Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Final Season Review
“Truth enlightens the mind, but won’t always bring happiness to your heart.“Episode 16 of Season 1: The Hidden Enemy
Twelve years in the making and the story of the galaxy’s most important war has finally come to a close. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a show with a history simply incomparable to anything else on television. It is the series that successfully and impressively grew with its audience over time- a luxury that many other shows have tried and failed to accomplish, yet The Clone Wars seemingly did so with ease. It started out like your typical Saturday morning children’s cartoon show: it was packed to the brim with action, banter, cheesy dialogue, fun characters, and decent visuals that were generally well-received at the time of its release. Over the course of a decade though, it rapidly evolved into a complex sophisticated cinematic anthology with layers of emotional depth and moral debate that is undebatably miles ahead of the majority of its counterpart blockbuster high-budget films- including the ones in which the majority of its characters came from.
I have been following The Clone Wars since before the series even aired on television. I still remember seeing the animated movie the night it premiered in theaters and even before that, I watched the original Genndy Tartakovsky interpretation of the events predating Revenge of the Sith time and time again on a plasma television with a two-disc DVD volume compilation of the series- not to mention its consistent reruns on late night Toonami that would have me glued to the small screen late at night. The Star Wars prequel era has resonated through my childhood and teenage years, but The Clone Wars computer-animated series has always been my favorite piece of media coming from this space-opera franchise outside of the original trilogy.
Knowing that The Clone Wars was coming to an end this year, every fan of this show expected Dave Filoni to bring us back to George Lucas’s unfinished storyboards and scripts giving us one last hurrah celebrating seven seasons that slowly braced toward the demise of the Jedi and the rise of the Galactic Empire. We all thought we were going to see how padawans became their own masters, allies becoming enemies, and new meanings behind the definition of loyalty. The final episodes of The Clone Wars do live up to that expectation, but when I say “final” I literally do mean the last four episodes of season seven that play out like a marvelous movie crafted to properly bookend the anthology. While it ends off on a phenomenal note with the highly anticipated Siege of Mandalore story arc, it is hard to outright say that the final season of The Clone Wars is entirely great due to an extremely clunky first two thirds. We ended up with a decent story about the Clones, a terrible waste of filler screen-time with Ashoka, and a grand finale that truly elevates itself above its predecessor seasons- a finale that is arguably the best piece of Star Wars content ever created since The Empire Strikes Back.
“The final season of The Clone Wars is quality content, but only The Siege of Mandalore is the spectacle that everyone expected.”
The Clone Wars initially had a rough coexistence with Disney’s new era of Star Wars animated shows after the Lucasfilm buyout. The mouse clearly had no real intentions of acknowledging the divisive prequel trilogy, but it only took a few short hard-hitting years for Micky’s team of leaders to realize how critical they actually were to the public eye. Star Wars Rebels lacked the positive fan reception The Clone Wars pulled in and Resistance’s rough ratings further showed that earning the satisfaction of fans was going to be a difficult uphill battle. Lucasfilm’s animation crew clearly dipped in quality since the cancellation of The Clone Wars as they continued to work on sequel and original trilogy oriented projects that perhaps could have used the same passion, budget, and polish that went into The Clone Wars. Dave Filoni’s persistence for a seventh outing of the show along with the #saveCloneWars fan campaign was enough for a final season renewal on Disney+. Although fans were going get what they wanted there were major consequences to a shortened final season of the show.
The problem with giving The Clone Wars one more shot at the light was that there was nowhere near enough time to reach the amount of ground that still needed to be covered within this series. There are over twenty known unfinished episodes the team had been working on before the Lucasfilm buyout and a lot more that had been storyboarded or drafted behind the scenes. Some of these story arcs were meant to be upwards of eight episodes- a quarter of an entire season. When you are only funded enough to make twelve episodes (shorter than even Netflix’s thirteen), you have to make some hard decisions on what would and would not be able to make it into the final hours that audiences will get to see. The story arcs that were chosen for this season make total sense, however, that does not mean the result was going to be perfect when finished- or even good in many aspects. The Bad Batch and Ashoka’s Walkabout make sense to be included in the final season on paper but the same can not be said in execution.
