With no new movie to promote until the winter of 2019, Lucasfilm’s presence at San Diego Comic Con was limited to what was billed as a retrospective on the ten-year anniversary of The Clone Wars animated series. However, at the end of the event, Lucasfilm released a trailer announcing the return of the series for a 12-episode season. Since the release of The Last Jedi the Star Wars fandom has been a divided and, in some cases, toxic community. However this news seems to have united them once again, as no one appears disappointed with this move. It seems that the only good Star Wars is old Star Wars.
At the beginning of July, actor Ahmed Best revealed that the reaction to his character in 1999’s The Phantom Menace nearly pushed him to suicide. This film, the first Star Wars movie in more than 15 years, faced expectations from fans the press that no movie could ever meet. Rather than chasing this impossible goal, George Lucas leaned into the idea of doing something different. The backlash to this movie was immediate, fierce, and ongoing until well into the mid-2000s. The second film of the new trilogy is often considered “the worst” Star Wars film ever made. The third redeemed the prequel trilogy a little, but “fans” nonetheless trashed the movies relentlessly. So insane was this negative reaction that it even inspired a documentary called The People vs. George Lucas that unironically lionized the Star Wars universe while demonizing its creator for telling the stories his way.
So, when The Clone Wars was announced it was met with skepticism from the fanbase. People wondered why Lucas would focus on the terrible prequel era rather than offering up an animated cartoon about the original trilogy characters everyone loves. Few know all the reasons why Lucas chose to do this show, perhaps only the man himself. But I like to think that part of it was that he felt the need to defend his films. Of course, if he went and meddled with them like he did the original trilogy, people would go apeshit. So, perhaps this show was his way to add the necessary context to those films so that audiences could understand them the way he did. Intentional or not, that’s precisely what this show did.
I, too, was skeptical about the decision to tell more prequel-era stories. Still, as a kid who grew up with Droids and Ewoks, I understood why it existed. I just assumed that this bit of Star Wars media was not for me. I never really enjoyed the extended universe stories, especially the ones that decided to undermine the films by making Luke Skywalker go dark side anyway. Yet, begrudging those fans who do like the parts of Star Wars I didn’t like was never my bag. Before the end of the first season, I learned that Dave Filoni, the mastermind of Star Wars animation in the past decade or so, hailed from my hometown of Pittsburgh. I have a clear policy of supporting any Yinzer who makes it “big” in the media biz, so I gave the cartoon a watch. What I saw surprised the shit out of me.
The stories were thoughtful little morality plays, set in a universe at war. The issues driving the stories were very complex for a kids’ show, one that didn’t shy away from depicting death. In fact, I remember thinking that as America sat embroiled in two questionable wars, that cartoon was perhaps the only story for kids touching on these topics at all. It showed that there was no such thing as a “good war.” But it also showed that in war, people can do incredibly selfless things and that’s what makes them heroic. Put another way, this series was pure Star Wars. (As well it should be, since George Lucas was heavily involved in shaping and approving the stories.) As Filoni said at the SDCC panel, this show and all of Star Wars comes down to a simple argument: It’s always better to be selfless than selfish.
While I was pleasantly surprised about how good The Clone Wars was, the (adult) fans didn’t all think so. Unsurprisingly, they hated the new, female character in the show, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan learner Ahsoka Tano, voiced by Ashley Eckstein. Today she’s viewed as one of the best prequel-era characters and certainly the most popular character to never appear in a film. But at the time, she was no one’s favorite. Some were angry at the very idea of the series, and Ahsoka’s personality was just the icing on that rage-cake. Others disliked her design, specifically how much skin she showed (even though she was essentially a pre-pubescent child). And finally others thought she was cute enough, but ultimately unimportant because she had to die since she wasn’t in Episode III.
To be fair to Filoni, the crew, and the cast, some fans came around to the show because of its consistent high-quality storytelling. Even when they did questionable things — like bringing back the bisected Darth Maul — they earned it. Still, it wasn’t until George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney that The Clone Wars reached its final form in the minds of the fandom. Because anything Star Wars is always successful, The Clone Wars didn’t have to worry about not having the time to tell their stories. Frankly, The Cartoon Network would have likely let Lucas make whatever cartoon he wanted (as evidenced by the horrible-looking Seth Green comedy cartoon). They were going to do 8 seasons of 22 episodes and end the series right where Revenge of the Sith picks up. But the sale to Disney ended all that.
Now that it had been taken away before its time, the perpetually-displeased segment of the fandom wailed that this was just the first of many signs that Disney would ruin Star Wars. (Though, hadn’t Lucas done that already by making the prequels in the first place?) In fact, the same criticism of The Clone Wars in its infancy was levied, preemptively in some cases, at Rebels, the Filoni-led animated series that followed the Disney acquisition. Again, Filoni and crew made a show that was so well-done it won over almost everyone, but he also ended the series after four seasons.
We have entered the “Age of Backlash” when it comes to Star Wars. Every new project is lambasted by a similar chorus of haters who declare that whatever new thing put out is “not my Star Wars.” If that was a far as it went, that’d be fine. Not everything in big universes are for everyone. Personally, I adore the Harry Potter series but could not care less about the fantastic beasts or cursed children keeping the franchise going. Yet, thanks to Twitter and other hell sites, I mean, social media sites, these “real fans” can harass the creators and actors to the point where they abandon the platform altogether.
It seems only when there is a clear focus on nostalgia, of things gone by, that a majority of Star Wars fans are happy. Well, not happy exactly but rather less likely to bitch and moan online about “Nu-Wars,” “Disney SJWs,” and the other alt-right, redpill bullshit that has infected the fandom like a cancer. One has to wonder if the divisions and animus are so permanently ingrained that the hater contingent will find someone to harass or complain about with even this project. One has to hope, that as the years go by and it becomes clear that Star Wars is going to go on for many years and many different projects to come, that fans will be less precious about the franchise. That someday soon, if there is something about Star Wars that a fan doesn’t like, he (and, let’s be honest, it’s always a “he”) doesn’t decide to bully those who do like it. In the meantime, we’ll always have The Clone Wars, I guess.