How ‘The Clone Wars’ Changed ‘Star Wars’

James Akinaka

On a Sunday night in October 2008, I was channel surfing on TV when I landed on Cartoon Network and glimpsed an animated Master Yoda. My first thought was, I didn’t know Star Wars had a TV show. I was about to switch channels, but I stuck around for the rest of the half hour episode. I watched as Yoda and three clone troopers completed a mission against insurmountable odds, and when the next episode began, I learned that Anakin Skywalker had a Padawan: Ahsoka Tano. That was my first experience with a show called Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Star Wars, both in-universe and out-of-universe, is about generations. All Star Wars fans can identify what brought them to the Saga, whether it was the original trilogy, the Expanded Universe, or the prequel trilogy. I watched both film trilogies with my father when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I saw those first two episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that I started identifying as a Star Wars fan. (Since then, I’ve become a much bigger Star Wars fan than my dad.)

Love it or hate it, The Clone Wars changed Star Wars. In the wake of 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars breathed a new form of life into Star Wars, in ways that only a TV series could. For old and incoming fans alike, The Clone Wars changed how Star Wars was seen, talked about, and experienced.

Here’s a look back at the impact that The Clone Wars had on the Star Wars Saga.

A New Generation of Star Wars

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Most people assume that since it’s Episode VII, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh Star Wars film to be released theatrically. As it turns out, another film had already snagged that spot. In August 2008, The Clone Wars TV series began with a feature film of the same name, which was edited from four episodes of the series’ first season. Lucasfilm Animation, which didn’t exist until The Clone Wars, has since produced two other TV series: the currently airing Star Wars Rebels, and the shelved comedy Star Wars Detours (you can read more about that here).

Star Wars is famous for the dead zones between major releases. Sixteen years passed between the releases of Episode VI (1983) and Episode I (1999), while the groundbreaking novel Heir to the Empire—which cemented the popularity of the Expanded Universe—didn’t arrive in bookstores until 1991. For newer fans, such dead zones are difficult to imagine, especially now when Disney is pushing out a new film every year, beginning with last December’s The Force Awakens.

After 2005 gave us Episode III, many fans assumed they had seen the last of Star Wars. The Expanded Universe was still going strong, but it didn’t have the same kind of pull as that of a major release, like a movie or TV show. Then 2008 came, and The Clone Wars invaded theaters and TV screens across the globe. Retailers had new opportunities to sell Star Wars products; the next generation of fans flocked to the Saga; parents had a new reason to get their kids into Star Wars; and elements of the infamous prequel trilogy gained fresh new meanings.

Of course, The Clone Wars was still a huge risk, not in the least because it was one of the first attempts at Star Wars animation. Other than the Droids and Ewoks TV series from the 1980s, the Star Wars: Clone Wars microseries (which inspired The Clone Wars), and the single cartoon segment of the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special, animation was a new approach to Star Wars at the time. Given that The Clone Wars survived for five and a half seasons and a slew of bonus material, Star Wars on the small screen must have been successful.

Women Are Part of Star Wars, Too

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Princess Leia Organa might be the only female lead of the original trilogy, but she isn’t the only female protagonist in Star Wars. One of the most beloved characters from the Expanded Universe is Mara Jade, an Emperor’s Hand–turned–Jedi Master who married Luke Skywalker. (Han and Leia aren’t the most interesting couple anymore, are they?) Characters like Leia and Mara serve as reminders that Star Wars isn’t gender-specific. Women have a place in the Saga, too. (Rey, anyone?)

In addition to a renewed focus on Senator Padmé Amidala, The Clone Wars created many new female characters, each with a distinct outlook on the galaxy. Steela Gerrera rose to lead a rebellion on her homeworld, Onderon. Bo-Katan Kryze formed a resistance on Mandalore after Darth Maul conquered the planet. Bo-Katan’s sister, the pacifistic Duchess Satine Kryze, is proof that a female character doesn’t have to kick ass to be badass, especially given her courage to confront corruption within her own government and the upper echelons of the Galactic Republic.

