Fortunately, the creative minds in film never lost sight of producing a definitive rendition of “Clone Wars.” In 2003, Genndy Tartakovsky, whose most-notable works were Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, was tasked with bringing this project to TV via Star Wars: Clone Wars. Released as a series of pre-feature shorts, Star Wars: Clone Wars became a smash-hit. It garnered 3 Emmys over its 3 season runtime, fleshed out the world of Star Wars in ways the films hadn’t and tied together the second and third prequel quite nicely. It even gained enough of a cult-following that many fans hold it as the best piece of media to ever come from that era.
In 2008, scarcely three years after Star Wars: Clone Wars ended, George Lucas decided to release a CGI animated feature, titled Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in theatres. Initially poorly-received, even earning the lowest revenue for a Star Wars film to-date, the movie nonetheless paved way for a 121-episode show that lasted 6 years and won a few Emmys of its own. Like Star Wars: Clone Wars, many fans consider this the best piece of media to come from that era.
So which of the two shows is better? After all, both purport to deal with the events between the two films. This is a difficult question to answer, but I’ll try. Please keep in mind that this is strictly subjective, and that there’ll be spoilers.
Anyway, we’ll start with the first category, which is…
As expected, both shows deal with the events between Star Wars Ep. II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith. Beginning with Star Wars: Clone Wars, the show is a 25-episode mini-series (or micro-series) that tells its story in a serial format akin to those in theatres during the 20’s and 30’s. The first 2 seasons are 10 episodes each, with a run-time of roughly 3 minutes, while the last season is 5 episodes at about 12 to 15 minutes. The show focuses on Anakin Skywalker and the effect the war is having on him as a Jedi. We see his constant temptations, his struggle to resist said temptations and his overall acceptance of being “The Chosen One”. There are also detours involving other Jedi, but it’s mostly his story.
One of the most-interesting issues, however is the disconnect between the first two and final seasons. The former have a clear arc involving Anakin being sent out as a Commander, finding a rogue ship, discovering a Sith assassin and defeating her. It’s a complete arc, and it works as a short movie. The third season, however, jumps ahead to the final year of the war, and, save Anakin’s knighting ceremony, doesn’t show much of his change from cocky teenager to mature leader. I’ve always been bothered by this: why does the show rush through that? It goes by so quickly that his change in behaviour feels unearned, which is disappointing despite the obvious limitations.
In contrast, Star Wars: The Clone Wars has the advantage of time. Being 121 episodes, and kicked off by a 98-minute film, you’d think there’d be more room for Anakin to grow into his role as leader. Unfortunately…the series doesn’t take that route, having Anakin start as a confident General who’s already become a Jedi Knight. Instead, we’re introduced to Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s Padawan learner and, for the first while, the most obnoxious twerp imaginable! Seriously, listen to the words that come out of her mouth early on and tell me you don’t want to smack her!
Going back to storylines, it’s clear both shows were going for different focuses. Star Wars: Clone Wars keeps the themes to a minimum, instead focusing on how an individual is influenced by war. Star Wars: The Clone Wars re-treads a little on that with Ahsoka, but it also allows for a bigger dive into the effects of the war. We constantly see how it’s bankrupting The Republic and The Separatists, is exposing corruption in The Senate, is taking a toll on the average citizen and is even causing indirect problems in neutral systems. The show really analyzes those themes thoroughly, thanks, once again, to the benefit of length.
It looks like it should be an easy win for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but it’s not, for two reasons. One, the show has too many detours and filler episodes, meaning that the quality of the show suffers in the area of writing. And two, the show’s broadcast order is mixed up because of its anthology format, so the episodes aren’t in order and occasionally contradict one-another; for example, Onaconda Farr is poisoned by his trusted advisor as revenge for bringing the war to his home planet of Rodia, but in a future episode he’s still alive. We can deduce that the later episode came first time-wise. In contrast, Star Wars: Clone Wars, despite the time-jump, is much tighter, such that it can be, and actually has been, seen as a single movie that’s a little over 2 hours. Therefore, I think it has the better story.
Winner: Star Wars: Clone Wars.
But hey! A story is only as good as its characters, which leads to the next category…
Star Wars: Clone Wars’s biggest strength is knowing it’s tight for time and can only focus on certain characters in-depth. Amongst these are Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padmé Amidala and, to a lesser-extent, C3PO, R2-D2, Yoda and Chancellor Palpatine. For the most part, either through silent interactions or the occasional line, we really understand these characters. We know, for example, that Anakin is brash and impulsive, but also quiet and contemplative when necessary. Conversely, Obi-Wan is brave and fearless, but also not afraid to bicker with his Padawan when he steps out of line. Most of this is conveyed without words, as the show is largely visual and scarce on dialogue.
