Connecting the Star Wars animated series to The Last Jedi

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Dec 21, 2017, 11:00 AM EST

The latest Star Wars movie is here, and there's no doubt that it makes some very bold additions to the Star Wars canon. While the movies will always come first in the galaxy far, far away, they are certainly not all that the new canon has to offer. Two incredible animated shows are canon as well, and both of them have direct connections to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

From this point forward, there will be SPOILERS ... for The Last Jedi, The Clone Wars, Rebels, maybe even Howard the Duck. Sound the spoiler klaxons!

Both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels contain specific episodes that enhance The Last Jedi experience. These episodes are not required to make sense of the film (far from it), but if you enjoyed Rian Johnson's epic and want to explore some of its themes in greater detail, here are some of the best episodes to look at. Let's jump into that cave of mirrors and see what we can find!


Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Mortis Arc (Overlords, Altar of Mortis, Ghosts of Mortis)

Coming in the middle of the show's third season, this trio of episodes might be the strangest and biggest Force deep-dive the Star Wars universe has ever taken. Drawn by a mysterious Jedi signal to a world called Mortis, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka encounter three all-powerful Force beings -- the Father, the Son, and the Daughter.

These three episodes can't be beat when it comes to the concept of balancing the Force. The Father tells Anakin that he has been brought to the mysterious realm for that purpose -- as the chosen one, Anakin must take the Father's place and bring balance to the light (the Daughter) and the dark (the Son). Anakin refuses, the Son turns Ahsoka briefly to the Dark Side, and then momentarily turns Anakin himself, who receives a harrowing vision of his future as Darth Vader. For good or ill, the vision is eventually wiped from his memory. They all manage to escape in the end, but the Father intimates that their actions on Mortis will have far-reaching consequences.

What does any of this have to do with The Last Jedi? Aside from balance being a recurring theme in both the new film and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mortis itself is also a physical symbol of life, death, and life again. As our heroes adventure across the planet, the flora and fauna of the place are constantly springing to colorful life, growing old and dying, and then coming to life once more. This same cycle is referenced in The Last Jedi, taking place during Rey's first lesson with Luke. Stretching out with the Force (not with her hand), she sees this natural pattern play out on the island of Ahch-To.

The Star Wars films themselves mirror this pattern as well -- victory, defeat, and then victory from defeat. Hope and despair are themes in the same score, and the end of The Last Jedi shows better than anything else how a spark can come during the darkest hour.

Another interesting parallel -- the above photo shows a giant symbol on the floor of the Father's citadel, and it almost looks like a Star Wars version of the yin and yang image. Look at it closer and break it in half, and you have the pair of necklaces that are worn by Rose and Paige Tico in The Last Jedi.


Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Trial of Ahsoka Arc (Sabotage, The Jedi Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Jedi, The Wrong Jedi)

When it comes to the Jedi Council making bad choices, it doesn't get much worse than this. Framed for bombing the Jedi Temple, Ahsoka Tano is put on trial both by the Republic and by the Jedi Council themselves.

When Luke says that the Jedi need to end, that they were full of hubris and, paraphrasing here, incredibly high on themselves, this is the kind of thing that he's talking about. The Order (and the Council, especially) has grown so distant from the Force that they are immediately ready to throw one of their own under the speeder. Yoda and Obi-Wan thankfully seem conflicted, but Ki-Adi Mundi and Mace Windu barely give it a second thought.

Not only does this connect to how Luke talks about the defects of the old order, it connects to Luke's own complicity in Jedi idiocy. Luke's momentary willingness to kill Ben Solo while he slept is exactly the kind of thing the old council would do. Luke may have thought that he was above such mistakes (and we may have, as well), but one was made nonetheless. Luke has become a part of the hubris that he rails against, and it haunts him to the point of cutting himself off from the Force and deciding that the Jedi will never grow past this cycle of violence -- the Clone Wars made them into soldiers and killers, and perhaps there is no going back from that.

Ahsoka is redeemed in the end, but she has seen too much of the Jedi's dark underside. Going against the pleas of her master who never lost hope in her, she chooses to leave the order behind. It isn't as extreme a choice as the one made by Luke, but it's incredibly heartbreaking all the same.


Star Wars: Rebels - Twin Suns

It's time to discuss that lightsaber battle! The movements were deliberate, the footwork was intense, and ultimately, the climactic duel between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren was more rooted in character than action. It's not the first time that Star Wars has done a fight like this.

Darth Maul has finally tracked Obi-Wan Kenobi after years of madness and searching -- yes, he survived being cut in half, and gets revived during The Clone Wars series. He returns to be a thorn in the side of the Rebels crew during Season 3, but when he discovers that his old nemesis is hiding out on Tatooine, he goes right for him.

The fight between these two was built up to be pretty epic -- and it was, until Kenobi took Maul out in a single stroke. This fight was all about the setup -- close-up shots of shifting feet, changes in lightsaber posture, a lot of stillness, and then PARRY, SLASH, DONE. The Kylo-Luke fight in The Last Jedi is quite similar.

Another connection that this episode contains is a line that Obi-Wan shoots to Maul before the duel begins. The revenge-obsessed (and very much in pain) Maul kicks sand at Kenobi and mocks that the former hero has become little more than a rat in the desert, and Kenobi has a classic retort -- taking in the pathetic, rage-fueled, and writhing form of his adversary, he says, "Look at what I've risen above."

