6 Things that THE CLONE WARS Fixed in the STAR WARS Prequels

Although a film should be self-contained and not rely on supplements, the history and characters of the prequels have been greatly expanded and deepened by the animated The Clone Wars.

Mikołaj Lewalski

15 September 2023

Some may find this a bit abstract, but it has been almost 20 years since the premiere of Revenge of the Sith. During this time, the Star Wars world has seen developments that nobody expected in 2005, and the reception of the prequel trilogy has changed drastically. The generation of fans who grew up with Episodes I-III has grown up and voiced their opinions, nostalgia has begun to play a bigger role in how these films are perceived, and as a result, the overall assessment of George Lucas’s initially disliked project is now much warmer than it was years ago. And although theoretically a film should be self-contained and not rely on supplements, the history and characters of the prequels have been greatly expanded and deepened by the animated The Clone Wars.

In the awareness of fans following the non-film works and in the new Star Wars canon, this series is a key element in the story of the Republic’s downfall and Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. Dave Filoni’s work, with input from George Lucas (and many others), skillfully filled in the annoying gaps in the trilogy’s plot, gave depth to cardboard characters, legitimized the relationships between the characters, and created a strong foundation for the emotional payload of the tragic culmination of Revenge of the Sith (which we can now view from a different perspective in the seventh season of The Clone Wars). In this text, I will highlight and describe the elements of the prequels that have benefited the most from The Clone Wars.

The Redeemed Character of Anakin Skywalker

The film version of young Anakin disappointed many fans for various reasons. Some primarily blamed Hayden Christensen, but I believe that the biggest fault for the character’s problems lies with Lucas himself. He wrote poor dialogues that Christensen had to deliver on screen, and he burdened young Skywalker with a multitude of other plotlines that took away precious time that could have been used to better develop the character. The Clone Wars do a much better job of depicting the flaws of the future Darth Vader while making him a charismatic character that is impossible not to like. Animated Anakin is a respected and brilliant commander who leads his troops into battle on the front lines; his heroism is unquestionable, and his unconventional thinking sets him apart from the rigid and dogmatic Jedi companions. Obi-Wan in A New Hope describes Luke’s father as a great warrior, an exceptional pilot, and a wonderful friend – and while the first act of Revenge of the Sith does a decent job of echoing those words, The Clone Wars fully helps us understand the significance and weight of those words.

Anakin was indeed an extraordinary individual, despite his flaws, which are also evident in the series. His tendency to fall into anger, impulsiveness, inability to accept defeat, and a paralyzing fear of losing his wife – all of which we saw in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – also appear here, but the predominance of positive qualities ultimately works in Anakin’s favor. This portrayal of the character does not contradict the filmic vision in any way; the series begins some time after the outbreak of the Clone Wars, so it’s not a stretch to believe that the bratty kid from Attack of the Clones had to grow up quickly and find himself in the responsible role of a commander. The real turning point, however, is his care for a young apprentice, probably even more headstrong than he is, and incredibly gifted. Ahsoka motivates Anakin to introspection and to mature into the role of a role model, as intended by Yoda, who planned to assign an apprentice to Anakin. So why does the Skywalker from Revenge of the Sith seem to be a few steps behind the animated one? It’s a combination of Palpatine’s manipulation and conflicts with the increasingly out-of-touch Jedi Council, which repeatedly proves itself untrustworthy during the series. As a result of one of the worst decisions by the Jedi Masters, Ahsoka is almost wrongly sentenced to death and as a result, she leaves the Order, leaving Anakin with anger and a sense of personal failure. This, combined with increasingly frequent flashes of the dark side, makes Anakin’s fall much more credible.

