Earlier this week was the 15th anniversary of the premiere of Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 Star Wars: Clone Wars series!
The show premiered on Cartoon Network on November 7, 2003, and had a three season run spanning 25 episodes. It is still fondly remembered by many fans, and it in some ways served as inspiration and encouragement for George Lucas in making his own series; having seen the success and reception of Tartakovsky’s series, Lucas eventually oversaw The Clone Wars, a show that took the stories of the conflict to new places in a six season run, with a seventh on its way next year. This 2003 show is no longer canon and is far from perfect, yet it’s a fun, nostalgic series that nonetheless played an integral part in introducing us to the Clone Wars.
Perhaps its greatest contribution was the first portrayal of some iconic Star Wars characters from the time period: Asajj Ventress and General Grievous.
Early in the show’s run, we meet Asajj Ventress. She encounters Count Dooku and fights in an arena to impress him, defeating all the other opponents to earn the Count’s favor. He duels with her, too, and is impressed enough to take her as an apprentice and send her to face Anakin Skywalker. She lures Skywalker to Yavin 4 for a duel, and it’s in that encounter that Skywalker gets his scar.
None of that is technically canon any longer, though we have not yet gotten a different explanation for the origins of Skywalker’s scar, or of the first encounter between Ventress and Skywalker. But what is canon is Asajj Ventress, who had one of the more interesting character arcs in Lucas’ The Clone Wars series. In flashbacks we learn that she was taken to train as a Jedi but saw her master killed, and she turned to the dark side of the Force and became Count Dooku’s apprentice. She developed a rivalry with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker and was a most formidable foe, but her strength ultimately led to her downfall. She grew too powerful for the liking of Darth Sidious, Dooku’s master, who ordered the Count to get rid of his apprentice because of the Rule of Two. Dooku begrudgingly complied and turned on Ventress, sending her fleeing to her home of Dathomir. She partners with the nighsisters to try to get revenge on Dooku, but eventually General Grievous wipes out their forces as he leads an assault on the planet. Ventress then becomes a bounty hunter, and winds up working with Ahsoka Tano when the padawan is framed for the Jedi Temple bombing. Ventress’ story is continued in the novel Dark Disciple, in which she teams up with rogue Jedi Quinlan Vos and develops a relationship with him, ultimately sacrificing her life to save him.
Yet it was this Clone Wars show that first introduced us to the character of Asajj Ventress, and the second show then took her to new heights and gave her a very compelling story and character arc through its six seasons.
Without any doubt, however, the most memorable contribution of the 2003 series was the introduction of General Grievous, who would go on to serve as a primary antagonist in both Revenge of the Sith and Lucas’ Clone Wars series. The leader of the droid armies of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, Grievous garnered a reputation as a Jedi killer and a feared warrior. That was certainly the case in Tartakovsky’s series, as Lucas allowed him to introduce Grievous. That introduction was well worth it, as Grievous took on a team of several Jedi (including Ki-Adi Mundi and Shaak Ti) and killed some while the others barely escaped with their lives. Grievous presented a most dangerous threat, and his initial fight still stands out as the highlight of the series to many fans.
In many ways, this was the show that most added to Grievous’ reputation and legend as a feared warrior as the commander of the droid armies. I like the character in The Clone Wars and ROTS, but those who think that Grievous still wasn’t as formidable of a foe in those certainly can recall the terror of seeing Grievous take down Jedi in this series. Additionally, the series shows the Battle of Coruscant and illustrates how Grievous was able to abduct the Chancellor, and it does so by portraying Grievous, again, as a massive threat who can’t be stopped by the Jedi (a strike team of Jedi led by Shaak Ti desperately try to get the Chancellor to safety while Grievous pursues and engages in combat). And the show also explains why Grievous has the cough in ROTS (though it’s just to ret-con it with the movie), as it shows Mace Windu using the Force to crush Grievous’ rib cage as the General flees with his hostage. I like that explanation, but it’s obviously not canon any longer (just like the rest of the show) since Grievous has his cough for the entirety of the canon Clone Wars series.
Speaking of the Battle of Coruscant, perhaps my favorite contribution from Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars was the on-screen depiction of the major conflict that leads directly into Revenge of the Sith. The droid army floods the skies as Yoda realizes what is happening, and the Jedi take to defending the city. Mace Windu and Saesee Tiin jump in their starfighters to help, with Windu fighting in the atmosphere and Tiin leading the attack in space. Tiin leads a strike force of Clones to land on the surface of a Separatist ship and take it over for the Reublic. Meanwhile, Windu flies through the skies of Coruscant, first in his ship and then taking over a vulture droid. Yoda fights on the ground, reinforcing Clones who are desperately trying to hold the line. Eventually Yoda and Windu wind up fighting side-by-side, where they ponder the purpose of the Separatist attack… only to realize that this invasion must be a diversion from the true target, Chancellor Palpatine. Sure enough, as the battle has been going on, Shaak Ti and a few other Jedi arrive to escort Palpatine to safety, but Grievous arrives and pursues them through the city. The Jedi try everything they can think of to escape, but to no avail. They battle magnaguards and Grievous, and eventually the droid General overpowers them, killing all of the Jedi but Ti and leaving her incapacitated. As Grievous attempts to leave with the Chancellor, Windu arrives and makes a valiant effort to stop them, crushing Grievous’ rib cage with the Force, but he’s too late. Windu contacts Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, calling them back to Coruscant in a desperate attempt to rescue the Chancellor.
Obviously the Battle of Coruscant is something that is still canon, and many of the general events are too, as Grievous did kidnap the Chancellor and escape. This depiction of the Battle isn’t canon any longer, but it’s probably closer to being canon than much of the rest of the show – because we know it still very much happened, even if not exactly like depicted. It’s cool just being able to see it on-screen, though, and I really like the way it played out in this series leading directly into ROTS.
Overall, I’m a big fan of this show. It doesn’t have near the depth, reality, or importance as The Clone Wars, but it’s still fun to go back and watch every so often. Yes, there are some unrealistic parts, starting with the Jedi being incredibly over-powered (Grievous is, too). I wasn’t a big fan of Anakin’s whole mission to Nelvaan, either.
But it’s still a fun, cool show overall, and it inspired Lucas to eventually make his own Clone Wars show. It’s influence is still felt in many different areas. For one, it was the first time that James Arnold Taylor voiced Obi-Wan Kenobi and Tom Kane voiced Yoda, and both men went on to voice those respective characters in Lucas’ The Clone Wars as well. Secondly, as mentioned in this article, it was the first true introduction to characters such as Asajj Ventress and General Grievous, who both continue to play major roles in the Star Wars saga in canon. And third, George Lucas worked with Genndy Tartakovsky to cover the major details of the war, and the reception of the show apparently was a factor in Lucas deciding to do his own version of it. That show reached a new level of popularity and success and has resonated so much with fans that it was revived this summer, with a seventh season of the show currently in development.