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Star Wars Wouldn’t Be the Same Without Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars

Tartakovsky’s cartoon left an indelible impact on Star Wars.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Lucasfilm
Celebrating the Prequels

Star Wars on television hasn’t always worked the way George Lucas wanted it to, nor was it always popular with the audience. The two made-for-TV films about the Ewoks — The Caravan of Courage (1984) and The Battle for Endor (1985) — are remembered fondly by folks who were children at the time of their release, but others have found them as cringe-inducing as the ill-fated Star Wars: Holiday Special. The animated Droids (1985-86) and Ewoks (1985-87) were very much animation products of their time and made for children, but have never been considered important context for better understanding the Star Wars saga.

Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series, Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005) shattered that mold and set the pattern for all of the future television storytelling that would bear the Star Wars name. He did that by making it work hand-in-glove with the broader story of Star Wars, covering important events and filling gaps in that made you feel like it added to the movies rather than act as a side quest.

To do that, it started with an idea to fill in time between the release of Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). It’s easy to forget that the Star Wars prequels were separated by three years each. With George Lucas writing and directing on his own, he would start each movie from scratch as soon as the previous one was finished. For fans, that three-year gap could feel like an eternity. Granted, there had been 16 years between the releases of Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, having the Star Wars: Special Edition come out just two years prior to Episode I made everyone feel downright spoiled when it came to Star Wars releases.

George Lucas was convinced to allow Cartoon Network to do an animated series set between the two films. It must have been apparent to Lucas at that time that his films would be skipping over the events of the Clone Wars almost entirely, so an animated show set in that gap made a lot of sense. As reported in Star Wars: Stormtroopers Beyond the Armor by Ryder Windham and Adam Bray, Hasbro asked Lucasfilm for something to keep the property alive between releases to help with toy sales. That suggestion began conversations between Lucasfilm and Cartoon Network about what an animated show might look like. “Lucas wanted to keep the Star Wars property robust and active between motion picture releases,” Tartakovsky, then known as the creator of Samurai Jack, said in a 2018 interview. “So they approached me and asked if I would be interested in creating a one-minute program based on Star Wars.”

Tartakovsky didn’t think one minute was enough and asked for three to five minutes of runtime. Lucas and his son, Jett, happened to be fans of Samurai Jack and agreed. Unlike the later, computer-animated iteration of The Clone Wars, Lucas was too busy working on Revenge of the Sith to be very hands-on. The only thing off limits was exploring the love story between Anakin and Padmé. Everything else was on the table. Tartakovsky modeled the short segmented nature of his cartoon after HBO’s Band of Brothers. “[It’s] a project I really admired that takes a huge story like the European Allied campaign of World War II and presents it in a series of ‘a day in the life of’ stories. As I see it, this project mirrors that approach by showcasing several ‘days in the life of the Clone Wars.’”

Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars filled in the gaps that the prequel films couldn’t cover.


For fans, news of the series was met with excitement. Episodes would start airing in 2003, providing Star Wars content a mere year after the previous theatrical installment. It would also be released simultaneously on Cartoon Network and StarWars.com, where paying Hyperspace members could stream the show online. (This was four years before Netflix started streaming.)

Clone Wars Season 1 aired in November 2003, followed by Season 2 in March 2004 and Season 3 in March 2005.

With its short episodes and emphasis on visual storytelling over dialogue, Clone Wars became an instant fan-favorite and introduced a lot of elements into the Star Wars lore. Asajj Ventress (the witch of Dathomir, a former Jedi turned Sith assassin) was first introduced in the sixth episode of the first season. Count Dooku travels to the gladiatorial arena on the planet of Rattatak and discovers Ventress tearing apart the other combatants, recruiting her to the cause of the Confederacy and the Sith. The action in the episodes is frenetic and created an instant fan favorite.

Durge was another character added to the franchise in that first season, a Gen’dai bounty hunter who was seemingly indestructible. Obi-Wan Kenobi was forced to face off against him and it didn’t go well in a gory scene inspired by Akira.

