The following contains major spoilers for the series finale of The Clone Wars, “Victory and Death.” Please watch the episode on Disney+ before reading any further.
While I was generally pleased with the first arc and admittedly a little bored during the second, the final arc of The Clone Wars‘ final season proved to be close to a masterpiece. As grandiose in style and vision as any piece of Star Wars media to date, the struggle of Ahsoka Tano’s last mission for the Galactic Republic proved especially tough. But while the first two episodes saw a last gasp of triumph for Ahsoka and the clones, the final two were all about the end of things, and the overall tragedy and meaninglessness of this (or all) war.
As we talked about on Friday with regard to “ Shattered,” everything about The Clone Wars changed when Darth Sidious issued Order 66. Suddenly, we saw the end of the clones as heroic, noble warriors serving a central good. Now they were just what the prequel films made them: mindless killing machines. Well, almost. Even after their inhibitor chips went operational, the clones remained the series’ ace in the hole. As we focused on Ahsoka, Rex, and Maul’s attempts to escape the (suddenly crashing) Republic cruiser, we saw the rest of the clones following orders to the last.
Rex and Ahsoka try merely to stun or non-lethally subdue the clones they encounter during their escape attempt. When up against a formidable army it’s pretty tough to actively try not to kill them. Maul has a much easier time of it, laying waste to any clones he sees on his way to the ship’s lightspeed core. He relishes in the wanton destruction of faceless soldiers. It’s exactly the two sides of the coin The Clone Wars has explored from the beginning.
In the films, stormtroopers or battle droids or even clones (especially clones) were just cannon fodder for our heroes or villains to take out en masse. We didn’t need to care about them because they were just an obstacle. But The Clone Wars turned the titular soldiers into individual characters with their own personalities and interests. Not all the clones wanted to fight; not all the clones were good at it even. They may be genetic clones of Jango Fett, bred for war, but it’s in them that the show found one of its core characters, Captain Rex, and had some of its best episodes.
Order 66 could have turned the clones into mindless killing machines. The order compelled the clones to execute the Jedi on site; the programming took their autonomy away. “Victory and Death” showed us that wasn’t the case. Jesse, one of the clones we’d followed for a very long time and who tried to withstand Maul’s interrogation, accuses Rex of treason for disobeying the order to kill Ahsoka. They aren’t zombies; the clones are still the righteous, noble, and loyal men we’ve always known them to be. It’s just, because of the inhibitor chip, they think it’s the Jedi who are the traitors and they lack the reasoning to question it. Rex tries to use semantics to hold them off; Jesse’s not buying it. Treason, to the clones, is immovable and inexcusable.
So imagine what that means for Rex. We see him shedding a tear for his brothers; they don’t know what they’re doing and he knows they won’t stop. It’s heartbreaking. We know not every clone obeyed the Order, but enough of them did that they wiped out the whole of the Jedi Order. And then what happens? The clones are very pointedly not the same as the later Imperial stormtroopers. Rex makes a point of saying so in Star Wars Rebels. So, the end of this finale is particularly poignant. It’s the end of the Clone Wars, which means it’s the end of the clones.
Following the crash of the ship, Rex and Ahsoka bury what clones they could find and use their helmets as grave markers. In the end, it’s one of the most tragic things in the entire Star Wars universe. These clones existed for war, died to defend the Republic, but ultimately died to serve so one man could rise to the pinnacle of power in the universe. The legacy of the Clone Wars isn’t just the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire; the legacy is planet loads of seemingly expendable ground troops who, for most people, never even had names.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm
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