Dave Filoni has created a vast swath of the Star Wars universe through his Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, The Mandalorian, and whatever else he has in the works next. He’s been such a driving force in the franchise that it can be hard to remember he didn’t actually make the first modern Star Wars cartoon. That honor belonged to Russian-American animator Genndy Tartakovsky,
Tartakovsky was hired to make the first Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoons in 2003, chronicling some of the events that occurred between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. And they were completely awesome. These shorts were both incredibly stylish and action-packed, as one might expect of the man who was concurrently making Samurai Jack.
But George Lucas’ own plans to explore the conflict with 2008's Star Wars: The Clone Wars pushed the original animated take aside. That’s a damn shame, because the 2003-2005 series heavily influenced many Star Wars stories afterward—and yet there’s still more greatness from it that can be reinstated. Here are a few suggestions.
The most important Star Wars villain that hasn’t made his way to the new canon is Durge, a Gen’Dai bounty hunter seen in the first season of Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars who went on to feature in Dark Horse’s excellent Star Wars: Republic comic series. His hulking shape and bulky blue armor feel on-brand for the aesthetics of the prequel trilogy, but Durge comes with a twist.
The armor is there mostly to give him the semblance of anthropomorphism because otherwise, he’d revert to his regular form: a giant, writhing mass of tendrils, which allow Durge to reattach his limbs and torso without harm after Obi-Wan trisects him. When the villain reappeared for round two, he’s unencumbered by the armor, and watching the Jedi and Clone Troopers battling the giant, hostile blob of flesh was like seeing them try to fight Tetsuo from the end of Akira. This was a good thing.
Apologies to George Lucas, Dave Filoni, Jon Favreau, and anyone who has ever directed a Star Wars movie: The coolest moment in the entire franchise came in 2004, courtesy of Tartakosky, who pitted Samuel Jackson’s Jedi master Mace Windu against an entire army of Super Battle Droids…by himself. The fight is kinetic, balletic, and almost threateningly awesome as the perfectly calm Jedi takes out of scores of Battle Droids even after he loses his lightsaber.
It’s the platonic ideal that kids had of Jedi after growing up with the original trilogy, and using Jackson’s character from the prequels is perfect, given that fans had been complaining (justifiably so) that Mace hadn’t had his time to shine yet. Tartakovsky’s interpretation of Mace and of how powerful a true Jedi master could be remains one of the franchise’s greatest scenes of all time, canon be damned.
One of the best aspects of Mace Windu’s battle above is how he never utters a word. A few droids do, usually while futilely trying to take control of the situation, but Mace doesn’t need to bog down the proceedings with exposition or quips. Neither do these ARC Troopers—Captain Fordo and the infamous “Muunilist 10”—on their special mission to infiltrate the Muunilinst capital and destroy a giant artillery cannon, so Obi-Wan and his Clone Troopers can safely enter the city and defeat the Separatist forces inside.
Watching the ARC Troopers complete their mission with total competency—but not without casualty—is immensely satisfying. So much of Star Wars is about characters growing and learning and developing, as it should be. But in these brief cartoons, watching badasses just be badasses can be a welcome and highly entertaining respite.
Admittedly, there’s not much to say about a single outfit Padmé wore during the series, other than she donned it to brave the snows of the planet Ilum after Yoda set out to rescue a pair of Jedi but fails to return himself. Padmé doesn’t get very far, as she’s attacked by a cadre of invisible chameleon attack droids, although she acquits herself well until the Jedi return. But her outfit is outstanding.
It’s a perfect mash-up of Padmé’s outfit on Geonosis in Attack of the Clones combined with the hood of Princess Leia’s striking original outfit in A New Hope. With the fur fringe, it’s an instantly iconic look for the character that stands tall in Padmé’s truly exquisite wardrobe of designs. Plus, it’s one that lived on in Star Wars merchandise well after this Clone Wars series was de-canonized. (Still, it must be noted, it’s a bummer that this is the most exciting moment Padmé received in the series.)
Anakin tussled with Count Dooku’s pupil Asajj Ventress on a few occasions during Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars series—where she went on to become a major, tragic figure—but never like this. While Anakin leads the Republic fleet against the droid forces of the Banking Clan over the planet Muunilinst, a lone Geonosian ship arrives, its pilot strong with the Force. Anakin chases her through hyperspace against Obi-Wan’s orders to Yavin IV, where the would-be Jedi and would-be Sith face off. The fight is, again, wordless and tremendous, starting as a simple lightsaber duel on the ground which becomes a Force-augmented wuxia battle among the trees.
