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fh14 ([personal profile] fh14) wrote2017-04-13 11:30 pm
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A Brief History of My History with "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (2008-14)

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a Star Wars podcast I enjoy called "Greedo Shot First" - "A Star Wars podcast for people who hate Star Wars fans" as they often say in the opening. They're fans themselves, but often express frustration at stuff Star Wars fandom as a whole does and says. While I haven't been into Star Wars for very long, I can understand the sentiment. I have been in some really frustrating, wanky fandoms in my time. But on one of the last episodes I listened to, one of the hosts expressed confusion over why people enjoy the animated TV series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" so much.

It's probably the only aspect of the podcast I really disagree with the opinions of Marco and Benji in any significant way. Even though I really enjoyed Rogue One, for example, I still agreed with most of their scathing criticism of the film that they found underwhelming. (However, I do think the middle portion of the movie stretching from the destruction of Jedha until the departure for Scarif was perfectly serviceable, though admittedly not anywhere near as good as the final stretch of the film on Scarif itself). I suspect a lot of my difference in opinion stems from the fact that I am a relatively recent fan of the franchise.

When I was eleven years old I was invited to a birthday party where we all went to see what was then the newest Star Wars movie in theaters - Attack of the Clones. I had heard about Star Wars before - I even knew about the inescapably famous plot twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back - but I had never seen a Star Wars movie before that. Suffice to say starting with that particular film wasn't exactly the best introduction to the franchise, and I left the theater thinking "Well, that was certainly a movie." Over the next decade and change, Star Wars was something I never really paid much mind to (Well, aside from conversations I had with people where they asked me if I had seen Star Wars, and their horrified reactions on finding out the only one I've seen is Episode II.) It was actually another podcast by Marco and Benji, "Headcanon", and the buzzy release of The Force Awakens that motivated me to get off my ass in late 2015 and watch all the movies. (I even went out of my way to find the closest thing available to the "theatrical cuts" of the Original Trilogy online). And I fell in love with them.

(BTW, my film ranking is The Empire Strikes Back > The Force Awakens > Star Wars/A New Hope > Revenge of the Sith > Return of the Jedi > Rogue One > Attack of the Clones > The Phantom Menace)

Once I had seen them all, a friend of mine who is really into Star Wars recommended I watch "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" - the entirety of which was on Netflix. I got the officially released chronological watching order up on my internet browser, sat back and started watching... only I was bored to tears. I forced myself to stay alert during the two "prequel" episodes that came first, but found myself zoning out through the bulk of the Clone Wars film. I was amazed at how dumb the plot was. Saving Jabba the Hutt's son? Seriously? I watched a few episodes after that but soon fell off my streak, asking my friend why she liked this show. She said that as long as you power through the beginning, it gets better later on - something which I now know is common advice regarding this show.

Despite that advice, it took me months to try and watch the show again. When I started out it didn't go much better. The episodes focused on space battles that lacked any excitement of those in the movies, and I didn't have any attachment to Ahsoka or the Clone Troopers that the show was really investing its time in. However, it was the eighth episode of season one where, in a bizarre twist of fate, I derived some ironic enjoyment out of a story where Padme was kidnapped and it was up to C-3PO and Jar Jar Binks to save the day. It was like something out of my "Jar Jar is a Sith" shitposting dreams. (link)

From then on, I began having fun making fun of some of the odd choices the show made, particularly how extra gross Jar Jar looks in that animation style. Not one to skip ahead, I kept powering through it in an effort to meet an arbitrary goal I set up for myself - finish the whole show and the Legacy materials before I went to go see Rogue One in theaters. At some point, I realized that my ironic enjoyment of the show had turned into a genuine one, and that the show itself had started to figure out how to make the central characters of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka interesting characters in this story they were trying to tell.