Introduced in Clone Wars, Asajj Ventress has since become a fan-favorite character.


Season 2 brought us the scar Anakin inexplicably bears in Revenge of the Sith, as he has an epic showdown with Asajj Ventress in the rain. It also gave us our first glimpse of the new villain in Revenge of the Sith: General Grievous. Grievous was a new element in Star Wars with nary a whisper about him in Attack of the Clones. He came crashing into the franchise in 2004 like an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson screaming “Here’s Johnny!” Portrayed with such evil intention and tense visual storytelling, a Jedi-hunting cyborg only amplified the hype for the release of Revenge of the Sith. The character of Grievous was still evolving, though.

Tartakovsky and his team were told by George Lucas that General Grievous was a capable Jedi killer, hence his horrifying first appearance. As Revenge of the Sith evolved, however, Lucas began to view Grievous as more of the dastardly mustache-twirling villain in old pulp serials, giving him some of the more cowardly traits we see in the film every time he opts to retreat. The voice for Grievous wasn’t even settled yet. Tartakovsky and team brought in John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama). There were rumors that Gary Oldman was going to play the part in the movie, but union issues prevented that and Skywalker Sound engineer Matt Wood ended up getting the role, taking it in a much different direction than DiMaggio.

After proving that he could handle the Star Wars universe in an exciting way, Tartakovsky got the green light for a third season. Instead of 10 episodes of a few minutes each, Season 3 would be five episodes of about 10 minutes. These episodes acted as a direct lead into Revenge of the Sith, showing us Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of the Outer Rim Sieges and the beginning of the Battle of Coruscant, where General Grievous made his daring raid on the Republic capital to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine. But first, they had to resolve the cliffhanger from Season 2 with General Grievous and make Anakin a full Jedi Knight.

All of these story points were vital to the backstory of Revenge of the Sith and fans rejoiced when they were first released in the months leading up to Episode III. Watching General Grievous bust out of Coruscant with the Chancellor, facing off against the Jedi and developing his cough at the hands of Mace Windu was the perfect, thrilling intro into the final installment in the prequel trilogy, offering context to the time jump that separates Episodes II and III.

Anakin’s scar in Revenge of the Sith was carried over from Clone Wars.


After Revenge of the Sith came out, fans were still enthusiastic for the animated Clone Wars and picked it up on DVD, but those quickly went to the collector’s market as the Dave Filoni-led animated series of the same name debuted in 2008, just three years after Revenge of the Sith. The release of The Clone Wars series with Filoni at the helm relegated Tartakovsky’s cartoon to a lower tier of canon, with some episodes straight up overwriting the stories told in those hand-drawn episodes. (Filoni’s show also went far beyond the scope of Tartakovsky’s, introducing bizarre concepts like the Mortis arc where Anakin sees a glimpse of his future in a reformulation of the arc with Nelvan in Tartakofsky’s third season.).

That it was overwritten works just as well, though. The creator of Samurai Jack used what worked best about that 2D animation to push physics and Jedi abilities into the realm of cartoon hyperbolics, completely breaking how the Force works in Star Wars in order to tell stunning animated stories in bite-sized bits.

General Grievous may never be as cool as he was in Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars.


The legacy of Genndy Tartakovsky’s work in the Star Wars universe more than 20 years later left an indelible mark. Technically, because of its dual release on TV and the internet, it was the first streaming series to win an Emmy award, and its consistently ranked as one of the best animated shows of all time. Though it can’t match the depth of emotional storytelling of its successor The Clone Wars series, Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars remains a high water mark of hand-drawn animation — and for Star Wars in general.

As we look at the storytelling that came later, Tartakovsky’s recipe of great storytelling that matters to the broader tapestry of Star Wars is the mold all of the television storytelling Star Wars has fit into. It makes one wonder if we would have seen Andor and Ahsoka if it hadn’t been for this almost forgotten gem of 2D animation originally conceived to sell some toys in the time between film releases.

This article is part of the “Celebrating the Prequels” series, a two week-long series of articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy leading up to the 25th anniversary of The Phantom Menace.

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