“The Bad Batch and Ashoka’s Walkabout are two awkward steps, while The Siege of Mandalore is one incredible leap to the end.”
The mutated clones and Martez sisters are highly unneeded story arcs. They play out almost as if they are excuses to give the show’s most important two original characters one last four-episode block of time by themselves until their stories intertwine. Rex and Ashoka do deserve the spotlight this season, but the problem is that these story arcs play out like filler episodes due to their lack of character development. Worst of all, they introduce new characters that will not see proper character conclusions in the series they originated from. Had they been in any other season that took place after six but were before whatever the final season had been they would be fine additions to the show. The Clone Wars has so many interesting plotlines that had never been wrapped up. Choosing to focus on Rex and Ashoka feels like the right choice, but its not necessarily the perfect option. These stories took time away from characters that will never see real conclusion’s from their own source material.
Starting off with The Bad Batch, this story arc unfolds similarly to the earlier seasons of The Clone Wars– and not always the best parts we like to remember. While the Republic begins to slowly lose its grip over a sector of the war being controlled by Wat Tambor and Admiral Trench, Captain Rex discovers a transmission that leads him to believe a former 501st trooper and friend CT-1409 more famously known as “Echo” is possibly alive. In an attempt to crack down on the possible lead, Anakin and Rex recruit the help of a group known as “The Bad Batch”: a ragtag team of traveling genetically mutated yet enhanced clones. While, The Bad Batch is not bad at all, there are two huge problems with this story arc that resonate mostly in episodes three and four. The first problem is that the back-half episodes of the arc provide nothing we have not seen before- which is a shame considering that this story actually has a strong and suspenseful build-up that could be manipulated in many emotional ways. The stakes are established and we know how strongly the possible upcoming events can affect Captain Rex; the character has a lot on the line. The Bad Batch could actually unfold as a rather good transition into Rex’s future fighting against what he once stood behind, but that never really comes to fruition.
The second problem ties into the first and that is the fact that this whole arc is supposed to focus on Captain Rex but it falls short on that note due to the newly introduced characters. The focus really falls on The Bad Batch group and Echo. While they are an interesting group of characters, Rex slowly dwindles in needed screen time as the arc pushes forward to the end in order to give the other characters a proper ending. By the time it wraps up, it feels as if they are saving Rex’s story for another episode but the next time we are seeing him is The Siege of Mandalore. At the very least we do get some great moments between Rex and Anakin that only make their relationship’s inevitable destruction sadder. There is some minor character development and necessary perspective here that are welcomed, but it is nowhere near as much as you would hope for. The same, however, can not be said at all about Ashoka who received nothing in her final standalone adventure.
The Martez sisters storyline known commonly as Ashoka’s Walkabout are the real let down episodes of the season. This story follows Ashoka as she attempts to help two orphaned mechanics Rafa and Trace Martez after leaving her Jedi life behind. The Martez siblings take on two jobs but they eventually and redundantly end up in a spice debt with the Pyke Syndicate due to Trace’s stupidity. While at least The Bad Batch saw some development for both Rex and Anakin, these episodes have no development at all to offer for Ashoka. On top of this, the newly introduced generic characters do not land well due to overall lacking chemistry between the group. Compared to the mutated clones, the Martez sisters are highly underdeveloped, yet they appear in the same amount of episodes- they probably had more screen time too. They offer nothing new to the series as they literally go around traveling and bickering the same exact arguments for four straight episodes until its finally over. This story arc has no right to be as long as it is.
