Star Wars The Clone Wars Film and Season 1 (2008-2009) Review

With Attack of the Clones being a somewhat lackluster film to say the least, Lucasfilm was keen to expand the story. They initially launched a brief cartoon series in 2003 under the direction of Genndy Tartakovsky which told some interesting stories within the Clone Wars timeline, but George Lucas was soon interested in expanding the show’s lore to tell a more adult-themed show, filled with nuance and brutality amidst expansive intergalactic warfare. Using 3-D CGI animation, and under the direction of Dave Filoni, Lucasfilm created a new expansive serial of the Clone Wars, a new Star Wars animated series offering a compelling, vibrant world filled with all manner of unique side-quests and crises. Unlike in the prequel films, the war in The Clone Wars truly feels like a real threat –the stakes are high, there are secret plots hatched, and struggles unfold across a variety of planets. In many ways, the show seems to do the impossible: make the prequels come alive.

The Clone Wars was initially released as an animated feature film in 2008 with a story about Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker on a mission to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s huttlet son. It leads to a battle between Republic and Separatist forces over a treaty regarding Jabba’s prized shipping lanes (the Separatists under Count Dooku and Jabba’s uncle, Ziro the Hutt, attempt to frame the Jedi for kidnapping Jabba’s son). The film was urged by George Lucas, even though the production team was already underway creating episodes for the series. While the film is a fun introduction to some of the key characters in the series, I prefer the episodic format that would later come to characterize the show. The graphics in this series are akin to a video game, and admittedly I tend to struggle with cartoons sometimes, but this show is strangely gripping, especially for Star Wars devotees. It bears all the hallmarks of classic radio dramas and early television serials, like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, which George Lucas used as inspiration for the original Star Wars trilogy.

Filling in the many gaps between Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars offers a fun anthology of stand-alone comic book-esque adventures that wander significantly from the core narrative without retconning pre-established lore. There are some interesting cameos in this show: Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, Mark Hamill as Darth Bane, and Tim Curry as Palpatine for the later seasons. George Takei, Seth Green, Simon Pegg, Katee Sackhoff, David Tennant, and others also make cameos. Sometimes told in 2-3 episode chunks, the episodes are uniquely released out of chronological order. And each season only gets better and better with higher quality graphics and more compelling stories, as well as darker and grittier tones.

The premise is simple. The galaxy is at war –a Separatist faction led by a mysterious Sith Lord is attempting to overthrow the Galactic Republic. Alongside a massive army of clone troopers, the Republic is defended by a small contingent of Jedi Knights, including Obi-Wan Kenobi and his tumultuous apprentice Anakin Skywalker (who is assigned a padawan named Ahsoka Tano whom he calls “Snips”). There are traitors and spies hiding in plain sight, all while the Republic and Separatist forces battle one another for alliances with planets located along the outer rim, not unlike the Greek cities during the Peloponnesian War. Season 1 of The Clone Wars is not fondly remembered, but I still thought there were some terrific adventures here.

Season 1, Episode One “Ambush”

“Great leaders inspire greatness in others.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We begin in Episode 1 “Ambush” wherein Separatists and Republic forces compete for an alliance with King Katuunka of the Toydarians, a key strategic planet (the Toydarians are the same race as Watto in The Phantom Menace). Count Dooku sends his de facto apprentice-assassin Asajj Ventress along with a giant droid army to win over the planet, while General Yoda and three clones flee their ship in an escape pod to outsmart the enemy and win over the Toydarians. This leads to a competition –or perhaps a battle of wits– between Yoda and Ventress over who will impress the Toydarians. It is a great introduction to the show by presenting the delicate stakes involved in this grand political battle.

