An Astonishing Achievement: The Final Episodes of The Clone Wars

It’s no exaggeration to say that the last four episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars represent the best Star Wars we’ve seen since 1983 – if not the single finest hour of Star Wars ever produced. These final episodes combine stunning action sequences and lightsaber acrobatics with the sort of character drama and emotional intensity never before seen in the Star Wars fictional universe. Taken together, these episodes rank with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s superb televised conclusion “All Good Things…” as among the best series finales broadcast.  But perhaps most importantly, The Clone Wars lead character Ahsoka Tano takes her rightful place as the greatest hero in the Star Wars mythos.

Over the course of just over an hour or so, these last episodes of The Clone Wars deliver an emotional gut-punch unlike anything else Star Wars has given us. These episodes are emotionally intense and even brutal at times, thanks first and foremost to the web of personal relationships we’ve seen Ahsoka develop with Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and clone captain Rex over the course of the show. We’re reminded of the strength of Ahsoka’s bonds in the first two episodes of this last narrative arc, only to see these ties unravel in heartbreaking ways in the last two episodes as a result of events portrayed in Revenge of the Sith.

Indeed, themes of loyalty and friendship established in early episodes make later developments all the more heart-wrenching. Anakin reminds Ahsoka early on that loyalty “means everything to the clones,” for instance, and brushes off her thanks for his support in a tense discussion with Obi-Wan with the response that “that’s what friends are for.” It’s ironic that Anakin first articulates these themes; after all, it’s his turn against the Jedi Order in Revenge of the Sith that puts his friend and former apprentice’s life in mortal danger. For their part, moreover, the clones themselves repay Ahsoka’s own loyalty by betraying her and the rest of the Jedi thanks to the activation of their secret programming.

Ahsoka’s strong relationship with Rex drives the action in the final two episodes – and likely saves her life. Early on in the third episode, we’re treated to a poignant existential conversation between Ahsoka and Rex in which she tells the clone leader that she couldn’t have asked for a better friend. Moments later, Rex is called away to receive orders to betray the Jedi and kill Ahsoka. But his deep ties with Ahsoka cause Rex to hesitate and gives her a fighting chance at survival. Ahsoka later takes a series of exceptional risks to save Rex, taking him hostage and removing the inhibitor chip in his head. Later on, she abandons an opportunity to escape their burning star destroyer in order to prevent their former comrades from overrunning Rex’s position.

There’s much more that’s heartbreaking in these final episodes, starting with Ahsoka’s relationship with her friend and former Jedi master Anakin Skywalker. In a rush to liberate the planet Mandalore and capture the villainous Darth Maul – still alive despite his bisection at the hands of Obi-Wan at the climax of The Phantom Menace (it’s complicated) – Ahsoka and Anakin can’t find the time to catch up personally after some time apart. Ahsoka further forgoes chances to relay messages to Anakin, judging the moment inauspicious. Ahsoka’s faith in her former master when Maul accurately predicts Anakin’s impeding fall to the dark side lends these final episodes of The Clone Wars an emotional weight that the prequels palpably lacked. All these beats add up to a moving final narrative that’s suffused with the sort of pathos rarely present in Star Wars.

More than anything else, though, this final narrative arc succeeds thanks to Ahsoka herself. Her basic humanity and decency come to the fore as her defining character traits, and she proves herself a Jedi Knight par excellence despite leaving the Order of her own volition. She tells Anakin and Obi-Wan that average people have lost faith in the Jedi thanks to the Order’s myopic proclivity to play galactic politics – and that she had too “until I was reminded what Order means to the people who truly need us.” Moreover, it’s clear that Ahsoka sees the looming end of the war as an opportunity to re-join the Order: when she contacts the Jedi Council after taking down Maul, she say’s she’s done her duty as a citizen and not as a Jedi – at least “not yet.” Ahsoka’s complex views on the Jedi Order become clear in her subsequent reflective conversation with Rex: “As a Jedi, we were trained to be keepers of the peace, not soldiers. But all I’ve been since I was a Padawan is a soldier.” 

