When Lucasfilm first began talking about Star Wars spin-off films — the movies that would later bare the subtitle “A Star Wars Story" — there was much ado made about how these would be the first theatrical releases in the saga to not bear an "Episode" in their titles. As great as Rogue One and Solo were (and future spin-offs will also be, hopefully), they were not, technically, the first of their kind.
On August 15, 2008 (back when George Lucas was still involved with all things in a galaxy far, far away), Lucasfilm released Star Wars: The Clone Wars in theaters. This animated feature bore the Warner Bros. logo and acted as a pilot of sorts for an as-yet-unheard-of animated television show.
The funny thing is, though, The Clone Wars the film was never originally intended to be shown in theaters; Lucas just so happened to like what director Dave Filoni had done with the television series and asked him to splice together four episodes. The result of Lucas' choice was an animated Star Wars film, shown in theaters, that almost always gets forgotten.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the TV series) became a glorious bit of the Star Wars galaxy over the course of six seasons, but it was definitely made for the small screen. Because The Clone Wars the film was, for all intents and purposes, just four episodes of a television show, not many people knew what this animated film was supposed to be when it was released. Critics were not kind (it holds an 18 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems entirely unfair) and fans ignored it; I myself didn’t venture out to see it at the time. The summer of 2008 was jammed with classics, and this admittedly strange new Star Wars experiment felt tacked on.
It wasn’t until the show began on the small screen (where it belonged) on October 3, 2008, that I became curious enough to see what this thing was. The show hooked me immediately, as the first episode aired on Cartoon Network, "Ambush," starred Yoda and made a case for why the series was important. If you are wondering where the episode makes that case, look no further than the scene in the cave where Yoda talks with three clones:
About six episodes later, I was firmly in the thrall of this show (I had shown a bit of it to a friend, and he responded to the end of the episode "Rising Malevolence" with a drop-jawed, “It’s just… like… more Star Wars!") and I was ready to see what that animated film was all about. It was already on store shelves at that point, so I grabbed it.
I could see why it didn’t capture the hearts of cinema-goers. Though attempts were made to tie it all together into a cohesive film, it was very much four episodes stitched together, those episodes being "The New Padawan," "Castle of Deception," "Castle of Doom," and "Castle of Salvation." Of those four, "The New Padawan" easily stands out as being my favorite. It features a big clone battle on the planet Christophsis (which the show would revisit in later prequel episodes) and, most importantly, shows the first meeting of Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and his padawan, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). "The New Padawan" also introduces Clone Captain Rex (an instant fan favorite), voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all of the clones in the series. The rest of the three episodes that make up the film deal with Jabba the Hutt’s son being kidnapped, and though they aren’t awful, they are probably my least favorite parts of The Clone Wars saga. I say that with love because they're still fun to watch.
I had already gotten used to the “3D, painted, CGI Thunderbirds” style of the animation, so that wasn’t an issue. I was also watching it on a small screen, so that helped, as well. Most important of all, though, I had already met Ahsoka Tano by watching the series before the film.
Undisputedly, The Clone Wars' most important addition to Star Wars lore is Ahsoka. Ahsoka's story begins in this film, and her (very) slow journey of acceptance by Star Wars fans begins here, too.
In the Clone Wars movie, Ahsoka's a spunky young thing who calls Anakin “Skyguy” (something that was eventually phased out) and was very off-putting to a lot of older, vocal fans. It’s hard to imagine a time when Ahsoka wasn’t almost universally beloved, as she's now a fan favorite, but we should remember that she was hated at first. Not hated at the same level as Ziro the Hutt (also introduced in this film), but adult fans did not like this addition of Anakin having a mouthy (female) apprentice, seemingly out of nowhere, to the lore.
Personally, I thought she was fine. Little did I know that five years later, I’d be crying when she took her final walk down the steps of the Jedi Temple. Little did I know that I would scream and punch the air when Star Wars Rebels brought her back. Little did I know that Rebels would end with Ahsoka the White, and little did I know that San Diego Comic Con 2018 would feature a single line of hers that ended up tearing the roof off of the building.
Technically, the Clone Wars film was impressive for 2008 — though it was just the starting point for far greater things. The Battle of Christophsis and the vertical Battle of Teth are good, but they don’t hold a candle to future face-offs on Geonosis, Umbara, and Mandalore. The film's lightsaber duels are acceptable, but again, the first season episode "Cloak of Darkness" easily outdoes them. Lightsaber battles only continued to evolve and get better as the show progressed. Asajj Ventress appears at her baseline in the film — she would go on to have one of the more incredible Star Wars arcs of all time. Ahsoka, obviously, had a similarly incredible arc… one that isn’t finished, either.
In short, The Clone Wars film was a humble beginning for something that grew to be truly great. Cast off, unloved, and unwanted, this movie was treated like a disease until the show really caught on— and even then, it's still largely swept aside. Even now, when recommending the show to people who have never seen it, I never suggest they start with the film. (I’ve always found "Ambush" or "Rookies" better on-ramps, and if they’re a really tough sell, I’ll put on "Landing at Point Rain" from Season 2.)
Every saga has a beginning, and for The Clone Wars, this movie marked that beginning 10 years ago today. The entire enterprise may have been cut down, belittled, and shunned 10 years ago, but today? The surprise announcement at SDCC 2018 that Dave Filoni and his amazing team would be making 12 new episodes to finish the show the way they had always meant to brought tears of joy to every corner of the Star Wars fandom. If you had told me 10 years ago that a single line from Ahsoka to Anakin would make me cry, I would never have believed you. Things grow, and times change. Snips and Skyguy will be back, and most (if not all) of the fandom will be watching.
Thanks to The Clone Wars, we got Rebels. Thanks to both of those shows, we’ll get Star Wars Resistance. The world of Star Wars animation is strong, and it all began with this theatrical release. Adults may have dismissed it, but plenty of children grew up with it. For some, it was their gateway into Star Wars as a whole, and for that alone it should be celebrated. Happy anniversary, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you weird half-movie-half-TV-pilot-thing. You were the first of your kind, and it is high time attention was paid.
As for Ahsoka and Rex, it’s their 10-year anniversary, too. That's 10 years of adventures, with no signs of slowing down. I could not imagine Star Wars without you.