the stuff with Maul, the darkness here largely serves an interesting purpose. It is the Jedi who sanction this assassination, who order one of their own to execute a political adversary in cold blood, and to receive help from a former Sith acolyte in order to do so. The Clone Wars, especially in its later seasons, painted some pretty damning pictures of how far the Jedi had fallen, but this story easily takes the cake. Guardians of peace and justice turned into executioners. Through the novel, we see Ventress, who has left the ways of the Sith behind, try to instruct Vos to use the dark side of the Force as a tool without succumbing to it completely. No points for guessing, though, that succumb is exactly what he does as the pair’s assassination attempt goes horribly awry and Vos winds up first as Dooku’s prisoner and then as his new apprentice.
Here’s where the story takes a turn that I’m not sure I’m quite as fond of. You see, throughout their training, Vos and Ventress haven’t exactly kept their relationship strictly professional. A relationship blossoms, and freed from the constraints of a children’s cartoon, it’s allowed to play out in intimate detail. That I’m good with. What I have a harder time accepting though is what happens after that relationship is challenged by Vos’s turn. Ventress works tirelessly to rescue the fallen Jedi, only to find out that he doesn’t want to be rescued. Even then she goes to the Jedi Order, at great risk to herself, to seek their aid in saving him. By the time they arrive, Vos seems to regret his actions and wishes to return to the Jedi, but Ventress has her doubts. She still senses the dark side in him, convinced his penitence is a ruse to carry out some scheme for Dooku. As it turns out, she’s right on the money, and no one else believes her, but by the time she’s proven right, she’s already cast aside her doubt for the sake of being with the one she loves. And here’s where it all starts to fall apart for me. In the last major movement of the book (roughly corresponding with what would have been the final episode in an eight-part arc), Vos betrays and uses Ventress again and again and again and she won’t see it. Ventress has found herself a victim of a horribly abusive romance that culminates in her death – not just any death, though, a sacrifice to save her abuser. The story ends with Vos redeemed and Ventress dead, and it just feels severely icky to me.
Here’s the weird thing, though, I read this book less than a year ago and I didn’t react with this same revulsion to reading it on the page. This time, for the sake of convenience, I revisited it in the form of an audio book, and I wonder if the reading (which, so we’re clear, I was decidedly not a fan of) took me out of the story to the extent that I couldn’t live with the characters in quite the same way I did the first time. I recognize this is a weird caveat to introduce here, but I feel it’s necessary considering the wildly different reactions I had to the same story less than a year apart. Even with those reservations, though, Dark Disciple serves as an intriguing and often moving final chapter in the story of The Clone Wars; a portrait of the Jedi’s lowest point just as their order would finally fail completely.
But this isn’t the final chapter in The Clone Wars. It’s not the first final chapter and it’s not the last final chapter. It’s the third in a series of four finales for this show that can’t be killed. It’s a testament to the impact The Clone Wars had on a generation of Star Wars fans that now, fully six years after its cancellation, stories have never stopped being told; whether that’s in “The Lost Missions” or “Legacy” or stories carried forward into Star Wars Rebels or this upcoming revival on Disney+. Star Wars is a story that has endured for four decades and has encompassed multiple generations of fans, each of which has a different benchmark for what Star Wars is for them. There’s a generation that grew up with the original trilogy in theaters and on video, there’s a generation for whom the prequels were a formative experience, there’s a new generation coming of age with the new sequel films, but what’s often overlooked is the generation for whom, more than any of the movies, the animated shows – especially The Clone Wars is their Star Wars. That’s no small thing, and as much as I may have mixed feelings on this series that I feel only really started firing on all cylinders in its fifth season, I can’t deny what a critical fixture it is in the tapestry of what Star Wars is.
It’s a series that allowed George Lucas one last chance to leave his mark on the story that defined his life; it’s a series that trained a new generation of storytellers how to not just paint with the texture of Star Wars, but to really tap into its core essence; it’s a series that introduced a character who is now as significant and beloved as any from the original film in the form of Ahsoka Tano; and it’s a series that allowed Star Wars to truly belong to yet another generation of young people. That ability for this one, continuous story to constantly renew itself for generations to take ownership of, is the thing that makes Star Wars special among virtually every other long-running franchise, and it genuinely thrills me to see The Clone Wars endure in the way it has in spite of all efforts to end it.
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…