Star Wars: The Clone Wars works on several levels. On the surface, it’s a fun and beautifully animated adventure series. Once the show digs deeper though, and gets past its “War Story of the Week” structure, it enhances the Star Wars lore in ways the prequel trilogy failed to do (although watching those films now is much more fulfilling experience after viewing the show). What the show does best, and what the films lacked, is the way they are able to develop these classic characters much more fully. The biggest beneficiary is Anakin Skywalker. Hayden Christensen’s performance and George Lucas’ dialogue combined to create a whiny creep, whereas this was supposed to be the galaxy’s greatest hero. The Clone Wars rebuilds Anakin into the character we wish was presented to us in the prequels.
The show itself has plenty of misfire episodes (most involving Jar Jar, Padme, or the Droids) but a lot of strong stand-out episodes that normally focus on the Clones. The show does an excellent job at diversifying the clone army into distinct characters and is one of the show’s greatest successes. What the show does best though is crafting mini-arcs within a season that generally consist of 2-4 episodes. These storylines generally are the best for deepening the Star Wars mythology and provide answers to a lot of questions fans have had over the years.
Top Clone Wars Storylines (in chronological order):
1. The Malevolence (1.2-1.4)
The show takes its time to find its footing in the early-goings (probably because this was when Lucas was most involved), but The Malevolence story is our first multi-episode arc that sets up the promise of future episodes. This story is the closest we get to a classic Star Wars tale in the show as Grievous has built a ship akin to a flying Death Star and it’s up to the Jedi to bring it down with plenty of complications along the way. This feels like something pulled from the prequel films yet the execution is much stronger.
2. Cad Bane & The Jedi Children (1.22-2.3)
Here we are introduced to one of the show’s favorite recurring villains, bounty hunter Cad Bane. Bane would pop up frequently throughout the show as a perennial thorn in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s side. In this story, Bane is hired by Darth Sidious to steal a Jedi Holocron giving the locations of all the galaxy’s force-sensitive children, whom Sidious wants to train in the dark side.
3. Return to Geonosis (2.5-2.8)
If there’s one thing the show has plenty of, it’s battle sequences. These can end up feeling dull and repetitive at times (how often can you watch Anakin blaze through an army of battle droids?), but the Republic’s effort to regain control of Geonosis (where the war began in Episode II) is the show’s strongest battle story by far. This battle gets away from the hack-and-slash nature, finds new ways of depicting the battle scenes, and is a fairly brutal affair. This is a battle story where you feel the war taking its toll on both the Clones and the Jedi.
4. The Duchess of Mandalore (2.12-2.14)
This is a personal favorite as it expands the show’s world in all the right ways. Taking place on the planet of Mandalore (where Boba Fett’s armor comes from), the pacifist ruler, Duchess Satine, is under attack from a terrorist faction within her own people for refusing to get involved in the Clone Wars. Turning to Obi-Wan Kenobi for help, we learn that these two have a past that gives us more insight into Obi-Wan’s character than any of the films ever did. The love story between Obi-Wan and Satine (probably named after Nicole Kidman’s character from Moulin Rouge, which also starred Ewan McGregor) is leagues above anything Lucas did with Anakin & Padme. After the success of this storyline, the show would return to Mandalore many times throughout its run.
5. The Clone Cadets (3.1-3.2)
The Clones get a lot of good episodes to themselves (such as Season One’s Rookies — which actually functions as a good mid-point between these two episodes), but this shows us how the Clone Troopers train as we follow a group of cadets wanting to become Arc Troopers. When Kamino is attacked by the Separatists, it’s up to these new troops to prove themselves. This storyline has a lot of elements of Ender’s Game which proves fun, while the battle on Kamino is exciting and well-staged. What’s best though is the episode introduces us to new Clone characters that would continue to play a prominent role in future episodes.
6. The Ventress Betrayal (3.12-3.14)
Asajj Ventress, apprentice to Count Dooku, is one of the show’s most prominent villains and far more interesting or menacing than Grievous or even Dooku himself. When Sidious senses the Ventress is becoming too powerful, he orders Dooku to get rid of her. Now betrayed, Ventress returns to her homeworld of the Nightsisters — witches who can manipulate the force — to plot her revenge, eventually leading her to the homeworld of Darth Maul to find the next great Sith warrior.
