I want to talk about the last four episodes of Season 6 of ther Clone Wars.
Ther Clone Wars is a Star Wars cartoon series. It originally ran from 2008 to 2014. A final Seventh Season came out in 2020; which led directly into a new cartoon called The Bad Batch .
Season 1 - 6 took place in between Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Season 7 ran more or less alongside Episode III. The Bad Batch takes up the story where Revenge of the Sith leaves off, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Republic.
It must always be referred to as Ther Clone Wars to distinguish it from an earlier, 2003 series of animated shorts which was just called Clone Wars.
Nearly everyone agrees that Star Wars Episodes I, II and III ("the prequels") were not very good. The level of not-very-goodness is disputed. Some people think they were a bit of a disappointment and not nearly as much fun as the original trilogy. Some people think that George Lucas raped their childhoods. But everyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars accepts that they are, and I am awfully sorry to use this word, canon.
You may very well think that Phantom Menace spoiled A New Hope and that Jar-Jar Binks was not particularly funny: but if I tell you that in ther Clone Wars the Jedi Council on Coruscant gives Anakin a Padawan named Ashoka, you know what a padawan is, and where Corsucant is, and what I mean by the Jedi Council.
It may be that when Princess Leia says that years ago Obi-Wan served her father in the Clone Wars, you still imagine an army of Jedi Knights fighting against an army of Clones. It may be that you imagine Jedi as Knights in Shining Armour rather than Samurai. It may be that you think that that version of the Clone Wars would have been more fun. But I don't think that anyone who is still interested in Star Wars remotely doubts that Lucas's backstory, clunkily expounded though it might have been, is what really happened.
I grant that this may be a No-True-Scotsman fallacy: everyone who likes Star Wars 'believes in' the prequels, because everyone who doesn't believe in the prequels long ago stopped liking Star Wars.
Ther Clone Wars went a very long way to reconciling those two contradictory feelings. We might even say that it redeemed the Prequels. Maybe the kid-friendly animated format allowed Lucas to loosen up and offer us what is essentially "Revenge of the Sith, only fun." Or maybe he just sub-contracted his world to creators who were less jaded about it. At any rate, ther Clone Wars gives us a series of heroic, swashbuckling war stories in which Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ashoka fight endless thrilling battles against Christopher Lee and General Greivous, with light-sabre duels and space dogfights and literal cliffhangers, but with a mounting sense that Anakin's destiny is a bit on the Dark Side.
The cinematic prequels were not movies so much as exercises in back-story management. The cartoon series is much more in the realm of Lucas's original vision -- Flash Gordon with Politics.
A young Republican officer starts talking about the need for authoritarian rule; Obi-Wan says that this is not the Jedi Way, but Anakin thinks he may have a point. The officer's name, is, of course, Tarkin. The Third On The Left in the Jedi Council ("Plo Koon") goes off on missions and quests. A Young Boy falls in first with a group of clones and then with a group of Bounty Hunters: he turns out to be the son of Jango Fett. (This is why Bobba tells Cadd Bane, the gunfighter/bounty hunter in the live action Book of Bobba Fett "I am not a little boy any more".) Darth Maul recovers from his death and briefly becomes dictator of the planet Mandalor. Obi-Wan has a dalliance with a Mandalorian duchess, who meets a tragic end. It may be she first gave him the nick-name Ben.
Some people like this kind of thing; sone people find it a bit annoying. It is not that surprising that a Star Wars cartoon contains references and quotes from the Star Wars movies; but we may not have been expecting Star Wars live-action shows to quote from and refer to the cartoons. I suppose animation is regarded by many people as a junior art-form. For a long time cartoon spin-offs of movies were disposable fare for Saturday morning kids slots. Who now remembers Bill and Teds Excellent Adventures and the Real Ghostbusters? Gene Roddenbury took the animated Star Trek rather seriously, but that didn't stop the BBC putting it in the Scooby Doo slot.
I saw someone complain on Twitter recently that in order to understand the significance of the Dark Sabre in the Mandalorian you first had to watch several hundred hours of cartoons. (In fairness, they may have meant that some Star Wars fans talk as if that was the case.) This is not literally true; you could watch the whole of Clone Wars and Rebels in sixty or seventy hours. And you certainly don't need to go back to the cartoon to follow the live action show. Everything you need is explained right there on screen: the Dark Sabre is a kind of Mandalorian Excalibur. The person with the sword has the right to rule the planet.
