Look, the Star Wars prequel trilogy is never going to be included in the greatest movies of all time list. After decades of holding the original trilogy on a high pedestal, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith fell short of what many Star Wars fans expected. While each of the prequel movies has its high points and low points, Revenge of the Sith has always been widely agreed upon as the best of the three.
After the prequel trilogy concluded in 2005, the Star Wars universe expanded with The Clone Wars, an animated theatrical movie and television series that filled in the three-year gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Over seven seasons, The Clone Wars has quickly become some of the best Star Wars content in the history of the franchise, and the final season recently debuted on Disney+ to answer some burning questions and directly connect the series to the events of Revenge of the Sith.
Many have argued, and I agree, that The Clone Wars makes the prequels, especially Revenge of the Sith, better movies.
The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker
Anakin Skywalker is arguably the most important character in the Star Wars universe. The prequels were specifically designed to tell of Anakin’s tragic downfall and transformation into Darth Vader. The Phantom Menace introduces us to Anakin as an excited 10-year-old boy who dreams of freedom and adventure. Having a 10-year gap between Episode I and Episode II left a lot of legwork to bridge that boy to the monster that he became. The dots are all there to connect – the loss of his mother and fear of losing Padme would push him to make reckless decisions in the name of love, but a lot of it happens so quickly and we don’t spend enough time seeing Anakin struggle with his choices.
The Clone Wars, on the other hand, has seven whole seasons to spend with Anakin. The greatest gift of the show is time. Time to see Anakin’s relationship with Obi-Wan deepen and grow to the point they see each other as brothers. Their respect of each other deepens, but they still disagree sometimes. The growth of their relationship on the show makes their final duel in Revenge of the Sith that much more heartbreaking and Obi-Wan’s final words to Anakin utterly devastating.
In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin comes across as ungrateful and petty when the Jedi Council agrees to let him sit on the council but denies him the rank of Master. But throughout The Clone Wars, Anakin serves as one of the most successful generals of the whole war. He leads missions and commands his own battalion of clone troopers. He works well with other Jedi and his opinion is highly valued. For the council to see his success and hard work during the war to turn around and deny him this rank is a heavy betrayal for Anakin.
Another struggle for Anakin in The Clone Wars is his secret relationship with Padme. The show allows us to see how little time the newlyweds get to spend together and how they must keep a professional working relationship while holding their marriage a secret from everyone around them. That frustration weighs heavy on both characters.
Also, we cannot go without mentioning the Hayden Christensen in the room, bless his heart. Hayden’s acting as Anakin – driven by George Lucas’s dialogue – has been hit hard by fans over the years, coming across as boring or wooden. However, in The Clone Wars, Anakin is voiced by Matt Lanter (90210, Timeless) who gives the character so much more heart and soul than he ever was able to have in the movies.
Ahsoka Tano, queen of my heart
Fans of Star Wars who have only seen the main saga movies may not know Ahsoka Tano. She was assigned to be Anakin’s padawan during the Clone Wars and their friendship and relationship is one of the true delights of the series. We watch Ahsoka grow from a brash, reckless teenager to a powerful and thoughtful commander. It’s through Ahsoka that Anakin also grows beyond his emo teen days of Attack of the Clones to the capable leader we see in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin and Ahsoka have a symbiotic relationship where they help each other learn and grow.
Ahsoka also centers in another devastating loss for Anakin. In season five, Ahsoka is framed for bombing the Jedi temple. While Anakin works tirelessly to clear her name, the rest of the Jedi Council take the bait and believe that she is guilty. Ahsoka is ultimately exonerated, but she loses faith in the Jedi and leaves the order. She and Anakin share a belief that the Jedi may not always be right, and the loss of Ahsoka shakes Anakin’s faith in the Jedi that will ultimately lead to his turn to the Dark Side.
Super (Clone) Troopers
Throughout The Clone Wars, Anakin, Ahsoka, Obi-wan and the other Jedi lead battalions of clone troopers in dozens of battles. Attack of the Clones shows us how bounty hunter Jango Fett was used as the model for the clone army, but the movies mostly show the clones as a faceless mass. The Clone Wars, on the other hand, shows us the clones’ humanity. They give themselves names, they have unique features, hairstyles, personalities, and beliefs.
Captain Rex is the clone leader of the battalion under Anakin and Ahsoka’s command. Both Anakin and Ahsoka develop close friendships with Rex, consult with him on battle strategies and trust him to have their back no matter what. Other clones like Fives, Jesse and Echo also all develop as individuals over the course of the series. The clones are used in the show to ask difficult, existential questions about life, destiny and free will. And as the viewer, you become attached to these characters and care for them, all the while knowing that Order 66 looms in the future. Knowing the clones as people and seeing the bonds they build with the Jedi make their betrayal even more devastating.
Execute Order 66
Besides Obi-wan, Anakin and Ahsoka, The Clone Wars spends a lot of time with the Jedi as they lead armies across the galaxy. Yoda, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Ki Adi Mundi, Plo Koon and others get plenty of action and some get voiced for the first time. We watch them lead battles and see their unique lightsaber fighting styles. Many of these Jedi Masters just exist in the background of the prequel trilogy, but knowing who they are makes their deaths during Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith have much more weight to them.
The last episodes of the final season run parallel to Revenge of the Sith and we see Order 66 from Ahsoka and Rex’s perspectives, and it’s here that we truly see the complexities of the clone army and how hard it was for some of them to accept their fate.
George Lucas used the Star Wars prequel trilogy to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side and the rise of the Galactic Empire. And it is a complete story. But The Clone Wars opens up that story and allows us to experience it through new perspectives and fills in gaps that bring deeper meaning to the events we saw in theaters. Anakin’s loss of Ahsoka builds upon his fear of losing the people he loves as well as his simmering distrust of the Jedi. The relationships between the clone army and their Jedi commanders come with a constant dread of their inevitable betrayal.
I encourage everyone to watch The Clone Wars on Disney+. Even if you loved or hated the prequel trilogy, the series has new characters to meet, new and familiar planets to explore, and incredible moments from characters you’ve loved for years.