Celebrating its fortieth anniversary in 2017, Star Wars has become one of the most iconic and enduring franchises of all-time. Released in 1977, George Lucas’ fantasy space-opera was an overnight success that has gone on to produce numerous film trilogies, a handful of stand-alone films, a string of successful games and a huge collection of literature. But something that is little known to all expect the most dedicated fans is that Star Wars also exists as two successful animated television shows: The Clone Wars (2008—2013) and Rebels (2014—2018).
Developed by George Lucas and Dave Filoni, The Clone Wars was the first animated series produced for the franchise. Following Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), the series explored the tumultuous Clone Wars, effectively filling in the gap between Episode II and Episode III of the prequel trilogy. More significantly, the series introduced audiences to something never before seen: a female Jedi apprentice named Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Her reception by fans was less than warm, but she worked her way into the hearts of many leading her to become one of the most popular characters within the franchise. Arguably, The Clone Wars is Ahsoka’s story as the series begins and ends with her, but at its core the series is about the harsh realities of war.
Despite premiering on Cartoon Network, a station that targets children under twelve, that did not limit the show’s capacity for grappling with complex issues. The Clone Wars exposes war on all fronts and at all levels from the Jedi to the politicians to the clone troopers on the ground, and it wasn’t afraid to explore the big questions: How should war be fought? Are there lines that should not be crossed? What role does the military have in peacetime? How do our actions impact the wider world? Can the world truly be divided into good and evil?
The series also worked to flesh out a mythos that had been left unsatisfyingly bland by the prequel trilogies. Suddenly, audiences were introduced to Jedi that had only been given fleeting cameos in the live-action films that not only enhanced and deepened the narrative but added gravity to the events of Order 66 as viewers come to know these Jedi personally. In the same vain, clone troopers were no longer faceless automatons. They had names, lives, personalities, desires, hopes and fears.
In many ways, Filoni and his team managed to do more in twenty-minute episodes than Lucas could within his feature films. However, very few fans committed to the series as the connection to Cartoon Network prevented many from giving it a chance on the grounds that a show “for children” might cheapen the Star Wars legacy leading to its cancellation after five successful seasons.
Despite this, Lucasfilm never lost faith in animation and in 2014 the studio released Rebels on Disney XD. Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm, has credited Rebels with renewing interest in Star Wars as it was the first property to be produced under the Disney umbrella.
Helmed by Dave Filoni and set five years prior to A New Hope, Rebels explores the formation of what would become the Rebel Alliance. In comparison to its predecessor, Rebels is more intimate, but it doesn’t lose any of The Clone Wars’ punch.
Under the leadership of Twi’lek captain and pilot extraordinaire Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), the Spectres work against the Empire taking on dangerous missions to liberate their home. But it isn’t plain sailing as the rebels navigate the changing terrain of space during the Emperor’s final attempt to bring the galaxy under his rule. Hunted by the Emperor’s Inquisitors, Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) must train Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) to weather the coming storm. Allied with Sabine Wren, a Mandalorian warrior; Zeb, a Lasat with a bad attitude; and Chopper the astromech droid whose language would make even R2-D2 blush, there’s very little this space family can’t handle.
Although Rebels presents something new, it does not forget its predecessor.Throughout the series, characters face questions of responsibility and many of them experience (and overcome) forms of PTSD because of the conflict and loss they have lived through. The series also provides closure for characters such as Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex whose time after The Clone Wars was a mystery.
As Rebels draws to a close, it is a perfect time to become acquainted with the work of Dave Filoni and his team as they prepare to take audiences on new adventures with a new animated series. How long we’ll have to wait however remains a mystery. Good thing there’s almost ten years’ worth of material to enjoy.
The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels are available on DVD now. Season 4 of Rebels concludes on Disney XD in 2018.