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This list would be woefully incomplete without two of the series’ most prominent protagonists: Asajj Ventress and Ahsoka Tano, both of whom found their lives taking unexpected paths. Ventress started the series as Count Dooku‘s Sith apprentice, but after Dooku cut ties with her, she reclaimed her Nightsister heritage, ventured into bounty hunting, and even became an ally to the Jedi. Part of her character’s relatability stemmed from her ongoing struggle to find her place in the galaxy.

As for our favorite Togruta (sorry, Shaak Ti), any fan of the series knows that the name Ahsoka Tano is synonymous with The Clone Wars. I was one of many fans who initially couldn’t handle her snippy and bratty behavior. Yet, as Ahsoka grew up, she also grew on fans. In many ways, the series was her series, and through her, viewers saw what it was like to grow up as a Jedi in a time of war, as well as the flaws that the Clone Wars exposed within the Jedi Order‘s way of life.

Ahsoka’s departure from the Order was heartbreaking. Some people even found it traumatic. For me at least, her decision brought out her courage and conviction to do what she believed was right, even if that meant leaving behind the only life she had ever known. Regardless of her fate in the Rebels season two finale (“Twilight of the Apprentice“), Ahsoka will never lose her place in the hearts of Star Wars fans.

Bringing Characters Out of the Background

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Star Wars films are populated with a steady supply of background characters. But unless you’re familiar with the Expanded Universe, chances are you’ve never heard of names like Bossk, Aurra Sing, Luminara Unduli, or Plo Koon. The Clone Wars brought those characters and many others out of the background, and to the forefront of TV screens. Jedi received ample development, with stories focusing on Luminara Unduli, Plo Koon, Kit Fisto, Shaak Ti, and even Aayla Secura.

The main set of characters who benefitted the most from being in the spotlight were the series’ titular clone troopers. Clone troopers were featured extensively in the Expanded Universe, but The Clone Wars brought their stories to a wider audience, showing viewers that unique characters lived beneath the clones’ helmets, no matter how colorful or personalized their armor might have been. “Rookies,” which was the series’ first clone-centric story, still stands out as one of its best episodes.

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Of the series’ two primary clone protagonists, one debuted in Revenge of the Sith, and the other was a new creation for The Clone Wars: Commander Cody and Captain Rex, respectively. (Based on my avatar at the bottom of this article, you can probably guess whom my favorite character is.) Since Revenge of the Sith controlled Cody’s fate to a certain degree, the series tended to focus more on Rex. Viewers saw him and other clone characters wrestle with the undeniable truth that they were born into slavery, and bred for one purpose only: to fight for the Republic.

Because The Clone Wars was cancelled before it reached the time frame of Order 66, there was never any conclusion to the deplorable ethics behind the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic. Yet, even though the clone troopers were pawns of the Sith, they still emerged as heroes. My personal opinion is that they made the best of a bad situation, fighting not for the corrupt Republic, but for the people they cared about. Whatever your views on the morality of war, the clone troopers were just as important to The Clone Wars as Anakin and Obi-Wan were.

The Groundwork for Legends

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For many diehard fans, this is still a sore point, and rightfully so. When Disney and Lucasfilm pulled the plug on the Expanded Universe in April 2014, some fans knew that such a purge was inevitable. From its outset, The Clone Wars made it clear that it was not beholden to follow any other continuity besides that of the six Saga films. Elements of the Expanded Universe, which has since been rebranded as “Star Wars Legends,” crept into The Clone Wars, but usually those elements incorporated visuals and aesthetics, more so than the stories in which they had originated.

Countless plot points of The Clone Wars diverged from their origins in the Expanded Universe: the pacifism of the hitherto unknown New Mandalorians; the revised life of Greedo; the assassination of Senator Onaconda Farr; the deaths of Jedi Masters Even Piell and Adi Gallia; the defection of Padawan Barriss Offee; the rewritten origins and fates of Asajj Ventress, Darth Maul, and Quinlan Vos… The list goes on.