But it’s in her relationship with the clones that Ahsoka’s humanity shines most brightly. She treats them with the same sort of empathy The Clone Wars itself managed over the course of the series. When she encounters a dying clone trooper on Mandalore, for instance, she holds his hand and consoles him before he dies of his wounds. Ahsoka refuses to abandon Rex even after his programming activates, leading to a brief but affecting scene in which she replies from behind that she’s “right here” when Rex demands to know her location. What’s more, Ahsoka refuses to kill the clones that have been trying to kill her – even when a de-programmed Rex tells her there’s no other way. Finally, in what’s perhaps the most emotionally brutal scene in the whole Star Wars series, Ahsoka silently looks out over the graves of the clone troopers she and Rex fought alongside and then buried in the wake of their betrayal.

In the end, it’s her fundamental humanity that allows Ahsoka to stay true to her own moral code and ethical commitments. This sense of basic decency suffuses her own ideas of what a Jedi Knight and the Jedi Order should be, and guides her actions throughout The Clone Wars – and nowhere more so than in these final episodes. It’s what makes Ahsoka one of the great characters in the entire Star Wars mythos and earns her a prominent place the much wider pantheon of science-fiction heroes. Ahsoka may well have been the first female Jedi to wield a lightsaber, but that’s not why she’s the most compelling protagonist Star Wars has yet produced.

Nor is it hard to understand why The Clone Wars succeeded where the prequels failed: it possessed well-developed characters with close relationships that demanded emotional investment from the audience. But that The Clone Wars succeeded is all the more perplexing given the strong involvement of George Lucas himself in both enterprises. For instance, The Clone Wars portrays Anakin Skywalker as a fully-developed and competent character as opposed to the moody teenager and sullen young adult of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Indeed, there’s far more emotion and character in this final arc of The Clone Wars alone than in the rest of the Star Wars saga combined.

Paradoxically, though, The Clone Wars relies on the prequels for much of its emotional impact even as it transcends them. As an audience, we know what’s coming in these final episodes: the fall of the Jedi Order and the rise of Darth Vader. But we’ve also seen relationships between Ahsoka, Anakin, and the clones grow and mature over the course of The Clone Wars in ways that make the largely unseen events of Revenge of the Sith more tragic. Kevin Kiner’s orchestral score also works wonders here, effectively integrating musical cues and movements from John Williams’ Revenge of the Sith score with more ominous and ambient electronic sounds to create a sense of foreboding across these last four episodes. 

In contrast to the prequels, The Clone Wars establishes real and high emotional stakes for the audience and the characters themselves. These stakes imbue this final narrative arc with an emotional weight and resonance that’s absent from the prequels, and what’s more The Clone Wars earns these stakes in ways the prequels never did. Thanks to the relationships we’ve seen Ahsoka forge with Anakins and the clones over the course of the series, for instance, Ahsoka’s battle against the turncoat clones and her interactions with Anakin pack a far stronger emotional punch than the climactic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith or the confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader in the original film

Indeed, the final shot of the series encapsulates this earned emotional resonance: Darth Vader and an army of Imperial stormtroopers come across the site where Ahsoka and Rex buried their former comrades in arms. Vader picks up and ignites Ahsoka’s lightsaber, the very lightsaber he kept and repaired for her after she left the Jedi Order. It’s a silent scene, and rightly so – it successfully relies on our the audience’s awareness of the ties that once bound Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano together to produce the sort of pathos that’s nonexistent in the prequels. Ultimately, it’s the absence of real emotional stakes that transformed those films from the grand tragedy Lucas envisioned into fodder for humorous memes.

The Clone Wars doesn’t redeem the prequels, however; the show stands on its own and ought to receive praise in its own right. These last four episodes gave the series the spectacular and satisfying conclusion it deserved. Though the show’s end closes Ahsoka’s remarkable narrative for now, both she and The Clone Wars as a whole demonstrate just how good Star Wars can be when it hits its marks. I’m personally eager to see more of Ahsoka’s story – what was she up to between her final scene in The Clone Wars and her first appearance in Star Wars: Rebels? What did she do after Rebels? – but that I understand that Ahsoka will only appear again if the Star Wars gods allow it.

But even if we never see Ahsoka again, The Clone Wars has provided a fitting and rewarding send-off to the best Star Wars character we’ve seen. 

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