From the get-go, there’s something different about “Old Friends, Not Forgotten.” Absent is Kevin Kiner’s triumphant, truncated fanfare that has opened practically every episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Gone are the words of wisdom that typically join them, as is the searing-yellow title placard that zooms into view. What happens instead is typically only reserved for a Star Wars movie.
The gentle green glow of the original “A Lucasfilm Limited Production” fades into view. And there, with a blaring glory, is not Kiner’s Clone Wars music, but John Williams’ original. It may say part one and an episode title, but make no mistake: This is a cinematic experience. You’re immediately invited to ponder that, perhaps one day—when our current circumstances are different—we would be watching this almost alien title experience unfold on a massive screen, a blockbuster in its own right.
Clone Wars fans know that this wouldn’t be too alien an experience, at least. After all, the show got its start with a theatrical release in the first place—a few episodes of the first season stitched together and released as a standalone title. It was...fine? A kidnapped baby Jabba on the big screen under the auspices of being the Next Star Wars Movie may not have been the best way to introduce a half-hour adventure series you would see the rest of on kid’s TV networks, a decidedly dodgy start that, thankfully with 12 years of hindsight, we know the show has grown well out of.
But that decision years ago, that belief that Clone Wars was so good it deserved that kind of spotlight, feels like it courses throughout “Old Friends, Not Forgotten”—except this time it’s emphatically right to have that thought.
This is true for many, many reasons. Frankly, a shocking amount of reasons given that this is a 22-minute episode of television that manages to somehow feel three times the length thanks to the sheer density of things going on. On the surface level, it’s because the animation looks downright incredible (even more so than this final season has already looked), full of a sense of scale and scope as the final sieges of the Clone War come to a head. Whether it’s Anakin and Obi-Wan launching a desperate bridge attack backed by legions of Clone troopers in the episode’s opening, or the subtle hint of things to come as we see Masters of the Jedi Order dispatched to locales we know they will ultimately perish in during Revenge of the Sith. From Plo Koon flying above the skies of Cato Neimoidia to Aayla Secura leading a charge on Felucia, this is a show that looks good and knows it looks good.
The grandeur of this visual feast evokes a feeling of all-out, majestic warfare that continues as the episode gets to the heart of the matter too, as Anakin and Obi-Wan find themselves messaged by Ahsoka to petition the Republic’s aid in capturing Darth Maul and besieging Mandalore to liberate it from his shadowed grasp. Eventually, it culminates in an attack that is a non-stop explosive spectacle of setpieces that can and will leave your jaw dangling carelessly in the wind.
Though, we have to rewind first. Before Ahsoka can dramatically leap her way down to the docking bays of Sundari with Rex and her own, Togruta montral-patterned legion of Clones in tow, she and Bo-Katan have to fight for them. Ahsoka’s reunion with the Republic and, more specifically, her former master and his own tutor, is a heady mix of emotions. There is heartbreak, of course—Anakin in particular wears the grief of Ahsoka’s brief return and the distance already between them clearly on his face as she and Bo-Katan make their dire, impatient petition for aid in defeating Maul. It’s a heartbreak amplified by his sentimental decision to leave Ahsoka with the 322nd, her very own Clones to command once more, with Rex at their side—because neither he or Obi-Wan can join her, thanks to the sudden timing of General Grievous’s “stunning move” in Revenge of the Sith’s opening crawl, dragging this arc’s timeframe perilously close to further tragedy.
Among that emotion however, there is another: frustration. Ahsoka’s reunion is not all hugs, smiles, and specially-painted helmets, but laden with an underlying tension that is driven by more than just Bo-Katan’s desperation to seize this opportunity for her people. Obi-Wan’s own reluctance to get involved with Mandalore—not just for its own steadfast independence, but lingering grief over what happened to bring about Maul’s coup in the first place—sparks a steeliness in Ahsoka quenched by not just her experience with the Order at one of its lowest moments, but more recent memories of her time among the citizens of Coruscant.
Those same citizens are about to come under fire as Grievous swoops in to capture the Chancellor—much like the ones on Mandalore, who are about to be caught in the crossfire of another war. Citizens, all let down when a great Jedi Master like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first reaction is not to leap to aid but to cast political doubt and petition his fellow Jedi Masters for debate. His approach immediately sours Ahsoka’s return, her anger at not just him but the Jedi’s inaction across the galaxy made clear. For all the concern that Clone Wars’ most recent arc felt like filler to some, without it we wouldn’t have this drama unfolding as we finally get to the storyline fans have waited so long to see.
That drama makes that wait worth it all the more, of course. But it also serves as a reminder that even as Clone Wars gets more cinematic than it ever has been—even more than when it was actually in theaters—that what has made this show shine over the years is that it has taken the time to give these characters journies. It’s given them arcs with a weight that fundamentally changed who they are along the way, or in the case of familiar heroes like Anakin and Obi-Wan, added layers and nuance to paths we already knew the ends of long ago.
These characters have grown and changed since we last saw them together, and not all that change is positive for either them or for our view of them in moments like this. And they have only had the chance to go through that experience because Clone Wars is, of course, not a movie experience. It’s not a trilogy of its own, or even a saga, but a series. Its greatest strength has always been that it took the time over years and seasons with these characters to push and pull each and every one of them in fascinating ways.
It’s why Anakin’s final conversation with his former padawan, knowing the context of what he’s about to go through without her, is enough to bring you to tears. It’s why Obi-Wan’s frustrating caution is tinged with a more personal heartbreak for him, the lingering death of Duchess Satine hanging like a shadow over his mood. We’ve only got the power these scenes convey beyond their grand, gorgeous spectacle because Clone Wars was the TV show it was. Bearing the dramatic weight of these long-burning character arcs is what makes the beginning of this finale storyline here so truly remarkable, more so than its cinematic scope. It’s what makes all this feel like such an effortless payoff of glorious blaster fire and explosive action as Ahsoka and Bo-Katan’s assault begins—because, in reality, Clone Wars has been building up to this moment for the best part of a decade and a half.
Not even all the Star Wars movies in the world have managed to pull that off.
And yet, there is still—almost exhaustively given the sheer density of “Old Friends, Not Forgotten”—more to come. The war for Mandalore has only just begun, and Ahsoka is already finding herself on the back foot and encircled by Maul’s Mandalorian Supercommandos. There is still more of this remarkable, lavishly-rendered conflict on the way over the next few weeks, but there is also, beneath that spectacle, the promise of that character-driven drama that this show has meticulously honed over its entire existence, the thing that has always made Clone Wars so special.
But it is perhaps appropriate then, 12 years after it made its indelicate first steps onto the silver screen, that Clone Wars has proved it is truly a saga more than worthy of the honor of playing on the big screen.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.