The unfortunate downside is, once again, the format. Being short episodes with little dialogue, we don’t get a chance to learn much about the characters outside bare essentials. We actually don’t get to know much about most of the characters, honestly, which is a shame because Mace Windu is one of my favourite Jedi, yet he’s only in a few episodes fighting. Yoda also gets the shaft outside of his temple rescue on Ilum, as, once again, he’s relegated to fight scenes. Essentially, it’s disappointing.
It’s especially disappointing because the show has so many cool characters, some of whom are introduced in it, that don’t get time to shine. Obi-Wan, for example, faces off against a bounty hunter who can regenerate flesh, and yet he’s defeated really easily and never seen again. The show also introduces Asajj Ventress, an assassin who fights Anakin, yet she’s also defeated really easily and is never mentioned again. The only character that stays on until Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith is General Grievous, who becomes a joke in the succeeding film due to an injury he receives while abducting Palpatine. This really makes me wish Star Wars: Clone Wars was longer than it actually is.
In contrast, Star Wars: The Clone Wars has a wonderfully-fleshed out cast, including the return of Ventress. Other notable highlights include Boba Fett, who’s probably at his most-interesting here, Ahsoka, who becomes fantastically-complex, and minor characters like Duchess Satine and Onaconda Farr. The show also touches more on the Jedi, the Sith and plenty of side-characters that were either introduced, or were in the movies briefly. And, of course, the show even brings back Darth Maul. You heard that right.
Sadly, it too has its share of blunders. Firstly, General Grievous sucks here. The fact that he’s incapacitated by a group of Gungan warriors is proof enough. On that note, the show brings back Jar Jar Binks, whose irritation from the films is worsened by everyone else thinking him to be an idiot savant. If it weren’t for the episodes surrounding Rush Clovis, a character that keeps trying to ruin Anakin and Padmé's love-life which his creeper behaviour, I’d consider Jar Jar the most-painful part of the show.
The show also dedicates a lot of time to Ahsoka, to the point of overkill. To be clear, I love Ahsoka, I think she’s awesome. Her departure in Season 5 broke my heart. But she’s in so many episodes it’s sickening. (Let’s face it, did she really need to escort the Jedi Younglings to Ilum?)
The final complication is that Star Wars: The Clone Wars was ended prematurely, making some characters’ arcs incomplete. This is especially the case for Darth Maul, whom we get the feeling was supposed to resurface in a later season, but due to Disney cancelling the show in favour of Star Wars Rebels it never happened. The same could be said of Death Watch, a terrorism group whose plans to conquer Mandalore are left unfinished. I’m sure there are other characters whose fates were never revealed, but I can’t think of them off-hand. In short, it’s disappointing.
Still, Star Wars: The Clone Wars more than makes up for that with the clones. As much I liked Star Wars: Clone Wars, the clones were the most boring part. They were mostly generic soldiers who followed orders and couldn’t be told apart. Also, save Captain Fordo’s exchange with Obi-Wan when Anakin is spotted chasing after Ventress, they’re not all that funny. I understand that the show was restricted by format, but when a clone died I didn’t care.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in contrast, had many clones that I truly cared about: Heavy, Hardcase, Tup, Fives, Jessie, Gregor, Waxer, Cutup, Captain Rex, Commander Cody, Commander Wolfe, Ninety-Nine, Dogma, the list goes on. They each had distinct personalities and facial traits that made them stand out. When Fives was shot while trying to warn everyone about Order 66, for example, it hit me where it hurt. Same with Dogma killing a corrupt Jedi general, as I knew how hard it must’ve been to do that. The clones really make the show, and it wouldn’t have been the same without them.
One last point of note is the difference of the Jedi. In Star Wars: Clone Wars, they were practically invincible. They kept knocking down enemies like bowling pins, making their rare attempts at weakness contrived. In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Jedi were toned down, such that they were vulnerable. And many of them died or were injured, making the threat they faced more dangerous. The show also showed their characters flaws with their ability to be manipulated or distrustful, as well as their moments of fear and pride. It made their accomplishments that much more significant.
So on this matter, it’s no contest: Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Winner: Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
But hey! Seeing as both shows are animated, it’s only reasonable to see how they measure up there, right?
