This post contains no major spoilers.
Knowing the destination and embarking on the journey are two very different experiences. In the case of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created by George Lucas and Dave Filoni, one could not exist without the other.
Originally airing from 2008 to 2013 before being revived for one final season on Disney+, The Clone Wars was created in the aftermath of the prequel trilogy, long after the original films changed cinema forever. Thus, we all already knew the endpoint. Anakin Skywalker would fall to the Dark Side to become Darth Vader, the Jedi Order would be extinguished, Anakin would father Luke and Leia, who would one day undo all the dark machinations that plagued the saga. Nothing could change that.
By the very nature of storytelling, this would seem to render the animated series’ existence a moot point; mere fan service to answer lingering audience questions that never made the final cut on the big screen. But on the contrary, knowing the ultimate fate of these characters actually emboldened the story, with the show seeping into the unfilled crevices of our Star Wars knowledge to make its foundation even stronger.
From a macro view, the greatest strength of The Clone Wars is how each season built upon the one that came before. Season 1 was defined by a series of standout standalone episodes that unleashed a new and exciting animation style geared toward kinetic action. But the center of the show’s rookie run revolved around the Republic and Separatists recruiting different worlds and systems to join their cause of war. Geology may take millions of years to make an impact on the world, but here, we saw the bedrock of the intergalactic schism that would reach far into the future of Luke Skywalker begin to form. Conflict often starts with words before action.
Season 2 expanded upon the mythology of the Sith, adding necessary context to the primary antagonist of the entire saga. What may have been underwhelming villainy at times on the big screen suddenly began to take shape as a deeply rooted cancer infecting the entire system. It retroactively improved the oft-maligned prequels and even elements of Season 1.
Seasons 3 and 4 completely re-textualized the show, shifting its focus away from the battlefield and towards the mortal cost of the galactic conflict. Soldiers die in war, but what about the civilians caught in the crossfire? What about the disconnected peoples that wish nothing more than to remain neutral and away from the fight? How do peacekeepers and politicians succeed or fail the people they are meant to serve? To answer these difficult questions that closely mirror the real world, the series would adopt more of a serialized format, carrying over storylines from episode to episode in ongoing narratives that deepened in importance and relevance. It was in this stretch—exploring the fallout of war, the blurred morality on both sides, and Anakin’s first steps to the Dark Side—that The Clone Wars elevated itself from an exciting Star Wars add-on to a series capable of standing on its own.
While Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s apprentice, quickly became a fan favorite, it was throughout Seasons 5 and 6 that she established herself as one of the most popular Star Wars creations in decades. Her character development from callow Padawan to battle-tested Jedi to exiled rebel is, in many ways, the most potent storyline of The Clone Wars. It captures snapshots of the Jedi Order at their most noble and provincial, planting the seeds of their inevitable downfall in the process while reminding you of what could have been.
Knowing the broad strokes of the tale’s destination gave The Clone Wars definitive structure. In forcing the story to reach a pre-determined conclusion roughly set in Revenge of the Sith territory, it kept the story from rambling on aimlessly or setting the deck like many penultimate seasons do as a crutch. There’s a measured focus with each season flowing into the next to depict the 360-degree corruption of both soul and support systems, much like how The Wire explored the multi-faceted faults that kept inner-city Baltimore from ever breaking the cycle of violence and pain that encased it.
More specifically, knowing the destination actually empowered the details of the journey, much like Better Call Saul‘s heartbreaking downward spiral. The more amicable Anakin seen in Clone Wars and the deeper bonds he forms with Obi-Wan, Ashoka, Rex and even Palpatine make his downfall all the more gut wrenching. We see more clearly the path he could have taken, the path he should have taken, if only a few elements of his journey had played out differently. We see the mistakes and regrets that dot the timeline and, in retrospect, set the galaxy on a direct course for tragedy. Each beat is made all the more impactful precisely because we already know of the lasting damage it will cause. The question of “What if?” becomes intoxicating.
This final season of The Clone Wars on Disney (DIS)+—largely driven by Ahoska Tano, who is set for her live-action debut in Season 2 of The Mandalorian—was arguably the most effective at hammering the central theme that just because all is lost does not mean we stop fighting. If you stood your ground for long enough, perhaps the world can’t help but change around you. And just because we know where the story is headed does not mean that new details can’t enrich the journey along the way. Knowing the ultimate fate and experiencing it are two very different things. That’s a truth The Clone Wars has always understood better than most.