Season 1, Episodes Two-Four “Rising Malevolence,” “Shadow of Malevolence,” and “Destroy Malevolence”

“Belief is not a matter of choice, but of conviction.”
“Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego.”
“A plan is only as good as those who see it through.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Episodes 2-4 form a three-part story arc (“Rising Malevolence,” “Shadow of Malevolence,” and “Destroy Malevolence”). I thought this was a brilliant mini-trilogy. Jedi Knight Plo Koon (a favorite of series creator Dave Filoni) tracks down Count Dooku and General Grievous in deep space in the Abregado system where a giant ship known as the Malevolence appears. It carries a mysterious weapon (known as an “ion cannon” which is a nod to the Death Star). When detonated, it shuts off all powered machinery within a wide radius forcing Plo and his clone soldiers (the “Wolfpack”) into several escape pods which then remain suspended in space while “hunter” droids seek them out. Anakin and Ahsoka disobey Republic orders and venture outward to rescue Plo, however their medic droid unfortunately draws the attention of the Malevolence. They all barely escape by the skin of their teeth when the weapon is fired again. Next, Republic forces prevent the Malevolence from destroying a secret Republic medical outpost where some 60,000 Republic clones are healing from battle. Head of the facility, Nala Se, cannot evacuate the wounded in time. Republic forces led by Anakin and Plo Koon (alongside the “Shadow Squadron”) travel through a nebula where they encounter gigantic Neebray “gas-gulper” creatures (not unlike manta rays) and a clone trooper named Matchstick nearly dies when his ship strikes one of them. This leads to an impressive intergalactic space battle in Y-Wings. When things go sour for the Separatists after Anakin and the “Shadow Squadron” attack the ion cannon General Grievous is forced to retreat. In the next episode, the Republic pursues the damaged Malevolence with General Grievous aboard thanks to the elite clone “Shadow Squadron” strike force. Suddenly, a Naboo cruiser carrying Padme/Senator Amidala and C-3P0 mistakenly arrives after receiving an erroneous signal from the Senate. The ship is quickly captured by the Malevolence so Anakin issues a ceasefire order. He and Obi-Wan board the Malevolence while Padme sabotages it from the inside. In the end, the Malevolence is destroyed after Anakin redirects the ship on a collision course with a nearby moon and, following an impressive face-off with Obi-Wan, General Grievous narrowly escapes yet again. He then goes rogue from Count Dooku, ashamed after his loss of the Malevolence.

Season 1, Episode Five “Rookies”

“The best confidence builder is experience.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In one of the best episodes of Season 1 (Episode 5 “Rookies”) we meet a ragtag band of young “shiny” clone troopers (“Domino Squad”) stationed at the “Rishi Outpost,” a remote base along the outer rim which serves as a last line of defense for Kamino –a place which never sees any action– when suddenly the station is surprised by a meteor shower which turns out to be an attack by a band of General Grievous’s commando droids. In this episode, the clone soldiers are granted a greater sense of depth and individuality as we learn about their unique personalities, and quite a few of them die in this battle. Two troopers, Commander Cody and Captain Rex, make a routine landing inspection on the outpost which quickly turns into a rescue mission as the troopers battle the planet’s native giant eels as well as the commando droids who have overtaken the station (a.k.a. “clankers” or “tinnies”). The few remaining clone soldiers (“Fives,” “Hevy,” and “Echo” alongside Commander Cody and Captain Rex) regain control of the outpost but they quickly uncover a full scale invasion in progress by General Grievous. The clones valiantly blow up the Rishi outpost (using highly explosive “liquid tabanna”) thus alerting the Republic fleet. “Hevy” sacrifices himself to destroy the base when the detonator malfunctions. Clone soldiers “Fives” and “Echo” are given medals for their service, while “Hevy” and “Cutup” are among the dead.

A prequel to this episode comes in the season opener to Season 3 entitled “Clone Cadets” in which Domino Squad learns to band together and work as a unit during their training on Kamino. At the outset of this episode, I got a chuckle at the “Grand Army of the Republic Broadcast” radio station which dedicates a song to the “mudjumpers of the 224th who are slugging it out in Mimban.”

