Because I ought to do some writing but am not really sure what to write, I have decided that I might as well talk about this show and some of my frustrations with it. This show forms a sequel to Attack of the Clones and a prequel to Revenge of the Sith. Exploring the Clone Wars was a great idea, because I personally think that they are one of the most interesting periods in the Star Wars chronology. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly) this show was a disappointment on several levels. And so, I give you…
…or at least my review and criticism of it. This most recent Star Wars Day (May the 4th), I decided I needed to watch something Star Wars. Being in Honduras right now, I don’t have access to any of the movies, or anyone to watch them with, and so I thought “why not delve into The Clone Wars?” And so I did, and finally finished watching the series the day before yesterday. My feelings about this show are decidedly mixed. I’ll go into the good first:
- Some of the characters. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka especially. I felt that this show added well to the already established characters of Anakin and Obi-Wan, even managing to make Anakin likable and sympathetic (most of the time, anyway), which I have never felt he was in the movies. The addition of Ahsoka was a nice touch (though I think her design is somewhat silly), because she gave the show something like a protagonist, added a new and interesting dimension to Anakin’s character, and was a fairly decent character in her own right. Also, I liked the clone characters, especially Rex and Fives, and enjoyed all the episodes that focused on them. Finally, Asajj Ventress, while stereotypical and melodramatic in the beginning, developed into a much more interesting and three-dimensional character by the end, and in my opinion was the show’s best antagonist.
- Most of the episodes that focused on Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, or on the clones. These I felt were generally the strongest episodes in the series, the ones with the most interesting concepts and dilemmas, and the ones that actually make it worth watching. In particular the final four episodes of season 5 are very good.
- The art and animation style. I’m not sure what the general consensus about this is, but I for one enjoyed the art style of The Clone Wars. Yes, it could be a lot prettier, but I think the style is well-suited for the show, and the almost video-game-ish look contributes to the fantasy feeling that I think Star Wars ought to have.
- The music. The composer for this show combined many of the classical Star Wars elements we all know and love with new and diverse elements from all sorts of musical traditions, with the result of a dynamic and interesting soundtrack that always fits the mood and seems to go perfectly with Star Wars.
But now for the bad, which in my opinion outweighs the good, though I should say that I still enjoyed the show throughout despite these unfortunate elements:
- Too broad in scope. I felt that the show tried to cover far too much ground. It attempted to show a galaxy-wide perspective on the Clone Wars, which was very ambitious, but did not end up working as well as I’m sure the creators hoped it would. Because of this, and also because I knew already how everything was going to end, it was difficult for me to connect emotionally with what was going on in many instances. The result of this broad scope is that you get many small windows and glimpses into different parts of the war, but rarely get to delve deeply into any one area–and that sort of deep-delving is what is needed to create a really engaging and emotional experience.
- Too many characters. This is one of my major issues with the show, and is related to the first thing I listed. In order to cover this broad scope of the war, the show employs a huge amount of characters. There are stories that have done this successfully–such as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga–but this show is not one of them. The individual episodes and story arcs are simply too short and unfocused to delve really deeply into any of the characters or, for the most part, to develop them in really significant ways.
- Other issues with the characters. I liked a lot of the side characters that were added to The Clone Wars. But there were a lot that I didn’t like at all, and felt really detracted from it, such as the ridiculous Colonel Gascon in season 5 or Ziro the Hutt. Jar-Jar Binks, of course, deserves mention here. His inclusion in most of the episodes that he’s in makes very little sense. He’s not funny and the other characters seem to be selectively blind towards his idiocy, which definitely hurts the show’s immersion factor. Also, the treatment of battle droids makes very little sense. They act with too much intelligence and emotion considering their supposedly simple programming, and like Jar-Jar, are rarely ever funny. The attempt to insert comic relief with the battle droids usually fails pretty badly, in my opinion. And then of course there’s the villains, but I’ll go into that in my next point.
- Simplistic villains. With the exception of Asajj Ventress towards the end of the series, I felt that all of the villains in this show were overly simplified and lacking in motivation or fierceness. Even Palpatine is not depicted as the incredibly cunning man that he is supposed to be, but as someone always gloating about his plans behind everyone’s back. You’d think that people would’ve started to notice all his evil grins by now. General Grievous is basically a joke–he’s too cowardly to be an effective commander and if the show was sensibly written he would’ve been relieved of duty very quickly. Asajj Ventress is also pretty cowardly, but she makes up for that by being sneaky and cunning, which General Grievous most certainly is not. Other villains for the most part have no subtlety, unrealistic or unspecified motivations, and a general “comic book feel” in the bad sense of that term. Count Dooku is okay, but is very little developed, and could have been much stronger than he was.
- Simplistic morality. The simplistic villains in this show are perhaps a symptom of its deeper problem of simplistic morality. It gets better as it progresses, but still the entire show is based around very simple and unrealistic moral precepts. Pacifists are good. Fighters are bad. Peace is right. War is wrong. Good is good and bad is bad; with rare exceptions, the characters are shown without the moral complexity and shades of grey that real people have. This was really an irritation, because as the viewer you’re supposed to champion the side that is presented as good, but that is difficult when the show is so simplistic with its representation.
