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Clone Wars remains Star Wars prequel era's saving grace 10 years later

Commentary: There are just so many reasons why it endures a decade after it began, and why it's coming back.

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The Clone Wars turns 10 Wednesday and remains one of the greatest experiences a Star Wars fan can have.

Lucasfilm

If you haven't watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars but consider yourself a fan of the Star Wars franchise, get on it now. Especially because it's returning as part of Disney's upcoming streaming service and celebrates its 10th anniversary Wednesday.

The fact that the show, which wrapped up in 2014, merited a 10th anniversary Comic-Con panel underscores its importance to Star Wars fans. Over the course of six seasons, it evolved from a computer animated kiddie tie-in -- serving as a bridge between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith -- to a core part of the franchise, spawning successor shows and fan favorite characters.

If you need proof, look no further than the surprise cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, which featured a key character who couldn't have appeared if not for developments in The Clone Wars.

Even though Clone Wars kicked off a decade ago with a weak movie (it holds a 35 rating on CNET sister site Metacritic) and got abruptly cancelled after five seasons, the series left an unmistakable mark on the franchise. 

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Bounty hunters like Cad Bane reveal the show's lawless elements.

Lucasfilm

The show's supervising director, Dave Filoni, went on to create another CG show in Rebels -- which just won a Saturn Award -- the animated Forces of Destiny, and the upcoming Resistance. He's also been promoted to oversee the development of all future Lucasfilm Animation projects.

The Clone Wars depicted the massive conflict between the forces of the Galactic Republic, led by Chancellor Palpatine (Ian Abercrombie), and the Confederacy of Independent Systems (better known as the Separatists), led by Count Dooku (Corey Burton).

The wrinkle was that Palpatine and Dooku were secretly Sith Lords (Darth Sidious and Darth Tyranus) who worked together to orchestrate the war to destabilize the galaxy, solidify Palpatine's power and leave the Jedi vulnerable. 

While the show largely focused on core characters like Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), it often branched out to focus on random clone troopers or a myriad of other characters caught up in the conflict.

So how did The Clone Wars go from badly received movie to the greatest thing to come from the prequel era? Let's look at a few of those elements.

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Ahsoka Tano may not have shown up in a live-action movie (yet), but she remains one of the franchise's most beloved characters.

Lucasfilm

Ahsoka

The movie introduced audiences to Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), Anakin Skywalker's Padawan, and it was hard to know what to make of this new teenager. 

She was well designed and used a cool reverse grip for her lightsaber. But then there were those cringeworthy nicknames: Ahsoka called Anakin "SkyGuy" and he called her "Snips." (From her snippy attitude and undeveloped lekku/head tails.)

As the seasons progressed, and we got more episodes focused on Ahsoka, she emerged as a serious fan favorite and became the heart of the show -- ultimately making an epic return in Rebels.

Some of her greatest moments include teaming up with Chewbacca to escape Trandoshan hunters in the final two-parter of Season 2, smoothly taking out four Mandalorians to escape captivity in the fourth season's A Friend in Need, and her fateful decision to become a free agent after being framed for bombing the Jedi Temple in the closing arc of Season 5.

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The Clone Wars trifecta: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka.

Lucasfilm

Anakin

He's the Man Who Would Be Vader, and his descent into darkness seems like it happens quite quickly in the prequels, so it benefits greatly from the more deliberate pace of a TV show.

Even though Anakin is presented as one of The Clone Wars' heroes, the six seasons are cleverly sprinkled with moments that reveal his pride, temper, and ends-justify-the-means mentality.

He even employs the infamous Force Choke on a few occasions, but isn't quite as callous or casual about it as he is in this glorious moment.

Anakin has some standout moments in the third season's Mortis trilogy, the Citadel prison three-parter from the same season (where he meets someone he'll get to know well as Vader), and during the final arc of Season 5.

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Asajj Ventress is one of the show's most complex characters.

Lucasfilm

Ventress

Dogging the Jedi at every turn in the show's early days is Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), Count Dooku's apprentice. But she evolved beyond that villainous henchwoman role in Season 3, when Dooku tried to kill her at the behest of his own master, Darth Sidious.

From this point, her adventures gradually revive her sense of compassion and force her into some surprising alliances. Her slightly flirtatious exchanges with Obi-Wan Kenobi are always fun too.

She has plenty of great moments, but her darkly intimate moment with Clone Commander Colt in Season 3's ARC Troopers -- which was censored in initial airings -- is among the best.

Ventress' striking look was based on early concept art idea for the character that ultimately became Dooku, as seen in The Art of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

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The clones might share the same DNA, but we meet plenty of distinct personalities.

Lucasfilm

Clones, but far from identical

When you have a whole war named after you, you'd better be good.

Thankfully, the clone troopers, created from the genetic template of ill-fated bounty hunter Jango Fett, more than met this criteria. Expertly voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, they each display distinct personalities and individual quirks.