Season 1, Episodes Six-Seven “Downfall of a Droid” and “Duel of the Droids”

“Trust in your friends, and they’ll have reason to trust you.”
“You hold onto friends by keeping your heart a little softer than your head.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Next, there are a somewhat silly string of episodes which many regard as the worst in the whole series. Episodes 6-7 (“Downfall of a Droid” and “Duel of the Droids”) are concerned with the disappearance of R2-D2 during a battle as Anakin and his “Gold Squadron” clone troopers attempt to defend Bothawui, homeworld of the Bothans. During the battle, Grievous is sent running but Anakin’s ship is damaged and R2 is captured by lizard-esque Trandoshan scavengers. Unfortunately, Anakin did not wipe R2’s memory so it is imperative not to let him fall into the hands of the Separatists. In the meantime, R2 is replaced with a clumsy golden droid named R3-S6 at the insistence of Ahsoka. R3 seems to accidentally sabotage Anakin’s efforts at every turn and the conflict eventually leads Anakin to General Grievous’s Skytop Station outpost, a key Separatist listening post. There is an amusing face-off between R2 and R3 at the end of this episode as we discover that R3 has actually been a spy this whole time. It is a narrative riddled with plot-holes but it’s still good for a few chuckles.

Season 1, Episode Eight “Bombad Jedi”

“Heroes are made by the times.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Along comes Episode 8 “Bombad Jedi” –a clumsy Jar Jar Binks episode. While en route to the planet Rodia to open diplomatic talks to ensure the planet remains loyal to the Republic, Padme is captured by fellow senator Onaconda Farr, an old family friend, who has elected to sell her to Nute Gunray in exchange for food and supplies to feed his people. However, Jar Jar impersonates a Jedi and, riding a giant creature, he accidentally saves the day once again with his wacky hijinks. In the end, Farr changes his mind and Nute Gunray is captured.

Season 1, Episode Nine “Cloak of Darkness”

“Ignore your instinct at your own peril.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In Episode 9 (“Cloak of Darkness”) Viceroy Nute Gunray has been captured by the Republic. Ahsoka and Jedi Luminara Unduli are escorting Gunray to Coruscant where he will stand trial, however Count Dooku sends his apprentice-assassin Asajj Ventress to rescue Gunray, and with the help of a traitorous prison guard (Argyus), in the end, Ventress narrowly escapes with Gunray. There are some great lightsaber battle scenes in this episode, especially those involving Asajj Ventress. In the end, she surprisingly kills Captain Argyus.

Season1, Episode Ten “Lair of Grievous”

“Most powerful is he who controls his own power.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Whereas in the previous episode, Ventress redeemed herself in the eyes of Dooku, it is now Grievous’s turn in Episode 10 (“Lair of Grievous”). This is a true standout episode in Season 1. Jedi Knight Kit Fisto and his R6 unit meet up with his former Mon Calamari Padawan-turned-Jedi Nahdar Vebb, while tracking the escaped Nute Gunroy in a stolen Republic ship to a remote planet along the outer rim. They enter an eerily quiet cave-like outpost which quickly proves to be a trap. Dooku has actually led them to General Grievous’s lair as punishment for Grievous’s failure over the Malevolent as well as the failure to capture the Rishi Outpost. The Jedi find all manner of artifacts from the Jedi who have been killed by Grievous, so they decide to wait in Grievous’s lair –Fisto wants to capture Grievous while the young hot-head Nahdar wants to exact vengeance. Grievous arrives at his lair to find the Jedi laying in wait and the ensuing battle is fierce, Grievous loses some limbs, he sets some traps, releases his droid guards, and then he unleashes his rancor beast named “Gor.” The Jedi destroy the rancor but Nahdar’s hubris gets the better of him and he dies at the hands of Grievous while Fisto narrowly escapes.

