How Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Mortis Arc Re-examines the Balance of the Force

The Clone Wars episode "Overlords" and the show's entire "Mortis" arc added to our understanding of the Force by commenting on Anakin's journey. Here's how.

Star Wars Mortis
Photo: Lucasfilm

This Star Wars: The Clone Wars article contains spoilers.

“Overlords,” the first episode of the three-part “Mortis” arc of The Clone Wars season 3, introduced a new way of looking at the Force. At first a standalone arc, the characters themselves never quite sure what to make of what happened and never discussing it again, the “Mortis” storyline is now considered an important allegorical look into the franchise’s main conflict: the struggle between the light and dark sides.

The first episode of the arc is essentially a long, literal explanation of the battle between both sides of the Force and how Anakin Skywalker is meant to bring balance to this struggle. The episode both hews close to the literal reading of the prophecy and shows alternate possibilities for what might happen if it doesn’t go as Star Wars fans know it will. 

In “Overlords,” Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano are drawn to a strange dimension by a distress signal. What they find inside is a realm where seasons change in an instant and the inhabitants are all shape-shifting beings suffused with the Force. There are three of these beings, referred to by some as “the Mortis gods”: the angry, petulant Son, the kind and long-suffering Daughter, and the wise but hidebound Father. They represent Darkness, Light, and Balance respectively, and refer to Anakin as “the One,” citing the same Jedi prophecy from the Prequel Trilogy.

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The Mortis realm is described in the episode as “a conduit through which the entire Force of the universe flows.” While there, Anakin confronts his central conflict: his love for people versus his fear of losing them. The Father insists Anakin must prove he is the chosen one by taking the Father’s place as the only being who can keep the warring siblings in line. But by the end of the arc, all three Force beings are dead: the Daughter sacrifices herself to save Ahsoka’s life, the Father kills himself to prevent the Son from taking his throne, and Anakin kills the Son. 

The lesson of the “Mortis” arc seems to be that bringing balance to the Force isn’t easy, or even perhaps possible. The ending even suggests that balance means destroying both the light and dark. But both the Original Trilogy and the Sequel Trilogy end with a light side victory, meaning that even if the metaphor provided by the “Mortis” arc is canon in some regard, it’s superseded by the need for a happy ending in the movies.

How exactly Mortis lines up with the events of the rest of the saga is a matter of some debate. It’s not a one-to-one metaphor. What does it mean that the Father killed himself? Or that Anakin slew the dark side? Anakin killing the Son seems to be a step on his path to the dark side since it’s such an aggressive action uncharacteristic of a Jedi. Anakin’s time on Mortis acts a cryptic metaphor — with the trademark rhymes and ironic connections of Star Wars — that illustrates one version of what the Chosen One prophecy might look like, but it doesn’t directly parallel the events of his future. In Anakin’s own life, his “victory” over the dark side only manifests itself with the help of his own son.

While “Mortis” seems to be more of a comment on Anakin’s story, it’s actually Ahsoka who carries the most concrete connection to the Mortis trilogy through the rest of the saga. During the arc, Ahsoka sees a vision of her older self saying she must leave Anakin or risk the dark side, and we now know Ahsoka did leave him eventually when she left the Jedi Order, even if she remained loyal to him from afar. And her experiences on Mortis are present when she finally does confront Darth Vader in Rebels.

In the follow-up animated series, Ahsoka is accompanied by Morai, a green, bird-like creature with the same color scheme as the Daughter’s beast form. Officially, Morai has “a mysterious connection to the Daughter” but it’s unclear what that connection actually is. Some fans have theorized that Morai is actually the spirit of the Daughter herself, watching over Ahsoka and guiding her on her path. Morai also makes a brief appearance in the series finale of The Clone Wars, implying that she met Ahsoka for the first time after landing on a desolate moon during the events of Order 66.

Imagery from the Mortis trilogy weighs heavy on Ahsoka’s story thereafter. At one point, Rebels protagonist Ezra Bridger unlocks the “World Between Worlds” dimension by interacting with a painting of the Mortis beings. Described as “collections of pathways and doors between time and space” in the official databank, this dimension allows Ezra to pluck Ahsoka from certain death at Darth Vader’s hands and transport her to safety.

Nods to Mortis could eventually make their way to the live-action part of the saga, too. When the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker came out, fans (including myself) speculated that the Sith dagger might actually be the Dagger of Mortis, a weapon capable of controlling or killing the Mortis gods. But Rey does not stab Emperor Palpatine with The Rise of Skywalker‘s dagger: it’s just a map with no clear connection to Mortis besides an aesthetic one. Yet, with Ahsoka set to appear in The Mandalorian season 2 (hopefully, with Morai in tow) the time could be right for this bit of Force lore to finally show up in live-action as the characters explore the mystery behind Baby Yoda.

While the “Mortis” arc seems to exist only in the realm of animation for now, its place in Anakin and Ahsoka’s journeys have shed new light on how the Force works and how the mythical “balance” between light and dark might finally be struck — both literally and spiritually.