I want to take a second to talk to you about Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Especially a trilogy of episodes that cast the entire series and the prequel trilogy into a new light in the best way. “Overlords,” “Altar of Mortis,” and “Ghosts of Mortis,” episodes 15-17 of season 3, mark an incredibly important moment in the evolution of this series. While the second half of season 3 as a whole feels like a kind of soft reboot (with the newly designed characters and increased quality of animation) in tone and quality, these episodes tie in to the films in a way that the rest of the series has either been unwilling or uninterested in doing.
Everything about this series of episodes is ramped up. The animation is the first time the series has really looked visually compelling. The character animation and acting is slick and natural. The voice work, particularly from Matt Lanter, seems a cut above previous outings. And Sam Witwer as The Son provides some great work (That at times sounds more like Palpatine than this show’s Palpatine…He proved he was a great sound alike in Force Unleashed…but I digress.)
What these episodes so importantly do is cast some real light onto who Anakin is as a person and the complexities of his fall to the Dark Side. There are certain things Lucas is trying to say about Anakin in the films that don’t quite get fleshed out to their fullest—and one thing that I’ve really wanted from this series that it hasn’t delivered too much on is an exploration of those character traits. Lucas throughout the prequels tries to show us that Anakin is terrified of not being in control. He has this power that he doesn’t fully understand and can’t fully utilize—and he feels that he should be able to solve all of his and the galaxy’s problems. His attachments—more importantly, his fear of losing his attachments, as Yoda warns over and over, haunt him—and this is what ultimately leads him to his destiny as Darth Vader.
The guilt over the loss of his mother and the slaughter of the Sand People is again brought up here in a way that really exemplifies Anakin’s greatest character weakness. He is unwilling to move on and forgive himself for the death of Shmi. He is unwilling to truly address his anger or come to terms with what he has done. Instead, he wishes he could control the past, wishes he could change it. He is terrified of failure—“I failed as a Jedi and I failed you,” he tells the fake Shmi.
His attachment to Padme also comes across as unhealthy here. “The only love I feel in my heart…is haunted by what would happen should I let go.” "I have a wife..you met her. She’s everything to me." Anakin’s fear—the fear that ultimately leads him to fall into the spell of Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, stems from the way Anakin is incapable of relinquishing control. Of letting the messiness of life happen.
This is the first time in the series Anakin really seems like the same character as he was in the films. The insecurities and character flaws are highlighted profoundly in these moments. Lanter even channels the raw squeaky voiced self-involved (self-absorption is so important to the character) whine of Hayden Christensen’s performance. And in these moments—where the character is at his weakest—it actually works well. I am sure the series’ intention as far as Anakin is concerned is to display the heroism of the character that we didn’t get to see in the films, but I itch to see more of the signs of what is to come. Yes he is impulsive and unorthodox, but so far there hasn’t been that much that really sells that this man becomes the scourge of the galaxy. Nothing that does it compellingly, at least. But here we finally really see it. The small things boiling below the surface that haunt him, that inform his actions.
What these episodes do best is highlight THE thing that brings Anakin toward becoming Darth Vader. Control. His fear of losing it, and his desire to use his power to make things the way he wishes them to be. He can’t change his mother’s fate now, but he can decide the fate of the galaxy, he can decide Padme’s fate—or so he believes, at the least.
For a moment we see Anakin become Darth Vader. And it isn’t to simply save Padme. It’s to…well, prevent himself from becoming Darth Vader. He has to control the future, because he can’t control the past.
This interchange speaks volumes to who Vader is in those early moments of Revenge of the Sith and echo themes present in the novelization of that film.
The Son: Join me and together we will destroy this emperor you see in your visions and we shall end war, corruption and suffering throughout the galaxy.
Anakin Skywalker: Will we bring peace?
The Son: Of course.
In the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, which in some ways exceeds the film, we gain insight into Anakin’s motivations: his plan is to overthrow Palpatine, and to bring about…peace. Peace and order—under his command, as he sees it must be. We see throughout The Clone Wars and the prequels that he has little patience for bureaucracy and politics or Jedi rules. He sees point A and point B, and he chooses to go straight from one to the next. If he could simply control it… There would be no death. He wouldn’t lose Padme. He wouldn’t have lost his mother.
Vader is born from fear—fear of lost control. Fear of losing the things he holds dear.
Yoda says it in Episode I. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate…leads to suffering.”
Also noteworthy in this episode: Qui-Gon Jinn appears voiced by LIAM NEESONS, whom I love. Qui-Gonn is one of the best parts of the prequels and I am inordinately happy to see him again.
In many ways, Clone Wars has so far legitimized the prequels existence for me, and this set of episodes has legitimized this series in a very concrete way. It reveals so much of who Anakin Skywalker is and truly informs what we know is his destiny. It frames the journey towards Darth Vader as the Grecian tragedy I believe it was always intended to be perceived, but fell short of in the movies. Kudos to the writers who delivered not just a great story, but nuanced dialogue and subtle thematic tension.
This second half of season 3 has been so far above the rest of the series to this point. The animation is actually visually exciting, the new face models must have more points of animation because they emote so much better, the character acting is more subtle and visually interesting. The cinematography, lighting, staging, and directing have all improved by leaps and bounds. Visually, the show just continues to look better and better. Even the music has gotten an increased gravitas and plays a much more compelling role in the show. I imagine this trio of episodes mark a creative high that is unlikely to be matched by what follows, but whatever the case may be, this set of episode stand as a must-watch for Star Wars fans.
I haven’t seen beyond these episodes yet, so I don’t know how much they inform what is to come…but I have to hope we begin to see Anakin unraveling a bit more. And I hope that they inform Obi Wan…he has seen what Anakin could be. Perhaps there is an increased apprehension on his part. I am also interested to see how Ahsoka grows from this. The vision of her older self should carry some repercussions. Will she begin to question Anakin’s peculiarities? Or will she continue to go along with his unorthodox view of the galaxy?
Whatever happens, I am really excited about this series and what it might explore. It’s finally delivered on what I’ve wanted from this show from the beginning.