When they arrive at an abandoned Jedi temple, there’s a pause as wisps of steam burst off their lightsabers when the raindrops land on their blades. The final fight is brutal, as Anakin gets angrier and sloppier, which Asajj takes advantage of. But when Anakin channels his hate for his foe, he’s able to dispatch her with her own weapon—leaving viewers with the indelible image of his cold, heartless visage illuminated by a red lightsaber. In six or so minutes, the first Clone Wars cartoons gave us a more thorough and convincing depiction of Anakin’s tragic fall than the movies ever did.
Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars gave fans the first look at the new villain in 2004, a year before he hit live action (so to speak) in Revenge of the Sith. In the movie, he was a bland bad guy, whose most noticeable distinction was being able to wield a bunch of lightsabers at once...until Obi-Wan almost immediately, and literally, disarms him. Although it kept the lightsabers, the original Clone Wars cartoon didn’t even try to make Grievous a character—instead, it made him a horror.
The final segment of the show’s second season has Ki-Adi-Mundi, Shaak-Ti, and other Jedi running for their lives into a defensive position. They’re surrounded by a sea of battle droids, and even though Mace Windu proved they aren’t a serious threat, these Jedi are terrified. It’s clear many of their kind have already died, and the threat is still very real and very close. It’s completely unnerving to see Jedi Knights so utterly panicked, especially after watching other Jedi easily kick ass in other episodes. Clone Wars sure made Grevious infinitely scarier and more compelling than the Revenge of the Sith did.
When Durge first attacks Obi-Wan and the troops of the Republic, prior to becoming the aforementioned Lovecraftian pile of tentacles, he leads a group of lancers to take out clone troopers and their transports—lancers who are all IG droids. IG droids have a great design, but give them a long, skinny black lance in their hands and put them on long, skinny, black speederbikes and they look even cooler. In full disclosure, a lance-wielding IG droid did briefly appear in the new canon via a Darth Maul comic, but it was the merest of cameos. These IG lancer droids deserve to ride again.
Anakin’s fight with Asajj closed out season two of Clone Wars; Tartakovsky had a different, but equally compelling, plan to showcase Anakin’s continued fall to the Dark Side in season three. The two Jedi land on a planet belonging to tribes of blue-skinned aliens, whose menfolk have all disappeared after setting off to fight an unknown evil. Anakin’s metal hand makes him a prophesied hero, and he is sent out to find out what happened. Along the way, he has a mystical vision presaging his fall to the Dark Side—it’s not necessarily subtle, but neither is Star Wars, usually—and discovers the male Nelvaanians have been captured by the Techno Union, which has mutated them into monsters and attached blasters to their arms.
Anakin frees the Nelvaanians by grabbing a crystal that destroys his metal hand, and the Nelvaanians rampage through the facility as Anakin cold-bloodedly murders the Unionists. The furious Nelvaanians rip off their own blasters in solidarity with Anakin, both originally driven by their desire to protect their loved ones, then malformed inside and out by their desire to punish those who hurt them. Although the CG Clone Wars would spend a much greater time depicting Anakin’s complexities as he grappled with the push and pull of his own darkness, this, combined with his duel against Asajj, allowed the original show to perfectly deliver the condensed, badly-needed character development that connects the Anakin of Attack of the Clones and the version who would appear in Revenge of the Sith. (In case you were wondering, season three of Clone Wars came out in 2005; James Cameron’s Avatar premiered in 2009. Just sayin’.)
In the Disney canon, we don’t officially know how Count Dooku and General Grievous managed to steal the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic just before the beginning of Revenge of the Sith beyond what we get in the film’s opening titles. He’s simply on the villains’ ship, waiting to be rescued by Anakin and Obi-Wan. We used to know the reason, courtesy of the early Clone Wars, as a trio of desperate Jedi tries to usher Palpatine through Coruscant away from General Grievous and his droid minions when the Separatist fleet launches a surprise assault.
The Jedi are still outmatched and Grevious is still scary, but frankly, this is just an awesome action-suspense story made tenser because you know who the Jedi are rescuing and what their ultimate fate will be. If you feel like “how Palpatine got caught” wasn’t a question that needed to be answered, frankly, I agree. But I also don’t think it’s any less necessary than learning how Princess Leia got ahold of the Death Star schematics, and that got a whole movie.
There’s one more reason, however, to add Palpatine’s flight through Coruscant into the canon, and that’s because of how it ends. As the general’s ship starts to fly off, Mace Windu uses the Force to crush Grievous’ chest-plate in a last-ditch effort to save the Chancellor. It doesn’t work, but Grievous’s intimidating voice turns into a perpetual wheeze that persists through Revenge of the Sith. There’s an explanation for the general’s respiratory issues in the current canon, which is that he’s augmented his living body with robotics and technology so many times that all he has left is a sack of organs located somewhere inside his armor, which makes breathing a bit…difficult. This is an OK answer, but Mace getting one good shot in on a major Star Wars villain before the Jedi go kaput is slightly more satisfying, don’t you think?
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