Ah, the Clone Wars. Where to begin? Always controversial, the Clone Wars presents a veritable motherlode of potential discussion topics, from the characterization of the Jedi, to the failure to employ original characters to the extent of the post-ROTJ EU, and extending beyond those to the innumerable discussions of clone troopers. There have been a lot of let downs in the Clone Wars era, and a lot of missed opportunities to make that conflict have the dramatic heft it truly deserves. One aspect of the juvenility of the Clone Wars is simple: the lack of a truly compelling villain. We’re told that there are heroes on both sides, but – if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor – we rarely ever see that grand-sound phrase ever ring true.
A lot of ink has been spilled – and electrons shuffled – over why the Separatists are cookie-cutter caricature villains. We need not dwell on that aspect too heavily. Suffice it to say that the EU – and The Clone Wars animated series in particular – has singularly failed to answer the question of why anybody would ever want to be a Separatist in the first place, if the movement and its supposedly charismatic leader waste no time in subjugating its erstwhile allies at the nearest possible opportunity. Instead of providing a catalogue of the various ways in which the EU has failed to convincingly portray a credible Separatist cause, I thought I would instead propose three changes that would have made the Separatists good villains.
These changes are not strictly political – indeed, this article is more about how the political faction that was the Confederacy of Independent Systems could have been a more credible group.
I. A truly charismatic leader
Sir Christopher Lee performed quite well in Attack of the Clones, and it’s a shame that much – though not all – of the subsequent material failed to capitalize on his potential as a villain. Part of that is a failure of the films themselves: revealing Dooku as a darksider too early and eliminating him in the opening stages of Revenge of the Sith really reduced him as a character. Yet even without those filmic bounds, the EU still had the ability to use him to his fullest.
What gave Dooku such potential was the fact that he wasn’t a villain in the public eye. He was a former Jedi of some renown who had left the order because of philosophical objections to the state of the Republic. It was all well and good for Dooku to cater to the greed of the Separatist leaders, but the rank and file should have seen Dooku differently. When a world of difference it would have made if Dooku were a more heroic figure instead of a cackling villain who backstabbed any ally he could find!
II. Greater utilization of the Separatist Council
One of the greatest things that The Clone Wars TV series did for the Confederacy of Independent Systems was endow it with a legislative body that reflected its origins as an alliance of states seceding from the Galactic Republic. Their existence not only underscored the notion that the Separatist cause was one that many thought worth fighting for, but it also would have synergized well with a more charismatic Dooku: if he were a rallying figure or a roving idealistic ambassador instead of the de facto head of state of the CIS, the Council would have even greater means of showcasing the points of view of those opposed to the Republic. It may have even added nuance to the Separatist movement, because not all Separatists need have the same grievances against the Republic. Moreover, the vibrant, multipolar Separatist Council with the inspirational Dooku figure would have contrasted strongly with the toothless Galactic Senate and the increasingly dictatorial Chancellor Palpatine.
III. (Non-)Human Perspective
The constant use of droids in the CIS undermines the ability for the audience to ever empathize with the Separatists. Droids in the CIS have none of the personality and warmth that the audience associates with Threepio or Artoo, and consequently the audience lacks a basic emotional and mental touchstone. How can there be heroes on both sides when one side uses droids? Efforts were made all over the Clone Wars EU to show the human side of clone soldiers, and their individuality was often highlighted. Separatist droids, however, were dehumanized to an extent that even stormtroopers would envy; their lack of humanity is what lets them be cut down in droves in this family-friendly franchise, but it is also a cause of audience alienation. The viewers and readers know that the Separatists use droids so that our heroes can kill them with impunity – but this comes at the cost of compelling storytelling. Some of the most successful EU portrayals of the CIS made great use of human (or alien) face characters to make the confederate cause relatable.
This isn’t to say that the Separatists need to be portrayed as good guys: but given that the whole war was orchestrated to begin with, it might have done well to underscore the fact that the Separatists were victims of Sith machinations as well. It might’ve done well for people to realize the Republic already had its problems, even had Palpatine never come along. At the very least, it could help explain why so many worlds left the Republic and why this war raged on for so long: and a personal touch would go far longer towards accomplishing that end than any extended monologue on economic corruption and stagnation.
These three suggestions share a common theme: compelling characterization. This is essential and basic. One of the hallmarks of the OT and the OT EU was that the villains were seductively evil. This was more than a matter of cool ships and uniforms: Lucas intended for the Empire to appear just a little bit tempting. Villains in Star Wars are all the more sinister because of that. It’s something important to the essential feel of the universe.