clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The ‘Clone Wars’ Finale Perfectly Tied Together Every Era of ‘Star Wars’

The animated series—which began more than a decade ago—finally concluded Monday with a send-off that positioned both its writer and its most memorable character for expanded roles in the franchise’s future

Disney/Ringer illustration

On Monday, Disney snipped the last link to George Lucas’s decades-long tenure as the steward of Star Wars. Fifteen years after Lucas presided over preproduction of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated series has reached its long-delayed conclusion. The seventh and final season of The Clone Wars, which returned from a six-year hiatus in February, bowed out with a May 4 finale that saw the prequel-spanning series catch up to—and briefly vault past—the conclusion of Episode III. Season 7’s 12-episode send-off was largely intended to tie up loose ends and bid goodbye to a show and an era that hold a special significance for many Star Wars fans who were weaned on the prequels. But it also helped position both its writer and its most memorable character for expanded roles in the franchise’s future.

Season 7 broke down into a trio of four-episode arcs that filled in some of the gaps in the stories of two fan favorites, Commander Rex and Ahsoka Tano, who were introduced in the animated Clone Wars film that preceded and set up the series in 2008. The first four episodes followed Rex, the second four centered on Ahsoka, and the last four brought the two together to explain how they survived Order 66.

The season-opening arc paired Rex with “The Bad Batch,” a unit of misfit-toy clones born with genetic abnormalities that gave them unique looks and a set of special abilities. It’s easy to envision the Bad Batch, whom Lucas created, as the basis of a Star Wars take on The A-Team, or at least as the protagonists of a Republic Commando reboot; in any other Clone Wars season, this arc could have been a highlight. But because these episodes were screened as story reels at Star Wars Celebration five years ago and later released online, they seemed somewhat stale to hardcore Clone Wars fans—the ones who were still holding out hope for some kind of continuation years after Season 6. The Bad Batch were better in fully finished form, but in and of themselves, those first four installments didn’t constitute a compelling reason to resurrect the series.

The middle episodes cleared up Ahsoka’s actions after she left the Jedi order in the Clone Wars Season 5 finale. Before The Clone Wars was canceled, this sequence was slated to introduce a potential love interest for Ahsoka, Nyx Okami. When the series was exhumed for a limited run, that romance seemed extraneous. Consequently, Okami was replaced by Trace and Rafa Martez, two sisters scraping by on Level 1313 of Coruscant’s underworld—a locale initially envisioned as the setting of a canceled video game and live-action TV series, and eventually introduced in The Clone Wars’ second season.

It was nice to see Ahsoka again, and her team-up with the Jedi-hating Trace and Rafa forced her to wrestle with her role outside the order. But the Martez sisters weren’t particularly appealing, and the smuggling sidequest was an unwelcome detour. This quartet felt like filler, which would have been forgivable in a 22-episode season but was frustrating with so little time to go. The penultimate episode in the arc, “Dangerous Debt,” sports the lowest average IMDb user rating of any episode in the series, reflecting fans’ unrest.

Two-thirds of the way through, Season 7 seemed like a dud. But if you endured the long wait for The Clone Wars to come back and stuck with the slow start to the season, your patience paid off. The final four-episode sequence, which covered the Siege of Mandalore and Order 66, was peak Clone Wars, fulfilling Ahsoka actress Ashley Eckstein’s promise that fans were in store for “some of the best Star Wars ever made.” Because the culmination of The Clone Wars coincided with Revenge of the Sith, the story offered few surprises, but the four-part denouement, which was written by supervising director (and Lucas apprentice) Dave Filoni, delivered some of the series’ most cinematic and emotionally affecting moments, as well as a host of elegantly constructed ties to the prequels and the other Star Wars shows that bear Filoni’s fingerprints, Rebels and The Mandalorian.

Filoni’s grand finale explores how Ahsoka came to (temporarily) liberate Mandalore from Darth Maul and his Mandalorian super commandos, how she escaped execution after Order 66, and how Rex resisted the preprogrammed command to kill Jedi. The last act features title cards that indicate that the series has something special in store. The minimovie is presented as a distinct, self-contained entity: Green text that reads “A Lucasfilm Limited Production” hearkens back to the original trilogy, and the red Clone Wars logo from Maul’s death-undoing arc in Season 4 returns, accompanied by John Williams’s opening fanfare from the films.

