While it’s common for long-time fans to think of the Disney purchase and subsequent continuity reboot as a big dividing line in the Star Wars franchise, what you might call the “modern” era of Star Wars actually began much earlier in the form of The Clone Wars. Blazing its own path between Episodes II and III, borrowing liberally from the Expanded Universe without adhering strictly to its details, TCW in retrospect is a perfect example of how modern Star Wars storytelling would come to operate.
It’s also a great model for what future Star Wars animated television would look like—when Star Wars Rebels came along in 2014, despite being set deep into the Dark Times, some of its earliest episodes were lighthearted to the point of distraction. An entire episode revolved around stealing fruit. Sabine, only a little older than Ezra, could waltz into and out of Imperial facilities seemingly on a lark, with little apparent danger.1 Stormtroopers, even in death, were treated as jokes to a degree not seen on screen since Return of the Jedi, more akin to battle droids than truly lethal soldiers of an all-powerful Empire. Looking back, though, this tonal shock seems less about any reasonable expectation of what the show would be like (and on that fair minds can differ) and more about where The Clone Wars had left off.
Like many animated shows, TCW started in a very simple place with a very limited library of assets, and its protagonist Ahsoka had all the innocence and whimsy of Ezra and Sabine put together. But over six seasons and forty-plus hours of material it became something very different, and infinitely more complex—not just artistically, though definitely that as well, but in terms of the “seriousness” of its storytelling. It’s easy to argue that Ahsoka’s existence strengthens not just Anakin’s arc but the prequel era as a whole, but the fact is you could excise her completely without losing a vital piece of the saga—if not, Revenge of the Sith wouldn’t have worked in 2005. But even people who don’t know about Ahsoka and don’t care to might very well wonder why the clones turned on the Jedi so easily, or how the whole “Force ghost” thing worked, or what happened to Sifo-Dyas, or how exactly Anakin was supposed to “Balance the Force”. For better or worse, the prequels left a lot of open questions, and in choosing to address them, TCW became a much more mature show. Read More
- Only much later did we learn that this “spunky” young character had combat training and experience to rival even Kanan’s. [↩]