There's a lot to choose from when it comes to Star Wars movies, whether it's anything in The Skywalker Saga or one of the spin-offs. But it's easy to forget about 2008's theatrical release Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is part of the show with the same name. Despite being met with a lot of criticism, the film isn't all that bad, though its plot about rescuing Jabba the Hutt's son is paper-thin at best.
But the real problem was that Star Wars in animated form wasn't taken seriously at the time. These days, however, with the likes of The Clone Wars, Rebels and The Bad Batch, and the upcoming Star Wars: Visions, it's fair to say that the faraway galaxy is quickly becoming almost as animated as it is live-action.
And in many ways, the animated side is vastly superior, with Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series being the perfect example. The show depicts the events that span the three years between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, through the eyes of familiar characters, mainly Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Padme Amidala, and original ones, like the now-iconic Ahsoka Tano.
Ultimately, it's an expansion of the Jedi Order during the height of its power, and at a time when, like the clones themselves, the Jedi Knights were a militarized force. The show ran for five years before reaching a hiatus but fortunately was revived for a seventh and final season on Disney+ in February 2020, which consisted of 12 episodes, with the final four being an entirely different entity in their own right.
"Old Friends Not Forgotten", "The Phantom Apprentice", "Shattered" and "Victory and Death" together form a four-part finale that, when considered as one film (which is indeed the intention), would make the best Star Wars movie in the franchise. Upon looking back at the actual film from 2008, and the earlier seasons of the show, it's remarkable just how much The Clone Wars evolves by the time it reaches its epic conclusion, and not just from a narrative and visual perspective, but tonally as well.
Throughout the series – including the theatrical movie, which, chronologically, is the third episode – the animation is great, even if the style takes a bit of getting used to. The last four episodes, however, are clearly on a bigger budget, with the quality of CG on offer astounding; a cinematic upgrade, if you will. But it's really the level of storytelling and execution that truly deliver.
Here's why the last four episodes of The Clone Wars make the best film in the entire Star Wars franchise.
Warning: There are huge spoilers ahead for the last four episodes of The Clone Wars.
There's a huge shift in tone by the time "Old Friends Not Forgotten" begins. Following the classic Lucasfilm logo, the old yellow 'Clone Wars' title card is replaced with an ominous red one, and we also get the iconic Star Wars theme. We still get the classic Clone Wars opening narration, but not beyond this episode - another reason to view all four as one. And instead of a Jedi proverb, which precedes every single episode in the series up until this point, we simply get "Part I", also bathed in blood red.
"Old Friends Not Forgotten" pits us moments away from the events of Revenge of the Sith. Ahsoka and Bo-Katan are trying to capture Darth Maul, who has overthrown Mandalore in an attempt to lure Anakin Skywalker and kill the Emperor's new apprentice-to-be. The Jedi and Mandalorian are accompanied by Rex and his unit to Mandalore, where things have gone from bad to worse under Maul's influence, including an all-out civil war between the Mandalorians. While Revenge of the Sith builds towards a dark climax, The Clone Wars exudes a real sense of dread from the beginning.
The Action Sequences
In "The Phantom Apprentice", after being lured into a trap meant for Anakin, Ahsoka duels with Maul in the most engaging and beautifully choreographed lightsaber fight in the franchise, which uses motion-capture performances for both characters, with Maul's real-life counterpart being none other than Ray Park. But it's also the dialogue and the atmosphere in the build-up to this fight that grab your attention like a Force-choke. Through the large windows of Mandalore's Throne Room, we see that the city has been plunged into fiery chaos, a chilling sign of things to come across the whole galaxy.
And then there's the exchange between Ahsoka and Maul, during which Maul warns of Anakin's turn to the dark side, while also revealing that Darth Sidious orchestrated the Clone Wars from the very beginning. Unable to believe her master will turn, Ahsoka engages Maul in a pulse-pounding duel, and the fact that efforts were made to include real actors only adds to the second part of the finale's epic crescendo. Ultimately, Ahsoka saves Maul's life and has him imprisoned by clone troopers, but not before a struggling Maul chillingly warns everyone that they will die under the new world order.
