When he was seven, Russian-born director Genndy Tartakovsky moved to Chicago with his family when his father defected to the US. After leaving CalArts in Los Angeles, he created the animated series Dexter’s Laboratory (1996). He went on to direct animation on The Powerpuff Girls and his most well-known work Samurai Jack. In the early 2000s, he temporarily stopped work on Samurai Jack to produce the Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series as a direct animated sequel to Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Notice, no mention of Dave Filoni here, and I said ‘micro-series’. The show originally aired 2003-2005 on Cartoon Network in twenty-five very short chapters adding up to a little over 2 hours and won a couple of Emmys along the way. Most episodes were only 2-3 minutes long and then the final five were each about 12 minutes long.
Six years ago, intent on rewriting history, Disney laid waste to the existing canon of Star Wars spin-off novels, comics and games. Much-loved titles and characters found themselves cut adrift. Tartakovsky’s 2003 telling of the Clone Wars – the Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series – was one of the casualties – relegated to the status of a ‘Star Wars Legend’.
Which goes to explain why Star Wars: Clone Wars is one of the very few Star Wars related shows that isn’t available on Disney+, or indeed as far as I can tell on any digitally streaming platform in the UK. Lauded by George Lucas as destined to become “the John Lasseter of Lucasfilm Animation” Tartakovsky is now instead a footnote in the history of Star Wars.
Star Wars: Clone Wars is also not easily available from Amazon as a two-volume set, and so it was off to eBay to find the DVDs. There’s plenty of copies of Filoni’s 2008 computer animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie (which I recall being underwhelmed by at the cinema – no title crawl what?) but fewer copies of both DVDs packaged as Volume 1 (Season 1 + 2) and Volume 2 (Season 3) in good condition from reputable dealers in the UK at a reasonable price. However, after some careful searching (because I didn’t want to end up with two extra copies of the first and second seasons of Filoni’s TV show) I found what I wanted.
The DVDs arrived in very good condition and were more or less immediately popped into my player in the days before The Mandalorian Season Two finale aired. The first thing to say is that this show is so kinetic and stylish I found myself leaning forward with my eyebrows aching from being raised for so long. Watching the first disc felt like playing Battlefront II on acid. The action is relentless and the Jedi are elevated to superhero status in a style more akin to anime than Star Wars.
The second thing to note is that the show, especially in the third season contains a number of significant steps in the development of the characters of Anakin and Obi Wan Kenobi. Their relationship from master and padawan to ‘brothers’ is laid out in between all the action sequences. So too is the strain on Anakin’s relationship with Padme and indeed the moment when Anakin becomes a bone fide Jedi knight – knighted by none other than Yoda and having his silly rat tail braid cut off and secretly gifted to Padme. There’s also quite a cute scene where C-3PO shows of his new gold plating as he is now in the employ of Senator Amidala. General Grievous’s bad chest is also explained as being a battle wound from Mace Windu.
In terms of characters it was great to see a full roster of Jedi knights – most of whom perish in Episode III and while Filoni’s Ashoka Tano is obviously absent her place is filled by the ill-fated and wonderfully-drawn Togruta Jedi Master Shaak Ti. For bad guys we obviously have Count Dooku, General Grievous and Darth Sidious, but there is not a sniff of Darth Maul. Instead we get a brilliantly animated would-be Sith assassin and vampire-like Dathomirian Asajj Ventress. Since Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars is no longer canon it’s a bit curious to note that in Filoni’s Clone Wars Skywalker and Kenobi (now accompanied by Tano) have already crossed paths with Ventress.
The character designs are unique. Dare I say special. Rather than looking like the Thunderbirds marionettes of the later computer animated shows they are wonderfully exaggerated with key details such as Obi Wan’s beard or Anakin’s eye scar emphasized in powerful strokes of the pen. But that’s not to say that computer animation had no role to play – the starfighters and clone trooper transport vehicles are rendered in a computer and then very well incorporated into the 2-D animation.
Here’s what those guys at Screen Junkies had to say about the show –
I’m so happy to own the DVDs of this show and don’t care what Disney say, for me they are still canon in my heart and mind. They sit proudly alongside my DVDs of the original theatrical release and special edition versions of the fist six films.