Of course, in order to do this, they chose to overwhelm the first few seasons of the show with world-building that wasn't overly interesting and storylines that essentially boiled down to the slow and boring grind of politics. I think the turning point of the show in terms of my enjoyment happened in the middle of the season 3 era of the show, when Palpatine inexplicably orders Count Dooku to cast aside Asajj Ventress as his apprentice. It was the first major move the show made in departing from the norm it had established over the course of the first two and a half seasons. It's also worth noting that, up until that point, Ventress was a character I had no investment in, but this sudden development combined with the work the show had done in establishing her, made the story compelling to me in a way I hadn't thought possible when I started the show.

This would continue to be a running theme. Storylines from earlier in the show that I found mind-numbingly boring started bearing fruit, and the show got a lot better and telling its own story, as it was relying much more on the strength of its characters now, though it continued its bizarre fixation on exploring the most mundane world-building aspects of the Star Wars universe.

It's at this point I should disclose that I didn't walk into this show completely blind. I had a vague awareness of some future plotlines of the show. One in particular I was dreading - The return of Darth Maul. It seemed so cheap and fanservicey to me that they'd bring back his character when he very clearly died at the end of The Phantom Menace. Maybe it's because I went into that story with low expectations, but I was surprised at how much I... enjoyed it? Sure it was kinda shoehorned in and fanservicey but it melded well with existing storylines.

Overall, I felt that if nothing else, the character of Ahsoka Tano was a good addition to the Star Wars universe. She helped balance out the Anakin - Obi-Wan dynamic on the show in a way that it couldn't happen in the films due to what those needed to accomplish. Through her eyes I found myself enraptured in this Clone Wars-era world that had been built. Even following her exit at the end of season five, it felt like her character was important even though the show isn't really necessary when looking at the films themselves. I can't say a lot of the stuff with the Clones was really successful for me, though. The stuff with Rex and Fives worked for me, as did the larger arcs about the humanity and worth of the Clones as a whole, but the attempts to get the audience to care about Individual Clones beyond that fell flat to me, since we only saw most of them maybe once or twice. Oh, Cody was the Clone Trooper who tried to kill Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith. So yay I guess?

Speaking of the films, one important thing that I'm glad it accomplished was its tackling of abandoned story threads from Attack of the Clones in the final stretch of the show - In particular the explanation for the Sifo-Dyas stuff. In general, I thought the final two seasons and the Legacy materials were incredibly strong, though I don't think I would have seen them that way if I hadn't forced myself to slog through the early seasons of the show. Can't have payoff without setup I guess. I must say, however, that I'm annoyed that they couldn't find a way to get the eight episode animatics finished into episodes. They were quite strong, and the Crystal arc in particular has story significance in the overall new EU.

That brings me to my final thought on this - a possible reason I ended up enjoying The Clone Wars so much is because the original EU was something I never experienced (well, beyond the Star Wars Holiday Special anyway). In fact, the novel Dark Disciple, the final piece of the Clone Wars Legacy, was the first Star Wars book I've ever "read" (well, listened to). I enjoyed more parts of it than I disliked, and it had some interesting ideas about the force, but it doesn't provide as smooth a transition into Revenge of the Sith as I'd hoped - Likely because it took place about a year before the film, so that gulf created a disconnect in terms of story momentum. (I can't say I'm sorry they never explored that idea of ending the show showing what Ahsoka and Rex were up to during Revenge of the Sith. I feel like there's no way to win there.)

So in summation, I've found The Clone Wars to be a worthy investment of my time, and it has motivated me to check out other books in the new Star Wars canon. I'm in the early days of Rebels and... I don't know. Hopefully it has an upward spin like The Clone Wars did as it went on. Do I think it's the best piece of Star Wars media - absolutely not. Do I think it's a worthy one? Mostly yes. I certainly enjoyed it more than The Phantom Menace.

Watch Status Roundup:
Star Wars Rebels - 8/60
Digimon Tamers - 12/51
Cardcaptor Sakura - 10/75
The X-Files - 67/210