Ten years ago today, Star Wars: The Clone Wars released in theaters nationwide. The feature-length pilot of the Emmy-winning animated series of the same title, the first release from Lucasfilm Animation, introduced fans to Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, and George Lucas’s definitive vision of what happened between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
By the numbers, The Clone Wars runs almost twice as long as the original six Star Wars features, meaning that most of the onscreen Star Wars canon with Lucas’s direct involvement is contained in the animated series. As such, some shakeups for that galaxy far, far away as a whole are embedded in this sprawling anthology series about a galaxy divided. On this milestone anniversary and with the series’ return next year fast approaching, let’s take a look at my personal take on the ten biggest The Clone Wars gamechangers that rocked the canon:
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Everyone’s Fond-o Hondo
With allegiances shape-shifting like a Clawdite, a moral code as flexible as a Terrelian jango-jumper, and a wit as sharp as a lightsaber (not that he needed one of those to take three Force users hostage), Hondo Ohnaka’s got a style all his own, which is probably for the best, as the galaxy couldn’t handle more than one of this garrulous gangster Over the course of The Clone Wars, Hondo wears one fabulous helmet and many metaphorical hats, from arms dealer to circus aficionado, always livening up the underworld and the episode alike, and his career didn’t end there. Following his recurring appearances on Star Wars Rebels, Hondo will feature prominently in next year’s Pirate’s Price, a middle-grade novel by Lou Anders for the Flight of the Falcon publishing lineup. The braggadocious brigand will cross paths with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the Millennium Falcon, but not for the last time. An attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion will put guests in control of the Falcon themselves under the watchful eye of their employer and the ship’s temporary captain: none other than Hondo Ohnaka, now a mainstay of the Star Wars universe about to be introduced to an entirely new audience. I couldn’t justify Hondo outranking any of the heavy-hitters we’re about to explore, but doing an article on what The Clone Wars brought to the table without mentioning him felt immoral and wrong, a feeling to which Ohnaka himself could probably not relate.
10. He Came, He’s Saw, He Conquered
At the beginning of the fifth season, The Clone Wars introduced the idea that the Rebel Alliance has its roots in insurgent movements backed by the Jedi, ironically an idea of Anakin Skywalker just a year before he became Darth Vader. These movements would not give up the fight once Separatist tyranny was replaced by Imperial rule, eventually coalescing. Some rebel cells would exhaust all methods of peaceful and morally grounded opposition to the Empire before resorting to violence and never sinking to the level of terrorist tactics…and some rebel cells were Saw Gerrera’s. Originally developed for an unproduced series George Lucas had been developing, Saw became the first Star Wars character created for television to make a groundbreaking, unprecedented leap to the live-action feature films, where his Rogue One: A Star Wars Story portrayal by Forest Whitaker continued themes of ambiguity in war begun on The Clone Wars in the era of the classic Rebellion. He would later appear in Star Wars Rebels, bridging his initial appearance with the culmination of his multi-layered character.
9. Clones are People Too
Besides a brief snippet of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s friendship with Commander Cody and some distinct paint jobs, for the most part, the Star Wars films showed us an army of clones with little more individuality than latter-day stormtroopers. From the very beginning, The Clone Wars showed us that just as the clones were different on the outside, with tattoos and hairstyles setting them apart under their helmets, they were also wildly different personalities. From the bickering brothers of Domino Squad to the traitorous Slick to Rex himself, the ultimate soldier with an ironclad moral compass, the clones of this series are anything but identical. This lays the groundwork for a few of their number to become heroes of the Rebellion in Rebels while making the events of Revenge of the Sith all the more devastating.