- Apparent ignorance of major philosophical questions and ethical problems. And here is another point that I think is related to the show’s simplistic morality. There are some really major philosophical questions surrounding the Clone Wars that this show almost totally ignores. Those are the extremely questionable ethics of the Republic and Jedi in fighting with an army of slave soldiers; the development of identity and codes within that army; the psychological impact on the young Jedi padawans of being thrust into positions of command in a huge war; the psychological impact on the Jedi as a whole of becoming generals when formerly they were peacekeepers; the ethics of the Separatists in wanting to make their own laws and not be subject to the Republic, and even fighting with an army of droids instead of sending slaves or citizens to the front lines to be killed; the effects of propaganda on both sides–remember that the Separatists, while they have a noble cause, are essentially ruled by megacorporations who do not have the best interests of anyone but themselves at heart, and the Republic claims to be a champion of democracy and freedom while refusing to allow people to peacefully leave their rule and fighting with an army of slaves. All of these questions and more are implied in the basic setting and situation of the show, but none of them are explored except in the most basic levels, or not at all.
- The movie. What more needs to be said? But actually, my main problem with this movie is that it’s kind of exhausting. Even when viewed as merely an episode or series of episodes in the overall show, it still has far too much action in proportion to everything else, and doesn’t do much at all for the plot.
- Use of the Force. This was one of the most frustrating things to see in the day-to-day of the show. The Jedi did not fight like Jedi. They used only the most basic of Force techniques, and sometimes not even those. Even in the movies the Force is used to greater effect than this, to say nothing of all the complex and powerful uses that it’s put to in the Expanded Universe. The Jedi even seem to be ignorant of well-documented Force phenomena in the Star Wars universe, like Force ghosts. The Jedi in this show are essentially Chinese warrior monks with laser swords and some basic telekinetic powers. Even Anakin, who is supposed to be one of the strongest Jedi, doesn’t seem much stronger than your average Padawan in any other Star Wars story.
- Contradiction of and/or blatant disregard for canon. Related to the above point. This frustrated me to no end. Yes, The Clone Wars stayed in line with the canon as established in the movies. But it appeared to exhibit a definite contempt for what had been established throughout the Expanded Universe. And maybe I’m just extra sensitive towards this point because of Disney’s recent stupidity in saying that only the movies and The Clone Wars will be considered canon, but really. Show some respect for the multitudes of artists and writers who have developed this universe. I think the worst offense was the butchery done to the Mandalorians, but there are numerous examples. Personally, I think that the creators of the show could’ve just as easily stuck with the established canon as make up new stuff. It would’ve been easier, even, and no difficulty to fit into the show.
- Poor and/or nonsensical storytelling choices. Another perplexing issue. This relates to the issues I mentioned earlier with the characters and scope, but also manifests in things like the random Jar-Jar episodes and the terrible 4-episode arc in series 5 about Colonel Gascon. It simply doesn’t make sense to divert the watcher to these random characters that no one knows or cares about, and then never revisit them. Also I have very mixed feelings about the revelation of the control chip in the clones’ heads. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense; on the other hand, it removes a good deal of the drama, horror, and moral complexity of the clones’ betrayal of the Jedi in Order 66. It was an explanation that wasn’t needed, which hurts a story as much as anything.
And so, what would I do to fix the show? Well, if it was in my hands, I would have done several things differently. First, I would have focused it much more closely around Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka. I would have made them the “power trio” of the show, like a Harry, Hermione, and Ron, or a Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. I would have made Ahsoka the protagonist, with Anakin and Obi-Wan being her main ally and her mentor, respectively. A lot of the other side characters could still come in, but I would never have focused on them, except maybe in a handful of episodes scattered here and there. The central thrust of the story would have been the relationships of those three and the way they grew as characters. Through Ahsoka the problem of Padawans becoming commanders could be explored. Anakin and Obi-Wan would’ve made great foils for each other because they would disagree on many of the philosophical questions mentioned above. Also, I would focus each season on one or two planets/battles and plotlines. This would allow each setting and plot to be explored much more thoroughly and mined for all its potential. Then, I would greatly expand on the use of the Force. I would contrast Ahsoka’s relative weakness with Anakin and Obi-Wan’s skill and strength–they are, after all, two of the most famous and popular Jedi in the Republic during the Clone Wars. The various questions I mentioned above would all be explored in various ways. I would delve a lot into clone culture and the way the Jedi affect it. I would keep Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress as the main villains, but I would make Dooku a much more compelling character. This is a charismatic man who holds together a galaxy-wide movement–he ought to be much more convincing in his arguments for his own side. I would explore his motives much more, as well as Asajj’s. In short, I would make the show much more complex, rich, and layered, while narrowing the focus to only a few characters and settings, and getting rid of several annoyances in the overall makeup of the show.
Now, I should probably say that I do know that this show was originally made for children, and that that is probably the source of some of the issues that I pointed out. But personally, I don’t think that should be an excuse. Children are able to understand fine shades and good storytelling. And also, the creators of the show had to know that it was going to be watched by thousands of people who are not children. Under the circumstances, it makes no sense to dumb it down.
Anyway! I would like to reiterate that I did actually enjoy the show. But I also enjoy picking apart its flaws. :P