Aesthetically, Star Wars: Clone Wars has two advantages over Star Wars: The Clone Wars. First, it was directed and designed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Tartakovsky has a really distinct style, that of a mixture of cartoony and deco, and it was bound to show up here. Star Wars: Clone Wars, therefore, looks and feels like an art-house production, making it unbelievably cinematic. And two, the show has a consistent budget. Even though it reuses frames and goes stock model heavy to an extreme, you can tell Tartakovsky put his all into the show. As I said, Star Wars: Clone Wars could easily pass off as a movie.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in contrast, has a far less qualitative feel to it. The animation improves over time, especially in later seasons, but it never reaches true filmic quality; in fact, the pilot movie is so un-cinematic that you’d think a C-list studio rendered it. And it did: Lucasfilm’s then-new Singapore animation division. I like that the show was ambitious in-spite of its limitations, especially in its action, but it’s impossible not to see its restrictions: characters are blocky, hands and feet are generic and it’s almost impossible to tell clones apart when they have their helmets on. It’s dirt-poor for a CGI show.
In short, it’s obvious which show looks better.
Winner: Star Wars: Clone Wars.
Speaking of aesthetic, the next category is…
Then there’s the music. It’d seem like a no-brainer, what with Star Wars: Clone Wars going for a more simplistic soundtrack and Star Wars: The Clone Wars bringing in a composer, Kevin Kiner, for the tracks. The latter even has remixed versions of the opening and closing Star Wars themes in each episode, as well as remixed tracks from the movies! However…do you honestly remember any of the in-show tunes outside their respective scenes? I definitely do for Star Wars: Clone Wars, but not for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Finally, there’s the voice acting. Both have stellar VAs in their line-ups, but they too go for different styles. Star Wars: Clone Wars is clearly meant to be more cartoony, with a lot of the characters sounding more like your typical, Saturday morning roster. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in contrast, goes the exact opposite route, with the voice talents throwing in more natural-sounding performances. Perhaps the most-notable difference is Darth Sidious: in one show, he sounds like an 80’s Transformers villain, while in other he slightly modifies his senator register. Also, there are plenty of character accents in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, something not present in Star Wars: Clone Wars.
Interestingly enough, I have a bone to pick with one voice in each series. In the case of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I don’t like Tim Curry as Palpatine. Palpatine’s original voice actor, Ian Abercrombie, passed away in 2012 from cancer, and while Curry tries his best to fill in for him in the later stretch…he fails. His cadence is off, he over-stresses his syllables, it simply doesn’t sound right. In contrast, I don’t like Mat Lucas as Anakin in Star Wars: Clone Wars. I’m sure he’s trying his hardest, but his performance comes off as flat and uninspired. It’s too reminiscent of Hayden Christensen, which doesn’t help.
Regardless, both shows have terrific voice acting overall, making it a matter of preference: do you prefer cartoony voices, or more grounded voices? Flat Anakin, or emotion-filled Anakin? 80’s villain Palpatine, or normal-sounding Palpatine? I prefer the more grounded acting myself, as it feels more natural, so it’s obvious who I’m giving the point to.
Winner: Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Starting with Star Wars: Clone Wars, the show is a micro-series, which means that it’s meant to be short. The episodes definitely reflect that decision: don’t want to spend your time marathoning the show? Good news, you can watch it in short intervals while you’re heating up your coffee, or during your lunch break at work. And if you’re in the mood for a movie, guess what? There are YouTube accounts that’ve compiled the series into exactly that. Either way, you win!
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is more time-consuming. For one, you have to watch the movie to understand who Ahsoka is, and it’s dreadful! Then you have to sit through 4 seasons of 22 episodes, followed by a season of 20 and a season of 13. And they’re all 22 minutes, and some are multi-parters. Not to mention, the episodes are mixed up, which means looking up the proper order to watch them. And if that’s not bad enough, the episode quality ranges, with plenty of good episodes coming before and after a few bad ones (even in the later seasons.)
The deciding factor is overall satisfaction. Was I happy with both shows? Yes, but my level of happiness wasn’t the same. Star Wars: Clone Wars left me aching for more, but I could easily go back a few more times and enjoy it for what it is. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, on the other hand, left me exhausted. I loved what I saw, but I’m perfectly content with waiting a while before seeing it again.
Overall winner: Star Wars: Clone Wars.
A big thanks for sticking it out with these last few Star Wars blogs. Until next time!