When the Star Wars prequel trilogy came out in cinemas, there was one event glaringly omitted from the story. The Clone Wars, brought into action by the events of Episode II, with its end battles portrayed in Episode III, have been part of the Star Wars mythos since the very beginning. After all, the Clone Wars instigated the creation of the Empire, and Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. Luckily for fans, Lucasfilm adapted the story of the Clone Wars into two separate animated series.
Clone Wars (2003) depicts the years of fighting between Episode II and III, as the Jedi fight against the forces of General Grievous, Count Dooku, and Dooku’s new apprentice, Asajj Ventress. Originally designed to be the villain in Episode II, she was eventually replaced by Count Dooku. But the character of a Sith villainess proved too tantalising a prospect for the show creators. After all, the Star Wars universe is pretty light on female characters, let alone female villains. And Asajj, Sith apprentice and assassin, was interesting enough to not just appear in one animated series; she’s a recurring figure in the 2008 series as well, where the expanded episodes allow for much greater character growth.
In 2005, Clone Wars (2003) came to an end and Episode III debuted in cinemas. It might have seemed like the end of the Star Wars screen story. At the time, Lucasfilm’s later acquisition by Disney, with the accompanying capital to create further Star Wars theatrical films, seemed like a crazy dream. But instead George Lucas decided to treat Clone Wars (2003) as a kind of pilot, creating a new animated series which would focus on the same time period. But this new series was going to be more ambitious – the character designs were upgraded to 3D, the episodes expanded to 22 minutes each, and the series kicked off with a theatrically released film. Lucas’ plan was for Star Wars: The Clone Wars (note the “The” to differentiate it) to reach 100 episodes, a milestone it reached in its fifth series. The sixth and final series premiered on Netflix earlier this year.
What are the relative merits of each series? Well, given the brevity of Clone Wars (2003), it’s surprising that it manages to tell as detailed a story as it does, fleshing out the Clone Wars with thrilling battles. But in order to fit its running time, the Jedi and Sith are often hugely overpowered, so that the battles can end more quickly. But then you wonder exactly how the non-powered combatants actually stand a chance. The Jedi are almost invincible, and your mileage may vary on whether that’s believable for Jedi, or just leads to a lack of danger and tension. The Clone Wars (2008), given that it had more time to tell its stories, was able to expand the Star Wars universe, making the series a hit with fans and casual viewers alike. It was able to develop its characters emotionally and practically, as they became stronger and better as time went on.
Both series have their fans, and there’s definitely something to love about each of them. If you’re looking for a quick recap of the Clone Wars, try the 2003 series. It’s an afternoon’s enjoyable entertainment. But if you want more of the Star Wars universe, something that will still be treated as canon with the new trilogy, then The Clone Wars (2008) is definitely the way to go. Also, it’s fun to play Spot the Voice with The Clone Wars (2008). The voice cast features a host of sci-fi legends, including George Takei, David Tennant, Katee Sackhoff and Michael York.
Oh, yeah, and Simon Pegg. Thus far, he might be the likeliest cameo in the new trilogy. JJ Abrams made a comment about his character Dengar appearing, which could just be a joke (yes, OK, it probably is a joke), but wouldn’t it be great for Simon Pegg to tick off “live-action Star Wars film” on his sci-fi appearances bingo card?