Season 1, Episodes Eleven-Twelve “Dooku Captured” and “The Gungan General”

“The winding path to peace is always a worthy one, regardless of how many turns it takes.”
“Fail with honor, rather than succeed by fraud.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In Episodes 11-12 (“Dooku Captured” and “The Gungan General”), in search of Count Dooku, Obi-Wan and Anakin track him to a remote frigate along the outer rim where they discover that Dooku has already been captured by pirates led by an intriguing Jack Sparrow-esque pirate named Hondo Ohnaka (a recurring character voiced by Jim Cummings). Obi-Wan and Anakin confront Dooku but the ship is shot down on Florrum. Dooku entraps the Jedi in a cave where they are attacked by large “gundark” creatures (as alluded to in Attack of the Clones). They are all three tied together and imprisoned only to be rescue by none other than Jar Jar Binks. It is a funny little episode that proves the old adage –war makes strange bedfellows.

Season 1, Episodes Thirteen-Fourteen “Jedi Crash” and “Defenders of the Peace”

“Greed and fear of loss are the roots that lead to the tree of evil.”
“When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In Episode 13 (“Jedi Crash”) Ahsoka and Jedi Aayla Secura are stranded on an uncharted grassy planet called Maridun along with a badly wounded Anakin. They seek out help on the planet from a small band of peaceful creatures searching for respite from the war while the clone Capt. Rex keeps watch over a wounded Anakin. The question of a just war is explored in this episode. The creatures on Maridun want nothing to do with the war, even if it means fighting for liberty. To them, both the Republic and the Separatists bring violence, but they soon find that neutrality is hardly an option. In Episode 14 “Defenders of Peace,” a Separatist droid ship suddenly arrives on Maridun and raids the colony in order to test a new weapon. We see the impossibility of impartiality as Neimoidian General Lok Durd (voiced by George Takei) attempts a hostile takeover. This episode marks the first instance an actor from Star Trek crossed over into Star Wars.

Season 1, Episode Fifteen “Trespass”

“Arrogance diminishes wisdom.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Episode 15 (“Trespass”) is a somewhat forgettable adventure on the icy planet of Orto Plutonia. A clone base has been overrun and the Republic has lost contact. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and a group of dignitaries are sent to investigate the situation where they discover the local furry Talz creatures, and the growing internal political strife between Talz chieftain named Thi-Sen and Chairman Cho of nearby Pantora, which claims ownership over Orto Plutonia. It leads to a battle on the planet with the Jedi caught in the middle. Chairman Cho is killed in the battle when he refuses to compromise with the Talz, and he is then replaced Senator Riyo Chuchi who strikes a peace deal with the Talz. This episode is a good reminder of the looming threat of internal civil war that exists on each planet throughout the galaxy.

Season 1, Episode Sixteen “The Hidden Enemy”

“Truth enlightens the mind, but won’t always bring happiness to your heart.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Episode 16 (“The Hidden Enemy”) is a gripping tale which takes place on Christophsis (the planet featured in The Clone Wars movie). In the midst of a crushing droid invasion, a traitor is discovered –a clone trooper has betrayed Republican forces– surprisingly, it turns out to be Sergeant Slick. Meanwhile Obi-Wan and Anakin battle Asajj Ventress behind enemy lines.

Season 1, Episodes Seventeen-Eighteen “Blue Shadow Virus” and “Mystery of a Thousand Moons”

