Long have we waited for this moment. Now that it’s upon us, in its final hour Star Wars: The Clone Wars has laid to bare its thesis: In a galaxy far, far away, where now nothing can be as it was for the show’s seven seasons, only one thing remains that matters. One thing that was, really, all that ever mattered.
A dread air lingers over “Shattered,” and it’s an understandable air to linger. After last week’s episode laid down the cards to reveal that, at long last, it knows that we know, it does not beat around the existential bush anymore: Revenge of the Sith is upon us, and it is time to see its events unfold.
Clone Wars at least does not go the easy way out on this, and give us the perhaps visceral thrill of re-glimpsing those moments—the battle for Utapau, Anakin’s fall, the solemn montage of betrayed Jedi gunned down one after the other, the younglings (so many younglings)—imagined in its animated style. After all, it knows that we’re aware, and beyond a nod made to this in recreating Mace Windu’s dire warning to the Jedi Council about the dark shadows around Chancellor Palpatine from Ahsoka’s perspective, it rightfully focuses on the things that Clone Wars has come to be defined by.
Initially, this means the Mandalorians are free. Strange to look at now perhaps in hindsight, as one of the most embraced and celebrated aspects of the show that was, initially at least, so controversially received by fans that it even led one beloved Expanded Universe author to quit the franchise altogether. With Maul detained, Ahsoka and Bo-Katan’s mission is essentially complete, but just as with other events in this episode, we know the impact of the Clone War is far from over on the planet Mandalore.
There’s a solemnity to proceedings even in victory as Bo-Katan (flanked by another fun hint to the wider Star Wars animated mythology, Rebels’ Ursa Wren, mother of Sabine) hands the captive Maul over and bids farewell to Ahsoka. Although she’s leaving, not all of the Clones she brought along are. The army that arrived as Bo-Katan’s allied liberators now feels more like an occupying force roaming the streets, detaining her fellow Mandalorians—albeit ones she was gunning down herself in the hours preceding. But we’re left to linger on that fact as Ahsoka and Rex take off with their prisoner, because, once again: This is a show keenly aware that we know we are watching a ticking time bomb that is about to go off.
And yet, when it does happen there is no overbearing sense of grandeur to Order 66 finally going through. Indulgences, yes, as Ahsoka feels echoes through the Force of Mace Windu’s death, Anakin’s fall to the Dark (in the voices of both Hayden Christensen and Matt Lanter’s portrayal of the tragic chosen one), and more. But after seven seasons of simmering tension, after 12 years of expectation, Clone Wars reaches the moment it almost existed to support and it just...happens. Rex gets his message. The order goes through. And Clones, loyal brothers all in their Tano-branded helmets, open fire on the former Jedi.
You could say that was the point of this: Order 66 has been such an inevitability in our minds that the moment itself passes not with overbearing awareness of its importance in the whole of Star Wars canon, but as if it was any other event in the saga of Clone Wars. And yet, in that inevitability, there are nuggets of surprise.
How quickly Ahsoka goes from accepting nods and salutes from her comrades in arms to slicing them down and peppering them with their own deflected bolter blasts. How quickly she goes from being a loyal citizen of the Republic doing her duty, to realizing that allowing Maul to escape and wreak chaos is just what she’ll need to to survive this new nightmare. How, try as he might, Rex cannot resist the order, transitioning from heartfelt, earnest friend to terrifying masked pursuer in a moment. Even though we have pondered and speculated about this for years, Clone Wars takes the time to surprise us as it treats the event with deftly distant hands.
But that isn’t the point Clone Wars wants to make by rendering this climactic moment of the Star Wars saga in such an emotional, yet subdued manner. By treating Order 66 not as this huge event—by keeping the focus tight on where we are, by not fetishizing this sequence’s place within the canon—Clone Wars tells us something, and then asks us to consider a question. It knows that we are well aware of the Star Wars canon. So if Clone Wars was never about Order 66, then what actually mattered to this series the most?
It was never Anakin. It was never Obi-Wan. It was never any legion of Jedi or Sith. It’s not even Maul, as important a role as he played here. It was never the old, but the new: It was Rex and Ahsoka. It always was.
Just before Order 66 comes through, Ahsoka and Rex have a conversation that, in stripping away the hushed importance of the event that occurs immediately after, becomes the actual focal point of the episode (Lucasfilm released it as a clip earlier this week, which, given the actual import it has in context, now seems wild). Though it’s not just the focal point of “Shattered,” but the culmination of themes this entire final season has dealt with.
In fact, it is the series of realizations that we have been waiting for Ahsoka and Rex to build toward for the entire show. Ahsoka reflects on the time she has spent since leaving the Order and realizes it was more than just the war that leads to them losing their way as the peacekeeping vanguard of the everyday citizen. Rex acknowledges the existential crises the Clones face as literal creations of war that almost no one wants to be reminded about now, tools bred for a purpose that is directly juxtaposed with the humanity now placed upon them.
These are both sad and tragic things for these characters to have to process about themselves and the state of the world they live in, yet they can, and do so because they also come to another realization: The bond they have forged together along the way through these separate-yet-joined hardships is actually the thing that mattered beyond winning a war or the Jedi Order’s understanding of its role in the galaxy. It is the bond that, when moments after it seemingly breaks forever, allows them to survive Order 66.
Ahsoka’s steadfast refusal to accept that she cannot save at least her most dear friend in all this leads to her staging a little chaos of her own while Maul creates havoc. She recruits a trio of Astromechs to help her contain, incapacitate, and then perform surgery on Rex—all while being pursued by a ship’s worth of Clones—burrowing into his head to literally unflip the switch that’s been rooted there in secret ever since the Clone War began. That in and of itself is a nice wrapping of the bow on seeds Clone Wars sowed in its last “final” season almost to the point of convenience. But being aware of the inhibitor chip in Rex and every other Clones’ head—metatextually, the canonical source of Order 66—is not what saves the day here. It’s Ahsoka, in a moment of desperation, reaching out to her friend in the Force, chanting with him “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me” so that the medical droid can locate and remove the chip.
Once again Clone Wars hits it home for us: Order 66 was never really the deal here, as alluring as it is. What truly mattered was actually seeing these two characters realize these things together, and the bond that has come from sharing those realizations being what lets them survive this contextualized moment in canon. We have known for years that Ahsoka and Rex, initially assumed to just be inevitably tragic victims of Clone Wars’ status as a prequel series, have persisted, and have transformed into some of Star Wars’ most endearing and most enduring characters. Characters who did not just, as we’ve now watched, survived the events we’d all thought had marked them for death, but gone on to live and thrive, into the time of the Empire’s rise, and beyond into to even more of Star Wars’ currently unknown futures.
So it is fitting that in this most crucial moment—the moment Star Wars’ entire galaxy changes in an instant—that Clone Wars ignores those wider events to burrow down deep with its most vital characters, and uses them to lay out its most important theses. Both that the Jedi had strayed from their path in a way that made this all the more inevitable beyond the rigors of canon, and that the faceless drones of this conflict were perhaps its most human, most tragic victims.
Clone Wars knows that we know. And now, it’s time to bring that knowledge to bear with Ahsoka and Rex at the heart of it, for their most important journey to have one major step completed, one final time. The Clone War is over now.
And Clone Wars is about to be, too.
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