Before 2008, no one would have predicted that the first Star Wars movie to come out post-prequel trilogy would be a bunch of episodes of an animated show edited together and that they would feature a baby Hutt, and the previously non-existent padawan of Anakin Skywalker. Though that movie was lackluster, it feels like The Clone Wars TV show is going out with not only a way better movie, but a pivotal moment in the history of the franchise.
A big reason the last four-episode arc of the show, “The Siege of Mandalore,” is so significant is that this is is the last Star Wars project that George Lucas himself worked on. Whatever you think of the Disney-era sequel trilogy that ended with The Rise of Skywalker, Lucas wasn’t involved in its creation the way he was with his animated baby, which he financed himself. Lucas would drop in with new plot points, as he did with the return of Darth Maul, who is the main villain in the last episodes of the show. During a panel at Star Wars Celebration in 2017, The Clone Wars showrunner, Dave Filoni, described how he was sure that Maul couldn’t come back from the dead in The Clone Wars since he was cut in half way back in The Phantom Menace. “He’s coming back,” Filoni said Lucas revealed to him, and when he asked how, Lucas replied: “I don’t know, you’ll figure it out!”
From the get-go, there is something that feels different and special about the way siege (spread across the episodes “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” “The Phantom Apprentice,” “Shattered” and the series finale “Victory and Death”) is presented, which makes it feel more like a theatrical film than an episode of TV. First, we see the words “A Lucasfilm Limited Production” as seen in the original Star Wars trilogy, and instead of the usual theme of the show, we are greeted with the full impact of John Williams’ iconic Star Wars opening score. We also see the Star Wars title card change from the usual regal yellow to an ominous stark red, bringing to mind the original poster for Revenge of the Jedi (which later became Return of the Jedi).
Indeed, The Clone Wars is making every effort to make its finale seem like a true cinematic sendoff to George Lucas’ creation. Where the use of CGI for the vast clone armies in the prequels made them look dated, the clone armies in the animated show now look as good if not better than its live-action counterpart. The lighting, composition and detail not only of the stunning fight scenes look better than ever, starting with the opening fight on Yerbana which seems taken straight out of a Skywalker Saga film (complete with a more extensive use of Williams’ score). The return of Maul’s original live-action performer, Ray Park, and the casting of The Mandalorian‘s stunt-woman Lauren Mary Kim providing motion-capture performance for Maul and Ahsoka, made their lightsaber duel one that fans won’t be able to forget anytime soon.
One of the things that make the Star Wars franchise special is the interconnected universe that the movies and TV shows take place in. But where the movies have been hit-or-miss at connecting their part of the story with the larger history of the universe, “The Siege of Mandalore” has made a fantastic job at bringing the entire franchise together. So far we’ve got cameos from Star Wars Rebels‘ Kanan Jarrus as a young padawan, and crime boss Dryden Vos from Solo: A Star Wars Story. Likewise, the confrontation between Maul and Ahsoka mirrors not only the throne room scene in Return of the Jedi, but Kylo Ren extending his hand to Rey and saying “Join me” in The Last Jedi. And we even get an use of the mantra “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” as heard in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Where these references can feel forced in the live-action films, they feel natural in The Clone Wars because the show has spent over a decade telling a story intended as a bridge between two movies. Indeed, that was the original purpose of the show itself, so it is only natural that the crime underworld we see in Solo and the Rebel cells from Rogue One and Rebels would originate during the wars that forever changed the shape of the galaxy. It is no coincidence that the time period of the Clone Wars is the most explored period in the Star Wars expanded universe. Despite the prequels not being as popular as the originals, they introduced a vast and mostly unexplored time period that The Clone Wars and other media then continued to fill in with new stories and mythos.
And, of course, there’s the direct connection to the prequel trilogy itself. The shadow of Revenge of the Sith and Order 66 looms large over “The Siege of Mandalore,” with key plot moments of that film playing out in the series, albeit from a different point of view. We see just how pointless and destructive the entire war has been, and the arc drives home the cruel genius of Darth Sidious’ plan as Maul talks of the imminent end of the Republic.
With the Skywalker Saga now over, the spin-off movies on pause, and the TV shows (outside of the Obi-Wan show) centered around new, Disney-era characters, we’re truly entering a new chapter for the Star Wars. The franchise has now grown past its maker and its set of interconnected characters. But even if Anakin Skywalker isn’t a big player in “The Siege of Mandalore,” the weight of his presence, and the weight of the entire saga and its maker, are heavy. We don’t know how future movies or shows in the franchise will treat George Lucas’ creation, but the end of The Clone Wars marks the end of an era for the franchise far, far away.
The Star Wars: The Clone Wars series finale, “Victory and Death,” hits Disney+ on May 4.