By Joe McFadden
Growing up, Star Wars: The Clone Wars was perhaps ‘the show’ that defined my childhood, so much so that I can safely say I would be an entirely different person without it.
Following its August 2008 film debut, Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiered on the small screen on October 3rd of that year. What started out as a fun, light-hearted foray into a previously unexplored era of Star Wars would – 12 years, 7 seasons, and a fan campaign like none other later – eventually transform into one of the defining shows of the 2010s and one of the most beloved stories in Star Wars history.
The Clone Wars wasn’t a show that talked down to its audience, but instead taught them and encouraged them to grow up with it.
I still remember when I first watched The Clone Wars. The date escapes me but it would have been sometime in late 2009 when I was 7 years old and me and my twin brother, Tom, rented the DVD ‘Clone Commandos’ from the library. The first episode we watched was Season 1 Episode 5 ‘Rookies’ and the memory is still imprinted in my mind over a decade later. Watching this show was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was violent yes, but not scary, and it had a maturity to it that even as a kid I remember appreciating. The Clone Wars wasn’t a show that talked down to its audience, but instead taught them and encouraged them to grow up with it.
After watching this first episode, now a firm fan favourite, I was hooked. Not just on this show but the universe it inhabited. Interestingly, I had never actually watched the Star Wars saga before. Growing up I was never forced to sit down and let the magic of George Lucas’ space opera wash over me. Instead, I discovered it on my own – or rather fittingly, with my brother – and that is why I think The Clone Wars had such an effect on my formative years. It opened my eyes to the magic of Star Wars, a franchise that has had such a defining effect on my life, and most importantly, formed the centrepiece of mine and my brother’s relationship for much of our later childhood.
Set between the events of Star Wars Episode’s II and III, The Clone Wars follows the exploits of Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they fight the Droid forces of the evil Separatist Alliance with the aid of their valiant Clone army. Now, if you are not a Star Wars fan this will mean nothing to you but back in 2008 exploring this relatively new era of Star Wars in a mainstream TV show was a very exciting prospect.
The show was structured as a loose anthology with a broader narrative focusing on the aforementioned main characters whilst other episodes were centred around supporting characters from the wider Star Wars mythos (e.g. everyone’s favourite Jedi Master Plo Koon). However, the brilliance of the show lay in its use of episode arcs – a run of 3 or 4 episodes telling one singular story that fed into the show’s wider themes like corruption, power, destiny, and the cost of war (once again this was a children’s programme…). These allowed the show to truly depict a war in the stars and gave the creators (Dave Filoni and none other than the maker himself George Lucas) a narrative freedom that few other shows on the air, both past and present, were able to exhibit.
Being entirely self-funded through Lucasfilm animation, and broadcast on Cartoon Network, The Clone Wars was free from the constraints of traditional network TV. Thus, the show was far more mature in its storytelling and visuals than literally any other show in the history of ‘children’s’ television. Key moments were clear even from the first season. The aforementioned ‘Rookies’ ended with a character blowing himself up “For the Republic” and S1 E21 ‘Innocents of Ryloth’ had the Separatists use civilians as human shields.
War crimes were not just limited to the villains however, because, as countless YouTube compilations have pointed out, the Republic broke plenty of the Geneva Conventions themselves. Indeed, in what is one of, if not the, most acclaimed arc of the show, fallen Jedi General Pong Krell ordered his troops to fire on enemy combatants disguised as Clones, only to realise they were firing at their own men. Another episode featured the revived Darth Maul decapitating the leaders of crime syndicate Black Sun after they refused his offer of an alliance.
Time and again, The Clone Wars refused to pull its punches and was all the better for it. Despite its violence, the show’s core was its moral messages. Each episode would begin with an epigraph aimed at teaching its young audience a lesson. Indeed, several arcs (which some unfortunately decry as ‘boring’) were about politics and the corruptibility of our leaders. I can tell you now, 9 year old me was way too proud of himself for knowing what ‘eradicate’ and ‘cast off’ meant.
For me, this is what summarises the Clone Wars best. It was a show that actually grew up with its audience and didn’t scare away from including clear messages about morality and ethics. Another reason why it holds a special place in my heart is because I watched it with my brother.
But one thing that we will always have is Star Wars: The Clone Wars and those magical moments spent a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.
Now, some of you may be reading this and think he’s dead but I assure you that is not the case. In actual fact he is very much alive (and as irritating as ever) but as we grew up The Clone Wars was always something we bonded over. We’d build Lego together (okay he built, I destroyed), play with action figures, excitedly binge a new series in a weekend whenever Amazon had lowered its prices to a figure our Dad deemed ‘reasonable’. Brotherhood is perhaps the core tenet of The Clone Wars as, after all, the Clones are brothers, so looking back it’s extra special to me that I experienced it with my twin.
As we grew up, Tom and I drifted to other interests and areas of study. He chose STEM whilst I chose Humanities. He likes Football, I like films. But one thing that we will always have is Star Wars: The Clone Wars and those magical moments spent a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.
On May 4th 2020, The Clone Wars aired its series finale ‘Victory and Death’, the epic conclusion not just to the thrilling ‘Siege of Mandalore’ arc, or the show itself, but to our childhoods. I remember waking up early and going downstairs to watch it together as if we were kids again. The Clone Wars was such a huge part of our childhood that when it ended 6 weeks after we turned 18 it only felt appropriate that our childhood should end with it.
For me, this is why Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the most important show of my childhood. Not only did it awaken my love for Star Wars and subsequently cinema, but it taught me about life, politics, and morality. However, most importantly, it was something I shared with my twin brother, Tom, because without him the show would not nearly mean as much as it does to me – and that is why I will always be grateful for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
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