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How The Clone Wars saved Star Wars and reignited one of the most passionate fandoms
It was 2006, and it was a dark time for the Rebellion.
The prequel trilogy had finished the previous year with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. And though I loved it (and still do, perhaps even more), fans, by and large, were not thrilled, which was the general response at the time to all of the films in the prequel trilogy. Genndy Tartakovsky created a series of shorts called Star Wars: Clone Wars, and for all anyone knew, that was it. Time to love and get angry about some other franchise.
Tales in the galaxy far, far away would end right there, with the Jedi decimated, Yoda and Obi-Wan in exile, and some very well-drawn shorts filling in some gaps between Episodes II and III. At least, that's what I (and so many others) thought. I had grown up with the original Star Wars trilogy — I was born into a world where it was already a thing. My love of it grew in the really dark time between the original trilogy and prequels (a time when nobody understood why I was crazy about those three old space movies), but in 2006, I felt like the journey was truly over. The Wars had been completed, and there was no story left to tell. Stare at the suns, fade out.
I was quite wrong. I was very, very wrong. But Disney, Rey, Mando, and the rest of the new order were not the reasons why. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the reason why.
After the prequels were over, George Lucas announced he was working on a new series about the Clone Wars, one that would be done with computer animation, one that would really illuminate the period of GFFA (Galaxy Far, Far Away) history that was first referred to in the original film. I didn’t think I needed it, and I didn’t think I wanted it. We already had Tartakovsky’s series, what was left? Initial artwork looked blocky and weird, and then trailers began to appear for the 2008 feature film that Lucas decided would begin the series.
What was this thing? Star Wars: The Clone Wars looked odd, and who was this Togruta Padawan that Anakin had all of a sudden? Again, I didn’t think I wanted or needed any of it. I didn’t even see the 2008 film in theaters because I was done with Star Wars, right?
Then, one day, I checked iTunes. The first episode of The Clone Wars, it turned out, had Yoda in it! It wasn't expensive, and I was bored. I wasn’t in a Star Wars mood at all, but what the kriff... I hit purchase, I downloaded it onto my video iPod, and I gave it a watch.
Then I gave it another watch, followed by four more watches. I probably watched the episode called “Ambush” eight times in total that day, and then went on to the second episode released, “Rising Malevolence.” I watched that around eight times, too.
Just when I thought I was out, Star Wars pulled me back in.
I was a fool to think that Lucas and the GFFA had nothing else to offer me! Here was Yoda, trapped on a planet with three clones, asking them to take off their helmets before giving Force-laden advice to each one. All of a sudden, I "got" the clones. After that? Yoda lays waste to squadron upon squadron of silly battle droids, and their humor actually worked for me in animation. Your mileage may vary.
In the second episode, I got to know Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). I hadn’t watched the 2008 film, but I knew that she was Anakin’s Padawan. That’s all you need to know to get started, really. There’s a moment in that episode where she reaches out through the Force to get a fix on Jedi Master Plo Koon (one of my favorite non-speaking Jedi, non-speaking no longer), and I was instantly a fan. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
A colleague of mine at the time whom I convinced to watch the episodes with me summed it up well: "It’s just… it's more Star Wars… it’s like there's more Star Wars now!" That was how I experienced Season 1 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and that was how my insane love of Star Wars went from smoldering ruin to a passionate flame. It was white-hot with fervor and glorious nerdery once more.
I couldn't have known at the time that the series would ultimately prove to not only be a battery that kept the GFFA alive but to be a series that thrives like never before in the Star Wars-laden time we live in now. Two additional animated shows, books and comics galore, a live-action series, and five new films? I had no clue that any of that was coming, and it didn’t matter. At the time, my weekly adventure with Skyguy and Snips was more than enough. The spirit of Star Wars endured, and every week I was reminded of why I loved these stories in the first place: friendship... sacrifice... redemption... and a whole lot of WTF weirdness.
To think that at one point I thought I’d give this show a pass is laughable to me now. A Star Wars canon without the Mortis arc, the return of Maul, so much Mandalore, and Yoda’s journey through the Living Force? They are as essential to me as any of the films. A Star Wars world without the continuing work of Lucas' own Padawan, Dave Filoni? No way, frosé! The series not only brought my love of Star Wars back, but it also made it stronger, bigger, and weirder than ever.
It also made it very clear that I was not (and would never be) done with Star Wars. No one is. For better or worse, I’m in it for life, as are so many others.
The show that reignited my passion has now returned, and it has come during a period full of real-life darkness. Here in 2020, almost nothing about my life is the same as it was back in 2006 or 2008. We are surrounded by Star Wars now, but The Clone Wars, once shunned by fans and even myself, is now embraced with whole and open hearts.
I watch the new episodes of Season 7 with a sense of gratitude because though I love all (yes, all) of the new films, Rebels, The Mandalorian, etc., this was the series that told me I wasn’t finished. I can’t imagine a Star Wars world without Ashley Eckstein as Ahsoka Tano (the only Ahsoka Tano as far as I’m concerned, until a creative who is directly involved tells me otherwise), and thanks to this show I’ll never have to.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars found me when I thought the spark had gone out, in more ways than one. It reached out a hand and promised: "No… there is another."