Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars: Looking back at the underrated Star Wars gem
Ivan Radford | On 04, May 2021
As Star Wars expands its small screen presence once again with the launch of The Bad Batch, the saga’s spotlight once again shines on the franchise’s extensive animated offerings. The Bad Batch – set between Episode III and Episode IV – follows on from the CGI animated series The Clone Wars by George Lucas and The Mandalorian’s Dave Filoni. That series ran for seven seasons (its final outing debuted on Disney+), but there’s another Clone Wars cartoon that has since fallen by the galactic wayside, and remains an underrated gem on the dark fringes of the Star Wars universe: the 2003 series by Genndy Tartakovsky.
If that name rings a bell, it’s because Tartakovsky is the genius behind some of the most distinctive cartoons of the past 20 years, including Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Primal. (He also worked on Batman: The Animated Series and The Powerpuff Girls.) His signature animation style, heavily influenced by anime, brings a fresh and stylish vibe to the Star Wars universe. Combined with runtimes of 3 to 15 minutes, to fit in with Cartoon Network’s broadcasting slots, the result is a thrillingly fast-paced race through Star Wars lore – there’s no weighty world-building here, just quick action that captures character growth and bridges the gap between Episode II and III through lightsaber fights and shootouts.
We begin in the aftermath of Attack of the Clones, with the Galactic Republic collapsing and the Sith and separatists laying siege to the Jedi. Without the constraints of live-action – it was the first Star Wars animation since the 1980s Ewoks series – the set pieces are stunningly ambitious and impressively varied, from underwater showdowns to ice-strewn rescues, and the versatile environments allow the Jedi warriors to use their force powers to manipulate all manner of objects, weapons and vehicles. That means we get to see familiar figures doing things we would never otherwise get to see, from Obi-Wan Kenobi defeating a cyborg from the inside to Yoda taking on a horde of enemy forces. Mace Windu, too, gets more than his fair share of butt-kicking.
We’re also introduced to a number of new fan favourites, from Asajj Ventress being mentored by Count Dooku to the amphibious Kit Fisto. And, of course, there’s the debut of General Grievous, a part-organic robot trained to wield a lightsaber by Dooku, whose presence in Episode III makes a lot more sense after watching this – including his cough, caused by Mace Windu force-crushing his chest. (Other important plot points covered range from Anakin getting a new lightsaber to C-3PO getting gold plating.) Throughout, we witness Anakin’s push and pull between the dark and light as much as we enjoy the back and forth dynamic between him and Obi-Wan – a nice moment sees Anakin liberate a group of creatures who were enslaved, tortured and mutated by the Sith forces, which, combined with Anakin’s “knighting” as aJ Jedi (cutting off his Padawan braid), does wonders for Anakin’s tragic arc.
All of these things have effectively been scrapped from Star Wars canon by the 2008 The Clone Wars series, which replaced Tartakovaky’s animation as the official account of the titular conflict. While the new show has given the world other favourites, such as Ahsoka Tano, a resurrected Darth Maul and the Mandalorians, it’s come at the cost of the world forgetting about its unique predecessor. Its influence, though, clearly lives on among the filmmakers still continuing the saga, from the intricate, artistic visuals of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi to the stripped down, often dialogue-free set pieces of The Mandalorian. And, while Clone Wars may now be an unofficial relic of Star Wars, its recent release on Disney+ at least means it’s more accessible than ever. Underrated, yes, but undiscovered? No more.
Clone Wars is available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.