Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Final Three Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episodes Demonstrate Why This Show Was So Special


This is not the first time fans have had to say good-bye to Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Previously, the episodes The Wrong Jedi and Sacrifice served as the series finales for The Clone Wars. Neither were made with the intention of wrapping up this program. The former episode only briefly became the series finale when The Clone Wars got abruptly cancelled in March 2013. Sacrifice, meanwhile, was one of 13 Clone Wars episodes released to Netflix in March 2014. Though both had closing shots and storylines that seemed like fitting finales for The Clone Wars, neither were made with that purpose in mind. That's not true for the final four-episode arc (whose final three episodes are covered in this review) of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. For the first time ever, The Clone Wars can wrap up on its own terms.

This final trio of episodes begins with The Phantom Apprentice, which sees Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) and Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) continuing to lead Republic forces as support for Bo-Katan's (Katee Sackhoff) reclaiming of Mandalore from the hands of Darth Maul (Sam Witwer). Such a mission soon entails an Ahsoka/Darth Maul duel that gets a lot of mileage out of great motion-capture work used to realize the characters' movements. Ray Park is just as spry and graceful as ever doing portraying Maul while Lauren Ray Kim more than holds her own in her stuntwork for Ahsoka.

Using motion-capture for this particular duel allows for such fluid movements between the two characters, they actually feel like two organic beings fighting rather than computer-generated creations. If there is a gripe to bed had with this episode, though, it's that I was left yearning for just a little more time spent with Mandalorian residents. Despite this episode taking plane on the planet Mandalore, its residents get little time to flesh out their point-of-view. There's a brief moment where the Clones are now acting as an intrusive police force to the residents of Mandalore that suggests Bo-Katan is having mixed feelings about calling in Republic forces to help her. That ends up only getting briefly touched on before we move on to other matters.

Still, The Phantom Apprentice delivers the goods in terms of what it chooses to focus on. A closing scene depicting Darth Maul being genuinely terrified about what's to come at the hands of Darth Sidious is an effective way of conveying the gravity of impending circumstances. If Darth Maul is scared, then everyone should be scared. The next episode, Shattered, begins to explore just what made Darth Maul so petrified as Ahsoka, Rex, and hordes of clone troopers leaving Mandalore with an imprisoned Darth Maul in tow. Their exit comes just as Order 66 is executed. A moment of Rex shedding a single tear just as he gets the order to kill Ahsoka is such a well-executed subtle heart-breaking moment that, for the first time in the Star Wars franchise, communicates how devastating Order 66 was.

From there, Ahsoka tries to figure out a way to get off the ship while evading her former comrades. This plan eventually includes letting Darth Maul free to wreak havoc as a distraction while Ahsoka tries to figure out a way to help cure Rex. On the one hand, Ahsoka unleashing Maul on the clones does feel somewhat like an undercutting of her open desire to not hurt the Clone Troopers. You wouldn't release a tornado and not expect it to hurt people, same thing for Darth Maul. On the other hand, Maul just going to town on Clone Troopers turns out to be a delight. With no lightsaber in tow, Maul proceeds to use the walls themselves to cut off heads, slice off limbs and clobber Clone Troopers. It's gloriously fun, even if it is disappointing to realize that Disney thinks that decapitations are appropriate for Disney+ but not two men kissing.

What's especially impressive about Shattered and the series finale, Victory and Death, is how they opt to have a smaller scope in their storytelling. True, the final episodes eventually involve a massive spaceship getting caught into the gravitational pull of a planet. However, following up on two sprawling episodes chronicling expansive wartime efforts, simply focusing on Ahsoka and Rex trying to survive on a single spaceship certainly feels like a smaller-scale detour. This bold maneuver is a wise decision as it offers viewers a more intimate conclusion to the proceedings. Shattered gets some of its best moments from more personal moments with the characters, it wouldn't benefit from Ahsoka & Rex hopping from planet to planet.

The same can be said for Victory and Death, which wraps up The Clone Wars with a storyline following Ahsoka and a restored Rex trying to get off a spaceship populated by people who want them both dead. It's an intense episode that nicely utilizes Ahsoka's desire to not kill Clone Troopers as a way of contrasting her mindset with the one of her masters. When Anakin is confronted with potential tragedy, he kills children. When Ahsoka is confronted with actual danger, she still holds firm to her principles. She doesn't slaughter the innocent when the going gets rough. A quiet contrast between two of the principal characters of The Clone Wars occurs amongst a barrage of explosive action, including a surprisingly gruesome execution of some helpful droids via a Clone Trooper firing squad.

The differences between Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker are exemplified in the final scene of Victory and Death. After twelve years, The Clone Wars wraps up with a dialogue-free four-minute sequence depicting Ahsoka Tano abandoning her lightsaber only for Darth Vader to find it in a snowbank years later. They've both made their choices. Both have abandoned the Jedi. But only one has clung to their humanity during times of hardship. It's an excellently-realized ending that crystallized how the hardships of war do not end even once the war is over. As shown by this ending, the ripple effects of the Clone Wars will echo on throughout this galaxy far, far away for years to come.

Similarly, an episode like Victory and Death showcases why Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a program we'll all be talking about for years to come. Yes, this show had its dud episodes, no question about it. But what TV show doesn't? In its best episodes, The Clone Wars lent layers to part of the Star Wars mythos that had previously been merely punchlines while also delivering episodes that could be entertaining whether you were a Star Wars fan or not. The Mortis trilogy, anytime Cad Bane showed up, the thrill of watching Ahsoka Tano go from being a wisecracking kid sidekick to one of the best Star Wars characters ever, there were so many wonderful thrills to be had with this show that I'm gonna miss terribly.

This is not the first time fans have had to say good-bye to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But, with these final three episodes, this may be the best possible good-bye Clone Wars devotees could have ever hoped for.

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