I’ve just finished watching the Clone Wars on Netflix, and I wanted to wrap up with a few thoughts.
My opinion of the show was largely positive. I thought the highs were high, and there was some quality writing going on. That said, the Clone Wars suffers the same identity crisis that so negatively impacted the prequels (especially Phantom Menace). Like many cartoons and infamously a great deal of anime, the Clone Wars possesses its share of “fluff” episodes. This is compounded by the fact that while the show touches upon some very mature and heavy concepts and themes, we still get occasional episodes featuring Jar Jar Binks or C-3PO and R2-D2.
Some episodes seem geared entirely to younger children, while some are clearly intended for teen and adult fans. Jar Jar episodes invariably include “physical comedy” scenes of the sort where he stumbles and trips and repeatedly steps on proverbial laser-rakes and somehow winds up defeating a platoon of battledroids. While I actually found Jar Jar less grating in this cartoon, these hijinks called to mind the prequel films, and that was not my desired viewing experience.
Neither was I a fan of the multi-episode story arcs focusing on astromech droid commando squads or jedi younglings encountering the seemingly only band of space pirates in the universe.
What I did enjoy were the Jedi and clone-centric stories. I also thought Ventress and the Nightsisters were interesting characters. As I’ve mentioned before, the clones are really fleshed out and shown to be more than mere foot soldiers. Big lost opportunity for the films there.
Personally I found Anakin and Ahsoka to be the best parts of the show. Not only was Anakin’s character actually likable (contrast with the movies), but with the animation in mind, one can better trace his path to the dark side. With the creation of the Ahsoka character and the development of her relationship with Anakin, the writers really added a lot of depth to the Dark Vader story.
From here on out I have to issue a **Major Spoiler Warning.** Read on at your own risk.
Ahsoka’s Role in Anakin’s Fall
Perhaps the heading should be “The Jedi Council’s Role in Anakin’s Fall,” as that would be more fair to Ahsoka.
At the opening of the show, Anakin is introduced to Ahsoka Tano, his new padawan. He stiffly protests that he does not want to be a teacher, but his excuses are rejected. After fighting alongside Ahsoka and witnessing her determination, courage, and hardheadedness, he assents to becoming her master.
From there, their relationship grows strong. As is common, they develop a special bond as master and pupil. Probably even more so than normal, as they both frequently flout rules and orders to do what they think is right, often to save each other or other friendlies. The only other Jedi that Anakin develops this close of a relationship with is Obi-wan, and considering the protectiveness he exhibits for Ahsoka, I would argue that he becomes even closer with her. Not quite a father-daughter relationship; perhaps close to big brother – little sister.
While Obi-wan and Anakin do share a bond and care very much for one another, Anakin sees much of himself in his pupil. They are both stubborn and brave and sometimes have to be reigned in. Unlike some of the other Jedi (I’ll touch on this later), they both also seem to value highly the lives of their soldiers and treat them with a notable degree of respect and care.
Now, I would note that as the seasons progress, we do observe Anakin flirting with the dark side. He uses Force choke on occasion, and there are times when his anger boils to the surface and he manhandles prisoners or defeated enemies. This is evident when he thinks Obi-wan to have been assassinated, and when he jealously beats the crap out of Clovis for making moves on Padme.
One of the most impactful events leading up to his fall is Ahsoka’s setup and expulsion from the Jedi Order. Aside from his love for Padme and desire to save her from death, his loyalty to Ahsoka is perhaps paramount to understanding Anakin’s motivations.
When Ahsoka is framed for the bombing of the Jedi temple, Obi-wan wants to stand by her, but finds himself outvoted on the Council. It is with regret that he stands by as she is cast out of the Order. Anakin, on the other hand, is furious. He simply cannot believe that Ahsoka is guilty of such a crime, and he cannot stand idly by and watch her wrongfully condemned.
It is at this point that we really see his anger directed toward the Jedi Council, and his disillusionment with its blindness and impotence. When he attempts to intercede and is denied the ability to meet with her as she is imprisoned, we see the shadow growing.
Eventually, after Anakin has cleared her name and proved her innocence, Ahsoka is invited back to the Order, but she refuses to return. She cannot forgive the Council who so quickly doubted her and declined to fight for her. Anakin is clearly hurt and feels that she is leaving him. His pupil tells him that she is grateful, but this is not about him.
It’s at this point that we really see how Anakin feels about the Jedi Order. He had previously voiced his opinion (specifically regarding his conversations with and about Tarkin) that the Jedi often made bad judgements and would not do what was needed to end the war. He tells Ahsoka that he understands her wanting to leave, and we see that he is not content with the current state of affairs.
