Clone Wars: The History

With the recent release of the Ahsoka series on Disney+, Star Wars fans, including myself, are suddenly hit with waves of nostalgia, prompting us to look back on the series where it all began. The show that undoubtedly revitalized Star Wars and inspired a new generation of fans. I’m of course referring to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. For five straight seasons on Cartoon Network (108 episodes in total), it kept us in awe. However, when the “final” episode aired in 2013, fans still yearned for more, and a majority made it known to Lucasfilm.

Disney, by then the parent company, listened. As did Netflix, who swooped in and purchased the viewing rights to the entire series as well as a shorter sixth season comprising of 13 new episodes. With this additional season, fans were offered another kind of ending, one seeped in lore that brought new characters and storylines into the Star Wars canon. Seemingly done, and with show runner Dave Filoni having moved on to make Star Wars: Rebels, many figured that was the true finale. However, rumors soon began to circulate about a collection of unfinished episodes from an unreleased season seven. As leaked footage made the rounds on the internet, many clamored for these episodes to be released.

Filoni and Disney obliged. With the ending of Rebels in 2018, Filoni suddenly had a lot of free time on his hands. Time he spent planning the announcement for the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars, which he made at San Diego Comic Con that very same year. Shortly thereafter, Bob Iger announced the release of a new streaming service called Disney+. And not long after that, the Covid lockdown created the perfect excuse for fans to stay inside and binge the entire series in anticipation of the now final season.

The Process of Getting to a Top 10

After researching, and re-watching the series once over, it was finally time to pick the best of the best. The 10 episodes that kept me — and hopefully many of you — on the edge of our collective seats. Keep in mind, this was a hard decision to make. I started with a list of nearly 20 episodes, all amazing in their own ways, before slowly whittled the list down to 10. I judged them based on their importance to the series, their focus on character growth and development, and the quality of the overall story surrounding each episode. The Clone Wars had a tendency of creating many compelling storylines. Some spanned a few episodes only, while others spanned across the entire series separated by arcs. I watched a few of them twice over, back-to-back just to judge which ones I could cut when I was caught between two in particular. By the time I had my 10, I had eliminated entire seasons from the ranking as a result. It was difficult work, but being a fan since 2008, I knew it would be worth it. Without further preamble, here’s my top 10.

10. Altar of Mortis (Season 3, Episode 16)

The Clone Wars was known as a creative breeding ground for new Star Wars lore. From backgrounds of existing characters to rewritten futures, the series also provided a newer interpretation of the Force. This episode holds a lot of simplicity in its messages and its performances, yet it also holds an elegance and captivating nature that one could mistake for a stage play. An unintentional Shakespeare/Star Wars cross over. We see the only instance of real Dark Side manipulation in Ahsoka throughout the series when The Son takes control of her, and a pair of battles that hold a sense of nostalgia for fans of the original and prequel trilogy. Again, simple but enjoyable. The entire arc is like that, and holds that sense of familiarity in how it is written and performed, but I felt this second episode held the most excitement. While this episode is the most powerful of the three, it is the arc as a whole that is important. There are two key factors supporting this. For one, it expanded Star Wars canon, leading to a third interpretation of the Force as sentient beings, returning it to a more spiritual nature rather than a scientific one. The Daughter, who influences the Light, The Son who influences the Dark, and The Father who is a balancer of the two. So we don’t have to argue about Midichlorians…yet. This interpretation was carried on into season six and one of the The Clone Wars sister series (Rebels) where the “Mortis Gods” are seen as iconography on an old Jedi temple. It would later blossom into a creationist legend of the Jedi and the Sith, which deserves its own article. The second factor is Sam Witwer, who returns to Star Wars to voice The Son in his all too recognizable voice from his time as Star Killer in The Force Unleashed game series. This would later lead him to play another iconic Star Wars character, one we will mention later on. Overall, this episode speaks to the heart of Star Wars fans and offers much more to come down the line.

9. Brothers (Season 4, Episode 21)

When I was a kid, I remembered the announcements on Cartoon Network. The ads and teasers that were building to Darth Maul’s return to Star Wars. What I hadn’t expected was just how deep and twisted Dave Filoni would go. Up until this point, what we knew of Maul’s background was shrouded in mystery and legends lore. His sole cinematic appearance at the time, in The Phantom Menace, was certainly eye catching and memorable. He was the first Sith to be seen in Star Wars since Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, and with his own snazzy double bladed lightsaber to hype him up. Most fans admit, whether we are fans of the prequels or not, that Maul was the highlight of that movie. A menacing warrior and tool for his master to be used to take on the Jedi, which he did brilliantly. However, he wasn’t much beyond that unfortunately. And for many years, fans accepted that his body would be stuck dead in the depths of the Theed palace on Naboo. But when The Clone Wars was introduced, new creative avenues were taken. Specifically the creation of Maul’s brother Savage Opress, whom George Lucas used to herald Maul’s revival.

To make the passage of time and injury seem realistic, at least by Star Wars standards, Filoni then created the withered, insanity ridden, spider legged Maul for his brother to find on the junk planet. Once more, Sam Witwer was invited back to the show to voice him, as he had with The Son in season 3. A neat Easter egg you’ll notice in this episode, when Maul is calmed and somewhat cognizant, he actually repeats a line The Son had told Ahsoka. “The chains, the chains are the easy part. It’s what goes on in here that’s hard.” Not only does this link both characters, but it also links Witwer to both of them as well. An actor who went above and beyond to breathe new, terrifying life into the dark lord. Maul’s mind was fragmented, his skin blistered, horns lengthened, and his “legs” were scrap metal spider-like limbs literally held together by the Force. You can see parts of his legs struggling to stay in one piece, shuddering. Like I said, TERRIFYING. One could say that the following episode is stronger, as it reintroduces Maul and Kenobi in battle, but this episode is far more important and exciting. The majority of it held us in anticipation. What was he going to look like? How did he get here? Who the hell is the talking snake? All questions well answered, alone, by Maul screaming “JEDI!” This is by far one of the creepiest, lore heavy, well-performed episodes in the series and in all of Star Wars TV shows.

8. Carnage of Krell (Season 4, Episode 10)

The Umbara Arc is undoubtedly one of my favorites throughout the series, and one of the more clone-centric storylines. It focuses on the hardships of war, the toll it takes, and the difference between right and wrong in terms of duty and command. The episode introduces Jedi General Pong Krell, one of the most brutal military commanders in the series. We watch as he slowly betrays and undermines the missions of the 501st Clone Legion. Eventually, pinning two groups of clones against one another under false pretenses. This leads Captain Rex and his men to engage, capture, and eventually execute Krell as a traitor. This episode was very adult, mirroring war films from Saving Private Ryan to Jarheads, and it brought a relatively new perspective to the clones and military campaigns in the war. Through this episode, we also witness how Krell became one of the all time best villains in Star Wars. He even went so far as to repeat, or rather come up with, the famous line we all know Darth Sidious for: “It’s treason then.” The friendly fire scene between Rex and the other clones is by far one of the most heart breaking, yet brilliantly constructed scenes in the franchise. Waxer from the episode “Innocents of Ryloth” met a very poetic and disheartening end on the other side of the assault against Rex. This episode not only gave me more appreciation for the clones, but also a new outlook on authority.

7. Orders (Season 6, Episode 4)

Up until this point, there was a question posed by us fans since Revenge of the Sith: Did any clones know about Order 66? Orders is the end of a four-part saga, one that plays out what happened when they did. Eventually it leads to the tragic death of Fives, one of the first clones ever introduced in the series. His journey began in season one and then ended with the end of the first arc in season six. Though previous episodes in this arc provided complex intrigue and espionage leading into the Order 66 cover-up, its conclusion offers one of the best performances from Dee Bradley Baker. With excellent writing, and one of a handful of instances in the entire series where we get a glimpse of Palpatine’s true Sith nature, this episode is a spectacular tragedy. It’s akin to a film noir, with a Sisyphus-like detective in Fives, doomed to fail when faced with a conspiracy far out of his control. By this point, Fives had lost so much, only to realize that it had all been for nothing. This episode shows just how far in terms of depth and growth The Clone Wars had come from its early days on Cartoon Network. RIP Fives…your death was not in vain.

6. Rookies (Season 1, Episode 5)

The ugly child with a lot of potential. This episode is far from perfect. It has clunky animation, one-sided dialogue (since 90 percent of the characters in this episode are voiced by a “fresh” Dee Bradley Baker), and arguably lazy writing meant for kids. Early Clone Wars episodes were condensed in every sense of the word, meant to be entertaining to a younger audience and a far cry from the complexity of later seasons. However, that didn’t stop “Rookies” from making it on this list. Its importance as a catalyst for some of the best character arcs in the entire series cannot be overlooked. This is also the first episode in which we focus directly on the clone troopers, the only near constant of the show other than the Jedi. The comedy involved allows for more liberties to be taken as well, such as when the clones are taken by surprise by a group of Separatist commando droids and the droids kill a squad member literally named Droid Bait. Ha ha funny joke. Plus it is one of the only episodes where real world curses are used, with the word “hell” being spoken twice by members of the squad. Notably when another squad member, nicknamed “Cut-Up” is cut up and eaten by a giant eel. And in a moving moment, one final member, Heavy, sacrifices himself to warn the Republic. But what is most important in this episode are the two survivors at the end, Fives and Echo, who reappear throughout the series as fully developed characters who experience change, loss, and death, becoming integral to the series. RIP Heavy, Cut-Up, and yes even Droid Bait.

