Star Wars Clone Wars Animated Series: Review Seasons 1+2

The Star Wars Clone Wars animated series is set in between SW II and III, and directly continuing from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie; with the exception of season 1 episode 16, which according to the series writers is actually a prequel to the Clone Wars movie. (Wait. What?!)

The series, six seasons in total, is a celebration of the Star Wars universe. I’ve recently watched seasons 1 and 2, and would like to share my thoughts with you all. Meanwhile, I’ll continue watching the following seasons of course, and will keep you posted.

The Clone Wars Animated Series lets us discover new worlds and peoples, but it also takes us back to well-known movie locations, like planets (Naboo, for one, and many more) and buildings on that planet (the Naboo palace, the hangar).

Clone Wars animated series: Approaching Naboo Palace

The music score is slightly different from the movies’, but still very clearly Star Wars. There are so many great things to see again I hardly know where to start: there’s the drones in all of their different forms, and some new versions added to that. Also, several of the many species we have previously encountered in the movies are making a come-back. Like the Dugs, the flying, snouty creatures from Malastare we know from SW I – where one of them (Sebulba) kept little Anakin as a slave. In TAS we meet Katuunko, their king, on the mysteriously beautiful, colorful dried coral moon of Rugosa. In the animated movie we had already encountered the cutest little Hutt baby, who turns out to be Jabba the Hutt’s son! So cool.
Then there’s also a guest appearance by the long-necked medical specialsts we know from the movies as the Kamino cloning facility’s caretakers and scientists.

Clones

Before we move on to the main character of the series, I must mention the ones that actually carry the title of this series: the clones! While wearing white helmets in the movies, in TAS the clones are oftentimes bare-headed. Since we already know from the movies that it was actually bounty hunter Jango Fett who was cloned, they all have his face. But in the animated series we discover they all have unique characters, who make a point of distinguishing between themselves in spite of their similar looks. One way of accomplishing that is by different (facial) hair styles. We also learn they all have chosen their own names. In S01E05 they even get their own, clones-only episode as if to empasize their unique individuality.

On a side note, an interesting point is raised here: are clones truly human, true individuals and do they therefore, have their own souls? In S01E01 Yoda goes out of his way to stress that they are unique individuals, and in episode 2 Jedi master Plo Koon constantly encourages his troopers to embrace their individual intrinsic value. But that is for another blog post to explore…

Characters Old and New

Against the great Star Wars atmosphere and backdrop, we get to see much more of the development and interaction between the main characters: Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu, to name but a few of the Jedi heroes we know and love. There’s Senator Padme (former Queen of Naboo), Jar Jar Binks, Count Dooku, Count Grievous, senator Palpatine, and fortunately good ol’ R2D2 and C3PO as well! And many, many more!

Ahsoka Tano is a new character, who becomes Anakin’s padawan. We meet her in the animated movie, and she remains at Anakin’s side throughout the series, picking up on Anakin’s individualism and independent mind.

I feel that in season 1 at least we see the positive aspects of those characteristics of Ahsoka – in contrast to some of Anakin’s more negative tendancies.
For instance, Ahsoka is often the voice of reason and compassion when Anakin’s bold but egotistical side threatens to take over. When he is prepared to risk and loose the lives of a squadron of his fighter pilots, claiming that they can make it, it’s Ahsoka who points out that while he might be able to make it, “everybody else is dying”. Her fervent pleas for doing what is Right are what seem to keep Anakin on the straight and narrow more than once.

Nevertheless her character seems to be slowly developing in some other directions as well. On the one hand she has the unique opportunity to work with several Jedi masters, besides Anakin. This offers her the perfect chance to study under “true” Jedi’s, counterbalancing Anakin’s wilder ways. On the other hand she admires Anakin to no end and wants to please him most of all other Jedi masters. This leaves her open to his influence, positive but also negative. In contrast to her pleading for the lives of Anakin’s squadron, we see her ignore explicit orders to draw back in episode 19 of that same season. Thereby risking – and loosing! – her own squadron.