Some fans feel slighted that the Expanded Universe got trod on, whereas others were a bit more receptive to the singular vision of Star Wars that George Lucas (who executive produced The Clone Wars) put forth. All of it began on The Clone Wars, which laid the groundwork for the creation of Legends—especially since the series was Lucas’s last major Star Wars project. Many fans have diverse opinions on this revamp of canon, but it was a significant change to the Saga nonetheless.

Demystifying the Mythology

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As The Clone Wars progressed, it became clear that the series was a prequel not only to Revenge of the Sith, but also to the entire Star Wars Saga. Given that the core of Star Wars is its complex mythology, it’s not surprising that The Clone Wars concentrated on some of those elements. The narrative of the original and prequel trilogies was exclusively devoted to the primary conflict between the Jedi and the Sith, so the films did not have a chance to explore other aspects of the Force.

Because of its serial nature, The Clone Wars had the opportunity to focus on the “grayer” followers of the Force, such the Nightsisters of Dathomir and the Dagoyan Masters of Bardotta. One of the principal explorations of the Force occurred on Mortis, where a family of Force wielders detailed a surprising perspective on the prophecy of the Chosen One that forever haunted Anakin Skywalker. Though all three Force wielders died after a tumultuous series of events, that story arc showed that as prophecies go, the Chosen One was even more intricate than it seemed.

The series’ other Force-heavy story arc featured Yoda, as the mystery of the late Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas led to a much more monumental journey. From Dagobah to a Force planet, and even on the Sith homeworld of Moraband, Yoda found himself undergoing trials set forth by a group of mysterious Force Priestesses. The story arc finally explained how Yoda began to commune with the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn to learn the secret of immortality. These episodes were also special because they were the last ones to be completed prior to the series’ premature end.

The Rebellion Rises

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Many components of the original trilogy popped up in The Clone Wars in interesting ways, including characters like Boba Fett, Chewbacca, and even Greedo and Sy Snootles. The plot line that laid the most foundation for the original trilogy was a story arc in the series’ fifth season that explored a rebellion on Onderon. Led by the aforementioned Steela Gerrera, the Onderon rebels sought the support of the Jedi to overthrow their king, Sanjay Rash, who was a puppet leader for the Separatists and had deposed Onderon’s previous monarch, Ramsis Dendup.

From a writing standpoint, I had a few problems with the Onderon story arc. My main concern was that it did not explore the collateral damage that war causes. War kills people, and non-combatants are always caught in the crossfire, whether they are civilians whose lives are endangered, or refugees who are displaced by the fighting. Yet, the Onderon arc did not examine those real-life implications of war. In this and other story arcs, the limited scope of The Clone Wars sometimes required that important depictions of politics be condensed, which I found frustrating.

Jedi And The Rebels

Still, the intentional irony of the Onderon story arc was that Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader, was one of the pseudo-founders of the Rebel Alliance. It was his idea for the Jedi Order to train insurgencies like the Onderon rebels to combat the Separatists. After the Clone Wars, many of those rebel cells coalesced to form the rebellion, which served as a precursor to the centralized Rebel Alliance and is the current focus of the Star Wars Rebels TV series.

From a real-life production perspective, Star Wars Rebels could not exist without the extensive animation work of The Clone Wars. And it’s no coincidence that Rebels has picked up many story threads that The Clone Wars left open, from the future of characters like Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex, to the origin of the Rebel Alliance. Moreover, just as Rebels and The Force Awakens have done, The Clone Wars brought an entire new generation of fans to Star Wars, myself included.

The Clone Wars might be over, but through it, Star Wars lives on.

James Akinaka
James Akinaka arrives at Fandom by way of Wookieepedia. He covers Star Wars, superheroes, and animation and values bold, inclusive stories. He suffers from a lifelong case of nitpicking and high standards.
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