Does knowing that there are several other stories about the Dark Sabre that you have not watched necessarily make this one less fun?
Does having watched several other stories about the Dark Sabre necessarily make this one more fun?
Is the Lord of the Rings a better book once you have read the Silmarillion and know who Turin and Turgon and Even Beren Himself were? Is it exactly the same book whether you know who they are or not? Or does the reference to off-stage-lore completely ruin the book for you and make you chuck it aside in disgust?
Will I get the jokes in Guards, Guards if I haven't read all forty one Discworld novels? Is there any point in going to see Dune if I haven't read Frank Herbert's son's nineteen prequels?
Is this, in fact, exactly the same essay I wrote about Doctor Who last week?
What Kind of a Star Wars fan are you?
1: "I didn't realise that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies."
I have a colleague who remarked that they have been greatly enjoying the Mandalorian despite never having seen a Star War before. She doesn't see it as part of a saga: she's just enjoying it as cowboys in space.
I see R2 Units and X-Wings and Jawas. She sees, presumably, Robots and Aliens and Space Ships.
2: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies, but I don't think that it matters."
I watched Frasier without ever having seen an instalment of Cheers. From time to time a character from the old series turned up in Seattle. It meant there was the odd in-joke I didn't get. I didn't feel the need to go away and watch the previous series (although I understand it's very good) but neither did I say Kelsey Gramer hates me I have to go away and watch two hundred hours of comedy set in a bar before I understand why Dr Crane has a son by previous marriage.
3: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and I think that is all part of the fun: I positively enjoy collecting all the story elements and spotting the connections."
Ooo, Sir, me, me, me, me, me!
4: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and this ruins it for me."
Some people are completists. Some people feel that they can only watch this series if they watch all the other series as well. But they don't want to watch all the other series. So they are cross with this series for mentioning the old shows, and cross with the old shows for existing. And possibly cross with the new show for existing as well.
People who take this view often pretend that when people talk about ther Clone Wars they are actually talking about the 1980s Droids and Ewoks TV shows.
It may be a sort of a narrative Fear of Missing Out: if I can't have it ALL, then I want NONE OF IT. It may be a kind of moral principle, that all stories should be self-contained and if a story is not self-contained it is breaking the rules. Some people were cross with ther Batman because it didn't show the origin of Bruce and Commissioner Gordon's friendship, but kind of assumed you already knew.
We should, not of course forget that there is also
5: Somewhere in between.
This category includes nearly everyone reading this, and indeed, nearly everyone in the world.
There is no doubt that Star Wars has become quite complicated. Before The Force Awakens, Lucasfilms was rather pragmatic about the Universe. All stories were canon, but some were more canon than others. (There was primary canon and secondary canon and tertiary canon, with the movies at the top and the holiday special at the bottom and most of the novels somewhere in between.) Since the reboot, there are only two kinds of story: "happened", and "didn't happen" with everything that did happen fitting into a fairly coherent timeline.
This creates a rather sprawling narrative architecture: if you took a step back and tried to take it all in with a single glance, your brain would quite probably turn into to processed peas. Perhaps that is the real difference between the Type 4 Star Wars fan (who hates lore and canon) and the Type 3 Star Wars fan (who revels in them.) One prefers a perfectly formed work of art that you can see and appreciate the shape of; the other prefers a huge baroque maze that you will get lost in. Oedipus Rex versus The Faery Queene; The Go-Between versus Ulysses; G Minor Tocata and Fugue over The Ring Cycle.
It is no secret which side of the fence I come down on.
Perfectly sensible adults who read proper books and watch proper movies have claimed to be confused by the fact that Episodes I, II and III came out after Episodes IV, V and VI. Oh these whacky space fiction fans who don't even count like we do! I wonder how they would cope with the fact that the cartoon, which fills in the big blank space between the fifth and sixth (by which I mean the second and third) movies started twelve months after the second (by which I mean the first) trilogy was complete.
We are not talking about crossovers. There have always been crossovers. Scooby Doo met Batman: amusing people have pointed out that Batman met Alien and Alien met Predator and Predator met Terminator so Terminator and Scooby Doo share a setting. That's neither very interesting nor very funny. Batman gatecrashed Superman's radio show before World War II; and Stan Lee treated the Fantastic Four as part of Spider-Man's supporting cast before Philip Larkin had discovered sexual intercourse. But we are still talking about separate narrative units which happen to allude to each other. No-one was ever really suggesting that the Fantastic Four and Milly the Model made sense as a single narrative. Someone has tried the experiment of reading every Marvel Comic in order and pretending it was one big story. But that was never how they were meant to be read.