"Shattered" – or "Part III" – lacks the opening narrative, as well as the comforting Star Wars theme, which is replaced with a foreboding hum. Now, we're finally overlapping with the events of Revenge of the Sith. As an incarcerated Maul is moved through the city so that he can be transported to Coruscant, the music on play is not unlike the haunting futuristic rifts in Blade Runner 2049. While in transit to Coruscant, Ahsoka explains to Rex that all she's ever known is war. The poignancy of this exchange is hard to ignore, while the deafening quiet of hyperspace feels like the silence before the storm.
The dialogue is also very revealing, with Ahsoka and Rex being, in some ways, a mirror image of one another. As Ahsoka explains, the Jedi are supposed to be peacekeepers, yet all she's ever known is war and death - and the same can be said about the clones. While, of course, we know that they were designed for war, and secretly to overthrow the Republic from the very beginning, they still know nothing else besides combat. It's these reflections and themes that make The Clone Wars finale a little bit more tragic.
The References to Revenge of the Sith
The scene that follows is the biggest nod to Revenge of the Sith in the entire series, in which Ahsoka senses Anakin's fall to the dark side. The episode uses archive recordings from Revenge of the Sith during the scene in which Anakin helps Palpatine kill Mace Windu, so the voices you hear are those of Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ian McDiarmid. Knowing that the events of the film are unfolding off-screen is riveting, and if things weren't so darn bleak, you'd punch the air. But we all know what happens next, and the words we all feared are uttered by Palpatine: "Execute Order 66".
Rex and the other clone troopers turn on Ahsoka, but she manages to subdue her friend and then releases Maul so that he can cause a distraction while she can come up with a plan. Maul's rampage through the ship is definitely worthy of an air punch. It's an odd twist of fate, of course, given the clones are now the enemy and Maul is elevated to temporary anti-hero. Fortunately, Ahsoka manages to restore Rex's free will by removing his inhibitor chip. There are other references to the film throughout the four-part film too, including Obi-Wan having killed Grievous, and Anakin's execution of Count Dooku.
"Victory and Death" sees Ahsoka and Rex battle their way out of the ship, taking down dozens of clones using non-lethals as they go, while Maul escapes, despite Ahsoka's attempts to keep his ship bound to the hangar using Force Telekinesis. Ahsoka's refusal to kill the clones, despite Rex reminding her that they won't hesitate in executing her, is admirable. "They may be willing to die," she says, "but I am not the one who is going to kill them." However, the clones' fate is sealed, as their ship, now aflame, plunges towards the surface of a desolate moon, before Ahsoka and Rex escape.
As the episode draws to a close, Ahsoka and Rex land on the surface, where the Padawan mourns at the wreckage and the countless dead who were aboard, with many of their helmets now propped up on sticks as grave markings. And it's all designed to remind us just what the entire show has been about – the clones. Soldiers genetically engineered for war, who have been puppets all along, and ultimately pawns for both sides, yet each of them a person in their own right.
Ahsoka drops her lightsaber to the ground, in an attempt to convince the newly formed Galactic Empire that she too died in the crash. If the poignant music here - "Burying the Dead" by Kevin Kiner - isn't enough to get you at least teary-eyed, then we'd find it hard to believe that anything else in Star Wars ever has. Never before has a Star Wars score captured the sense of tragedy and loss so eloquently, while also capturing the sense of surrealism one normally finds with the finale for such a long-running show.
After Ahsoka resigns her blade to the elements, months, or perhaps even years, later, Imperial forces have been established on the moon, which is now a snowy landscape not unlike Hoth. Darth Vader arrives, and discovers Ahsoka's lightsaber in the snow, before looking up toward the sky, perhaps contemplatively – it's not yet clear whether a part of Anakin is still alive in there, or whether Vader intends to hunt down his old apprentice. And then we cut to black. The Clone Wars are over, and so has begun a new era for the faraway galaxy.
We can only hope and pray that Disney and Lucasfilm one day decide to cut these four episodes together seamlessly, but if you're a powerful Jedi when it comes to the remote control, and can swiftly skip over the credits, they may never have to.
While The Clone Wars can be relived to your heart's content, there's also a lot of new Star Wars media on the horizon, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, The Mandalorian Season 3, The Book of Boba Fett, Star Wars: Visions, and The Bad Batch Season 2, as well as the Ahsoka series, which we hope will revisit many scenes from The Clone Wars in live-action.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is now streaming on Disney+, and there's also an official episode guide on StarWars.com.