Star Wars: The Clone Wars isn’t the first animated series set in the galaxy far, far away but it’s certainly one of the franchise’s most important. The show, which ran on Cartoon Network from 2008 to 2013 and then on Netflix in 2014, expands the stories of the Prequel era as well as the lore of the universe as whole, bringing back fan-favorite characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker while also introducing us to Ahsoka Tano, perhaps the most popular animated Star Wars characters to date.
As the title suggests, The Clone Wars is primarily a war show, but the stories aren’t just made up of exciting action scenes (although there are plenty of those). The series also tries to answer two major questions about the space saga: what is day-to-day existence like at the frontlines of the war that cost the Republic its moral high ground and eventually turned it into the Empire? How does the unending violence affect and change the war’s heroes and villains? The answers aren’t always what you expect, with thrilling deep dives into its characters making up many of the show’s best episodes.
With The Clone Wars set to return for an all-new season on Disney+ in February 2020, we decided to take a look at the best episodes of the animated series so far:
Season 1 Episode 2: Rising Malevolence
A straight war story, this early episode introduces the major players of the series, as the Jedi and the Clones face off against a new Separatist superweapon. We get to see Anakin Skywalker giving his apprentice Ahsoka Tano a valuable lesson about how to disobey orders in order to save lives, and we also learn a bit more about Ahsoka herself, including her willingness to help others. On the villain side, we also meet droid General Grievous, who has a particular taste for defeating Jedi in battle. In this case, its Jedi Master Plo Koon who ends up in his sights.
“Rising Malevolence” begins The Clone Wars‘ tradition for three-episode arcs that tell the beginning, middle, and end of a particular battle or conflict. The episode also introduces The Clone Wars‘ more multifaceted approach to the characters, not only focusing in on the Jedi and Sith but also the clone troopers themselves.
Season 1 Episode 5: Rookies
The clone troopers themselves are, of course, a key part of the show. This episode is a good glimpse at clone culture, with newbie recruits, already full-grown and casually bantering, sent out into the field and listening to approved Republic army radio stations. In particular, it introduces Fives, a nerd for regulations and a sweetheart, and his brothers at the very beginning of their careers. Dee Bradley Baker’s voice acting is impressive: he’s talking to himself as different clone characters throughout most of the episode.
The stakes are high here. It’s clear that the Separatists can make droids faster than the Republic can make more clones, and with Kamino itself threatened, there is a lot to lose for the young conscripts.
Season 1 Episode 13: Jedi Crash
Young Ahsoka is unsure about whether she’s doing Jedi philosophy right. If attachment is forbidden for Jedi, where does their duty to be compassionate fit in? Jedi Master Aayla Secura mentors her in a story set on an alien world with cute, creative creatures.
The leader of the Lurmen, a species who “colonized this system to find solace from your wretched war,” digs into the morality of the Jedi in a way that clearly isn’t talked about in such stark words in the Temple. More Ahsoka characterization and the fun design of the Lurmen make this one an instant favorite.
Season 2 Episode 10: The Deserter
After Attack of the Clones, various pieces of tie-in media tackled the idea that clones were essentially slaves, even as the crumbling Republic flew a flag that ostensibly stood for peace and freedom. Like some of the best Star Warsstories, “The Deserter” starts in medias res: clone Captain Rex and Obi-Wan Kenobi crash land and collide with the pastoral life of Cut Lawquane, a clone deserter. Cut has been away from the army long enough to have married and had a daughter, and has no interest in returning to the fight.
Cut’s desertion shocks Rex. They argue about what a clone’s purpose and duty are, and the show finds a magnanimous balance between the two characters’ experiences. The episode is an impressive look into the morality of this “clone war.”
Season 3 Episode 12: Nightsisters
One of the show’s most compelling characters is Asajj Ventress, the alluring, sinister Sith apprentice who never quite seems to find her place in the galaxy. Early in the show, she is Count Dooku’s attack dog, but like Darth Maul, she isn’t actually part of Palpatine‘s grand plan. Darth Sidious orders her termination, but she survives and begins a journey into some strange, spooky Star Wars mythology.