Alastair Grey's novel Lanark is divided into four parts: the first part describes the protagonist in a kind of allegorical purgatory; the second and third parts show his realistic life in 1960s Glasgow; the final part resumes his posthumous odyssey. As a kind of jape, the index lists the books as Part 4, part 1, part 2 and part 3, in that order: but he notes in his epilogue (which comes in the middle) that lots of books are intended to be read in one order but eventually though of in a different order. Godfather Part II, which embeds a prequel inside a sequel, springs obviously to mind. There is also a quite good little movie called Citizen Kane.
This is why there is no sensible answer to the question about the correct order in which to read the Narnia books. You should read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe first, but eventually think of the Magicians Nephew first. The question "What order should I read or watch them in?" only really applies to the very first reading; and there is really no such thing as a first reading. We all know who Luke Skywalker's dad is and what Aslan is an allegory of and who Rosebud was before we start.
Many years ago I proposed that Star Wars should be thought of, not as a straight narrative line but as a spiral. My idea was that the Prequels to some extent changed the meaning of the Original Trilogy; and that both "meanings" could exist in your head at the same time. When Obi-Wan tells Luke that Vader killed his father, he is both telling the truth and lying; when Luke kisses Leia, it's both a flirtatious snog between two teenagers and a slightly creepy moment between two siblings.
I expressed that thought as a swirly flow chart in which Star-Wars-Once-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back is a different movie from Star-Wars-Before-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back; and The-Trilogy-Before-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels is a different set of films from The-Trilogy-After-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels.
The addition of more material -- a third trilogy and two stand alone films; four cartoon series; two live action series and more on the way -- turns my elegant spiral into a knotty web. A big ball of wibbly wobbly lore. Mapping out how the cartoons relate to the TV shows would be quite beyond my capacity; and don't even mention the comics...
It is possible to imagine someone watching the entire Star Wars canon, never having seen any of the movies before, in strict chronological order. It is also possible to imagine visiting them in a padded cell once they were finished. First Phantom Menace, then Attack of the Clones, then the first six Seasons of Clone Wars, then Revenge of the Sith, then the Bad Bunch, then Rebels, and then (if you are quick), the original trilogy itself. (If you are not quick, you'll have to squeeze in Obi-Wan after Rebels but before Rogue One.) I suppose a true chronological reading would require you to watch Season Seven of the Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith simultaneously, via some sort of split-screen effect. Maybe some film school dude could edit them together as a project: I believe there is a linear edit of Citizen Kane in existence, and there was a TV series re-editing the Godfather in historical sequence. I'd rather like to see it again. Don't get me started chronological Bibles.
If you were watching The Whole of Star Wars In Order for the first time, you would come to -- say -- Episode One of The Bad Batch and notice that some attention is given to a young Jedi Padawan who escapes when the Clone Troopers execute Order 66. (His mentor is the lady of Asian appearance who sits on the Jedi council in Phantom Menace.) "I wonder who that character is" you would say "I bet he is going to turn out to be important later on". And you'd be right: he grows up to be Kanan, who teaches Ezra about the Force in Rebels. But this is arguably not how you are meant to view the scene. It is certainly not how most people first experienced it. Bad Batch came out in 2021 and Rebels ended in 2018. So arguably, the "correct" response is "Oh wow -- Kanan when he was a little boy!"
But perhaps "intention" and "chronological readings" break down in this kind of narrative web. Perhaps all that matters is that there are little cross-temporal links between the different formats. Perhaps the fact nearly everyone gets some connections and hardly anyone get all of them is the core fact about the aesthetic. The object of the exercise is not to catechise us about every previous appearance of the Dark Sabre, or to try and remember when Rex transitioned from being a background grunt to being a major character, and if he is going to appear in Obi-Wan. Perhaps the object is that we don't -- can't possibly -- get every reference. Perhaps that is what creates the compelling illusion that what we are watching is not just a story, but also an historical text.
I: Phantom Menace
II: Attack of the Clones
Clone Wars Seasons 1-5
III: Revenge of the Sith
Clone Wars Season 7
The Bad Batch
IV: Star Wars
V: The Empire Strikes Back
VI: Return of the Jedi
The Book of Boba Fett
VII: The Force Awakens
Resistance Season 1
VIII: The Last Jedi
Resistance Season 2
IX: The Rise of Skywalker