By Patrick Mulligan
Back in the far, far away land of 2005, I was 13 years old and sitting in a movie theater. I had been a Star Wars fan since I had the capacity to remember things, and I was about to watch what I then thought would be the final film in the saga.
The movie sprung to life and everything checked out. There was a massive space battle, John Williams music, and lightsabers. Anakin and Obi-Wan were doing their thing and the soon-to-be Emperor was Palpatine-ing about.
But something felt off. It checked all the right boxes, but I couldn’t help but narrow my eyes at all the strange digital zooms and the stilted directing. It occurred to me right around the time that Grievous’ ship crashed and burned into Coruscant that I wasn’t enjoying this.
For the first time, I realized I actively didn’t like a movie. And it was a Star Wars movie.
I sunk in my chair in shock as I learned that unconditional love doesn’t apply to art. Then I went home and watched the other prequels and felt the same issues surfacing.
How had I missed how wrong everything felt? I would then spend entirely too much of my life talking about how those stories “should have” been and how characters were “supposed to” be. But it wasn’t until The Siege of Mandalore that it really clicked for me just how OK it was that these things weren’t exactly what I wanted, and that there was still something special to be salvaged from the disappointment.
For me, Star Wars works better as a movie than a fictional universe, because so much of its core ideas are cinematic riffs and those things don’t always translate well to other mediums. So it takes me a bit to get to the non-live action stuff.
I had always found the animated series to be a bit of mixed bag, with some great episodes and a lot of mediocre to bad ones. Then I started hopping around between Clone Wars episodes that focused on Anakin and had sort of an epiphany. They had gotten Anakin right! He was charming and competent: he felt like a hero and one that you would actually hate to see, y’know, like, get his limbs cut off before he was burned alive.
I came to love the character, which caught me off guard considering how cold the eternally angst-ridden live-action representation left me. I came to love all the other characters too and found a surprising amount of depth underneath the kids cartoon sheen. But it was still a cartoon and because of the medium, it felt only tangentially related to the movies for me. The things that happened here and what scarred me as a little boy didn’t feel like the same thing.
The show went on and ran its course, then was briefly revived on Netflix to give us an incredible sendoff for Ahsoka and show us how her and Anakin’s time as master and apprentice came to an end. I started to appreciate Rebels, a show I had previously sort of disliked, and the whole animated Star Wars universe began to cohere into one world.
Not all of it was great and some of it was flat-out bad, but that’s OK — because the overall story was quite good and the bridges between all of the shows were strong. It still didn’t quite feel at peace with the movies though and I never expected it to. My brain just couldn’t connect the cartoon with the live action as one thing and that was fine. Then Siege of Mandalore happened.
There had been rumblings that the final arc of The Clone Wars would run right into Revenge of the Sith and I started to wonder how much could be done with that. The prequels had this strange instinct to retcon tidbits from the Original Trilogy or to really stretch exactly what characters were talking about. Regardless of how I felt about the prequels, I was hoping Clone Wars would resist the temptation to do the same thing. Somehow shoehorn some change into the story or put some of Filoni’s characters a little too close to the action of those movies.
Then Obi-Wan pops up to inform Ahsoka of Count Dooku’s demise. They were directly crossing over with the movie while telling their own story. Suddenly, the audience’s knowledge of what happens next, and the implication of what that meant, became a heavy burden. Rex would try and kill Ahsoka, Anakin would fall, and the galaxy would change forever.
There was a palpable sense of foreboding in every episode that had never really hit with me before. I always knew that Order 66 was supposed to be sad and awful, but it never clicked for me as anything other than a plot point to get us to the Star Wars universe presented in the originals. But I now cared about the clones and the weight of the whole thing became crushing.
By the time we see Vader holding Ahsoka’s saber in the snow, all of the timelines snapped into focus as one big picture. While everything fell apart for me with a crashing ship, it came back together in the wreckage of one. Suddenly, everything felt like one story.
The events of Revenge of the Sith resonated with me in the way Lucas intended for the first time nearly fifteen years after it’s release. The Clone Wars made the first movie I ever disliked work for me. Did it magically make the prequels good movies? No. Were they as good as they could have possibly been? Also no.
But it solidified the best parts of them and the story finally took precedent over the execution for me. The Clone Wars fleshed out characters I always wanted to love and it made the prequel trilogy feel like the tragedy it was intended to be. I never would have guessed a cartoon would fix the first movie I ever disliked, but Star Wars can do some special things.
I have to tip my weird leather cowboy hat to Filoni for changing my mind about a movie I never had any intention of giving another shot to. The story feels complete for me in a way it didn’t before. I could finally stop worrying about the movies the prequels could have been and accept them for what they were: a good story.