The Clone Wars was the last piece of Star Wars storytelling — so far — directly guided by George Lucas himself, at least before he sold his empire to Disney for $4 billion. And it may be the most significant.
Lucas famously felt constrained by the limitations of technology in his original trilogy, which of course is why he made the “Special Editions” in 1997. But that endeavor also brought him back to the storytelling he loved most, and showed him not only could he dive back into Star Wars, but he could make it the way he envisioned it. So he didn’t remake his vision, he tinkered with it.
Then we got the prequels, the stories before Episode IV that he had spoken of many times, because he learned that technology was at a point — thanks largely to his investment and leadership — where there was no limit to the worlds he could create in live-action movies.
The Clone Wars is Lucas’ most important contribution to the Star Wars legacy because it completes the prequels. Lucas made the prequel films the way he wanted to, make no mistake — he has been very clear about that fact, and he would know better than anyone. And he was done with Star Wars after that.
Except, he wasn’t. Then The Clone Wars came. With Dave Filoni at his side, learning storytelling from the master, Lucas could revisit themes of the prequels that may not have been constricted by technology, but by time. Without making each prequel significantly longer or breaking out of the trilogy paradigm, there was only so much he could cram into a blockbuster movie.
A TV series allowed for an expanded, ongoing exploration of war, both on the front lines and the struggling homefront and everything that goes with it. But it’s about more than war — it’s about friendship, family, hope in the face of unimaginable darkness, humor and adventure.
In short: Star Wars at its most pure. Say what you will about his penchant for injecting trade disputes and politics into his later creations, but it was something he was passionate about and it drives the Clone Wars series to some of its most interesting places and character moments. The galaxy here is more than monoliths of good and evil.
If you doubt it, watch all of The Clone Wars; it’s not as daunting as you think. And there won’t be any new Star Wars on our screens for a while, anyway. It’s among some of the best sci-fi action and adventure programming you can find. Whatever you think of Disney-era Star Wars, this isn’t “just a cartoon.”
Lucas’ reawakened vision seemed to be cut short when Disney pulled the plug on The Clone Wars after five seasons on Cartoon Network. A brief Netflix revival would allow some more of it to play out, but it wasn’t until the series was resurrected for a seventh and final season on Disney+ this year that the true plan would come to fruition — and even then, some story arcs are now left unmade, hopefully to be realized at some future point. That’s true of so many series, though. Something always gets left behind, but that’s part of what lets these things we love come back to us all the fresher when the time is right.
The Clone Wars have ended, again, and the Sith rule the galaxy under the banner of a brutal Galactic Empire. That’s where Star Wars started, after all. And if time has shown anything over the last 43 years, it’s that there are endless possibilities for adventure in A Galaxy Far, Far Away.