Three seasons are done now, so I’d like to talk about a TV series that HASN’T already been cancelled for once.
Placed after the end of Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, this CGI TV series playing on Cartoon Network depicting the bulk of the war between the Republic, led by either the Jedi Council or Chancellor Palpatine, and the Separatists led by Count Dooku or Darth Sidious. The series focuses on many skirmishes between the two groups, sometimes played out as battles around or on planets, and sometimes played out as games of intrigue. The principal characters on the Republic side are Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, Ashoka Tano, and thousands of Clone Troopers.
As funny as it sounds, the Clone Troopers really steal the show.
The first season of the show stumbled a bit with technical limitations (their CGI wasn’t quite right yet) and some simpler stories that felt a little like filler. However, by the time the second season came around, this production team was on its game and had upgraded their character models as well as tackled much more complex and interesting stories. Now at the close of the third season, the show has hit its stride, upgrading is characters again (this time providing them more outfits and slightly aging Ashoka Tano to reflect her emergence from her Padawan role into a more competent Jedi Knight) and thrusting the story even deeper into shades of grey.
Without going into too much detail of individual episodes, what I really like about Clone Wars is that it redeems Anakin Skywalker. The prequel trilogy of Star Wars films really did a number on our old friend Darth Vader, and turned him into an impulsive kid who made countless bad decisions and let himself be led on by people he should have known better than to trust. His loveless ‘romance’ in Episode II and his unconvincing turn towards the dark side in Episode III made him a joke in the eyes of many fans and undermined the former menace of Darth Vader significantly.
This TV series, however, shows Anakin as a relatively ‘good’ character, who earns his respect in the war by constantly delivering results, though sometimes at a high cost. His training of padawan Asoka Tano does actually provide him with a reason to temper his rage and to show a youngling a slightly more admirable than the whiny kid depicted in Episode II or the goth in Episode III. He acts with Obi-Wan Kenobi as a peer most of the time, and even shows his master the respect the elder Jedi deserves, even if he disagrees frequently with him.
In the original Star Wars: A New Hope movie, Obi-Wan says to Luke that Anakin was a “cunning warrior and a good friend.” The prequel trilogy of Star Wars films, however, utterly fails to show either of these traits. Finally, in Clone Wars, we see Anakin and Obi-wan become good friends, even enough to trust each other time and again. Even at times when they know they are in disagreement, they both put aside their arguments to protect one another. This is what good friends looks like.
But Anakin still has to become Darth Vader, even if he didn’t need to become that goth from Episode III. So the TV series shows, subtle, that Anakin is much more ruthless than his Jedi peers. In many occasions in the series Anakin goes much further than the other Jedi when he feels there is more at stake. These times are almost always when Anakin is alone or only with Asoka, so that the suspicions of the other Jedi council are not significantly raised. But we’ve seen Anakin torture Separatists to get information on hostages or weapons, and we’ve seen him ratchet up the violence significantly when he thinks someone he cares about has been killed or hurt. Finally, in season three, we’ve seen him disparaging the Jedi Council for their pacifistic tendencies when they interfere in their efforts to end the war. These are the right ways to show a gradual turn into something like Darth Vader and something I wish we didn’t need to turn to a TV series to see.
Apart from Anakin, however, the other supporting characters have developed nicely over the three seasons. Ashoka grew from a green teenager into a competent commander of troops (due to the odd relationship between the Jedi Council and the Republic, any Jedi is allowed to command Clone Troopers, even a padawan) and is now even experiencing her own character arc where she is questioning whether she wants to follow Anakin’s path or Obi-wan’s.
Obi-wan himself has developed as well. Formerly just the wise mentor, he has accumulated friends in all sorts of places as well as an old romantic interest that is starting to become prominent once more. Obi-wan’s struggle to mediate between Anakin and the Jedi Council is also shown to be a struggle as he tries not to blind himself to Anakin’s troubles while still feeling compassion for the boy who has seen more than he should have had to.
Even the Clone Troopers have broken out to become noteworthy characters, with a few recurring troops earning names and a legacy throughout the series. And due to their expendable nature, we’ve seen some of them die even after having several episodes developing them. It’s quite intriguing for a cartoon shown in prime time.
As we approach the start of season four, I’m hoping this show will continue to develop these characters further. I’m especially excited to see what becomes of Ashoka Tano, who doesn’t appear in the movies at all and therefore is free to have anything at all happen to her, even die in the name of Anakin if needs be. It may not come to that, but I’m not going to say anything for certain. An arc at the end of Season three killed off a member of the Jedi council that had featured frequently since the start of the series, so anything is possible short of killing Anakin, Obi-wan, Padme, or Yoda.