When it comes to the Clone Wars, one of Star Wars‘ most famous conflicts, there are two questions that come up often but aren’t so easy to answer. Here’s the first: Who won the war? From a certain point of view, the Republic won. From another, the Empire was the true winner. The answer we came up with suggests even blurrier lines.
The point is that Darth Sidious’ web of deceit makes it difficult to declare one faction the winner over the other. After all, he controlled the Republic as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine but also led the Separatists as the Dark Lord of the Sith who instructed Count Dooku and General Grievous. By the end of the bloody war, the only thing that was clear is that the Sith had defeated the Jedi.
Things are just as confusing when it comes to the second question: who started the Clone Wars? On the surface, it was the Separatists. After the Separatists commit an act of terrorism and attempt to assassinate a senator on Coruscant, the Jedi are sent to investigate the faction that’s threatening to secede from the Republic. This is how Obi-Wan Kenobi ends up first on Kamino, where he finds Jango Fett, the bounty hunter responsible for the Separatist attacks on Coruscant, and then on Geonosis, where the Jedi comes face to face with Count Dooku, the group’s true leader.
In Attack of the Clones, we see as Dooku captures Obi-Wan — and later, Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker — and condemns them to death by execution in a Geonosian coliseum. But the rest of the Jedi Order arrives on the planet just in time to help the trio, and the Grand Army of the Republic, which consists of clones engineered for war on Kamino, follows close behind. Thus begins the battle of Geonosis, the opening shot of the Clone Wars
So, the Separatists started the war, right? Yes, but behind the scenes, there was something darker afoot. After all, it’s a Jedi, a master named Sifo-Dyas, who set in motion the creation of a massive army of clones, to begin with. But when Sifo-Dyas met his untimely death in an “accident” (actually the work of the Sith) around the time of The Phantom Menace (the character never appears in any of the movies), Darth Sidious takes over the clone project under the Jedi Master’s name and begins fueling the war to come.
At the same time, Sidious also recruited the former Jedi Count Dooku to his side. Dooku had left the Jedi after becoming disillusioned with both the corruption in the Republic and the ways of the Jedi Order, so he was the perfect person to organize a Separatist movement with the goal of breaking away from the galactic government. Together, Sidious and Dooku built up both sides of the war, overseeing the creation of the Clone Army and the Separatist Droid Army.
By Attack of the Clones, Sidious had already started instigating the war through Dooku and the rest of the Separatist leaders, while responding to those same threats as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the head of state of the Republic. In this way, Sidious escalated the conflict until the first battle broke out on Geonosis. Ultimately, the Sith lord started a war with himself that would completely break the systems of democracy, destroy the galaxy’s greatest protectors, and bring about the rise of the Galactic Empire.
In the end, it’s truly Darth Sidious who started the Clone Wars, even if on the surface it seems like the Separatists started it. As Revenge of the Sith showed us on Mustafar, both sides were manipulated into fighting the war. When they stopped being useful to his plan, Sidious simply sent Darth Vader to slaughter what remained of the Separatist leadership while declaring himself the Emperor and reorganizing the Republic as the Empire on the Galactic Senate floor.
It was the perfect plan.