The Clones of the Clone Wars
While the prequels may have revealed the Republic’s clone army first with 2002’s Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, the cinematic depictions of these mass-produced ranks put little focus on their individual feelings and experiences, instead showing them as almost robotic, emotionless, and interchangeable soldiers. In contrast, The Clone Wars individualized the Clone Troopers from the start, exploring the rift between veterans of the war and new additions to the ranks or “Shinies” (as in you’re shiny and new… just like your armor) in the early episode, “Rookies.” Over the course of the show, The Clone Wars would go on to explore clones who rebelled against being canon fodder for the Jedi and the Republic, a deserter clone who raises a family and attempts to live a simple life, a true and somewhat tragic friendship between clones Rex and Cody with their Jedi leaders, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ashoka, and much more. While the prequels gave us the interesting and compelling origin behind the Republic’s army, quite appropriately, it was The Clone Wars series that truly explored the concept and its repercussions.
The truth behind Order 66
Palpatine’s issue of Order 66 (and the execution of the Jedi that followed) is one of the more emotionally impactful and successful moments of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, capturing the operatic tragedy and pain of the moment. Still, like much of the prequels, when analyzed slightly, many questions arise. Did the Clone Troopers know about this order in advance? What made them so willing to betray and murder the Jedi the had spent years fighting a war with? Did any clones rebel or disagree?
The Clone Wars’ answer to these questions came in the opening story arc of the final season of the show in the form of a Star Wars version of a dark, political thriller. When one Clone Trooper randomly executes a Jedi on the field of battle, but can offer no explanation as to why, the clone known as “Fives” goes down a rabbit hole that reveals a genetically engineered “chip” containing the “programming” that will ensure an obedient execution of Order 66 when the time comes. Pursued by Palpatine’s forces and the Kaminoan cloners, the errant clone is “dealt with,” and the fatal trap for the Jedi Order is kept secret.
The mystery of Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas
In a somewhat bizarre loose thread, Episode II - Attack of the Clones features a plot arc where Obi-Wan Kenobi investigates the mysterious and secretive creation of a clone army for the Republic. While no one seems to know why the army was created, the Kaminoans claim that a Jedi Master known as Sifo-Dyas placed the request nearly a decade in advance for reasons unknown. Eventually, the Jedi have no choice but to employ the services of these unplanned forces against the Separatists' droid armies, and the unexplained creation of the clones is never touched upon again in the cinematic Star Wars universe.
Fortunately, the final season of The Clone Wars answers this mystery, as well, uncovering the true plans of Sifo-Dyas, his untimely death, and how the Sith corrupted his plans for their own use.
Anakin and Obi-Wan
One of the most remarkable and powerful contributions The Clone Wars offers to the Star Wars mythos as a whole is bringing a genuine and believable brother-like relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan. For decades, fans' imaginations have run wild, inspired by those few, but magic, words spoken by Sir Alec Guinness in the original 1977 feature film describing his "good friend" who was also a "cunning warrior" and "the best starpilot in the galaxy," but it wasn't until The Clone Wars that we really, truly saw the relationship described by Old Ben. Both A Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones featured a more teacher-and-student-type relationship, while Revenge of the Sith jumped forward in time, skipping to the very end of the Clone War conflict and jarring audiences slightly with a brand new "best friends" relationship between the two characters that was completely built off-screen between the two films.
There's no debate that seeing the two friends' relationship build over the seasons of The Clone Wars only adds to the emotional impact of seeing the two companions pitted against each other in Revenge of the Sith. Furthermore, while very few can find fault with actor Ewan McGregor's performance as Obi-Wan in the prequels, for many fans, actor Matt Lanter will always be their Anakin.
Padme Amidala, the Senator
For many, Padme has always been an interesting character, especially given her position as a young Republic senator. While the prequels gave Padme (played by actress Natalie Portman) some notable scenes that conveyed where her intelligent, bold, and headstrong daughter may have gotten those attributes from, the story was never truly hers, and we saw very little of her role in galactic politics.
Given the series format, The Clone Wars smartly devoted many episodes to featuring Padme as a lead, as she attempted to use political negotiations and her status as a Senator to influence the course of the Republic and Separatist conflict. Whether taking on Separatist leader Nute Gunray, uncovering spies and traitors within the Senate itself, or bargaining for peace on the infamous planet of Mandalore, The Clones Wars fleshed out the character of Padme much in the same way it did for Anakin.
Darth Maul returns
Some will argue that Darth Maul served his purpose, and his return is excessive and unnecessary. Those people usually haven't watched The Clone Wars episode in which the character appears.It's without hubris that it can be stated that if most naysayers followed the character's arc in the animated series, they would most likely happily rescind their premature judgment.
While Ray Park must be given due credit for the way Darth Maul's presence permeated anything The Phantom Menace touched, the evolution of the character via voice actor Sam Witwer and The Clone Wars series is nothing short of stunning and is easily in competition with characters like Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) or Jaime Lannister (Game of Thrones). Not only did Maul's time on The Clone Wars propel him towards an even more poignant and beautiful arc in Star Wars Rebels but was so respected that the character earned a cinematic resurrection via Solo: A Star Wars Story (this time portrayed by both Park and Witwer as a team).
Jar Jar… Yes, even Jar Jar
I've never loved the character of Jar Jar, but then I've never hated him either. While I'm not looking for a plethora of slapstick comedy (or fart jokes for that matter) in my Star Wars, I also have been perplexed that more fans haven't realized that characters like C-3PO comment on how odd and ridiculous Jar Jar is from within the prequels. Jar Jar isn't accidentally annoying or silly, he's very much the archetype of a fool or clown, not unlike a character such as Dogberry from William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing.
All that said, it's not that hard to see why Jar Jar induces the reaction he does from most fans, but even here, The Clones Wars elevates his prequel origins. In at least two instances, the series offers sides we've never seen of the character before that many fans may find infinitely more digestible than the character's live-action appearances. In "Bombad Jedi," Jar Jar is paired with C-3PO, providing a unusual flip in status where the original trilogy's resident clown spends much of the episode playing the frustrated and frazzeled "straight man" to Jar Jar's fool. In "The Disappeared Pt I & II," Jar Jar is sent on a mission with the extremely stoic Mace Windu and even encounters a legitimate love interest. Even if one can't stand the character of Jar Jar, it must be admitted that The Clone Wars refused to ignore even the prequels most difficult to wield characters.