“Fear is a disease; hope is its only cure.”
“A single chance is a galaxy of hope.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Episode 17 (“Blue Shadow Virus”) is a fun installment. Peaceful planets are under threat. Naboo faces a new challenge as Separatist droids march across the planet. Senator Amidala, C-3PO, and Jar Jar Binks race back and they recover and droid and learn from its memory banks that a virus has been unleashed from a secret lab. Amidala and Jar Jar venture outward, past farms and dead animals, until they accidentally discover the secret lab where a mad scientist named Dr. Nuvo Vindi has created the “blue shadow virus” which is poisoning the waters for the Gungans and he has now transformed it into an airborne version of the virus. Ahsoka, Obi-Wan, and Anakin rescue their comrades from the underground bunker alongside a group of clone soldiers. In the follow-up episode (Episode 18 “Mystery of a Thousand Moons”) the Republican forces are transporting Dr. Vindi to Coruscant for his impending trial, but the virus nearly escapes the compound via droids. Obi-Wan and Anakin venture outward to acquire an antidote to the virus. They travel to the mysterious planet Iego to meet with Jaybo Hood, a small child-like figure who has reprogrammed battle droids to serve the Republic after Separatist forces vacated the planet. They acquire the root needed to make an antidote for the virus, but the locals are superstitious about the “ghost of Drol,” Suddenly, when they try to depart, an energy field is triggered, likely left behind by the Separatists to prevent people from leaving, called by the locals “the mystery of a thousand moons.”

Season 1, Episodes Nineteen and Twenty-One “Storm Over Ryloth,” “Innocents of Ryloth,” and “Liberty on Ryloth”

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”
“The costs of war can never be truly accounted for.”
“Compromise is a virtue to be cultivated, not a weakness to be despised.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The next three episodes (Episodes 19-21 “Storm Over Ryloth,” “Innocents of Ryloth,” and “Liberty on Ryloth”) concern a battle over control of Ryloth, home of the Twi’lek people. The planet of Ryloth has been invaded and the people are starving from a blockade under the Separatist leader Wat Tambor. Ahsoka and Anakin must develop a plan to smash through the blockade, but after Ahsoka makes a mistake and overestimates her odds, she loses her entire clone squadron. They hatch a risky plot. This allows Obi-Wan and Mace Windu to launch a clone trooper ground invasion of Ryloth to liberate the imprisoned people who are held captive by a droid army. Obi-Wan heads for the city of Nabat whie the droids are secretly using the city’s inhabitants as hostages/human shields. Meanwhile, a pair of clone troopers befriend and rescue a Twi’lek girl named Numa. Republican forces mount a final offensive to liberate the capital city and Mace Windu must persuade Twi’lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla to aid in the fight. Wat Tambor is captured and Ryloth is liberated.

Season 1, Episode Twenty-Two “Hostage Crisis”

“A secret shared is a trust formed.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Season 1 finale (Episode 22 “Hostage Crisis”) introduces the bounty hunter Cad Bane, a Western-styled Clint Eastwood-esque character a la Sergio Leone’s “The Man With No Name.” He gathers a group of mercenaries in an elaborate plot to kidnap a cohort of Galactic Senators in Coruscant. Anakin, on vacation and secretly romancing Senator Amidala, is notified and leads a counter-attack but he is soon captured, too. Cad Bane then breaks Ziro the Hutt out of prison (Jabba’s uncle) and attempts an explosion intended to kill the captured senators, but Anakin saves them at the last moment while Cad Bane and Ziro the Hutt are whizzed away to safety.

Standouts for me in Season 1

  • Episode 5 “Rookies”
  • Episode 22 “Hostage Crisis”
  • Episodes 2-4 “Rising Malevolence,” “Shadow of Malevolence,” and “Destroy Malevolence”
  • Episode 10 “Lair of Grievous”
  • Episode 9 “Cloak of Darkness”
  • Episode 16 “The Hidden Enemy”
  • Episodes 19-21 “Storm Over Ryloth,” “Innocents of Ryloth,” and “Liberty on Ryloth”

Return to my survey of the Star Wars series

2 thoughts on “Star Wars The Clone Wars Film and Season 1 (2008-2009) Review

  1. It was reassuring how even a lacking chapter of the Star Wars universe could still spark something significant like The Clone Wars. That just shows how the powers that be keep their spirits up and I was impressed with The Clone Wars film. I didn’t follow the series, sorry to say, because then I had to take a break from Star Wars. So thanks for the chance to catch up via your reviews on the series and Happy Holidays.

    Liked by 2 people

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