By George Bate
Nearly twelve years after Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuted in theaters, the series’ emotionally powerful and wildly entertaining final episode has finally arrived. As Ahsoka and Rex were caught in the midst of Order 66 at the end of the last episode, this episodes sees the two try and escape the clutches of their former friends and soldiers, while also contending with the presence of Maul aboard their ship.
Shifting back to August 2008, The Clone Wars film was met with overwhelmingly mixed reactions from critics and fans alike. Many cited the introduction of Ahsoka, the childlike humor, and the animation style as key issues with the film. And, while I actually really enjoy the film and find the story quite interesting, it’s understandable that many fans did not respond well to the show’s introduction. Over time, however, the show has become increasingly refined in both its storytelling, tone, and animation to such an extent that the series finale “Victory and Death” is a Star Wars story that can stand alongside some of the best movies.
While other episodes in this arc have traded action set pieces for a slower, more methodical pacing and more dialogue-heavy sequences, “Victory and Death” leans much more heavily into the action, which suits the story perfectly. If “Shattered” was the emotional blow we were all waiting for as we witnessed Order 66 happen from a different, yet similarly devastating perspective, “Victory and Death” is the aftermath of this event. This episode is not about political machinations, or liberating planets, or negotiating deals. Rather, Ahsoka and Rex are driven by a unitary goal – to survive. The desperation and tension infused into every part of this episode are palpable as not only are Ahsoka and Rex trying to make sense of the situation, but they’re also trying to do the humane thing in avoiding killing their former comrades. This was a great dynamic conveyed in the episode as the characters struggled between their relentless pursuit of survival and attachment to their friends turned enemies. Such a conflict was perhaps best portrayed when hundreds of Clones were simply waiting for Rex and Ahsoka to come down from their observation deck. Seeing Rex’s plan to pretend like he was arresting Ahsoka unfold was tense and kicked off an incredible chain of events in the hangar bay that once again tied to that struggle between survival and attachment.
Although we didn’t get much of Maul in this episode, it was still interesting to see his character’s arc in the show conclude, setting the stage nicely for his appearance in Solo as the leader of Crimson Dawn. Maul’s destruction of the hyperspace engines was a visually stunning sequence and added another element to an already intense episode. Not only are Ahsoka and Rex stuck aboard a ship full of hundreds of Clones trying to kill them, but now the ship they’re on has been pulled out of hyperspace and is crash landing on a moon. This added a great sense of urgency to the episode and allowed for a stunning moment where Ahsoka had to choose between pulling Maul back into the ship on one side (visually very akin to The Force Unleashed and The Rise of Skywalker) and saving Rex on the other side.
The final 10 minutes of this episode were some of the most visually breathtaking minutes of any Star Wars story we’ve seen. The notion of the ship crashing onto the surface of the moon after Maul’s destruction of the hyperspace engines was a stroke of genius from Dave Filoni that not only added urgency to the sequence, but also paralleled the Invisible Hand crashing into Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith. The entire sequence was expertly crafted and paced. Ahsoka flying through the sky attempting to land on Rex’s ship neared the intensity of the previous episode’s Order 66 sequence and truly demonstrated how excellent the animation has been this season.
Fittingly, the finale concluded on a more somber note. Ahsoka’s burial of their former comrades mirrored a similar shot from The Mandalorian, albeit serving a different purpose in the story, of Stormtrooper helmets on spikes in the ground. This sequence really symbolized how devastating, traumatic, and tragic Sidious’ plan was and will continue to be for people like Ahsoka and Rex. In one moment, the normality of their lives and the galaxy was destroyed and the only thing Ahsoka and Rex can do right now is mourn and try to acclimatize to the new state of affairs Sidious has installed. Ahsoka looking over the helmets of her deceased friends demonstrated her unwavering compassion in that she still loved and respected her friends, despite what acts of atrocity the Clones were committing across the galaxy. This really cemented a common theme throughout this season – that Ahsoka is a Jedi through and through, exhibiting the purest and most altruistic of Jedi values, even if she isn’t a part of a formal Jedi Order. Not only is this a powerful message and character development for Ahsoka, but it also ties to similar themes in the sequel trilogy as Rey and Luke genuinely exhibit the best of what the Jedi can offer despite no allegiance to a formal Order. In all, the imagery on display in this sequence affirmed that Ahsoka has become one of the most fleshed out, interesting characters in the entire saga – an innocent young Padawan first seen on Christophsis, who, with age and experience, matured and internalized her own values independent of the Order and who, unfortunately, witnessed the complete destruction of the people she was once loved in such a tragic manner despite her best intentions.
And just when you thought the episode pulled enough emotional punches, the last part of the last episode of the last season of The Clone Wars may have surpassed them all. The first appearance of Darth Vader in The Clone Wars was haunting. The ominous silence. The sleek animated rendition of the character. The red glow of his helmet’s eyes. It was heartbreaking to see the extent to which Anakin had transformed and the relationship between Anakin and Ahsoka had fractured because of this. The imagery of Vader investigating the crash site and eventually picking up and igniting the lightsaber he only recently gave to his former Padawan was extremely powerful. The Clone Wars overall seemed like it lacked in regards to adding to Anakin’s transformation to Vader. The show offers moments of his tendency toward the dark side, but, overall, opts to depict a lighter, more jovial and friendly version of the character that feels a little discrepant with the monster in a mask and a suit we see at the end of this episode. But, I think it’s important to note that The Clone Wars isn’t about Anakin, it’s about Rex and Ahsoka. Dave Filoni has said as much on several occasions, emphasizing that Ahsoka and Rex are the main characters, not Anakin or Obi-Wan. In this sense, while it would’ve been great to see more of Anakin’s transformation into Vader through the seven seasons of the show, ultimately, it is the story of Ahsoka and Rex that is central. This is one of many reasons why this last episode feels so fitting to the overarching narrative of The Clone Wars. The show has highlighted many different characters, some we’ve previously seen and others we have not, but it is the lead protagonists in Ahsoka and Rex that fittingly close out the show. And, given that, this moment of a twisted, villainous Anakin approaching the presumed site of Ahsoka’s death felt well earned and fits nicely into the broader Star Wars canon.
And with that, The Clone Wars draws to a close. Across its seven seasons, the show has offered novel insights into beloved characters, but, ultimately, found its strength in fleshing out new characters like Ahsoka and Rex, while simultaneously accomplishing a wealth of world building and setting the stage nicely for the forthcoming events in the Skywalker Saga. This episode excelled in every department – from story, to tone, to vocal performances, to animation, and, most importantly, with the emotions it yields in Star Wars like us. There truly wasn’t a better, more fitting, and more powerful way to conclude this 133 episode show. Overall, The Clone Wars will be remembered for everything it added to canon, fleshing out Sidious’ grand design, some of the amazing stories it told, and definitely the iconic characters it introduced us to like Ahsoka and Rex, while also expanding on existing characters like Maul and the Clones. And to think that this incredible show all spawned from a brief conversation between two characters in a film from 1977. The Clone Wars has shown that possibilities in the Star Wars universe are endless and, in the end, the franchise continues to deliver over and over again.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney+