How Star Wars: The Clone Wars Retconned the 2000s Clone Wars Series

Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars hasn’t been canon since Disney rebooted the continuity, but in its big finale, The Clone Wars has pointedly overwritten its early aughts predecessor. Or has it?

Star Wars: Clone Wars
Photo: Lucasfilm

This Star Wars: The Clone Wars article contains spoilers.

Nearly two decades after Yoda said “Begun, the clone war, has,” it finally looks like the stories of The Clone Wars will truly end. Part 1 of The Clone Wars season 7 finale — “Old Friends Not Forgotten” — has dropped on Disney+, and it’s thrilling and epic as hell. From the old-school green-block letters that read “Lucasfilm LTD,” there’s a deliberate throwback vibe to the finale that makes the whole shebang a Star Wars crowd-pleaser. But, snuck into all the action was a unique moment of retcon — one that hardcore fans probably believed had already happened. In the most pivotal moment of the episode, The Clone Wars has pointedly overwritten its humbler predecessor, the 2003-2005 animated micro-series Clone Wars. In the broad lightsaber strokes, The Clone Wars has mostly avoided directly canceling the events of Clone Wars. That is, until now.

In March 2005, less than two months before the release of Revenge of the Sith, the animated series Clone Wars showed us exactly what Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were doing literally seconds before they heroically swept over Coruscant in their slick Jedi starfighters to save Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from General Grievous. Drawn by legendary animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack) the micro-series isn’t something Star Wars fans talk about much these days, even though from 2002 to 2005, it was a big deal.

Part of the reason we don’t talk about it anymore is because of the pesky c-word — canon. In 2008 the hand-drawn Clone Wars series was subtly erased by the much more well-known, 3D animated series, The Clone Wars. And then, in 2014, when much of the old Expanded Universe continuity was rebranded as Star Wars “Legends,” the non-canonicity of Tartakovsky’s highly-stylized series was made final. The Clone Wars “counted.” Clone Wars didn’t. 

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That said, just like canon characters can originate in non-canonical material, like Grand Admiral Thrawn did, several Star Wars characters and concepts first appeared in the original Clone Wars. Asajj Ventress first rasped her way into Clone Wars in the 2003 episode “Chapter 6,” while General Grievous made his horrifying debut in the excellent 2004 episode “Chapter 20,” over a full year before he hit the big screen in Revenge of the Sith. (Movie-Grievous was never as scary as cartoon-Grievous.) Obviously, Tartakovsky didn’t invent General Grievous or Asajj Ventress, but much of the general scope and feel of The Clone Wars can be found in Clone Wars. And other than very small nitpicky details — like Anakin not wearing a glove over his artificial hand for the entire run of the micro-series — you could kind of squint and tell yourself that some of the events of Clone Wars still happened in Disney’s official continuity, mostly because the timeline of  The Clone Wars largely dodged the events of the first series. 

The Clone Wars took place from 22 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin) to 19 BBY, essentially the 3 years in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It’s a pretty small period of time, and yet, there are more hours of Star Wars viewing material devoted to this three-year period than literally any other era of the entire saga. Apparently, we love not-quite-evil Anakin more than we’re all willing to admit. With only three years to play with, it seems like Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars would have been outright overwritten much earlier. But not necessarily. 

In 2008’s The Clone Wars theatrical movie that set up the series, Anakin is already a Jedi Knight and famously teams up with Ahsoka Tano, who becomes his apprentice. Anakin is no longer rocking his Padawan braid from Attack of the Clones, and by the first three episodes of The Clone Wars season 1, the Jedi are aware of General Grievous, even if it is a little iffy if they knew about him before. (The narrator does!) The point is, you could kind of tell yourself that many of the events in Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars all happened before The Clone Wars began.

In fact, in Clone Wars “Chapter 21,” Anakin becomes a Jedi Knight and has his little braid chopped-off by Yoda’s lightsaber in a pretty slick ceremony. “Chapter 22” begins with a montage of Anakin being amazing during the Clone Wars, and, in a sense, the entirety of the second animated series could take place during that montage. The point is that it’s pretty clear that Chapters1-21 of Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars happen roughly in 22 BBY, while The Clone Wars covers the events right up until 19 BBY. What’s the takeaway? You could still make Clone Wars fit into your own headcanon, up until “Chapter 22,” which is interesting since there are only 25 chapters total.

Which brings us to the latest episode. In “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” as Ahsoka tries to convince Obi-Wan and Anakin to commit Republic forces to help with the Siege on Mandalore, we’re suddenly reminded how close we are to the beginning of Revenge of the Sith — the 501st Clone Battalion has just been recalled to Coruscant! This means that, in this exact episode, we’re days — if not hours — away from the actual events of Revenge of the Sith. This is where the old-school Clone Wars contradiction occurs.

In Chapters 23-25 of Clone Wars, we witness the battle of Coruscant from the ground, including the fact that Jedi Master Shaak-Ti was sent to “protect” Palpatine from General Grievous. This checks out with dialogue in “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” in which Shaak-Ti’s name is mentioned overtly. However, in the old Clone Wars, Anakin and Obi-Wan were recalled to Coruscant right after a complicated mission on the planet Nelvaan, home to the Nelvaans, who suspiciously look a lot like the Na’vi from Avatar, but whatever. In the course of that storyline, Anakin has his artificial hand destroyed, necessitating the construction of a new one at the end of the arc. Anakin also has a vision about becoming Darth Vader, partially helped along by some Nelvaan shaman and a trippy cave painting. Anakin also goes apeshit on some members of the Techno Union Army, foreshadowing his murder of Wat Tambor in Revenge of the Sith

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But in The Clone Wars, Anakin and Obi-Wan are called away to Coruscant in the middle of a tense conversation with Ahsoka about the Siege of Mandalore, which seems to effectively put a nail in the coffin of Chapters 22-25 of Tartakovky’s Clone Wars, kicking the series out of the continuity for good. Some might say this was already the case: Mace Windu is responsible for Grievous’s labored breathing in the old Clone Wars, whereas, the canon version depicts Grievous as always having been that way. Any way we slice it, Anakin’s hand has a glove covering it for most of The Clone Wars, and in Clone Wars, even in the stuff closer to Revenge of the Sith, it doesn’t. And the diversion of Anakin and Obi-Wan to Coruscant in “Old Friends Not Forgotten” prevents any headcanon of them having gone to the planet Nelvaan. 

Yet, fans like myself still want to hold onto the smoky hallucinations Anakin had in the old Tartakovsky Clone Wars. Maybe there’s no way to make the events of these old episodes match up with new canon, but could we cherrypick some of the other moments? Could we pretend that the Nelvaan mission happened sometime in the middle of this season of The Clone Wars? Could Anakin and Obi-Wan have gone to Nelvaan, spent time with the shaman, and then synced up with what we see at the top of The Clone Wars finale? I suppose it all depends on your point of view. But even if The Clone Wars finale does finally erase the Clone Wars micro-series from continuity, this time period of Star Wars has taught fans that we literally can’t get enough of this era. 

The Star Wars: The Clone Wars finale is airing over the next three weeks on Disney+.