I haven’t watched Star Wars Rebels, but I have read a bit further on what canonically became of the Ahsoka character, for this is the last we see of her in the Clone Wars. It appears that she later resurfaces to fight against the Empire and foster young Jedi of the nascent Rebellion. In the Season 2 finale of the show, she makes an appearance to confront Darth Vader. She declares that this time she won’t leave him. One of them will not walk away.
She fails at breaking through to Anakin; only Luke is able to eventually bring Vader back to the light. But she comes close. Closer than Obi-wan was able. For a flickering moment, Anakin recognizes Ahsoka, his pupil; his friend. But ultimately they are enemies, and as she says, all she can hope to accomplish is vengeance for her master.
The Gray Jedi
Regarding the Jedi, the Clone Wars provided me with two major takeaways.
1. Other sources, like the video games and other parts of the EU had introduced the concept of “Gray Jedi” who were either not truly Jedi in that they tried to achieve a balance between the light and dark sides of the force, or else Jedi who did not always abide by the Code or follow the will of the Council. Qui-Gon Jinn is often cited as an example of the latter. Many commenters have pointed out that Ahsoka also fits this mold, and I think Anakin most likely also would have fallen under this archetype had he remained a Jedi. Although the cartoon never busts out the term itself, I think it do think it reinforces the existence of such a “class.”
There are more nuanced factions of Force-users than just the Jedi and the Sith, as was perhaps more clearly illustrated by the inclusion of the Nightsisters and the Ones.
2. While the light and dark sides are usually portrayed as good and evil, respectively, they too are more nuanced. I felt like the games and EU also did a good job expanding upon this. If you look at the Jedi and Sith codes, which I naturally have because I’m a humongous geek, you’ll note that the immediate and primary difference is the view of emotion.
The Jedi see emotion as something to be suppressed and controlled. There is no emotion, there is peace. Now the Jedi are clearly not Vulcans or droids; they do experience emotion.
This is viewed as undesirable, however. We are told that Jedi are forbidden to love. And yet would Yoda or Obi-wan teach that joy is a dangerous feeling to be restrained? In theory.
The Sith, on the other hand, operate on emotion. Peace is a lie, there is only passion. The Sith embrace passion and use their feelings to channel the Force. In practice, the dark side of the Force is associated with negative emotions – fear, anger, hate. And yet the Jedi swear off the good ones, as well.
All this leads me to think the light and dark side of the Force, at their roots, are not as well-defined as I once believed.
Also the Jedi Are Dicks
In one of the later episodes, one of the clones executes a Jedi when his brain chip malfunctions and Order 66 is prematurely activated in his mind. He’s taken to the clone lab on Kamino for examination, and Jedi General Shaak Ti “advocates” for him. It struck me throughout that though she didn’t want the clone trooper put down, she didn’t seem overly concerned for him. When the Kamioan doctor asserts that the clones are Kaminoan property, the Jedi counters that the clones are Republic property. Huh. She also has no problem with wiping Fives’ memory and having him transferred to custodial duty.
General Krell, a Jedi who eventually turned to the dark side and betrayed the Republic before being captured and executed, was a leader of some renown. The clones comment in one episode that he is famous for his Pyrrhic victories. He wins, but he loses huge numbers of troops. This is common knowledge, but the Jedi don’t seem to care about his lack of regard for human (clone) life. Just another day being a Jedi?
Not even Anakin, who gets a whole episode devoted to his hatred of slavery, ever seems to stop and think about the clones. They may be programmed to act as willing soldiers, but they’re still slaves. Desertion is a crime, and little thought is given to what will become of them after the war. They’re just the Republic’s version of battledroids, and even though many of the Jedi seem to treat them well, the Order never seems to question the morality of what it’s doing.
I believe this is explained in some fashion by peripheral sources – that the Jedi Temple was built upon a Sith Temple. The dark side slowly weakens and blinds the Jedi over the course of a thousand years. Whether or not this was an intentional explanation, it is certainly believable. Although they have their moments and they’re clearly preferable to the sadistic, power-hungry Sith, the Jedi are often foolish and blind. When there is risk involved, many times they will choose to abandon their own rather than fight; this occurs several times that we see on the battlefield, as well as the whole situation with Ahsoka.
Slavery may not be rampant on Republic worlds, but it is still a blight upon the galaxy, and the Jedi do seemingly little to stamp it out. Not only this, but they engage in their own brand of slavery and justify it as the only way to win the war.
I will say that I think the show ended on a good note. After his pilgrimage to learn the secrets of becoming a Force ghost, Yoda seems to realize, at least to some degree, how blind he and the Council have been. He essentially tells Mace Windu and Obi-wan that they won’t win the Clone Wars, that they’ve already lost. But that they do have one path left that may give them a longer-term victory.
This was foreshadowed in Yoda’s vision, when he had to sacrifice himself to save Anakin. And when he was told that there is another Skywalker.