7. The Balance of the Force (3.15-3.17)
Anakin arrives on the Star Wars scene being touted as “The Chosen One”, who will bring balance to the force. This was reiterated time and time again throughout the prequel films but they never explained what it meant or how he would do it. Is it killing all the Sith? Making an equal number of Jedi and Sith in the galaxy? It was anyone’s guess. Here we get the answers. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka find themselves trapped on a strange world that is strong with the force, ruled over by old man whose children represent the light and the dark and who are always in conflict with each other. Here Anakin learns what his destiny truly means.
8. The Coup of Mon Calamari (4.1-4.3)
Season 4 aired in the fall of 2011, about 6 months after HBO’s Game of Thrones premiered and the influence that carried over to Clone Wars storytelling is readily apparent. Mon Calamari, a world underwater and home to Return of the Jedi’s Admiral Ackbar, is in turmoil after the murder of their king and its leaders refusing to recognize the Prince as their new ruler. Now the Prince must go on the run as his world is overtaken by Separatist agents within his own government. With the Jedi at his side, the Prince must prove himself a warrior and free his people from an oppressive overthrow.
9. Under Krell’s Command (4.7-4.10)
Another Clone-centered story that ranks as one of the series’ best mini-arcs. When Anakin is summoned away from the battlefield by Palpatine, his clones are put under the command of the notorious Jedi Master Krell. Soon though, Krell’s methods prove problematic to his Clone troops whose growing dissent in the ranks proves disastrous. A story very much in the mold of Band of Brothers, the less said about this one the better.
10. Slaves of the Republic (4.11-4.13)
Another heavily GOT-inspired mini-arc, we now find our heroes investigating the disappearance of entire planet who have been sold to a slave empire — the same slavers that originally sold Anakin and his mother. Now the Jedi must go undercover and seduce the Slave Queen to free the people while Anakin wrestles with his anger over being a former slave.
11. The Return of Darth Maul (4.21-5.1)
Having turned his back on Ventress, Darth Maul’s brother searches for the long-thought dead Sith Lord. When he finds Maul, he’s a shell of his former self and has been driven mad by rage. Once restored, Maul has only one thing on his mind — revenge — and sets his sights on Obi-Wan Kenobi.
12. The Revenge of Darth Maul (5.14-5.16)
Darth Maul and his brother work to build their own criminal empire with the help of the terrorist group Death Watch from Mandalore. Once strong enough, Maul turns his sights on Mandalore and its Duchess to set a trap for Obi-Wan.
13. The Trials of Ahsoka Tano (5.17-5.20)
When a bomb goes off in the Jedi Temple, Anakin and Ahsoka are tasked with bringing the culprit to justice. During their investigation though, Ahsoka comes under fire and is accused of crime she didn’t commit and must evade both the Republic and her Jedi comrades to prove her innocence.
14. The Order 66 Conspiracy (6.1-6.4)
When a Clone Trooper mysteriously murders his own Jedi general, the Republic is quick to investigate the cause. However, the Sith are also quick to subvert the Jedi’s efforts as this incident links to directly to Darth Sidious’ master plan to destroy the Jedi: Order 66.
15. Ghosts of the Force (6.10-6.13)
Perhaps the biggest question fans had the moment Qui-Gon Jinn didn’t disappear after being killed in Episode I was how the whole “force ghost” thing worked. The most we ever got to an answer was Yoda telling Obi-Wan that he had training for him at the hands of Qui-Gon at the end of Episode III. The final 4 episodes of the Clone Wars delves deep into Star Wars lore and mythology as Yoda explores how to continue living through the force after death. This is one of the strongest string of episodes the show has and could be seen as leading right into the events of Episode III. Rewatching Episode III, you’ll view Yoda’s actions much differently knowing how much information he’s been armed with due to this very plotline. He can see the inescapable tragedy barrelling towards them and it takes the entire prequel storyline to a far richer, and much more tragic and operatic place.