8. Kenobi in Love
While Anakin would assume that his former Master would never understand his desire to cast everything aside to be with the woman he loves, that’s only because Obi-Wan never told him he very nearly did the same thing when he was a young man infatuated with Satine Kryze. While the Duchess of Mandalore may have begun as a tongue-in-cheek shoutout to another forbidden love interest of a Ewan McGregor character, Satine became a tragic turning point in the story of a Jedi Master fated to lose everyone and everything he loved while trying to do what’s right when she was murdered by Darth Maul simply to hurt her Jedi paramour as deeply as possible. It’s hard to think of Ben Kenobi spending nearly two decades alone on Tatooine without thinking of how the loss of Satine must have weighed on him almost as much as losing Anakin, if not more. He gave up a happy lifetime with Satine to be a Jedi, and then she and the Jedi both died as he helplessly watched, one at the hands of a foe long thought vanquished by his hand, and one at the hands of his most trusted friend. Despite his temptations and grief, the fact that Obi-Wan did not succumb to anger and vengeance for his lost love when he finally ended Maul’s life towards the end of his exile is one of the strongest testaments to his worthiness as a Jedi Master.
7. More Mando Lore
In a few short years, The Clone Wars put Mandalore through more torments than even I deserve for the pun in this section’s heading. Home to a seemingly pacifistic culture with a sizable portion of its populace bent on attaining warriors’ glory by any means necessary, this neutral star system played host to pivotal negotiations and political intrigue during moments of peace as well as some of the fiercest fighting of the war. With the oft-mentioned Siege of Mandalore likely a focus of the upcoming new episodes, it is likely to remain a focal point of the series. While George Lucas’s radically different take on Mandalore was controversial among the fanbase, who were used to Expanded Universe portrayals of exclusively warlike Mandalorians, it laid the grounds for fan-favorite Mandalorian Sabine Wren, a central hero of Rebels, and her quest to free her people from the yoke of the Empire, which in turn has created a fertile ground for future Star Wars stories.
6. Good Soldiers Follow Orders
Revenge of the Sith shows the fall of the Jedi at the hands of the clone army after the up-til-then loyal soldiers receive the mysterious Order 66 command from Palpatine, but it doesn’t really explain what that is or where it came from. One of the bombshells dropped in the Netflix-released The Lost Missions season was that not only were the Kaminoans fully aware of the plot to destroy the Jedi, but the command itself was a subliminal code which activated a chip in the clones’ brains. I need not try to recount how frustrating and upsetting it was to watch Fives heroically try to expose the plot before his demise, and I cannot explain how satisfying it was when it was revealed by a telltale scar in the Rebels Season Two trailer that Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor, at the very least, believed their fallen brother and took action, removing their chips. Before his death, clone trooper Tup’s ravings seemed to imply that the clones experienced nightmares of the Jedi fighting them and the activation of the chip made the nightmares seem real. As depressing as it was to watch Bly gun down Aayla Secura and Cody betray Obi-Wan after watching their friendships in the show, the idea that this was the clones’ worst fears realized adds another layer to the poignant montage.
5. Life After Death
Since the very first Star Wars film, we have known that Jedi could preserve their consciousness after death and reappear to guide students of the Force. This was complicated, however, when The Phantom Menace showed us, for the first time, a Jedi who perished but did not vanish into nothingness and reappear in the time of greatest need like some kind of cancelled Star Wars animated television program experiencing a revival to launch a Disney streaming service. The question of why most Jedi could not return from the netherworld but a select few could was never directly addressed in the main saga, but the final Lost Missions culminate in an epic odyssey by Yoda himself, on which he learns selflessness is the key to preserving the self. This doesn’t just answer a question about the lore…it is the purest essence of the morality of the Force and Star Wars itself, wrapped up in visually and thematically beautiful storytelling.
4. “Master Who?”
