This Star Wars: The Clone Wars review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 Episode 9
Near the middle of the cinematic first episode of the Siege of Mandalore arc, Ahsoka Tano surveys the clones who have been loyal to her throughout the Clone Wars. Captain Rex and his team have painted their helmets orange, the uneven paint job clearly different from their Republic-issued rank colors. It’s a moving scene, Rex’s long devotion to his sibling-in-arms Ahsoka physically evident in such a permanent way. It’s also dystopian, slaves custom-ordered for war tethering themselves to a child soldier as the whole ship starts to go down. It works well on both levels, as does the whole episode.
From the very beginning, the episode (and, from what I’ve heard, the entire four-parter) feels like a movie. The “Lucasfilm Limited Production” badge makes that impression aesthetically but could have come off as corny on its own. Instead, everything about the episode reinforces that tone. The lighting looks as crisp and bright as a live-action sky above California. The opening fight scene is wonderfully crowded with combatants, smoke, and debris. Other scenes literally match Revenge of the Sith in color and setting, establishing that this arc takes place at the same time as the last and best of the Prequel movies.
Part of what makes “Old Friends Not Forgotten” feel so mythic is the characterization. Here are Obi-Wan and Anakin as the quintessential Jedi heroes. As Matthew Stover writes in his excellent Episode III novelization, “Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.” The scene effectively re-introduces their dynamic. Obi-Wan is powerful and staid, while Anakin is powerful and unorthodox. They’re symbols of the Jedi as much as they are individual people, but both aspects are fleshed out through the dialogue and actions.
Some of this magic fades when people talk: Anakin and Ahsoka’s reunion leans on facial expressions and the uncanniness of the trio being together again for its emotional weight more than on the dialogue itself. The lines themselves maintain that quality of straightforward Star Wars banter that can come off as either energetic and fun or flat and cliched. I’m inclined to think Anakin’s “I don’t believe it!” is the latter, but it doesn’t actually slow down the scene, so I’m not worried about it too much.
Mandalorian rebel leader Bo-Katan is especially complemented by the dialogue, which quickly establishes her motivation (political beliefs and the death of her sister) and her attitude. She’s as tragic as the Jedi in her own way, especially since we know from other Star Wars material this rebellion isn’t going to work. Bo-Katan pushes to hand her planet over to the Republic for good reasons, not knowing she’s going to end up a ruler in a rapidly-deepening twilight at best. “What’s one more [war]?” she asks. And we’re all about to find out.
After watching The Mandalorian, there’s a particular joy in seeing Bo-Katan and her armored allies and enemies fight. The battles throughout this episode are impressively messy, no expense spared when it comes to oily, smoky missile trails or corpses slumped against the Mandalorians’ massive quasi-brutalist architecture. Surprisingly, Ahsoka herself doesn’t move as fluidly as the others, her attacks looking slow and overextended as if she’s still stiff from all that time she spent not using the Force. And there are still limitations of animation, with all of the Mandalorians’ body types looking pretty much the same. But a tumbling battle in which Ahsoka drops from low orbit to the planet’s surface performing various gymnastics and heroics along the way was honestly pulse-pounding.
Each scene is near-perfectly paced, gesturing in a way this show usually does not to encourage the viewer to keep rapt attention on every expression and word, especially the loaded conversation between Ahsoka and Anakin. The burst of static before she speaks to him for the first time perfectly punctuates all the things unsaid between them. Admittedly, my pre-existing connection to the story carries a lot of weight here: Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan have, at this point in canon, completed their transformations into symbols of what will come next. They’re also growing and changing; the reversal of Anakin being the less mature one in a scene with Ahsoka is arresting.
If you’ve been following these reviews long enough you know I’m not easily moved by this trio. But “Old Friends Not Forgotten” knows exactly when to lean on that weight. One exception: I might have liked the reveal of Ahsoka’s lightsabers later, as another twist of a knife, rather than a re-gifting near the beginning of the siege. Wondering what was in that box would have been another fun point of tension.
The Original Trilogy is coming. The dark times are coming. I adore stories of imminent disaster (it’s why Rogue One is one of my favorite Star Wars movies), and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this episode works so well for me. This is the last of everything before Revenge of the Sith: the last bit of love between Anakin and Obi-Wan, the last look between Anakin and Ahsoka before she sees his eyes in Vader’s cracked mask.
The Clone Wars has taken the gloves off because it has to. Ahsoka has already decided to leave the Jedi, but there’s a critical moment in this episode where she decides whether or not to leave the war, and which war she means when she says it. That conversation between three Jedi brings to a head all the ideas the show has put in place about what the Jedi and the Old Republic have been fighting for.
Sometimes I hesitate to give five stars because of the unfounded idea that I’m only “allowed” to give this rating sparingly, that to do so otherwise will dilute it. But “Old Friends Not Forgotten” deserves it for its quintessential Star Wars story, immaculate pacing, mythic tone, and occasionally cutting dialogue. This is what The Clone Wars should have been all along and has been at its best. I can’t wait to see what happens next.