By George Bate
“There’s always a bit of truth in legends…”
Ahsoka Tano’s wise words from Star Wars Rebels may be the pathway to make Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars series canon.
Initially released in 2003 and spanning three seasons culminating in the release of Revenge of the Sith, the Cartoon Network series featured 25 highly stylized installments showcasing different facets of the infamous Clone Wars. The series was often a stark contrast to the theatrical films, with long stretches absent of any dialogue or music whatsoever. It was also the introduction of several iconic Star Wars characters, including Asajj Ventress, Durge, and General Grievous. However, as we all know, Dave Filoni’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars series eventually superseded its predecessor, essentially deeming Tartakovsky’s show non-canon or Legends. Nonetheless, we think there’s a unique way Star Wars: Clone Wars could become canon again.
One of the reasons Star Wars: Clone Wars was branded Legends material is due to the aforementioned stylistic and tonal differences from the saga films. While Filoni’s series feels very much in sync with the prequel trilogy and the Skywalker saga more broadly in terms of tone, style, and narrative, Tartakovsky’s series just feels different. The Star Wars sense of humor we’re all used to and love is largely nowhere to be seen. Characters go long stretches without uttering a word. And the action feels like it’s more out of a stylized Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill-esque film than it does a Star Wars project.
Beyond stylistic differences, there’s various continuity differences between the two Clone Wars series that make it difficult to reconcile Tartakovsky’s series as canon in the traditional sense. The most glaring is the total absence of Ahsoka Tano in the original series, who obviously goes on to play a central role in Filoni’s series and canon beyond that. Although some may argue Star Wars: The Clone Wars doesn’t entirely negate its predecessor, it poses some uncomfortable questions if both are deemed canon.
However, this is where Ahsoka’s nugget of wisdom from Star Wars Rebels comes in.
Recently, Star Wars has started delving into its own canon in this weird, really interesting, meta way. George Mann wrote Myths and Fables, and later published Dark Legends, two collections of in-universe short stories. Insight Editions have came out with The Secrets of the Jedi and will soon release The Secrets of the Sith. And, more recently, Kristen Baver and DK publishing have published Skywalker: A Family at War, a kind of in-universe biography of the Skywalker family.
All of these projects, besides just being really cool and interesting, have something in common – they’re all in-universe depictions of events. For instance, Star Wars characters will have read the stories in Myths and Fables or Dark Legends just like we have. It’s this weird, meta take on things where we, as Star Wars fans, get a glimpse into the sort of materials people living in that vast universe get their hands on. Think of Tales of the Black Freighter in Watchmen, if you know what I mean.
So, how does this relate to Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars series then?
Well, what if the series was an in-universe depiction of the Clone Wars? Similar to George Mann’s stories and other works. Perhaps characters in the Star Wars universe watched Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars as a sort of retelling of the events that actually occurred. Not only would this explain some of the stylistic and narrative discrepancies between the 2003 series and 2008 series, but it would also mirror our real life depictions of battles and wars through media. We watch Band of Brothers as this creative, stylized dramatization of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II. We watch Platoon or Apocalypse Now as cinematic retellings of the Vietnam War. It’s conceivable that people within the Star Wars universe also watch portrayals of famous historical events, like the Clone Wars, albeit with some tweaks here and there for dramatic effect.
Besides this kind of meta-take on Tartakovsky’s series to make it canon (sort of), there’s another way Star Wars: Clone Wars could be integrated into broader canon.
If we take a step back, The Clone Wars as an event occurs from 22 BBY to 19 BBY, this tiny 3 year sliver in between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Tartakovsky’s series spans 25 chapters, but let’s focus on Chapters 1 through 21 for a second. The first 21 of 25 chapters of the series happen roughly in 22 BBY – the first of three years of The Clone Wars. Conversely, Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars takes us all the way up to 19 BBY and Revenge of the Sith. In the 2008 theatrical Clone Wars, Anakin is already a Jedi Knight. He doesn’t have his Padawan braid, his hair has grown. General Grievous is a threat on the Republic’s radar and already has his rough breathing. The Clone Wars is clearly full steam ahead at this point.
Where things get a little messy in canon is where both of these series end. Chapters 23 through 25 of Tarvatoksy’s series focuses on the Battle of Coruscant. We see Shaak-Ti protecting Palpatine from Grievous. Anakin is on a sort of pilgrimage. Anakin and Obi-Wan are recalled to Coruscant after a mission on Nelvaan. Anakin’s robotic hand is destroyed in this process and He has an insidious vision of becoming Darth Vader.
This is in contrast to Dave Filoni’s Siege of Mandalore arc. In this arc, Anakin and Obi-Wan are recalled to Coruscant while on Mandalore, not Nelvaan. Not to mention all the things that happen to Anakin in these last few episodes. It’s hard to headcanon your way around any of this.
So what’s the solution? Well, more minor discrepancies in canon aside, Star Wars can maybe take a page out of the X-Men and Terminator franchises in terms of how they selectively retcon certain things. The X-Men universe has been very loose with what constitutes canon, seemingly changing things at will to fit their narrative as it progresses. Similarly, the later few Terminator movies have cherry picked what they want (and don’t want) to be canon. Star Wars could adopt a similar approach and simply retcon Chapters 23-25 of Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, making Chapters 1 through 21 or 22 canon.
Or maybe smarter minds than mine could piece together in some creative fashion how both Clone Wars series could be weaved into canon seamlessly.
Either way, Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars series lives on in the hearts of many Star Wars fans. It’s kind of an amazing position to be a Star Wars fan when we get not one, but two fantastic Clone Wars series. Whether it be making the 2003 series an in-universe depiction of the Clone Wars, or playing around with canon in retconning some, but not all installments of the series, we think there’s still a few ways the acclaimed show could be made canon.
Images courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm