THE CLONE WARS: 'THE SIEGE OF MANDALORE' REVIEW
Ended, The Clone Wars has. For the third time, it has.
After an emotional cliffhanger ending in Season 5 before getting canned as a result of the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, the show was then given a brief lifeline with the release of Season 6: ‘The Lost Missions’. Now, The Clone Wars is given a proper farewell that is a testament to the series evolution into some of the best Star Wars stories that elevates the films and demonstrates how to handle ancillary stories in a multimedia series.
When the original Lucasfilm logo fades of screen, and John Williams triumphant classic Star Wars theme blares over the top, you know this is not just an ordinary Clone Wars episode. The episodic mantra is gone and Tom Kane’s war-commentator impression only appears at the top of this 4-part conclusion. These are not episodes, but a feature length episode broken down into 4 parts that (under different circumstances) may have been released in theatres as a May the Fourth event.
The Clone Wars began with a movie and now it ends like a movie, with vastly different results. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the 2008 movie feels like an extended episode, which is what it originally was. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the series finale feels like an animated Game of Thrones. Think ‘Battle of the Bastards’ but with lightsabers and blasters. What’s not to love?
From the first scene, it’s clear how much Dave Filoni honours George Lucas’ vision of the Prequels. Just with more care for performances, understanding of humour and balance of entertainment and themes. The Clone Wars presented the ideal version of the Prequels, in particular, Anakin and his fall to the Dark Side. He and Obi-Wan were ‘good friends’ although critical of one another without it being whinny; he was overly protective of people but not creepy and was a ‘cunning warrior’. He saunters onto screen and mocks Obi-Wan’s concern of just a few thousand Battle Droids before pulling the Skywalker trick seen in Return of the Jedi. When he’s reunited with Ahsoka, he twists a narrative to explain her return as the ‘will of the Force’ and ignore the jump in logic. This one episode delivers on Obi-Wan’s description of Anakin as a ‘cunning warrior…and a good friend’ more than all three of the Prequel films.
However, this show is not Anakin and Obi-Wan’s; they have the events of Revenge of the Sith to handle. Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex are Filoni’s creations, and the heart and soul of the show. Ahsoka started out as one the most hated characters since Jar Jar, mainly because of her childish behaviour which was intended to appeal (no, duh) the primary audience, kids. Over the 7 seasons, she has grown with the audience, into one of the greatest Jedi, with Anakin’s bravado, Obi-Wan’s skill, Plo Koon’s control and Yoda’s wisdom combined. Through her, George Lucas’ disdain for authority is expressed with her resentment of the Jedi Order and their hypocrisy, much like Anakin does or Luke in The Last Jedi. Amongst all of the action and excitement, Filoni never lost sight of what Lucas intended with the Prequels which was an exploration how naivety leads to abuse of power.
That’s not to ignore the action, cause Holy Millennium Falcon is this arc something else. The Clone Wars has delivered bombastic action before since The Second Battle of Geonosis, but all of them pale in comparison. From Ahsoka’s descent to the surface while combating flying Mandalorians (concluding with a jaw-dropping hero shot) to the Point Break-esque free fall through a destroyed Star Destroyer, the action never lets up. Sweeping animation over the armies of Clone and Mandalorians is beautifully rendered, with choreography that is inventive and diverse. It’s not just random blaster fire; wrist-mounted flame throwers, rocket launching jet packs, energy shields and good ole-fashioned fists are all utilised for the slick action.
Yet the centre piece of this arc, and the season overall, is the showdown between Ahsoka and Maul. This is hands down the best lightsaber fight in any Star Wars medium. A good lightsaber fight is built on convincing motivations of those involved. Luke and Vader’s fight in Empire Strikes Back has your attention because it is Luke’s foolish attempt at heroics and Vader simply toying with him before turning the tables with his parental reveal. Anakin and Obi-Wan’s fight in Revenge of the Sith, while visual stunning, is let down by the clunky proclamations from the both of them that they have to fight.
Maul and Ahsoka are both discarded by their superiors; Maul was a pawn for Darth Sidious and Ahsoka was let down by the Jedi’s lack of faith in her. Maul’s proposition to Ahsoka to save the galaxy is tempting, since it seems like a win-win scenario with Maul deposing Sidious and Ahsoka preventing Anakin’s descent into the Dark Side. Visually, there is a conflict as Ahsoka, shrouded in shadow is briefly illuminated by the explosions outside. Light and Dark battle it out on screen, and in her mind. For once, it is not a Sith’s over confidence that instigates the fight but too much faith of the Jedi in their friends. Maul is aware that Skywalker will become Sidious’ new apprentice but Ahsoka cannot bear the idea of it and lashes out, as the room shatters around them. With that out of the way, let’s get to the whoosh-whoosh of the lightsabers. The creatives went for the extra level of detail and recorded Ray Park, the original Darth Maul, to motion capture the fight sequences. It results in more life like performances with each hit given extra weight from Park’s aggressive hits. As the fight escalates to the rafters above the city, so to does the tension. It is a testament to the crew that even thought both character’s journey continue in later shows and movies, there is still excitement of one wrong foot step spelling their doom. Lightsabers are an ‘elegant weapon’, according to Obi-Wan, and that is none more evident than in this fight.
Credit most also be given to Sam Witwer as Maul, whose vocal performance elicits fear and pity for the horned-former Sith. Maul’s pain, of losing his brother, his position of power and his respect from his teacher is delivered through gritted teeth. His rage knows no bounds that he can barely contain himself. He is a monster who, in a nod to The Silence of the Lambs, is restrained so that not even his mouth his free.
After the Siege of Mandalore is won, the series ends on what fans dreaded since the series began. Newly crowned Emperor Palpatine’s execution of Order 66. The Clones are individuals, that while they look identical are more than just numbers. They develop relationships with the Jedi and their mass betrayal is all the more devastating because of it. The arc, and the series as a whole, is able to explore the events of the Prequels on a more micro level. Ahsoka witnesses her Master’s turn through the Force and barely survives the initial onslaught of the Order. Yet, she proves her worth as a Jedi by fighting for the Clones instead of beheading them like Yoda so carefreely does in Revenge of the Sith.
Captain Rex, Clone Trooper-7567, leader of the 501st is the model Clone. Loyal, courageous and considerate of his soldiers. Regardless of Ahsoka’s rank, he and the Clones treat her with respect and honour her with her own battalion of Clones. His friendship with Ashoka adds to the devastation of Order 66 and is why she will fight for him not against him. Even he must come to terms with his brother’s manipulation. He trusted the Republic for treating the Clone as people, and now learns the harsh truth that the Clone were always expendable, beautifully captured by the single tear he hides behind the helmet; the helmet worn by those sworn to kill him.
If there are any complaints to be made about the finale, it is the tonally jarring inclusion of the Astromech’s R7, Cheep and GG. While Ahsoka’s world, and ship literally, fall apart around her, now doesn’t seem the time to introduce the new, cute little droids. That can be forgiven, based on everything else around them.
In a welcome surprise, the cinematic conclusion doesn’t end on a epic montage of the Empire or wrapping up every loose end, but a more sombre note. After all the chaos and loss of the Clone Wars, all that came of it was a galaxy-wide dictatorship, all to Kevin Kline’s melancholy, synth heavy score. Kline once again delivers when it counts, utilising leitmotifs for both fist-pumping and tear-jerking moments.
12 years on and The Clone Wars ends with the series best. Cinematic storytelling for the small screen as George envisioned; epic action that makes time for fan favourite characters goodbyes and explorations of loyalty, brotherhood, hope, sanctimony and devastation of war. All from some ‘kids’ show.