The Clone Wars is BACK. The most surprising Star Wars announcement of recent times has led to an outpouring of love for a series that remains an essential part of our understanding of George Lucas’s universe. Lucas told many more hours of stories in TCW than on the big screen, and one thing that extra time and space allowed him to do was fill in and refine his vision of Anakin Skywalker.
In Attack of the Clones, Lucas arguably showed his hand too soon. With the audience aware of Anakin’s fate, the shadow of Vader looms large, both in Anakin’s “joke” about dictatorships (run, Padmé!) and his heinous slaughter of the Tusken Raiders (RUN, PADMÉ!). The petulant teenage edge and creepy behaviour makes him hard to like, and there is a sense of something fundamentally “dark side” about him that everyone around him is crazy not to see. In Revenge of the Sith, we meet a different Anakin: for the first hour he is heroic, likeable and sympathetic, haunted by the fear of his wife’s death, a pawn in a political game between Palpatine and the Jedi Council. His fall seems to come from a place of good – albeit confused – intentions. Yet it happens extremely quickly. How could he go from “what have I done?” to slaughtering younglings in a matter of moments?
It is the “heroic” Anakin that TCW picks up and runs with. Dave Filoni revealed at Comic Con that his priority in casting Anakin was, above all, “likeability” – the charismatic Republic hero Filoni imagined as a child. TCW Anakin has a square jaw, a noble voice, and is in all respects the swashbuckling hero and hotshot pilot the original trilogy led us to believe he was. We are on Anakin’s side immediately, he’s a hero we can root for – a bit Luke, a bit Han, a bit Poe. From there, TCW adds flesh to the bones of his fall, rooting it not in a fundamental darkness – but in the very things that make him a hero.
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Solo: A Star Wars Story is chock-full of deep cut references to all corners of Star Wars canon, the Expanded Universe and lore from all kinds of sources. None, though, is bigger, more shocking and more thrilling than the reveal (in true Star Wars hooded-in-a-hologram style) of the head of Crimson Dawn, boss of Dryden Vos and Qi’ra.
——Major spoilers beneath the cut——
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Alan Dean Foster’s novelization for The Force Awakens begins with an excerpt from the Journal of the Whills, which predicts that the cycle of light and dark will be settled by:
“The resolving of grey
Through refined Jedi sight.”
The common interpretation (regardless of whether Foster had any insight into a grand sequel trilogy plan, which is doubtful, given no such plan existed) is that the trilogy is taking us into an era where the good-evil binary of the Force becomes more complicated and “grey”, and a new solution to the conflict must be found. But read the poem again. “Resolving” grey does not mean grey is the answer – it means grey is the problem which must be resolved. A closer reading of the sequel trilogy reveals that it may be the clearest portrayal of the battle between good and evil in all of Star Wars.
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So. Farewell then, Kanan Jarrus, Jedi Knight.
Caleb Dume’s sacrifice in “Jedi Night”, holding back the fire so his family can live to fight another day, stands with the final acts of the greatest masters, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. His selflessness will surely inspire the Ghost crew to find some measure of victory, holding back the spread of darkness, and inspiring others in turn.
But Kanan’s journey is also unique, and in the current era of Star Wars “canon”, he stands as the first (chronologically) to forge a path to becoming a Jedi without the structure of the old Order or the guidance of a Master. His knighting in “Shroud of Darkness” raises some interesting questions – what is Kanan’s essential “Jedi-ness,” the thing that earns him this title without the structured progression of Padawan-Trials-Knight-Master? What precedent does it set for Jedi who follow similarly unconventional paths, even decades later? And what does it say about Kanan the person that he achieved all this without that structure?
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The ending of The Last Jedi brings the sequel trilogy’s three main characters to the end of the quests for identity and belonging they began in The Force Awakens. Finn has learned to fight for a cause (Phasma’s death bookending his refusal to execute the Jakku villagers), while Rey has found her place as heir to the Jedi and beacon of hope for her new family in the Resistance.
Kylo Ren, meanwhile, ascends from the conflicted former Ben Solo, eager to conclude his grandfather’s work and destroy the Jedi, to a status Vader never achieved – dictator of the galaxy. Twisted with hatred, as TLJ closes he seems more consumed by the dark side than ever, having now refused two golden opportunities to save himself. The response of many viewers is that he is now irredeemable.
Rian Johnson believes Kylo can still be redeemed, that he “isn’t as bad as Vader”, while acknowledging that this decision is for JJ Abrams to make. The comparison to Vader, though, is more complicated than Johnson suggests, and if TLJ tells us anything, it is that different rules apply to Kylo Ren, and we should not expect him to follow the same path.
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