Introduction: This is the first in an occasional series of recommendation posts spotlighting potential contenders for the 2021 Best Dramatic Long/Short Form Hugo categories (and possibly Graphic Story later).
DRAMATIC PRESENTATION WATCH: Star Wars: The Clone Wars: “Old Friends Not Forgotten”/”The Phantom Apprentice”/”Shattered”/”Victory and Death” (Long Form)
The final chapter of The Clone Wars happens over the course of 4 interconnected episodes. Ahsoka Tano finally returns to the Jedi order, reuniting with her master (and best friend) Anakin Skywalker. This reunion is short-lived when General Grievous attacks Coruscant…or rather, when the events of “Revenge of the Sith” kick into gear. What follows is a tragedy, as Ahsoka experienced Order 66 firsthand and the Clone Wars meet a harrowing end, to say little of what becomes of her friend…
Star Wars, to this writer, is a funny franchise. Its introduction to the global public in the 1970s no doubt shaped the course of moviemaking, further popularizing both the American blockbuster and clear-eyed, spectacular genre filmmaking, becoming a merchandising behemoth in the process (Holiday Specials notwithstanding). The following two entries of the trilogy served to further cement its legacy as not just a beloved piece of SF/F but a key part of pop culture, period.
And yet…something happened to Star Wars. George Lucas came back to direct the “Prequel Trilogy,” charting the fall of series villain Darth Vader from his rise as Jedi Anakin Skywalker, premiered in 1999 and concluded in 2005 to initial befuddlement that evolved into anger and mockery. This past decade saw the “Sequel Trilogy,” set after the original trilogy, which attempted to both invoke nostalgia for the original movies and recontextualize their binary view on good vs. evil in a 21st-century light. This resulted in an entry that heavily called back to “A New Hope” only to dissipate from the public consciousness, a highly polarizing entry, and an entry that tried to please everyone and pleased few. Connected to the “Sequel Trilogy” was a larger pushback from those fed up with Star Wars – fed up with the heavy marketing, the discourse that came with these new movies, and the extremely vocal fans.
The supplemental material of Star Wars, however, has always seemed to be better received than the later main entries. The dearly-departed Extended Universe greatly expanded the world of Star Wars, unlocking its potential and firing-up the imaginations of fans and writers, many of whom would wind up working on Star Wars properties themselves. Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story both got resounding mehs, but the Disney+ series The Mandalorian holds rave reviews. There’s a disconnect here between these examples and the main movies; the Original Trilogy, as much as Empire Strikes Back elevated it, was still largely an exercise in invoking the old serials of Lucas’ youth mixed with an Akira Kurosawa-inspired 70’s brat mentality; the actual worldbuilding was incidental (A New Hope, in particular, has that “making this all up on the fly” feel to it.) The more popular the franchise became, the greater the urge to dig into the world became. Ultimately, this was largely to the greater series’ detriment; Like the later Sequel Trilogy, Lucas was attempting to do things with the prequels, both deconstructing the Jedi as a wholly just force and maintaining the series’ fun sensibility. If there’s a trend here, it’s that while works on the sidelines of Star Wars can explore its world with ease, main entries that attempt this seem to always stumble into poor critical receptions, arguably because that was never the intention of the series in the first place.
This writer himself was never big into Star Wars, and still, admittedly, feels a detachment from the franchise. It seems like a series one has to watch at a formative age to feeI a special attachment to; me, I was born a year before Phantom Menace came out and never watched any of the movies as a kid. The only piece of Star Wars media I watched was, coincidence, Clone Wars—not the 2003 miniseries, but this Clone Wars. I remember when the series first premiered in film form and was lambasted, coming fresh off the heels of the prequels and seeming to overturn the beloved miniseries in favor of a kiddie Saturday morning cartoon feel. Seven seasons and a jump to Netflix and Disney+ later, that’s been proven to not be the case. Dave Filoni and collaborators used that supplemental freedom to do what the prequels were unable to do; flesh out the world, flesh out characters that had previously been afterthoughts, and to give credence to the notion of moral ambiguity in the world of Star Wars.
That plays out in this 4-part finale, where the already strong storytelling is bolstered by the dramatic irony of how ROTS plays out Ahsoka Tano went from an “annoying add-on” to one of the most beloved Star Wars characters ever; seeing the events from her perspective, as well as from the perspective of the Clones that audiences had come to love over the course of seven seasons, end the series on a sobering note of sublimity.
I had not seen Clone Wars since middle school, so (possibly unavoidably with Star Wars) I felt a hint of nostalgia while watching these episodes. Detached as they are from the rest of the season, they stand alone (though not apart from each other). Due to the cohesive storytelling and combined length, if they’re to be considered for the Hugo Awards, it really has to be for Long Form. Television has always had a spotty history in the category (only a few shows, only in their first seasons), so asking voters to look at what amounts to an arc might be a high order. But, speaking as someone who isn’t really into Star Wars, this set of episodes is worth it.