Last Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated film that served to launch the TV series of the same name.
The film was a box office success despite its poor reviews from critics and much maligned reputation among fans. For what it’s worth, the film currently holds a 5.9 rating on IMDB and received just 18% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes’ tomatometer.
You certainly won’t find me arguing that the film is great by any means, but the tenth anniversary of the film is certainly worth commemorating, because the influence of The Clone Wars is quite extensive and was launched by this 2008 film.
Ever since Luke Skywalker’s question to Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope – “You fought in the Clone Wars?” – Star Wars fans had been incredibly curious to find out more about the major conflict. As George Lucas once again returned to the galaxy far, far away in the 1990s to begin work on the prequel trilogy, audiences would finally get a chance to explore that period more in-depth. The Phantom Menace (1999) didn’t explore the Clone Wars whatsoever, but Lucas did begin setting the stage for the galactic-wide conflict that would follow a decade later in-universe. That conflict began in Attack of the Clones (2002), with Yoda arriving with the clone troopers at the end of the film to begin the Clone Wars with the first Battle of Geonosis. The conflict would end in Revenge of the Sith (2005), which showed the closing stages of the three-year war as Palpatine turned the Republic into the Galactic Empire and Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.
Before the final film in the prequel trilogy was even released, however, George Lucas and Lucasfilm were working to develop an animated series about the Clone Wars. An animated show about the Clone Wars, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, had been met with success during a two-season run from 2003 to 2005, and it got Lucas excited and inspired him to take things further. Dave Filoni was hired as executive producer, tasked with overseeing a 3D, CGI version of the Clone Wars show that would be able to tell further adventures during the time period that weren’t exclusively tied down to the story of Anakin Skywalker – though the focus of the show would indeed still be on Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the newcomer Ahsoka Tano.
Filoni and his crew would approach the production of the show from a live-action perspective, which helped to set it apart from other animated shows and gave it a unique style and feel. Produce Catherine Winder explained that the technique included long camera shots, different (more aggressive) lighting techniques, and editing rather than storyboarding.
At some point during the production of the show, a few years after Revenge of the Sith, Lucas was so encouraged by the results he was seeing that he made a decision: they would combine one of the show’s arcs into an animated feature film and release it in theaters to launch the TV series. The basic premise of the story would focus on Anakin and his new padawan Ahsoka rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s son in order to secure an advantage for the Republic. As Henry Gilroy, who wrote the screenplay for the film, explained in an interview:
The basic scenario of the kidnapped Hutt story was inspired by an old Sonny Chiba samurai film I like called Shogun’s Shadow. It’s the story of this disgraced ronin who is charged with escorting the very young son of a shogun across the countryside and all these ninjas are trying to kill this poor kid. Anyway, there’s a lot of intrigue about who is really after the kid, trying to kill him. I thought the basic idea translated to Star Wars well.
How I related it to Anakin, felt very Star Wars to me, because George had established in the films that the Hutts had sold he and his mother into slavery. So, Anakin tends to hold onto negative experiences and their emotions, so I thought it could challenge him as a Jedi to have to protect this terrible little Huttlet that he naturally dislikes – because all the Hutts are criminals. The fact that he’s carrying Rotta around on his back is literally like a monkey on his back – and the fact that he will have to return to Tatooine and the source of his greatest loss could explore his reluctance to let go of those negative events. Anyway, there’s a chance at some growth at the end, because the Huttlet is really upset when it sees his father (Jabba) is about to kill Anakin and Ahsoka – because the little creature bonded to them, they took care of it. So ultimately, Anakin and Ahsoka’s compassion showed for the Hutts, ended up saving them. There was more material in the script that focused on Anakin’s relationship with the Hutts, but it was ultimately cut because it didn’t specifically address the plot.
So, on August 10, 2008, the film premiered, and a few days later was released to theaters for fans to watch. As Yoda says, “Begun, the Clone War has.”
Influence and Legacy
As I mentioned earlier, the film didn’t get good reviews and wasn’t received well – and largely still isn’t to this day. But the film nonetheless was our first introduction to The Clone Wars series that would become incredibly popular amongst fans. The movie served as the kick-off, and the show that followed premiered in October 2008, a few months after the film’s release. It ran for five seasons before it was cancelled, but a sixth season was released straight to Netflix. Several other story arcs have been told via other media, including books, comics, and unfinished episodes, and then just this summer Dave Filoni revealed that the show will return for a seventh season that will finish The Clone Wars the right way – a move that was met by huge celebration and praise from the Star Wars community.
Looking back on it now, we can see that the movie’s major influence was introducing Ahsoka Tano to the Star Wars universe. Arriving on Christophsis, Tano reveals that she was assigned as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan – much to the surprise of the Jedi Knight, who thought his old master Obi-Wan Kenobi was taking a new apprentice.
Voice actor Ahsley Eckstein, executive director Dave Filoni, and the rest of The Clone Wars crew realized that the character of Ahsoka Tano probably would be seen as annoying by many viewers early on, and they were certainly correct. Ahsoka was viewed as this annoying new padawan who dared to speak up against the legendary Anakin Skywalker. But those working on the show were always far ahead of what the audience could see, and so they maintained their current course, confident that fans would come around eventually. That’s exactly what happened. Though Ahsoka can seem quite annoying in the film and in early episodes of the show, as it progresses she grew into a fan favorite. Filoni would later bring the character back into Star Wars: Rebels, and Ahsoka would be incredibly well-received. Today, Ahsoka is one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe amongst fans, and it’s because those working on the show stayed the course to give her character development as the show went on.
It was in this film, however, that we were first introduced to the character. And while she’s not at her best, we nonetheless get to see how she got her start in the Jedi Order and the beginnings of her relationship with Anakin. But the film also introduced us to other new characters, such as Captain Rex, who also has become a favorite of fans and who also was later brought back in Rebels. And the chance to bring back Christopher Lee as Count Dooku and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu to voice their characters in the movie was also great (they were voiced by different people in the show itself).
And then, of course, we must remember this movie as the beginning of the epic The Clone Wars series, which started with this film and then spanned six terrific seasons over the next several years. Just this summer, it was announced that the show is being revived and will receive a seventh season.
Though the film itself might not be too well-received, its contributions to the Star Wars universe and storytelling shouldn’t be ignored.