The Siege story line opens in the hours leading up to Episode III, as Ahsoka appeals to Anakin and Obi-Wan for aid in tracking down Maul. Years later, when Rebels Ezra Bridger asks Ahsoka what happened to Anakin, she says, “The last time I saw him, he was rushing off to save the chancellor.” In The Clone Wars Season 7, we finally see that scene. It’s a tender parting in which Anakin restores Ahsoka’s lightsabers and she wishes him good luck—which, considering subsequent events, seems to support Obi-Wan’s stance on luck, not Anakin’s.

Filoni also sheds a little light on circumstances at the start of Revenge of the Sith. We learn that the Jedi—including the doomed Plo Koon and Aayla Secura—are scattered and ripe for clone execution because General Grievous has been busy besieging the Outer Rim. And now we know why Anakin and Obi-Wan were late to Grievous’s surprise attack on Coruscant: They were meeting with Ahsoka. In a subtle but brilliant touch, the John Williams theme that plays as Anakin and Obi-Wan swoop into battle just after Episode III’s opening crawl is reprised as Ahsoka and Rex launch their assault on Mandalore, reinforcing that these events are occurring at the same time.

The ensuing episodes showcase all the hallmarks of a Lucasfilm crescendo: lightsaber duels, ground assaults, a battle above a planet, and a Sith futilely trying to seduce someone to the dark side. Episode 10, “The Phantom Apprentice,” treats us to deft dialogue between Ahsoka and Maul, who’s initially let down by Obi-Wan’s absence, but comes to see Ahsoka as a worthy rival and/or ally. Their talk soon segues into an extended lightsaber ballet—“I see the Padawan needs one last lesson,” the sinister Sam Witwer intones—that takes place in two settings, much like the duel in The Empire Strikes Back. Maul’s moves come courtesy of a motion-captured Ray Park (who’s still in spinning, flipping form at 45), evoking the fierce fight at the end of Episode I.

The series’ spruced-up animation shines in the assault on Mandalore, the unarmed Maul’s The Force Unleashed/Rogue One–style rampage through clones and hyperdrives, and a skirmish in a capital ship that’s plunging to the ground, a set piece straight out of Revenge of the Sith (just as Ahsoka using the Force to freeze a shuttle seems reminiscent of Rey in The Rise of Skywalker). Composer Kevin Kiner’s score stands out for its callbacks to cues like the aforementioned Episode III theme—and the chanting synth intro to Episode 12 (“Victory and Death”), which sounds similar to the prequels’ funeral dirges for Qui-Gon and Padmé, respectively—and for its use of menacing, Vangelis-sounding synths.

Filoni sustains the suspense until the closing scenes, even though we know where it’s all leading: Ahsoka and Rex out of the Emperor’s reach, but on the run. The last episode nearly leaves us as Rebels did—with an image of a robed and solemn Ahsoka, who drops her saber, her Jedi deeds done. A flash-forward follows. In a landscape that looks like Ralph McQuarrie concept art—the colors have faded to reflect the light that’s gone out of the galaxy—we see Stormtroopers, shockingly rendered in an animation style heretofore reserved for their Old Republic predecessors. And, of course, we see Vader, who retrieves Ahsoka’s saber and stalks away. We can only infer what he’s feeling, but out of recognition for the friendship he shared with his former Padawan, one hopes it’s some sorrow or remorse. It’s a scene that plucks at the heartstrings of longtime Clone Wars watchers, along with the sight of Rex crying, references to Fives, Ahsoka saying, “I’ll tell him myself when I see him,” and the clones trying to kill her while wearing her markings on their helmets.

