When The Clone Wars was first announced as returning in 2018, it came with a curious mix of inevitability and surprise. The latter, from the show being allowed to conclude under the same might of Disney that caused its initial cancellation; the former, from the undeniable need to fill in the blanks that existed around both its main character – self-exiled Jedi Ahsoka Tano – and the show’s eventual crossover with Revenge of the Sith.
This final season does answer those questions, but it doesn’t do so immediately. As seen in our review of its first episode, the season opened with an arc that represented obvious closure for director Dave Filoni, giving life to four cancelled episodes that otherwise existed only in their unfinished form. Serving as a branch between the series’ past and present, ‘The Bad Batch’ storyline sees a group of uniquely-gifted Clone Troopers assisting on a series of missions behind enemy Separatist lines.
Whilst there may have been some viewer disappointment for the season to open with events less grandiose than its initial trailer promised, such an opener was clearly necessary. For one, this story embraces the efforts of the conflict’s titular heroes – the clones themselves, who were often forgotten amongst the lofty storylines that their Jedi Generals starred in. This quartet of episodes is aimed at those who might (quite rightly) have enjoyed previous stories as Rookies in season one, or Orders in The Lost Missions, and there are appearances by many of the leading soldiers from those very arcs. There is undoubtedly a sense that the show has again introduced powerful characters and weaponry conspicuously absent from the films, but in doing so it uncovers a true horror of this war – an unfortunate POW whose situation further hints at the mechanical experimentation that will one day soon lead to a certain heavy-breathing Sith Lord.
Speaking of The Chosen One, Anakin is the only main series character that makes any sizeable contribution here (although be on the lookout for an ice-cold Mace Windu speech that would make Samuel L. Jackson proud). It’s a little heavy-handed to have him and the show’s chief Clone, Captain Rex feature so heavily, as their appearances apparently exist solely to foreground their upcoming importance. However, amongst these creeping issues is a true showcase of the show’s combat warfare, and a relatively gentle reintroduction to a story that has lain dormant for seven years.
If there was frustration that the opening arc of season seven didn’t jump straight into the ‘Siege of Mandalore’, then the next one, featuring Ahsoka Tano doing things other than taking on the galaxy’s biggest bads, probably didn’t help. It’s unclear just how long after her exit in season five these next four episodes take place, but they do find Anakin’s former Padawan struggling to find her new place in the galaxy with a storyline that does border on the kind of filler that populated the show’s earlier seasons. What is of immediate note here is that Ahsoka finds herself on Coruscant level 1313, an underworld location that would have been the title setting of a videogame which was similarly cancelled after the Disney-LucasFilm takeover.
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense for Filoni and his team to fill in this additional blank in Ahsoka’s story. Her narrative once – and arguably, still might – feature a great deal more in the way of unresolved mystery than perhaps any other Star Wars character, and so there obviously needed to be an exploration of the events that link her departure and return to the stage of galactic warfare. In the latter half of this storyline, Ahsoka is reminded by her newfound allies (the Martez sisters, Trace and Rafa) that she doesn’t necessarily need to be a Jedi in order to do good in the galaxy – a lesson that informs not just the rest of the season, but also her future on-screen appearances. There’s also a hefty reveal at the end of this arc of a returning Clone Wars villain, and it’s no spoiler to reveal that villain to be the former Darth, Maul (Sam Witwer). If the posters and trailers for this season placed its Togrutan Jedi exile at their center, then the Zabrak Sith-turned-crime lord was rarely far behind.
And so it is that, with four episodes remaining of the season and the series, we arrive at events on Mandalore. These events were hinted at in a book that followed a pre-Rebels Ahsoka, and even further back in a revelation of the storylines that Dave Filoni was unable to bring to fruition. The over-reaching importance of this concluding storyline, in the context of both the season and the series, is immediately apparent when the first episode opens like no other Clone Wars episode before: with first a vintage LucasFilm title card, and then with John Williams’s original Star Wars theme replacing the show’s usual Kevin Kiner arrangement. Throughout this season there has been an increasing cinematic treatment, with both an increased focus on cinematography and an enhanced widescreen presentation. This big-screen cocktail comes to a head in the next and final 100 minutes of the series: perhaps, the show was always destined to end on the same big-screen note that it began.
What’s most surprising about the ‘Siege of Mandalore’ is just how much it crosses over with the events of Revenge of the Sith. It makes sense that the show would end at some point around the film’s Order 66, as this marks the in-universe end of The Clone Wars. Yet, it’s still a surprise that within minutes of Old Friends Not Forgotten (episode nine of the season and the first of this arc), the droid attack on Coruscant and kidnapping of Chancellor Palpatine is underway. Future viewings of Episode III will now come loaded with all-new context, as this finale truly feels like an extension of that film.