Creating a Real Character from Darth Maul

Darth Maul made his debut in The Phantom Menace in 1999. His presence on screen was limited to menacing glances, tracking the main characters on Tatooine, and participating in the final lightsaber battle. Throughout this time, Maul said three sentences and showed no character traits other than a desire for murder and excessive self-confidence. His appearance and skills intrigued, but he was a character in name only. The tattooed Sith had little more personality than mass-produced battle droids and was ultimately cut in half by Obi-Wan. So it was a huge surprise for fans when halfway through the third season of The Clone Wars, it turned out that Maul was alive, and his brother (who had joined the ranks of the show’s villains a few episodes earlier) was tasked with finding him. The decision to resurrect Maul was met with significant doubts and was widely considered contrived. Even after all these years, it still seems somewhat implausible, but I believe it was well worth it.

The Clone Wars made Maul one of the most interesting antagonists in the entire Star Wars universe, and the journey his character undergoes is fascinating. For over a decade, Maul lived in complete madness, fighting for survival in the underworld of a junk planet, fueled by his hatred for Obi-Wan (and his diet of sentient beings). This gave him a purpose beyond carrying out Palpatine’s orders – revenge. The red-skinned zabrak, however, wanted much more; at the time of his defeat on Naboo, he was the apprentice of the most powerful being in the galaxy and believed he would be part of a new order. All of this was taken from him, so he decides to carve out his own piece of the pie by taking control of the criminal world and imposing his dominance on all crime syndicates. He uses manipulation and violence for this purpose, proving that he is a true disciple of his master. Watching how Maul takes control of Mandalore, seeks revenge on Obi-Wan, and plays a crucial role in the climax of The Clone Wars is enough to consider his return valuable.

(SPOILER from the third season of Rebels) Ultimately, revenge proves to be his greatest rule and downfall, and the story comes full circle on Tatooine, where in his final moments, Maul finds comfort in assuring Obi-Wan that young Luke is the one who will bring about Palpatine’s downfall (whom Maul came to despise with all his heart over time).

Adding Depth to the Clones

While watching the prequels, few things leave me with as much dissatisfaction as the depiction of the clones. In the overloaded Revenge of the Sith, there was no time left for any development of their personalities or for a better portrayal of their relationships with the Jedi. Fortunately, the series makes up for this with gusto. In the very first episode of the first season, there’s a fantastic scene where Yoda informs the clones that each of them is actually different – both in spirit and in the manifestation of life energy. The soldiers are surprised to hear that they, seen through the Force, differ from each other to such a large extent – I suspect that viewers who had not previously encountered the portrayal of clones outside the films may feel similarly. And that’s just the beginning; the series features clones with various attitudes and outlooks, many of them emphasize their autonomy through the customization of their equipment, tattoos, and changes in hairstyle. Occasionally, there are units that deviate significantly from the norm (character hyperactivity, physical mutations, etc.), and in the first season, there is also a traitor working for the Separatists and a deserter who decides to take care of a widow and her child, becoming her husband and father. Certainly, one of the most important characters among the many clones appearing in the series is Captain Rex – Anakin’s direct subordinate, as well as his comrade and a kind of mentor to Ahsoka. His subtle evolution, starting with encountering the deserter clone and ending with rejecting orders and making the independent decision to fight against the Imperial regime, is the ultimate testimony to the autonomy of the clones.

Finally, The Clone Wars convincingly explains how the clones were able to open fire on the Jedi without hesitation, often their friends – behavioral inhibitors were secretly implanted in all of them. Their official purpose was to suppress unjustified aggression, while in reality, when Order 66 was issued, they turned unsuspecting soldiers into mindless automatons blindly carrying out Palpatine’s will. It’s a disgusting suppression of someone else’s individuality and a brutal brainwashing on an industrial scale, in line with the not-so-likeable Chancellor from Naboo.

