star wars clone wars 2003

Canon Fodder

Clone Wars 2003: Why the best Star Wars series isn’t on Disney+

Don’t worry, there’s still one way to watch the hand-drawn animated show.

Cartoon Network

The early 2000s was a dark time to be a Star Wars fan. The prequels were making it difficult to defend the franchise, Emperor Palpatine was manipulating the galaxy, and Jar Jar Binks was wreaking havoc on the Galactic Senate. Grim stuff. But within all the Dark, there was a glimmer of Light. We're talking of course, about Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 animated mini-series Star Wars: Clone Wars.

Unfortunately, you can't actually watch the 2003 Clone Wars series on Disney+. Here's why not — and how to watch the best Star Wars show anyway.

What’s so great about Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)?

Sorry Baby Yoda, 2003's Clone Wars is still the best Star Wars show.Lucasfilm

In a word: everything. Created by the same animation genius behind Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Lab, and the recently released Primal, Genndy Tartakovsky’s short-lived cartoon filled in the blanks between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith with a focus on the Separatist War, Jedi battles, and general badassery.

Before we go any further, I need to make one thing clear, this isn’t the mediocre CGI Clone Wars series that ran for six long seasons — plus Season 7 on Disney+. This is the 2-hour limited series made up of 25 short episodes released throughout 2008. Where the CGI version packs in lots of heavy-handed Star Wars lore while leaning heavily on ugly computer animation and off-putting voice acting (why does Anakin sound like that?), Tartakovsky’s hand-drawn cartoon focused almost exclusively on high-concept action. Some episodes didn’t feature any dialogue at all.

That might sound like a drawback, but as you can see in the video above, it only makes Star Wars: Clone Wars better. Tartakovsky essentially takes the best part of Samurai Jack with its stoic hero who’s more interested in kicking butt than making quips or unloading exposition.

The closest thing to Star Wars: Clone Wars currently on Disney+ might actually be The Mandalorian. Sure, it’s in live-action, but the show’s silent hero and the kinetic energy of its action sequences feel more like Tartakovsky’s work than anything we’ve seen before in a core Star Wars movie.

So why isn’t Star Wars: Clone Wars 2003 on Disney+?

We don’t know for sure, but we have a theory: It’s because Tartakovsky’s cartoon isn’t officially considered Star Wars canon. When Disney bought Lucasfilm and relaunched the movies, it meant reclassifying much of the “Extended Universe” of books, comics, and TV shows into the non-canonical “Legends” category. Tartakovsky’s cartoon became Legends, while the CGI series stayed in Star Wars canon (there’s even a seventh season coming to Disney+ next year).

Why did one cartoon stay canon while the other didn’t? Again, we’re not sure, but we have a feeling it’s because George Lucas and his disciple, David Filoni, were directly involved in the CGI The Clone Wars cartoon, which expands the Star Wars universe in some pretty weird and interesting ways. So it makes sense that Lucasfilm would keep the CGI show and ditch the edgier, less plot-heavy Tartakovsky cartoon.

It’s also possible this could simply be an issue of ownership rights. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that Cartoon Network produced the Tartakovsky cartoon in association with Lucasfilm, while the CGI Clone Wars was strictly a Lucasfilm production. So maybe Disney simply doesn’t have the rights to the hand-drawn cartoon, and since it isn’t canon, perhaps it wasn’t worth paying extra to secure those streaming rights for Disney+.

So how can I stream Star Wars: Clone Wars 2003 online?

The short answer? YouTube.

Various clips from the series have been uploaded over the years. There’s even one unofficial video that connects one part of Clone Wars directly to the beginning of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. If you’re lucky, you might even find the entire 2-hour mini-series in a single YouTube video. Just start searching online and see what comes up.

Good luck, and may the Force be with you.