I’m very interested in where they are going to take this character in later seasons. Of course from the movies we know there is no Ahsoka – so I suppose she either dies during the animated series, or – and this I’d find far more interesting – she turns to the Dark Side…

Old-but-new characters

Some characters have been in the movies for very brief scenes, so they probably haven’t made the impression the main characters have. Fortunately, several of them are turning up in the animated series, fleshing them out much more. Like Kit Fisto, a nautolan Jedi Master who has become fairly popular with fans, being ranked #41 in IGN’s list of Top 100 Star Wars characters back in 2010. But we also get to see Jedi master Aayla Secura. Her appearance in TAS is the second time Lucas used her, for she also briefly appeared in SW III, Revenge of the Sith, and was played by Amy Allen. The character became very popular, mostly through the Expanded Universe.

Kit Fisto – movie left, animated series right:

Aayla Secura – movie left, animated series right:

There’s also a new character on the dark side: Ventress, Dooku’s apprentice. In a way she might be considered Ahsoka’s dark counterpart, although Ventress is much older and far more experienced in wielding the Force.

Movie references

There are some great movie tributes hidden (or actually not so hidden) in the Clone Wars Animated Series. For instance, there’s a Contagion episode (S01E17, Blue Shadow Virus), a zombie episode (S02E07, Legacy of Terror), an Alien episode (S02E08, Brain Invaders), and even a Godzilla episode (S02E18+19, The Zillo Beast & The Zillo Beast Strikes Back). Plus, all episodes with bounty hunter Cad Bane have very strong western overtones (S01E19, and others).

Great, great fun!

Skywalker

There can of course only be one truly central character to this series: Anakin Skywalker. Although not a true Jedi Master yet, Anakin has reached Knight status and has come into his own as one of the Jedi generals, regularly leading his own fleet and fighting many battles against the Dark Side’s armies. He’s deeply in love with his wife Padme, but they’re still keeping their relationship a secret, as we already know from the movies.

Since the animated series is set in the years following Attack of the Clones and before Revenge of the Sith, it shows how Anakin slowly and unwittlingly lets himself become vulnerable to the temptations of the dark side. The beauty of this series is, that although Anakin is to become the Big Bad Guy from the Star Wars IV-VI movies, almost every individual episode of the animated series shows us that he is in fact just like us: sinful, yes, but he starts out with a strong intent to do good, fight evil, rescue the defenseless, fight for peace and order in the universe. He really is not truly evil to the core, like his Sith lord, although he seems to come dangerously close for a while, in the movies. Thankfully the sixth movie finally resolves the tension: it proves that Anakin is not truly evil, as he is finally redeemed in the end – whereas, in stark contrast, there is no redemption for the true Evil, the Sith lord.

All of which makes the scene in S02E08 where Anakin uses his future Darth Vader signature move for the first time – the deadly Force grip –  excitingly chilling!

Dislikes

Although none of the original movie actors are doing the voice acting in this animated series, the voice cast acts very well – with the exception of Padme, whose voice is too high, too shrill and too young, almost like a child or rather some weird mix of child-woman.

Another minor flaw is Anakin’s age. In the second movie Anakin is about 19-20 years old, by the third movie he’s still a very young man, of about 23. In The Animated Series however he looks much more mature, like late twenties or even early thirties, imho. Same goes for his voice, which in TAS is much deeper, adding to the maturity. Although objectively I like how Anakin is drawn and I also like his voice, I do not like it in context of the movies’ internal timeline.

Conclusion

So, with all of the above in mind, watching these stories about Anakin before Revenge of the Sith takes place, is a real treat. We get background stories on some of the characters (like an origin story for Count Grievous!), and have the unique experience of seeing the giant walker tanks and gigantic triangular battle ships, only this time being piloted by the good guys!

There’s also a lot of humor and comic relief, with several highlights. Let me mention two of them:

  • S01E04: on Grievous’s ship, amidst all the noises, there’s a short but very clear ‘Mind the Gap’!
  • The bio-weapons expert geneticist that experiments on living creatures has a very obvious, very in-your-face German accent, by Michael York no less. Funny, and well done!

In short, if you’re in any way a Star Wars fan, I definitely recommend you buying this series on blueray or DVD, or check it out on Netflix/Hulu etc.