15 Years Later, the Biggest Star Wars Flop is Finally Getting Its Due

What started as an experiment became the centerpiece of the franchise’s future.

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Star Wars is in a transitional period. With the divisive sequel trilogy complete, the live-action TV universe is taking center stage. Gaps in the Star Wars timeline are being filled in with new characters and new revelations about old favorites.

The franchise was in a similar position in 2008. After the middling prequel trilogy gave Anakin Skywalker his backstory, it wasn’t clear what would come next. The answer was an experimental animated movie that filled in prequel trilogy gaps, fleshed out original trilogy characters, and introduced new heroes who would become favorites that center the current Star Wars era.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is best known as the long-running animated series that allowed fans to dive deep into the events of the massive conflict that brought down the Republic and led to the Great Jedi Purge. But before the series showed us lore, intrigue, and scandals, there was an animated film that took huge steps to evolve the franchise. It was a risk, but it now stands as a watershed moment in Star Wars history.

Directed by Dave Filoni back when he was best known as a director on Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Clone Wars follows Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker on a mission to rescue a kidnapped Hutt child and keep the Separatists from coercing the Hutts into joining their side. Along the way, they meet Ahsoka Tano, a youngling in need of training.

The film was meant to comprise the animated series’ first few episodes, but George Lucas, in one of his final true collaborations with Star Wars, suggested reworking the episodes into a feature film. It was a huge risk — putting The Clone Wars in theaters forced comparisons with the live-action Star Wars movies that had been blockbusters just a few years prior.

Initially, it looked like the gamble was a massive failure. Reviews said it “drives a stake into the heart of every loyal fan of the movies,” while the animation was called wooden and marionette-like. But 15 years later, The Clone Wars is a pillar of the Star Wars universe. Without this movie, there is no Mandalorian, no Baby Yoda, and certainly no Ahsoka.

Ahsoka Tano meets Anakin and Obi-Wan for the first time.


The animation may have looked dated in 2008, but today there’s a certain retro style to it, like watching concept art come to life. We’ve seen these characters evolve throughout the years, so seeing them at their most artistically risky is fascinating.

Ahsoka Tano is one of the last characters George Lucas worked on: among other contributions, he named her after the ancient Indian emperor Ashoka the Great. Seeing her debut — no matter how poorly received it was at the time — is a nostalgic and historical moment. She represents Star Wars’ next chapter, one unafraid to take risks with new characters and ideas in a growing timeline.

Now, with little more than a week before Ahsoka gives the Clone Wars star her live-action series, it’s well worth looking back on where it all began. In 2008, Ahsoka defied critics and proved she could hold her own. Now she has to do it again.

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