Twelve years. A movie. Seven seasons. A death (or two), and a return. It feels like it’s been a lifetime since Star Wars: The Clone Wars asked us to welcome it into our hearts and the galaxy far, far away. We have changed, and so has Clone Wars, and now it’s the show’s turn to ask us to let it go, this time for good.
There is a paradoxical energy to the series finale, “Victory and Death.” It’s driven by the fact that it’s the final chapter in an arc of not just four episodes, this whole season, or of an entire show, but also in the way it simultaneously has to be a wild ride of some of the tensest action the series has ever attempted and an exhaustive, emotional endcap to 12 years (give or take a break) of some of the most profound Star Wars storytelling in the saga.
But there’s a peculiarity in that latter moment as well. Arguably, Clone Wars’ cathartic release occurred last week, when its penultimate episode asked us to not just reckon with the arrival of Order 66, but provided a pitch-perfect summation of everything The Clone Wars has always really been about. So there is this energy to this finale that is, at first, almost alien to deal with. With that release already, well, released, what is left for Clone Wars to actually do?
The answer is to let go.
This proves both literal and figurative as a concept in many ways across the final episode. Ahsoka and the now-recovered Rex find themselves having to escape their sudden new foes in the Clone Army and deal with the ramifications of Ahsoka’s choice to let Darth Maul free to run chaos as a distraction. A former Sith’s idea of chaos? Tearing the cruiser’s hyperdrive apart in a rage and setting it on a collision course with an unnamed moon. It makes for an intense stage upon which Clone Wars sets its final act, even if we, a knowing audience are aware that our heroes will make it out of this in one piece. Well, physically, at least.
As the ship tumbles and Ahsoka and Rex find themselves dodging debris and blaster fire, grappling for anything they can cling onto as their suddenly poetic, debilitated vessel comes plummeting to its end during the episode—literally forced to let go as they make their escape of it—the duo find themselves asking important questions of each now that their worlds have forever changed. Rex is no longer a Commander in the Grand Army of the Republic, but a haunted survivor. Ahsoka Tano is no longer a Jedi, or even a former Jedi, but a marked enemy of the state.
In moments, Order 66 robbed them of their sense of being, of who they were, except only to each other as friends. So as they fight their way through an exploding ship and friends-turned-foes, they’re forced to ask each other: as they try to survive and pick up the pieces of this new normal, who are they? What is it of themselves that they must now shed to get out of this alive?
The first knife twist comes for Rex, already struggling as he works his way through the ship tripping over the body of a fallen brother, laid low by both his and Ahsoka’s (albeit stunned, rather than killed, at Ahsoka’s request) efforts to escape. Hiding under his helmet, when he and Ahsoka find themselves surrounded in the devastated cruiser’s hangar bay trying to find a shuttle to flee in, for a moment our stalwart commander breaks.
It’s not the seemingly no-win scenario they’re in that does so, however—it’s that Ahsoka is desperately clinging to the idea she cannot bring herself to harm her now-pursuers. Even as they demand her head, she is fundamentally such a good person that she cannot just turn on the Clones as they have turned on her. But Rex begs her to do so because, a soldier through and through, the only way he can see them getting out of this alive is to fight, a burden he is petrified to bear against his brothers. He’s already made the calculation that he has to let that part of himself go—for himself and for Ahsoka, to preserve her own goodness—to do what must be done, and when Ahsoka lifts his mask, we see the turmoil that enacts upon him in a single tear rolling down his cheek.
Ahsoka, meanwhile, faces two different reckonings of letting go. The first comes when she and Rex make their escape from the hanger, and Maul robs them of their seemingly sole chance of escaping, hijacking the last shuttle for himself as he cackles that Ahsoka brought this chaos upon herself. As she roots herself in the Force to pin the fleeing shuttle down while Rex desperately holds off the pursuing Clones attempting to kill them, the struggle becomes not just a physical and spiritual trial, but an ethical one. Why is she clinging to stopping Maul now—is it purely to ensure her’s and Rex’s escape as well, or is it because it was her mission, her duty to the Republic she loved even after she left the Jedi behind?
Ultimately, she frees Maul from her grip, to go on to his own strange legacy, and it’s not through lack of stamina, but a sense of peace. Ahsoka no longer has a duty to the Republic that now sees her as an enemy—only a duty to herself and Rex, all that remains as the institute they once both served collapses all around them. To survive, she has to let Maul go, even if it seemingly dooms her in the moment.
Ahsoka is not done letting go just yet though. Locating another way out in the form of a Y-Wing bomber, she and Rex make their way through one more battle against the Clones, at this point as physically exhausted as we are watching. It makes for an incredible sequence, as she, Rex, and the Y-Wing plummet out of the ruins of the also-plummeting capital ship, a fascinating mirror to her heroic descent upon the surface of Mandalore just three episodes ago. But now, instead of triumph, it’s tinged with desperation and despair. The two get to the Y-Wing (although Ahsoka only after some tremendous freefall dramatics), surviving but knowing they’ve just left hundreds, thousands of people—who were mere hours before this friends and comrades—to fall to their fiery ends.
It is in this realization that Ahsoka arrives at her second and final reckoning. She has already shed so much in Clone Wars’ recent history to figure out who she is as a person. Was she a Jedi? No. Was she a citizen of the Republic? Not any more. Was she once again a keeper of the peace, a liberator and hero? Only temporarily, a duty now scattered to the wind alongside the scraps of her fallen cruiser. In the wake of their landfall, as she and Rex scavenge the wreckage for supplies, we find Ahsoka cloaked in solemnity. She has made a graveyard for the army that spent its dying moments hating her, wanting to kill her, as a traitor.
That this is her final act in these seven seasons of Clone Wars is a reminder of all that she has given up, stripped away to reveal just who Ahsoka Tano, this peculiar, bratty kid we and Anakin met all those years ago on Christophsis, really was. A Jedi no more. An agent of the Republic, no more. In Clone Wars’ final moments Ahsoka Tano was—is, and continues to be, well beyond this end or even others—just a good person, doing her best. With a gently opened hand, she discards a lightsaber before the bodies of the 332nd. One last time, Ahsoka lets go of her past, to forge a future of her own.
But even as this is where the show lets go of its most important heroes, it is not where Clone Wars ends. There is one final epilogue, one final surprise for us hidden among the inevitability of the events in “Victory and Death.” Months, perhaps years later, it’s left unclear, the cold brace of winter has fallen upon this nameless moon, as well as the colder brace of the Galactic Empire. Now clad in the iconic, grave helmets of Imperial Stormtroopers, soldiers give way to the presence of another: Anakin Skywalker, transformed, quietly stalks the ruins of his former Padawan’s seemingly final moments, and finds the lightsaber that she let go of when she truly shed her Jedi past.
Anyone else might assume this as an indicator that this is her resting place. After all, what kind of Jedi would abandon their lightsaber, even in a galaxy where that weapon would now mark them for death instead of as a protector of the peace? But this is Anakin Skywalker. It is Darth Vader, still nascent in his time as a Sith Lord and, within the context of this wider Star Wars canon, still in a fascinating position of vulnerability in this moment. With a brief re-ignition of the final gift he gave her before his fall—knowing because of that, as we do, that she still carries another—and a solemn glare to the sky, we do not need to see underneath his grim visage to know that he knows she is still out there, somewhere. And that he will not be able to forget it.
As we’re left to ponder what we know is to come, we watch Vader walk away through the cracked visor of a discarded Clone helmet—the masked iconography of the original trilogy, walking away from the iconography of its prequels—for one final time, The Clone Wars symbolically lets go.
Even if not all of its former heroes are quite so capable of doing so.
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