Clone Wars S7 premiere brings the war to Star Wars—and hints of closure


Enlarge / Could we squeeze a few more lightsabers into this Clone Wars poster image, Lucasfilm?

Lucasfilm

After a long road to The Clone Wars’ final season, the animated series returns to wrap up a story over a decade in the making. The opening episodes of the new season—which debuts on Friday, February 21, exclusively on Disney+—are by turns thrilling, funny, and as good as anything the series’ live-action side has ever turned out.

But appreciating how far The Clone Wars has traveled to get to this point is impossible without tracing the series’ previous steps.

After cancellation, a return of familiar story arcs

Minor plot spoilers for the entire series, and a preview of the new episodes’ plot, follow below.

The series began in 2008, airing first on Cartoon Network before moving to Netflix and now residing on Disney+. The Clone Wars ran six seasons, but unfortunately, series creator Dave Filoni had plotted it to run for eight, so the show never reached its conclusion, failing to create closure for fan-favorite characters like Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), or clone trooper Captain Rex of the Grand Army of the Republic (Dee Bradley Baker). Both Filoni and his characters moved on to Star Wars: Rebels, filling in some of the blanks as backstory, but it wasn’t the same.

Then, last December, The Mandalorian’s twist ending provided the first solid link between the animated series and the live-action story lines. That set up this week’s moment for The Clone Wars, to bring in the viewership it always deserved and be recognized as an equal to the live-action stories.

When the show was effectively canceled in 2014, the final story arcs (of which there were reportedly a dozen) wound up released via other media, such as a Dark Horse comics miniseries, storyboard animatics, or in some cases, presented during panels at the yearly Star Wars Celebration. These “unfinished tales” could have easily been left by the wayside when Lucasfilm commissioned one last Clone Wars season for Disney+. Instead, the final 12 episodes will dive into some of those initially planned arcs.

The first of these arcs to get the full Disney+ treatment, as I discovered in the first two episodes, is a story informally known as “The Bad Batch.” Out of all the unproduced stories Filoni and company could have chosen, it’s a savvy pick. The story focuses on Captain Rex, a main lead since the 2008 TV-movie. He teams up with Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) on a mission to liberate the planet Anaxes from Admiral Trench, a Harch naval commander fighting on the side of the Confederacy of Independent Systems against the Republic. During the fight, Rex discovers one of his fellow clones, long believed to be dead, is being held hostage.

The “leave no soldier behind” mission that follows puts the “war” in Star Wars, something the live-action films have regularly left to the imagination. Even though Rex may not be a familiar face to those just tuning in, he immediately establishes himself as a sympathetic commander, and the familiar military-film trope is a good entry point for any Disney+ viewer who jumps in blind, even if the only faces they recognize are Anakin, Padme (Catherine Taber), Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor), and Mace Windu (Terrence Carson). For those who have watched the earlier seasons and remember the sacrifice of the character Rex is set upon rescuing, it’s a moment of triumph to see him finally return after so many seasons.

Should we tell Wrecker about Order 66?

Clone Wars: Bad Batch trailer

Also, we get a welcome and tasteful amount of comic relief from the Bad Batch characters in these first episodes. The name “Bad Batch” refers to Clone Force 99, a set of clones who all came out with accidental mutations. These mutations make them super soldiers of a sort, with their nicknames reflecting their talents: Wrecker, Tech, Crosshair, and so on. But the mutations also make the heroes socially awkward misfits and make the mission feel a bit like a 1980s-style lighthearted comedy at times. The same traits that make them super soldiers are the ones that make them nearly impossible to live with (or give orders to). As I expect some darker plot lines ahead, I welcomed the Bad Batch’s infusion of humor here, and they doubly serve to ease-in new viewers before the series starts landing harder emotional blows. For those who know their Star Wars lore, these clones who right now are funny and heroic will suddenly turn into murdering monsters when Order 66 is given, so letting audiences have one more chance to root for them before the show reaches that moment also sets up how complicated war can be.

Speaking of oncoming tragedy, if the trailers and interviews hadn’t all but confirmed it, logic dictates that the season will eventually include the infamous story “Siege of Mandalore.” One of the final battles of the Clone Wars, this story pits Ahsoka, the first female Jedi protagonist introduced to the Star Wars canon, against ex-Sith Lord Darth Maul as she and Captain Rex attempt to apprehend and bring him to justice. Not only will “Siege of Mandalore” tie into the streaming service’s hit The Mandalorian, but it was also previously revealed that this story contains Anakin and Ahsoka’s final goodbye just before the events of Revenge of the Sith. (Eckstein famously cried the first time she heard it.) The novel, Ahsoka, also describes this adventure as climaxing with a duel between the Jedi heroine and Darth Maul, a fight Filoni has promised is “among the best [duels], if not the best, we ever did.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars has, in its way, been a slow rehabilitation of the Prequel era. This final season seems to be pushing to complete that reclamation, as well as bring in all those fans who have missed out on the series the first time around. (One can only wish Disney+ would further aid in that mission by putting the episodes in chronological order, instead of order of release, but at least Star Wars’ official website has a helpful guide.) But with little in the way of significant genre releases on Disney+ between now and Marvel’s first series in August, this final season of The Clone Wars is a new opportunity to reel in audiences. With Season 7’s first episodes, the show is putting its best foot forward to impress.



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