5. Sacrifice (Season 6, Episode 13)

This episode is very lore heavy; some would say even more so than the Mortis arc. It too offers well executed simplicity, but also changed the entirety of Star Wars through its events. We see Yoda, a Jedi so deeply rooted in tradition, challenge everything he was taught to believe. Interacting with physical manifestations of the Force, found in The Whills, Yoda explores the Dark Side. He’s faced with emotion, compassion, trust, and serenity through trials meant to test the true nature of the Force, while being guided by a former friend and apprentice. The episode also solidifies the Mortis gods in Star Wars canon, as does the presence of Darth Bane in the episode, a character long held in legends lore as the creator of the “Rule of Two” in the Sith. It was a massive addition, especially when Mark Hamill himself voiced the ancient Sith lord. Lore aside, however, this was a genuinely intense episode, once again finding our protagonists so close to discovering the true identity of the Sith, only to fall short at the very last second. However, it gave hope, and gave Yoda a glimpse into a future that he explained to Obi-Wan later at the end of Revenge of the Sith. It was an ending that many could see as fitting, but as we all now know, there was much more to be done.

4. Shattered (Season 7, Episode 11)

When I re-watched this episode, I asked myself one thing: How the hell did Dave Filoni improve Order 66? The answer was build up. With the original scene from Revenge of the Sith, we only saw a general idea of the order’s impact. The clone troopers who had been in the series for two films, who had received very little actual screen time, suddenly executed Jedi who we had known very little of for the most part. The scene was intense and spectacularly shot. However, there was one key thing missing: attachment. The Order 66 scene in “Shattered” quickly outranked the original in the eyes of fans like myself because of this. Ahsoka’s connection not only to Rex, but to all those who wore her crest on their helmets, was suddenly split in two. Those whom she had fought with throughout multiple seasons of the show had suddenly turned on her. Surrounded and facing death, she escaped the onslaught with a tearful warning from Rex before the attack. He was the only clone in the whole of the clone army who seemed to resist the order, who visibly tried to hold back and take back control only to fail. There was true suffering and sadness. It was only when Ahsoka freed Rex from this suffering that we all breathed a sigh of relief. Only to hear Rex speak the revelation that the entire clone army was programmed this way. The tension, the build up, the devastation, all combined with Maul’s brutality on the clones throughout the episode, makes it one of the best, most engaging in the series.

3. The Lawless (Season 5, Episode 16)

“Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” – Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Okay, now that the corny stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about this gem. Wow! Just wow! There is so much to unpack with this episode. First and foremost, Satine’s death. Here was a woman that held a solid place in the series, introducing a whole new side to Obi-Wan’s character as a love interest, helping to guide his growth up until the end. Also, for those who didn’t notice, her name is a significant Easter Egg. Satine is the name of the lead female character and love interest in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge, a film that starred Ewan McGregor, who as we all know played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. From the very first episode that she appeared, it was a sign that she was doomed. The series sending her off in Obi-Wan’s arms, just like her live action doppelganger in Moulin Rouge, was a deep cut right? Then came Maul’s fight with Sidious, a beautifully choreographed sequence of clashing red sabers, positively exploiting Sidious’ standing as an OP villain, and showing off his truly IN-Sidious nature. Finally the Sith could cut loose with a worthy opponent, showing his excitement throughout the fight in his sinister cackles and his half concealed smiles. Maul’s defeat at the very end of the episode marked an end for him in the series, or so we thought at the time. His continued appearances came in the form of his aforementioned comic series, as well as multiple appearances in Rebels, and a final appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story, although that too would be amended with a final, final role in The Clone Wars in season seven. However, despite his many later appearances, this episode marked the end of his arc as a true villain in the Star Wars saga, having lost everything dear to him by the hands of the man who groomed him into the Sith to begin with. Everything after was simply a means to an end, struggling for survival, grasping hold of his one wish of killing Obi-Wan, only to be killed by him for good later on. He is by far one of the most tragic characters in all of Star Wars, and this episode illustrates that in beautiful detail. And finally, for long-time fans of the series, be sure to pour one out for The Twilight. May she rest in pieces.