We learn that Asajj comes from a clan of witches known as the Nightsisters, who welcome her back with open arms. Ventress’ conniving evil, the color and design of the Nightsisters’ planet Dathomir, and the focus on the show’s villains make this episode shine. The opening text crawl of Revenge of the Sithdeclared the war has “heroes and villains on both sides,” and Ventress is a prime example of someone who tries to be a hero for the dark side. This episode is just the beginning for her.
Season 3 Episode 15: Overlords
“Overlords” is the beginning of a three-episode arc known as the Mortis story. It’s a remarkable arc because, of all canon saga stories so far, this is perhaps the one which, with George Lucas’ blessing, altered our understanding of the nature of the Force the most.
Anakin and Obi-Wan are trapped in another dimension, dragged through a portal that leads to a place where the light and the dark side of the Force are personified by physical representations. This is as literal and operatic as it sounds, with the episode leaning fully into ominous weather, dramatic declarations, startling cameos, and not-so-subtle foreshadowing. The visual direction of the trio of episodes is stark, with fantastic creatures, ancient-looking carvings, magical glowing stones, and a knife that is the only thing that can kill these manifestations of the Force.
The repurcussions of this episode can be felt in Star Wars Rebelsand, if some fan theories about Palpatine manipulating time and space are true, throughout the Skywalker saga.
Season 4 Episode 7: Darkness on Umbara
From Ventress’ role as a sympathetic character on the dark side, we move to the Umbara arc, a three-episode story about what happens when an evil, power-hungry Jedi general clashes with clones in his own regiment. General Pong Krell is a powerful figure, and he’s set against likeable clone characters like Captain Rex and Fives.
As you might guess from the title, this arc is one of the darkest in the series. The true enemy isn’t the Sith or a droid army: it’s an ostensibly good person, a Jedi General above reproach, who finds himself in a position of power to order men to their deaths. Krell’s backstory contains a satisfying secret reveal I won’t spoil here, but his motivation is in fact a lot less interesting than the rising tension in these episodes, as the clones aren’t sure what he’s going to do next or why.
Season 4 Episode 21: Brothers
Creative voice acting choices; animation with an emphasis on sharp-edged, messy junk and people; and a deathly serious story spun out of a wacky Star Wars idea elevate this episode and the following arc. The wacky idea? Darth Maul survived being cut in half and falling into a pit at the end of The Phantom Menace.
Voice actor Sam Witwer sounds very different from the Maul in the film, but his over-the-top performance has earned him plenty of fans. Better yet, this episode dives deep into body horror with the reveal that Maul’s lower half has been replaced with the heavy body and flailing legs of a mechanical spider.
Season 5 Episode 5: Tipping Points
This is the last episode in an arc, not the first, but I think it does the best job at showing the thesis of the arc: that the Republic and Separatists both funding a civil war on an independent planet leads to absolute chaos. Sound familiar? Revolutionaries and a corrupt regime could have been pulled from the pages of a newspaper. In this case, they’re on the planet Onderon.
Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka try their best to help Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker’s character from Rogue One, appearing here long before he was cast for live action) and his sister Steela liberate their world. With an impressive level of political complexity and deft action scenes, “Tipping Points” shows off what The Clone Wars can do when it strays away from the main saga and examines how the effects of the war ripple outward.
Season 6 Episode 4: Orders
“Orders” is another episode at the end of an arc, this one following the unfortunate Fives. He has discovered that every clone is implanted with an inhibitor chip, and suspects that there’s something more sinister afoot than the raging war. Of course, the chips are connected to Order 66, the command that will later wipe out the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith. Fives comes closer than anyone else ever has to exposing Palpatine’s plans, and the villain can’t let that happen. The soon-to-be-emperor is truly chilling in this arc, especially in its final episode. “Orders” shows that the tragedy of the Republic is not only summed up in Anakin Skywalker but also in Fives.
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