The Clone Wars made its television debut in the unenviable position of having to work out of a deficit. As if the new Star Wars trilogy hadn’t done enough to disillusion the fan base, here came George Lucas with a funny looking 98 minute long commercial for a television series that promised to revel in the crap that had already put fans off the new trilogy. Oh, and it promised to offer “something for the kids”, as well. Great, that’s just what we needed, more of George Lucas talking down to the audience.
Still, I gave the show a chance during its first season. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t hate it either.
One episode in particular got me thinking that there might be more to the series than the whiz-bang flash that I had seen in Attack of the Clone and Revenge of the Sith. Therein, Yoda has a chat with a group of clones. He reminds them that they all have an individual existence. Despite being genetic copies of Jango Fett, they are people whose sacrifices have meaning.
With the force reduced to space parasites, I didn’t think “second trilogy” stories were capable of dipping even a toe into the metaphysical pond.
What put me off season one was Anakin Skywalker’s “I want General Grievous, but once again I’ve missed capturing him by a hair’s breadth” adventures. Of course Anakin’s not going to catch him. Every story that dealt with capturing the General became a throwaway. Despite some cool space battles that included pre-AT-ATs deployed on asteroids to act as fire support for Republic ships in a pitched battle against the Separatists, I didn’t feel compelled to watch season two.
On Saturday night, The Clone Wars managed to keep me up until 2:30am with a four-episode story arc that’s got me thinking I should give this series a re-watch.
The season four episodes Darkness on Umbara, The General, Plan of Dissent, and Carnage of Krell (all written by Matt Michnovetz) tell a story that feels like an honest to god war story.
The quick summary is this: for one reason or another Anakin has to surrender control of his troops to General Krell. Krell is every solider’s worst nightmare, a leader who puts objectives before the welfare of his men. Spoiler alert: many clones die in this episode. In one particular scene I saw no less than thirty clones get vaporized.
Seriously, people are actually dying in a Star Wars thing? Lucas won’t let Han shoot first, but somehow his name is attached to a show that deals with the sort of military issues that were common fare on M*A*S*H*?
Things get so bad for the battle hardened clones that a number of them outwardly begin planning a rebellion against Krell. And again, the story takes a turn for the metaphysical. Perhaps it’s a cliché of war stories to hear soldiers talking about their right to refuse orders they know are wrong, but seeing Captain Rex torn between his genetically programmed instinct to obey and his practical knowledge gained through battle experience is a sight to behold.
There are also the little things that make the episode so emotionally charged. The clones all have nick names for each other; CT-5555 is known to his friends as “fives”. Yet Krell refuses to refer to his men as anything other than their serial numbers.
For my time, the most powerful part of the story arc *actual spoiler alert* is when Krell, who comes to see Rex’s men as defective, orders separate elements of his battalion to engage each other in battle. There is a moment of sheer agony when the clones realize that they are fighting each other, and not the enemy in their uniforms. It transcends an appeal to pathos and instead echoes every soldier’s ultimate question, “What are we fighting for?”
Brilliant fucking storytelling.
I’ll even go out on a limb to say that this one story arc has made the clones tragic figures in my mind. Anakin’s fall from grace is his own doing. But these clones, men who fought and died for the Republic, men who came to believe in the Republic through sacrifice, are going to have all of that stripped away from them with order 66. It’s one thing to kill a soldier in a story. Stripping that same soldier of his honour and individual agency, that’s something much more profound.
I’m left with one final question: if I go back and watch season two and three, will I find more episodes like this? Was this a one off? Or did Dave Filoni finally manage to kick Lucas out of the writer’s room? I’ll throw it out to you guys for your thoughts on this point.