2. The Phantom Apprentice (Season 7, Episode 10)

Just because a character’s arc ends does not mean they cannot be an asset to others. As “Rookies” was the episode that showed the beginning of The Clone Wars as a series, so too does “The Phantom Apprentice” symbolize its end. The duel between Maul and Ahsoka is, in my opinion, the most well animated, choreographed, and cinematic duel in the entire series, surpassing the fight between Maul and Sidious. The attention to detail in every single shot, the incredibly fluid-like movement, and the absolutely bone chilling dialogue is magnificent. Every word between the two had me on the edge of my seat. This showed multiple character traits as well. Maul’s insanity coming to the surface, with a plan to lure Kenobi with a call for help from someone close to him, which only repeated the same plan he had with Satine. This showed how much Maul was clinging to the possibility of maintaining power while so far removed from his old master’s plans. We also see a glimpse of Ahsoka’s arrogance, almost a mirror image of Kenobi’s reaction to hearing a Sith lord was in control of the Republic back in Attack of The Clones. As much as she denounced the Jedi throughout the episode and the one before it, she was unable to face the reality of an outside point of view, especially before it was too late. Much like the Jedi Council in their treatment of Anakin. This episode is the perfect beginning of the end, building up to the breaking point we were all hoping to witness. And on a side note, we were given several Easter Eggs. Gar Saxon, a character featured in Rebels as the leader of Imperial Mandalorians, can be seen commanding Maul’s forces. We also see a brief glimpse of Dryden Vos, one of Maul’s syndicate leaders and the main antagonist of Solo, as a hologram in a background shot. In many ways this episode embodies perfection, and was a pivotal moment in Star Wars.

1. Victory or Death (Season 7, Episode 12)

Best of the best of the clone wars episodes

Victory or Death…it was a motto in war, from the code phrase used by General George Washington while crossing the Delaware, to the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Two miniscule forces, facing world powers. Not too far removed from the two-man team of Ahsoka and Rex against the other clone troopers. Maul has caused the ship to careen into the moon below, and an army stands between the three and escape. Rex and Ahsoka try to keep from hurting any of them if possible, knowing it wasn’t their fault for what was happening. When faced with the possibility that they’d need to take more drastic measures, Rex shows a great deal of emotion, a single tear falling from his eye. He was forced to fight against his own men, including Jesse, who had saved his life multiple times throughout the series. Facing him now, it was clear that he and the others were beyond saving, hell bent on carrying out Darth Sidious’ order. With their backs to the wall, and Maul escaping, they fight their way toward a fighter as the ship falls apart. All of this, culminating in the dicey flying skills of Rex and Ahsoka’s adaptable nature in high-stress environments, led them both to a fast paced and deadly escape. Suddenly Ahsoka ended where she began in the series, in the co-pilot seat of a star fighter.

Landing at the crash site, they saw to the burial of the entire legion, their helmets left on stakes in honor. It was an end we hadn’t completely expected, but one we were not surprised about. At that moment, after witnessing their deaths, Ahsoka left her lightsabers behind, essentially burying who she was with them. Years later, Darth Vader and an Imperial force find the wreck and Ahsoka’s sabers, implying he thought she had been killed. This episode should be looked over, talked about, and examined more than any other. It is a deep and powerful display that not only shows the true destruction caused by Order 66, but also the trauma experienced by those it effected. It’s the same sentiment we’d see in Rebels, The Bad Batch, and Kenobi, but not quite as impactful. This final event in the series marked a chronological catalyst for every event in every Star Wars series that related to Order 66, showing the true depth of the event, and is quite literally the most important episode in any Star Wars series.

Final Thoughts on the Clone Wars

When I was a kid, I found that I was a slave to fixations. Popular media was one of them, and I listened and watched a lot of what I thought was popular at the time. However, at the time, The Clone Wars was a series that was something for me and me alone. I didn’t have many friends who watched it. My family, though they were massive Star Wars fans, didn’t like it simply because it was animated. But I remember being antsy for every new episode, running home from school every day to catch it in real time. It was my favorite part of the week. Originally I had simply liked it for what it was: a Star Wars TV show. Now, as an adult, I have an even greater appreciation for it. I see the poetry, the storytelling, the character growth more clearly. Making this list, that appreciation was put to the test. I needed to be objective as much as subjective. And admittedly, some of these episodes aren’t my absolute favorites, but I do believe them all to be the strongest in the series. Each of them told stories and introduced characters that only made the Star Wars universe stronger, but showed studio executives the true dedication of fans and creators alike. When George Lucas and Dave Filoni first created the series, they both saw it as less of a Star Wars property and more of a cartoon. But the more the show progressed, the more invested they became; the more love was shown. After 12 years of content creation, I couldn’t imagine life without it. And I bet everyone reading this couldn’t either.

Much of the future of Star Wars is still on the drawing board. New series and films are on the horizon, for better or for worse. Personally I look forward to season three of The Bad Batch, as well as the second season of Tales of The Jedi. For those who share my anticipation, as well as those who may be behind, I encourage you to watch not just the episodes covered here, but the entire series on Disney+. I believe having our own lists and own favorites to debate about and discuss is what makes us a community of fans. To that point, be sure to read the other articles this site has to offer.

1 Comment

  • Todd Hagen
    Posted October 25, 2023 5:59 pm 0Likes

    That was an amazing article! At first when I read #10 I thought: “What? That was such a good episode tho, how is it only number 10?”. Then I read the rest and realized just how many great episodes the series had. Super great list, I agree with them all!

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