This does rob us of a final team-up between Anakin and his former apprentice, as the perils of the Republic’s leader take precedence over all for the Jedi. This results in an interesting ethical debate between Ahsoka and the usually unshakeable Obi-Wan Kenobi, in a magnificent scene that follows a reunion between Rex and his former General that’s every bit as poignant as expected. These are among many moments of genuine emotion and friendship in this season that give an earnest sense of the Jedis’ various personality and relationships, including a wry Obi-Wan’s reference to Anakin’s personal life early on.
As characters look forward to the looming end to the conflict, viewers unfortunately know not to expect the same happy ending as those on-screen, and every action in these last episodes heightens the impending tragedy. Anakin and Ahsoka’s look forward to a reunion, and the reverence the familiar Clone allies have for their reconciled leader gives their moment of betrayal in Order 66 a greater sorrow than its live-action depiction.
There are references to Revenge of the Sith throughout these episodes, and at one point there’s even a scene directly lifted from the movie. A sense of doom plays out like a countdown clock every time these events arise, and though the betrayal of the Jedi feels imminent it is by no means rushed. This slow-building journey becomes one of the finest that The Clone Wars has to offer, with the battles on Mandalore even putting the grandeur of the planet’s last appearance to shame. At the heart of it, Maul sits as a foreboding figure, a reflection of his former master Darth Sidious as he plays out this planet’s battles to meet his own designs.
Therein lays the true greatness of this last season. The reintroduction of Maul may have raised some eyebrows back in 2012, as may have the evolution of Ahsoka as the series’ main protagonist, but as the two come to their final confrontation, the grand oversight of Filoni and his writing staff’s narrative becomes clear. The two serve as mirror images of each other and opposing symbols for this whole war, forgotten apprentices who have seen the true flaws of their respective teachers; the former Sith sees this more explicitly than his opposing number, as too he does the inevitability of the impending darkness all around. Unfortunately, like Vader in Empire Strikes Back, the only way he sees to defeat darkness is with darkness, which ignites an astonishing lightsaber duel that gives Ashley Eckstein’s Ahsoka Tano the iconic confrontation that her loyalty and performance have long deserved. The choreography of Darth Maul’s original alter ego Ray Park in this battle only adds to its epic nature, as this duel represents the culmination of the show’s unending machinations. As Maul says, “Every choice made… has led to this.”
Then, it happens: Order 66. Questions have always lingered over how Ahsoka and Rex survived the Great Jedi Purge in order to return in Filoni’s other animated series, Star Wars Rebels, and it takes a truly Herculean, episode-long effort to earn their survival.
These final moments of The Clone Wars reference and connect not just the aforementioned Rebels, but also Rogue One, Solo, the original 2003 Clone Wars series, and even one of Kylo Ren’s dark abilities from The Force Awakens. Does it border on fan service? Of course; but in doing so, this long-running show links together the various corners of the galaxy in a way that few others have in the age of “The Story Group”. All comes to a head at the end of an incredible final episode which gives the show and its characters the send-off they deserve, before delivering a stunning epilogue that ties in that most famous Star Wars trilogy.
There is no doubt that The Clone Wars has come a long way from its early days of erratic, juvenile adventures, and perhaps without the presence of big names like Kenobi and Skywalker, the show – and its once-scorned young Jedi protagonist – may not have overcome its uncertain origins. In doing so, however, the show has been allowed to evolve its original characters and unique placement in the Star Wars canon into something much more. As its parent saga still struggles to grow beyond its famous forebears, with the benefit of a maturing and dedicated fanbase this series has managed it. Like all corners of this galaxy it has its detractors, but this send-off has been a roaring showcase of all the show’s unique characteristics – and obvious strengths. The world may have originally seen The Clone Wars as the bridge between its two neighbouring films, and of course this essential final season provides that connection. But for Ahsoka and Rex on-screen, and for Filoni and Eckstein off it, this is a worthy final triumph – one that deserves to end with a rapturous Star Wars Celebration-esque ovation.
Or perhaps, to quote the series’ big screen sibling, “with thunderous applause”.
The final season of The Clone Wars is available to stream now on Disney+. Have you seen it? If so, what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comment section below, and on Twitter and Instagram. You can find more great Star Wars content in all these places, as well as on the Kernel App!