Review by C.J. Bunce
Even if you couldn’t muddle through the first six seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which aired from 2008 through 2014, fans of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian now have one reason to take a look back at the animated series. Earlier this year executive producer and creator Dave Filoni presented a fill-in-the-blanks, seventh and final season of The Clone Wars for Disney+. Last week on The Mandalorian, Katee Sackhoff (Longmire, Battlestar Galactica) reprised the character Bo-Katan, a Mandalorian she voiced in 2012 and 2013 on the series, with a reference to fan-favorite spin-off character Ahsoka Tano, voiced by Ashley Eckstein in the animated series, and soon to be played by Rosario Dawson (Marvel’s Luke Cage, Men in Black II) in The Mandalorian. If you want to see some interesting connections between the past in the Star Wars movies–the prequels, the animated series Star Wars Rebels, and more–and the current happenings on The Mandalorian, it’s time to revisit the 2020 season of The Clone Wars.
The Clone Wars had a singular audience–fans of the Star Wars prequel movies who wanted to see more of young Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, battle-mode Yoda, and Emperor Palpatine and his political machinations. If you didn’t like the prequels, the series isn’t for you. The quality of the animation slightly improved over its initial run from its cartoony look, far less realistic than what Star Wars Rebels would reveal as possible–Star Wars Rebels ultimately realized as a better executed series with better writing, and likely to appeal to a wider audience of Star Wars fans. But the quality of animation arrived for The Clone Wars in the seventh season this year.
Unfortunately the quality of the writing waned, first with a four-episode, two-hour story showing a group of Clones calling themselves “the Bad Batch,” all part of a story arc to resurrect the soldier Echo, who had become a cyborg since last seen on the series, while also returning the most popular clone, Captain Rex, newly promoted to Commander. It’s more of the clones talking to clones, all clones of bounty hunter Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones, so everyone still looks like actor Tamuera Morrison, who we just saw at the end of the first episode of the second season of The Mandalorian, presumably as his cloned “son” Boba, never before actually portrayed by Morrison (or it’s a red herring and he’s another clone, like Rex).
The seventh season gets bogged down further in its next four episodes, featuring Ahsoka Tano’s return to the Jedi order, briefly. It’s another four-episode, two-hour diversion from the main narrative, which may appeal to diehard Tano fans, but otherwise only serves to highlight that Jedis are arrogant and it is their arrogance that will be their downfall, and Tano is somehow the same and somehow different from the rest. Here we see the beginning of some good Jedi prowess by Tano, which culminates in the return of Katee Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan.
The eight episodes are barely worth the ride, but the final four episodes are the stuff of must-watch TV for Star Wars fans. Darth Maul, who already had returned in both The Clone Wars, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Star Wars Rebels, takes center stage beside Tano, in a strange mirror to Rey and Kylo Ren in the third Skywalker trilogy movies. The setting is the planet of Mandalore, all a trap to lure a higher value target than Tano. But Maul, who believed himself to be the second half of the Palpatine Sith partnership, unravels Palpatine’s long-game. Bo-Katan, Tano, Maul, and Anakin and Obi-Wan are all intertwined with off-camera scenes of Revenge of the Sith, in a fun two hours of television. A fault of the entire Star Wars universe is never giving fans the kind of live-action lightsaber battle that rivaled what we saw between Maul and Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace. At last viewers will get to see something close, animated and not live-action, but the kind of one-on-one showdown the Jedi and Sith should be all about, complete with motion capture performance by original Maul actor Ray Park. If you want to dig further into Bo-Katan’s past, check out The Clone Wars Season 4, Episode 14, and a three-episode arc beginning with Season 5, Episode 14, and a two-part arc beginning with Season 4, Episode 1 of Star Wars Rebels.
All-in, the seventh season of The Clone Wars will be worth your time if you enjoyed the first six seasons, and for everyone else you may want to fast-forward to episodes nine through twelve. The season is successful by way of Easter eggs and references to all sorts of places in the films, shows, and books. Ultimately those paying attention will want to focus on the Darksaber, wielded by Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon in the first season of The Mandalorian, and now sought by Bo-Katan.
The Mandalorian returns Friday on Disney+ with a new episode directed by Carl Weathers. The Clone Wars is streaming anytime on Disney+.