It’s been a while since I quit playing Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, but the damage has been done and I find my interest in Star Wars rekindled, but in my own curmudgeony fashion. It wasn’t The Force Awakens that did it for me and honestly I’m a little disappointed (though not surprised) that the reboot was as well-received as it was. I’m not even sure if I’ll go see Rogue One on the big screen. I don’t need to see a new Star Wars film every year.
I used to be into the Expanded Universe stuff, before that alternate history was wiped out by Disney and Abrams. Couldn’t just leave it at Vulcan and go create your own scifi worlds, could you, J.J.? Heir to the Empire, the Jedi Prince, Shadows of the Empire; Young Jedi Knights – I used to read all that stuff. I was young and so I’m sure my memories are tinted by that particular glass, but I really liked those stories and EU characters. Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, in particular, are unfortunate losses for the Star Wars Canon (for those who care about such things, of course, which is a pretty small subset of the people watching these films).
At any rate, I had heard good things about the Clone Wars animation that ran from 2008-2013. Its successor, Rebels, is about to go into its third season, though I hear it’s not as impressive thus far as the preceding series.
I’m currently on the third season of the Clone Wars, and it’s got my attention. It has flaws: chiefly its periodic use of Jar Jar Binks, who continues to stumble around the battlefield accidentally blowing up droid tanks and tripping over himself to dodge blaster bolts and dispatch enemies. There are occasional filler-y episodes, and the show can’t always seem to decide whether its intended audience is child or adult (I suppose it tried to draw both). There are also a lot of escaping villain tropes and predictable betrayals (the Mandalore storyline seems rife with this). Fights with General Grievous and Count Dooku lose some of their tension when you know they’re not yet to be defeated.
That said, there are a lot of things the show does right, and this serves to further highlight the faults of the prequels. One of my favorite elements is their humanization and fleshing out of the clone army. Several of the major characters are clones, and we get to watch them advance and develop as men. We get to see how they’re brought up and trained, and questions about their freedom and personhood are explored. In the movies they mainly serve as faceless foot soldiers and cannon fodder to match the soulless cannon fodder droid army. In the animation, we are introduced to many of the soldiers and we get to see their differing personalities. We also see countless examples of their bravery, dedication, and sacrifice. Yes, many of them regularly die, and because we get to know some of them, this can at times actually have some impact, unlike in the movies.
It is surprisingly violent and adult at times. While we don’t get torrents of blood and guts, it’s not just droids being dismembered. There are neck snaps and lightsaber kills and people being lasered. The victims are usually more peripheral characters, and as I mentioned above, some of the tension is lost because we know some characters must survive the show (in order to die in the last prequel or survive to the original series). But there is still something to be said for taking the time to create cool characters and allowing them to be killed off, especially when they are allowed memorable ends (Master Di, RIP).
As SFF nerds in particular are wont to do, the writers also include hat tips to other great works. I recently watched Season 2 Episode 17, “Bounty Hunters,” which was dedicated to Kurosawa and mirrors the story of the Seven Samurai. Three Jedi and four bounty hunters wind up aiding a village of farmers being plagued by a (recurring) group of pirates. I didn’t think the episode itself was anything particularly grand (unlike in the film, most or all of “the Seven” survive the encounter), but I appreciated the homage.
I am aware of some compelling story arcs that I’ve not yet come to in the show, in particular involving the clones and Ashoka Tano, who I regard as a well-developed and interesting Jedi character. Imagine if the films had cut out about an hour of boring political and economic exposition and instead explored the concept of grey Jedi. Now that would have been cool.