Cabin Fever Theater: STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS

Yes, it’s as incredible as you’ve heard.

The world is filled with streaming options - movies, TV shows, all kinds of entertainment, widely available at the touch of a button. The sheer variety of content can sometimes feel overwhelming, and now (with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic keeping us indoors and away from our friends) we'd like to help you sort through it, with personal recommendations from your favorite BMD writers. Some of these recommendations will be new, some of 'em will be older titles. Everything's up for consideration here at Cabin Fever Theater.

While there are plenty of people out there who don’t like Star Wars (they are usually as easy to find as vegans and folks who do CrossFit), overall the series is a part of our culture most people seem to enjoy almost as a default. Star Wars is simply around. When there’s a new movie, you see it, even if you kind of don’t want to.

I’d say I’m a medium-Star Wars fan. I like the original trilogy, but I don’t adore it. The prequels are nearly unwatchable for me. Rogue One, I enjoy a great deal. Actually, I think my love for Rogue One indicates my ambivalence toward the series as a whole, as it uses the aesthetic for a very atypical Star Wars story.

Nevertheless, I really do want to like Star Wars and am always interested in peripheral Star Wars narratives that can do what movies cannot. For years, I’ve been curious about the supposed greatness of The Clone Wars animated series, but also did not feel overly eager to start watching a very long cartoon. Not having Cartoon Network, I was able to lazily put that curiosity aside just in case watching it become possible, which it probably wouldn’t.

And then Disney+ came along. Suddenly I had no excuse and could put Clone Wars off no further. I recently finished the series (excluding the new episodes that are not yet released) and can tell you that if you like Star Wars, this is absolutely something you should see. It’s amazing.

Forget that Clone Wars movie no one likes and jump right in on the first episode “Ambush” which features Yoda and three clone troopers proving to a potential ally system that the Republic can protect them from Separatists by taking on a whole troop of droids themselves. It’s like Yoda doing Rambo warfare for twenty minutes, and it’s outstanding. The series’ next episode begins the first of its very many three-episode arcs, this one focused on Plo Koon and his efforts to take on General Grievous’ new warship, the Malevolence.

I initially found Clone Wars difficult to look at. The character models are a bit ugly and their facial expressions, especially early on, are stiff. This is offset right away, however, by the action animation, particularly when it comes to space combat, as highlighted in the Malevolence arc. You may remember Revenge of the Sith opens on an epic space battle. It’s busy and chaotic and might look cool if it ever slowed down enough for you to take any of it in. Clone Wars, while dynamic and fast, isn’t like that. You get an idea of a battle’s scope, as well as the devastation and insanity of a hundred fighters blasting away at each other. Meanwhile, these battle scenes always have a clear narrative objective. You know the plan, you know the stakes, and you know things aren’t going to be easy. Most of the violence is inflicted upon robots, which grants Clone Wars license to be more gritty than one might expect.

Keep watching, and the visuals become secondary to character work. Clone Wars brilliantly treats Anakin Skywalker as a full-blown Jedi Knight when it begins. He’s not whiny or annoying; he is grown and heroic. They make this contrast clear by giving him a Padawan of his own, Ahsoka Tano. Early on, Ahsoka threatens to be a typically pesky kid character but it isn’t long before she displays her own strength and worth, easily eclipsing any of the other Jedi as the show’s core protagonist.

Above, I called the prequels nearly unwatchable. Yet Clone Wars illustrates the brilliance of Lucas’ story on paper. The arrogant Jedi, supposed peacekeepers of the galaxy, are used as pawns in an endless, pointless war governed by a powerful Sith playing both sides against each other. This is not front and center, however, when you watch Anakin and Obi Wan work together to overcome great odds. It’s not front and center as you learn to love and respect the clones themselves. You get so caught up in the tropes and rhythms of animated entertainment that you must frequently remind yourself the heroes all fly around in future Star Destroyers; nearly all these Jedi will soon be dead. Many prequels are cheesy and awful; Clone Wars uses our knowledge of how things play out by delivering fun, adventurous Star Wars action simultaneously steeped in deep tragedy.

Most of us love Star Wars based on the strength of the original trilogy. Those films get by on this bizarre alchemy of storytelling that mostly forgoes story altogether. It’s all very exciting, but those films are zoomed in so close that narrative movement is minuscule, kind of amazing given the scope of the universe they spawned. A lot of Clone Wars' arcs feel like mini-Star Wars films, but their number and variety allow us to luxuriate in this universe we like to much. Some are just exciting for the sake of adventure - such as the Malevolence arc. Some go deep into Jedi lore in ways you may not expect. At its best, Clone Wars does not feel “lesser” than the live-action films, particularly the prequels from which it gets its story.

And it’s not perfect. I appreciate the subtle hand they use in portraying Anakin’s eventual turn to the dark side, but in playing it cool they really just highlight our disbelief that this character as presented would ever kill a bunch of innocent children in the first place. Meanwhile, they spend a lot of time trying to redeem Jar Jar, but never quite get there. And while there is a narrative utility to all the endless war, after a while you do kind of grow fatigued by the Republic/Separatists conflict.

But even with those, I found myself loving Star Wars more than ever before while watching the Clone Wars. So much so that I rewatched Revenge of the Sith. It’s not only still bad, but the drop off in quality from Clone Wars makes it even harder to sit through. Sorry, people who really like that movie.

Clone Wars, along with tons of other Star Wars stuff including Rebels which I plan to jump into next, is now streaming on Disney+.