I can’t be the only one who left Revenge of the Sith’s midnight screening in 2005 dismayed that the matter of the mysterious Sifo-Dyas, the Jedi Master who seemingly ordered the clone army for dubious reasons before his untimely death, was never addressed. Some, including some Star Wars Legends stories, theorized that Sifo-Dyas had a vision of the future and ordered the army himself, but why didn’t Yoda sense it? Others assumed Sifo-Dyas was a pseudonym for Sidious (which seems to be the original idea before Lucas made changes), but that doesn’t explain how Mace and Yoda had heard of him. I am unashamed to admit I woke at least one of my roommates with a triumphant bellow as The Clone Wars finally revealed Lucas’s ideas of who Sifo-Dyas was, how he died, just how much the Jedi knew about the origins of the clone army by the war’s end, and why they wouldn’t act on that knowledge they had surely uncovered. Hey, speaking of questionable Jedi decisions…
3. Jedi (Dis)Order
Ahsoka Tano was disillusioned with the Council and the Order itself. Barriss Offee felt drastic measures needed to be taken to head off a coming disaster. Pong Krell…well, he was just terrible. While most of The Clone Wars was quick, anthological flashes of story, one slow burn development was the gradual reveal of the ways various Jedi dealt with the fact that their Order was fundamentally flawed and their methods of disassociating. From Ahsoka’s peaceful departure to Barriss’s explosive attack to Krell’s ruthless slaughter, the idea that the Jedi were not the ideal, perfect guardians of peace and justice adds important context to Anakin’s fall, Mace Windu’s attempt to sacrifice Jedi principles for the defeat of Palpatine when it is already too late, the Inquisitorius and the path of Kanan Jarrus in Rebels, and even the broken man Luke Skywalker has become by the time of The Last Jedi. Most importantly, as Ahsoka, Anakin, and Luke all prove along their journeys, though, even if the Order can be corrupted, there is always hope for the Jedi to return to greatness. But that’s not all that always comes back…
2. “Formerly Darth, Now Just Maul”
With new faces like Cad Bane, Asajj Ventress, and Savage Opress menacing the forces of good, few could’ve expected the return of a shadow from the past as literally as Maul’s comeback played out, but the dangerous Dathomirian changed the course of Star Wars storytelling more than any other villain of the series. With half the body and twice the rage, the fallen Darth mauled countless innocents on a single-minded road to revenge, changing the course of the Mandalorian people and establishing a vast criminal empire all to draw out Obi-Wan Kenobi. Each time Maul seemed to be at his end, from the culmination of the Mandalore portion of Season Five to the supplementary Son of Dathomir comic adapting unproduced episodes to the cancelation of the show itself, Maul always returns, stronger and angrier than before. His story continued in Rebels, of course, before concluding in a stirring, curiously sad mirror of his duel in The Phantom Menace in which he finally realized his true enemy was Palpatine all along. Despite the fact that his story has largely been told in the animated shows, arguably no step along Maul’s winding path was as shocking as the reveal at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story that he had been pulling Crimson Dawn’s strings all along. I eagerly await a story that bridges his role as the master of the fearsome syndicate with his wretched condition when we see him in Rebels.
1. “I’m the new Padawan learner. I’m Ahsoka Tano.”
With those eight words, a girl completed her descent of a boarding ramp and began her ascent to the ranks of the greatest titans of Star Wars lore. Ahsoka Tano defied her masters’ expectations, questionable orders, the very definition of what it means to be a Jedi, and, of course, fanboy skepticism on her idiosyncratic journey. From her brash defiance on Christophsis, earning her the nickname “Snips” from an unamused “Skyguy,” to her stoic and enigmatic presence on Lothal after the time of the original trilogy in the Rebels epilogue, with Mandalore and Malachor in between, not to mention the little side-gig of co-founding the Rebellion, Ahsoka paved her own way through the war, the franchise, and the ways of the Force, giving her a hero’s journey rivaling that of Luke Skywalker in scope and complexity. It’s safe to say that even those who were initially unsure of her are now constantly eagerly awaiting her next steps, however they may be told. I know, because I’m one of them. Ahsoka was also the first female Jedi with real development and the first female character who was arguably the main protagonist of an onscreen Star Wars story, as The Clone Wars largely centers around her growth and shows us the war through her eyes. Supervising director Dave Filoni has indicated many times that he feels it’s fair to say Ahsoka paved the way for heroines like Rey. She also introduced the fan community to Ashley Eckstein, whose Her Universe brand has constantly upped the bar for “geek chic” fashion for people of all genders, but especially women. All in all, Ahsoka’s existence is probably The Clone Wars’ biggest contribution to the Star Wars mythos.
With Season Seven finally coming next year and fans still in jubilant disbelief that it’s really coming back, The Clone Wars will continue changing the way we view Star Wars and adding fascinating new elements to the galaxy we all love. Are there any we missed on this list? Let us know in the comments!