There’s an almost 100% chance that you’ve seen all nine Star Wars movies in the Skywalker saga. Whether you love or loathe the prequel and sequel trilogies (or more reasonably, sit somewhere in between) these are films which transcend genre, or their status as blockbusters. These films are Star Wars. Everyone’s watched them.
If you’re particularly in love with George Lucas’s far-flung galaxy, then you’ve probably also watched the two spin-off action movies, Rogue One and Solo. You might have also seen one or two – or all – of the many Star Wars series. The Mandalorian, Andor season 1, and The Clone Wars animated series are particular highlights there, appealing to a broad range of tastes.
But, even if you consider yourself to be a franchise devotee, there’s a fairly high chance that one brilliant piece of Star Wars media has entirely passed you by: Clone Wars. No, not The Clone Wars – just Clone Wars.
Back in 2003, the Russian-American animator Genndy Tartakovsky kicked off a new era of Star Wars for TV with the show Clone Wars. Clone Wars bridged the gap between Attack of the Clones and the very beginning of Revenge of the Sith. It explored the adventures of Anakin and his Jedi master Obi-Wan, while also giving the spotlight to many side characters on both sides.
Clone Wars was released as a series of animated shorts, each telling a largely self-contained story of a character fighting within the Clone Wars. Within this, we get to see Padmé Amidala and Yoda on a mission to Ilum, Mace Windu facing down an entire army of Star Wars droids (without his lightsaber), the introduction of Asajj Ventress and her duel with Anakin, Kit Fisto battling underwater, and so much more.
While each episode has its own focus, the stories link together to form a coherent picture of the Clone Wars itself, and the Star Wars characters – and sacrifices – that defined it. Some of these characters, especially General Grievous and Mace Windu, are at their very best here.
General Grievous is a lacklustre Star Wars villain in Revenge of the Sith because, despite his impressive design, he’s just too hard to take seriously. The Clone Wars version of General Grievous is a completely different beast. He’s intelligent, genuinely terrifying, and cuts through Jedi like a lightsaber through blue butter. In Clone Wars, he’s a movie villain for the ages.
Similarly, the Mace Windu we get in the prequel movies is a 2D, cold character who never really gets enough meat to justify his on-screen presence. In Clone Wars though, the audience learns why Mace Windu carries his reputation, and watches the hero perform legendary feats of strength that could only be brought to life through animation. We also see a warmth that evades the character in his other appearances, proving that he’s more than just a prickly, stiff Jedi master.
These individual tales all combined into a crescendo on Coruscant, bringing together characters seen from across the episodes into the same battle. The battle of Coruscant leads directly into the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith, showing how General Grievous managed to abduct Emperor Palpatine, and pick up his nasty cough along the way.
Whether it’s here, or in the many separate battles earlier in the sci-fi series, Clone Wars excels through excellent use of its animated medium. The character design, as well as the landscapes and architecture, are all simple and easy-to-watch while allowing the motion and movement to add the necessary intricacy and detail to the scenes.
The duels between Anakin and Ventress, and the group of Jedi and General Grievous, stand out as thrilling highlights where sound (or the lack of it) combines with lighting and movement to create some of the most dynamic, spine-tingling Star Wars scenes put to screen.
That silence is ever present throughout Clone Wars, which embraces visuals over dialogue at almost every opportunity. There are long stints where no words are spoken at all, allowing the audience to appreciate the thoughtful sound design which has gone into the crunching of a droid’s metal foot on sand, or the soft sizzle of falling rain on a lightsaber. Dialogue rarely interrupts battle sequences, instead allowing the action to speak for itself.
While Clone Wars was initially released as a mini TV series, it’s now been compiled into two volumes which sit in the ‘Star Wars vintage’ section of Disney Plus – a space devoted to not-quite-canon Star Wars content of years gone by. Watching Clone Wars this way; as two short movies or one whole one, offers the best experience and you’ll undoubtedly be drawn into this world of beautiful animation.
If you haven’t seen Clone Wars, then, now’s your chance. Because, you might just find that it offers one of Star Wars’s best cinematic experiences.