As Vader holds Ahsoka’s discarded blade, he sees a soaring convor (Star Wars for “owl”), a creature with a mystical connection to Ahsoka on Rebels. That’s one of a multitude of Easter eggs awaiting Star Wars scholars: The latter half of Season 7 also marked the first Clone Wars appearances of Rebels characters Gar Saxon, Ursa Wren, and, briefly, the future Kanan Jarrus. Ahsoka uses her Rebels code name, “Fulcrum,” to contact her former Jedi buds. Obi-Wan alludes to Shaak Ti’s downfall at Grievous’s (many) hands, a development depicted in Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 Clone Wars microseries and in an Episode III deleted scene. We even get a glimpse of Dryden Vos, the crime lord played by Paul Bettany in Solo, which sets up Maul’s appearance in that spinoff film. The Siege of Mandalore itself is referenced by The Mandalorian’s Moff Gideon, and the shot of clone helmets on sticks in the finale’s closing moments echoes similar Mandalorian imagery. As Ahsoka searches for the inhibitor chip in Rex’s brain, she utters Chirrut Îmwe’s “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me” mantra, forging a tie to Rogue One while also cementing Ahsoka’s separation from the Jedi. Maul even mentions that Darth Sidious is “in the shadows, always,” an allusion to Leia’s Episode IX line about Sidious lurking “always in the shadows.”

There isn’t any outpost of onscreen Star Wars that the climax of The Clone Wars doesn’t touch: It’s the Star Wars cinematic universe equivalent of the World Between Worlds. Most impressive, Filoni manages to tie it all together more cleverly and less ostentatiously than he did in his Mandalorian writing/directing debut. In the hours after the finale, the four episodes of the Siege of Mandalore stood above all other episodes IMDb’s user ratings. The recency bias may be strong with those scores, but they won’t fall far. Perhaps the Siege of Mandalore will make it to theaters as a standalone product in a post-pandemic world, bringing the series (that started on the big screen) full circle.

If there’s any source of disappointment, it’s that the finale and Episode III aren’t even more tightly intertwined. Ahsoka senses that Anakin killed Mace Windu and even overhears his words in the seconds before he becomes Darth Vader, but she doesn’t seem to feel any Force ripples from his slaughter of the younglings or his fateful meetup on Mustafar. Although that’s consistent with their reunion in Rebels’ Season 2 finale—when Ahsoka and Darth Vader duel, she doesn’t initially know that the dark-suited Sith lord is her former master—it’s a bit of a letdown that we don’t get to see her reaction to her mentor’s final fall.

Frankly, Season 7 didn’t have to happen. Rex, Ahsoka, and Maul had already appeared in Rebels, and Maul had his holographic cameo in Solo. Their fates weren’t in question. The primary reason for the season is summed up by the title of Episode 9: “Old Friends Not Forgotten.” Clone Wars fans have spent a ton of time with these characters: It would take more than twice as long to binge-watch The Clone Wars as it would to complete an 11-part Star Wars cinematic marathon. Just like the clones killed in the finale, the series deserved a proper burial.

The secondary reason for the season is what it augurs for Filoni and Ahsoka. Almost five months after the release of The Rise of Skywalker—which also debuted on Disney+ on Monday—Lucasfilm has yet to reveal how or when the franchise will return to theaters, and the release dates for the Obi-Wan and Cassian Andor TV series are still TBD. What we do know is that The Mandalorian will be back in October, and that Ahsoka will appear and be played by Rosario Dawson, likely in a limited role.

In plotting Season 7, Filoni had the option of setting four episodes aside for finished versions of the Obi-Wan/Anakin Utapau arc that also exists in story reels. That he went with the weaker Coruscant-underworld interlude instead speaks to the centrality of Ahsoka. Considering Dawson’s star power and Bob Iger’s comments about The Mandalorian as a breeding ground for spinoffs, there’s every reason to believe the recurring rumors about an Ahsoka-centric series (that is probably separate from the Leslye Headland–helmed series supposedly set during a previous unexplored era). Season 7 set up that possibility by addressing big blanks in Ahsoka’s story in higher-profile fashion than a young adult book could.

If Ahsoka does go solo, it will be another feather in her creator’s cap. Filoni has a finger (if not a whole hand) in almost every Star Wars small-screen pie, and the command of Star Wars lore that he’s demonstrated in The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian, along with his Lucas-protege pedigree, makes him a candidate to assume Kevin Feige–esque oversight of the franchise, at least on the streaming side. For now, though, he can Bossk in the knowledge that after Disney’s divisive end to the Skywalker saga and his own turbulent start to Season 7, he stuck the landing as gracefully as a somersaulting Ahsoka.

And now, 15 years after The Flanneled One conceived the series, this is finally safe to say: Ended, The Clone Wars has.