Yoda says something very similar to Luke during their key scene in the new film -- "we are what we rise above." Obi-Wan has grown past his robot-legged nemesis, and Luke has it in him to rise above his moment of failure with Ben Solo.


Star Wars: Rebels - Path of the Jedi, Shroud of Darkness

The time has come to discuss Jedi being able to astrally project themselves across vast distances of space. I know, you're excited! If you've seen the new film, the chances are good that you remember the part where Luke projects his form all the way to the Battle of Crait, while still being physically present on Ahch-To. The film sets up the concept earlier -- when Kylo and Rey are having their first Force-Skype session. Kylo says that Rey couldn't be projecting herself like that on her own, because the effort would kill her. The line pays off in a big way when the legendary Luke Skywalker does that exact thing in the film's climax, but the move is not without precedent.

Jedi Master Yoda performs a variation of this trick in two episodes of Rebels -- the first features him only as a disembodied voice, but the second time he fully appears. Ezra Bridger and company have gone to the old Jedi Temple on Lothal to get some answers, and Yoda appears to him. We know Yoda isn't really there, because this is taking place during Yoda's exile on Dagobah. 

While Luke pulled off a slightly different version of this move, Yoda definitely gives it his usual flair, appearing against a vast field of stars. He even appears to Ahsoka Tano before the episode ends, giving her a gesture worthy of the Grail Knight from the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Yoda Arc (The Lost One, Voices, Destiny, Sacrifice)

Since we're already discussing Yoda, let's keep the fathier running. These four episodes that end The Clone Wars prove absolutely pivotal to Star Wars as a whole, whether we're discussing live action or animation.

Beginning with the discovery of lost Jedi Master Syfo-Dias' lightsaber, the arc uncovers that mystery while also introducing a new one -- Yoda is hearing the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn in his head. The other Jedi can't sense it, and they even put Yoda under strict medical care, but with some help from Anakin "Do What You Want Whenever You Want" Skywalker, Yoda breaks free and follows Qui-Gon's voice into the very heart of the Force itself.

Yoda ultimately ends up on the Sith planet of Moriband, after a trip to Dagobah, and also a mysterious planet that is thought to be where the infamous midi-chlorians come from. It is on Moriband that he learns one of the most pivotal lessons in Star Wars, and this lesson is the key to Luke's actions at the end of The Last Jedi.

Going up against the forms of Count Dooku and Darth Sidious (astrally projected to Moriband from Coruscant using Sith magic), Yoda discovers that fighting this evil will never win the day. The only key to victory (not in the Clone Wars, but in all wars, as he says) is in fact the name of the episode itself: sacrifice.

Brute force doesn't work for the Jedi. When they become soldiers, they make mistakes. Yoda made them so during the Clone Wars, and his discovery here is what makes him almost a completely different character when we meet him in The Empire Strikes Back. "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense ... never for attack," he says. Nowhere in that famous line does he add "... and sometimes the Jedi act as Generals and wage war across the cosmos."

Would part of us have wanted Luke to roll in on Crait and lay waste to every gorilla walker simultaneously, before murdering every single First Order officer there? Probably, but Luke's way is so much more elegant ... and more in line with Yoda's teachings. Finally free from his own turn in Jedi hubris, Luke makes his own sacrifice, and it isn't a violent one. Instead, he uses all of the energy he has to create the grandest act of myth-making imaginable, and it is his sacrifice that provides the lone spark in the darkness. As he says, "The Rebellion is reborn today ... the war is just beginning ... and I will not be the last Jedi."

In Star Wars, sacrifice trumps legend. Paige Tico knows this, and so does Amilyn Holdo. A haughty name is useless when it comes parcel with selfishness, and during The Last Jedi everyone from Finn, to Poe, to Rey, to Rose, to Luke himself learns this lesson. They learn by failing, but as Yoda says, that is the greatest teacher -- and Yoda is speaking from experience. The Clone Wars are perhaps the greatest failure of the Jedi, and it is only through sacrifice that Yoda becomes worthy of "becoming one with the Force." This is why Yoda vanishes. This is why Obi-Wan vanishes. This is why Luke vanishes. Their actions speak louder than their legends, and it is Yoda's actions in this arc that begin that transition.


BONUS - Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Gathering

Just in case you're curious about how the Jedi create their lightsabers, the beginning of this arc shows what a truly personal process this is. A Jedi youngling must first collect their kyber crystal, and this personal experience creates a strong bond between a Jedi and their "laser sword."

Though it never moves into full "the wand chooses the wizard" Harry Potter mode, the crystal does bond with the host, and can even change allegiances when passed down. The Last Jedi addresses this not only when Anakin/Luke/Rey's saber doesn't know whether to fly to Rey or Kylo, but also when Luke accepts it again by the film's end. He may begin his appearance in the film by throwing the saber (and his legacy) off of a cliff -- but when he reappears to create the spark, his old saber is there. He has accepted his past, and he is ready to move forward.

Of course, it's only an illusion. The real saber is broken in two in Rey's hands ... but the crystal at the heart of it is clearly laid bare. Here's hoping that some of the ancient Jedi texts that Rey brought aboard the Falcon will tell her how to make a new one, because something tells us she's gonna need more than one. The kid from the film's coda is gonna need more than a broomstick, after all.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars ended after six seasons, but the entire show (as well as the introductory movie) is currently streaming on Netflix. Star Wars: Rebels is currently in the middle of its fourth and final season and can be found on iTunes or the Disney XD app.