Building Relationships and Conflicts Between Characters

One of the biggest casualties of George Lucas’s prequels was the relationships between the characters. They lacked human dialogues, scenes focusing on interactions between them (apart from exposition and endless discussions about important matters), and better direction of the actors. The Clone Wars are much closer to the original trilogy in this regard; characters banter, talk like real people, and are not always perpetually tense, as if they had come from a Shakespearean drama. Anakin’s relationships with his loved ones benefit the most from this. There’s genuine chemistry and emotion between him and Padmé. There’s more humor and levity here than in the films, and there are meaningful conversations about their relationship. This relationship is not without its problems; Padmé’s idealism clashes with Anakin’s controlling nature, and his pathological jealousy once almost drives him to kill his wife’s former partner.

The series also expands on the mentorship relationship between Palpatine and Anakin and the friendship that bound Anakin to Obi-Wan, creating one of the most iconic duos in the entire saga. Anakin and Obi-Wan complement each other perfectly, and their cooperation often results in spectacular successes and comedic gold. Their personal differences motivate them to look beyond their own perspective but never undermine their mutual respect. It’s fully understandable why Yoda trusted this pair so much. Yoda himself becomes a more interesting character thanks to The Clone Wars, showing a bit of playfulness reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back and striving to be the best mentor for other Jedi and clones. As the series progresses, the old master appears increasingly tragic – he gradually realizes the mistakes made by him and the Jedi Council, as well as the arrogance of the remaining masters (with the haughty Windu at the forefront), but it’s too late to do anything about it. Despite his great wisdom, Yoda is lost in the chaos created by Palpatine and cannot control his comrades’ arrogance, making decisions that contribute to the conflict between Anakin and the Council.

Palpatine's Machinations and the Scale of the Clone Wars

Thanks to The Clone Wars, we understand much better how Palpatine managed to convince the majority of the galaxy that the Jedi were supposedly involved in staging the Clone Wars. As the leader of both sides of the conflict, the future Emperor manipulated it in such a way as to not only cause maximum losses among the Jedi but also to turn public opinion against them. By sending Republic forces with “peacekeepers” at the forefront to planets allied with the Separatists, Palpatine cleverly eroded the sympathy and trust that the Order had enjoyed for millennia. One thing is to fight for the liberation of the oppressed; it’s another to forcibly impose Republic dominance on worlds that did not want to be part of it. Instead of helping those in need (millions, if not billions, lived on the lower levels of Coruscant, literally beneath the feet of the Jedi), the Jedi could kill beings fighting for their autonomy – all at the request of their greatest enemy. I can’t think of a more brilliant way to destroy a powerful adversary.

Palpatine’s manipulation of the Clone Wars and its expansion throughout the galaxy also allowed for the portrayal of the various facets of this conflict and the diversity of the fates of those involved. Some planets experienced civil wars to determine which side they would join, others tried to remain neutral, and still, others were inhabited by beings who did not understand the idea of a galactic war. It’s an extraordinarily colorful and complex picture of a struggle that we only saw glimpses of in the films.

Introduction of Ahsoka

Ahsoka Tano. A character initially hated by a large portion of fans but now an undisputed favorite, ranked by some above Princess Leia. Her initial rebelliousness and overconfidence gradually gave way to wisdom and caution in making important decisions, and her evolution is what was lacking in Rey’s character. Ahsoka’s cheeky determination makes her similar to Anakin (I think she would get along with Han Solo too), but in some ways, she manages to surpass her master, who usually acts before thinking. Ahsoka is a captivating character, a perfect addition to the gallery of prequel characters, and much more. Her growing up process allows her to notice not only Anakin’s flaws but also those of the Jedi Council, and her decision to leave the Order in favor of trying to find her own path is the ultimate testament to her character’s growth. Today, it’s pointed out as one of the most important factors in Anakin’s loss of faith in the Order, and it’s just one aspect of Skywalker’s character that gains from Ahsoka’s introduction into his story. Thanks to the focus on Ahsoka’s perspective, Anakin’s journey throughout the trilogy becomes much more interesting and significantly more tragic than before.

Certainly, few could have predicted such a turn of events when Ahsoka first appeared on screen in 2008, and I think it was a good thing to be mistaken in this regard.