What is the point or moral of this story anyway? It is not like we learn anything vital here about how Ashoka is handling life after parting ways with the Jedi or are being introduced to important characters that are going to be featured in the upcoming battle. Everything these episodes attempt to establish had already been done back when she left the Jedi Order in season five and in Star Wars: Rebels– a hundred times better too. Besides her discovery of Maul being in cahoots with the Pykes and residing on Mandalore- two things already known to the viewer- nothing important happens in the entirety of the Walkabout arc. Even in the following episode to its conclusion, Ashoka and Bo-Katana dismiss all of these events. It just goes to show how pointless and as Ashoka even said “irrelevant” this story is to both her character and the season. If you are the type of viewer who likes to skip around and cherry-pick episodes of the series that interest you, this is one to certainly swipe over.
Finally, we have The Siege of Mandalore, which was planned to be the end of The Clone Wars from the very beginning of its run. No surprise, after seasons of build-up to the show’s final story arc it is exactly what every fan wants- or even more for that matter. Without spoilers,- because trust me this four-part epic is really not worth spoiling– these episodes are more than well worth your time even if you have barely scratched The Clone Wars. They are nothing short of phenomenal and I can not reiterate enough that they are the absolute best Star Wars content you can ask for since the original trilogy. The Siege of Mandalore might just be the best piece of Star Wars content ever developed since The Empire Strikes Back– seriously, the second episode “The Phantom Apprentice” alone is an absolute knockout. The standard action sequences are mesmerizing, every scene is incredibly well directed, the music incorporates tons of familiar orchestrations from the prequel movies, and the script unfolds in the most surprising and fashionable matter possible. It truly is a celebratory sendoff for George Lucas’s final tale he came up with in a galaxy far far away. Even the original Lucasfilm logo is featured at the beginning of these episodes as a neat callback to honor the creator’s work.
There are several aspects of these episodes that deserved to be directly spotlighted outside of a brief mention though. The fact that these final four episodes manage to coincide incredibly well with the side by side events going on in Revenge of The Sith deserves an applause, especially in the third and fourth acts. The writers never miss a beat here or have to awkwardly retcon something previously established. The acting is above and beyond what you would expect from the entire franchise too. Sam Witwer in particular as Darth Maul deserves a special mention. This guy is seriously giving it his all and he deserves the praise for his daunting performance as the character he has taken the mantle for. There has never been a Star Wars villain as fascinating and as well-executed since Darth Vader that manages to steal the show as much as Witwer’s interpretation of the face of The Phantom Menace. To cap it all off, the mere fact that Filoni and his team took the time to motion capture the lightsaber duels here with professionals Ray Park [Darth Maul] and Lauren Mary Kim [Ashoka Tano] just goes to show how much passion went into the final arc.
“The Siege of Mandalore is worthy of being declared a late movie night binge even if you have little to no knowledge of The Clone Wars but are a Star Wars fan.”
The final season of The Clone Wars is certainly not going to leave Star Wars fans divided, but it will not let some be completely satisfied either due to its haphazard starting and middle episodes. It does indeed end on that final hurrah it’s expected to have, but the same can sadly not be said for its lackluster and disappointing build-up episodes that ultimately will have every fan thinking about what could have been included instead of what we received. While the first two-thirds of the final season is entertaining at times and do show high production value in many areas, they do not live up to the writing quality standards one should expect from this show.
The Siege of Mandalore will surely leave you content as the series closes its doors with its finest work ever, but it still is going to be difficult in the future to not look back and ponder what we could have potentially seen prior to its debut. The unfinished story arcs will likely end up becoming comics and novels eventually as does all unfinished Star Wars media- some even already are such as one that I highly recommend looking up called Son of Dathomir from Dark Horse comics- but it is hard not to be disappointed that we may never see them resurrected in this traditional form of storytelling we are used to viewing. At the end of the day, every viewer will be thankful that they got to see this series come to a proper conclusion with its most highly anticipated story that just disintegrates expectations. The Clone Wars ends its run on a batch of episodes that will absolutely not let any long time fans down. The hard truth is that the journey was never going to be perfect. You may not be provided with the happiness you desire by every episode, but you will be thankful that the conclusion was done justice. Dave Filoni and George Lucas deserve a round of applause for the stories they gave us over these last twelve years along with everyone else involved with this show. May the force be with you.