The clones also form strong bonds with their Jedi generals, adding to the drama when Order 66, which forces them to slaughter the Jedi via an implanted bio-chip, is given in Revenge of the Sith.

Some of the show's best episode arcs focus on the clones, including the third season two-part premiere Clone Cadets and ARC Troopers; Season 4's Umbara four-parter; and Season 6's heartbreaking Orders.

"The artistry and sophistication of the series was like nothing else out there," Baker said of the show. "This was in large part due to George Lucas' direct involvement, working with director Dave Filoni and the incredible team at Lucas Animation."

"The Clone Wars was in fact the best Star Wars since the Original Trilogy. What a thrill to be part of such a groundbreaking series!"

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Padme Amidala and C-3PO often show up in the show's more political episodes.

Lucasfilm

Conflict isn't black and white

We know the Clone Wars are based on Darth Sidious' deception, so a gray morality hangs over the series as a whole. On the face of it, the Republic is the heroic side and the Separatists are the villains, but the show often reminds us that things aren't simple.

This is best characterized by Lux Bonteri, a Separatist who befriends Ahsoka after she joins Sen. Padme Amidala on a diplomatic mission in the Season 3 episode Heroes on Both Sides (a phrase seen in the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith). 

Lux ultimately turns on the Separatists and joins Saw Gerrera's rebels on Onderon. Of course, Saw goes on to become the slightly unhinged radical freedom fighter we see in Rogue One.

We also find the Jedi acting in questionable ways, from the overt actions in the fourth season's Umbara four-parter to decisions made by the Council in the latter part of the series.

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Dengar and Bossk are always on the hunt for profit.

Lucasfilm

Scum and villainy

The bounty hunters seen on the bridge of Vader's Super Star Destroyer in The Empire Strikes Back are supercool, but we don't see much of them in the movies. Only Boba Fett has truly memorable moments (until his unfortunate/delicious trip into the Sarlacc).

The Clone Wars addresses this group by bringing back some of the Original Trilogy hunters (like Bossk and Dengar) and adding a few prequel faces (such as Aurra Sing) and new ones (including Cad Bane).

These guys start showing up in Season 2's Bounty Hunters, an amazing homage to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and add a new dimension whenever they appear. It's also fun to see a very angry Boba, who appears several times.

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Yoda's Season 6 adventure is among the show's most fascinating.

Lucasfilm

Deep explorations of the Force

The Clone Wars doesn't shy away from the franchise's high-concept elements, a fact that becomes clear in Season 3's Mortis arc.

Ahsoka, Anakin and Obi-Wan find themselves in an ethereal realm and encounter three gods who can wield the Force in amazing ways ... which include offering the characters glimpses of their futures.

The final arc of the sixth season sends us on an epic journey with Yoda, where he sees a bleak vision of the future, learns how Qui-Gon Jinn (voiced by Liam Neeson) became a Force ghost and encounters Darth Bane (played by Mark Hamill!).

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Darth Maul tries to become a conquerer after his near-death experience.

Lucasfilm

Battle of the Sith

The Clone Wars rocked the boat when it revealed that Darth Maul survived being bisected by Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, but his presence brings up the threat level considerably in Seasons 4 and 5 as he builds up a criminal empire.

In one scene, we see Maul (Sam Witwer) leading a group of Mandalorians, and it's hard not to see it as a Sith Lord leading an army of Boba Fetts -- that image alone should immediately convince any Star Wars fan of the need to watch this show.

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The lightsaber battle in The Lawless is unforgettable.

Lucasfilm

He even takes on his brother Savage Opress (Clancy Brown), whose name looks sillier on paper than it sounds in the show, as his apprentice, and essentially declares himself a rival Sith to his former master, Sidious. Bad idea.

This hubris earns him Sidious' attention and the Dark Lord risks direct action in the Season 5 episode The Lawless, where Sidious takes on Maul and Savage in one of the greatest lightsaber battles in the franchise.

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Uh oh!

Lucasfilm

Jar Jar

The computer-generated Jar Jar Binks is among the most controversial Star Wars characters -- bringing out some of the fandom's most toxic elements -- but that didn't stop him from engaging in high jinks in some of the show's lighter episodes, played by original actor Ahmed Best.

The character makes far more sense in a CGI animated series and manages to help save the day on several occasions, despite his ineptitude.

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Qui-Gon Jinn has become more powerful than you can possibly imagine in The Clone Wars.

Lucasfilm

Legacy

Countless fan voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced when The Clone Wars was canceled after Season 5, but the untold stories managed to survive in one form or another.

Netflix grabbed season 6 (which includes some of the show's best episodes); Maul's story continued in the Son of Dathomir comic series; and Ventress' arc reached its conclusion in the novel Dark Disciple.

We've even been treated to unaired arcs, Crystal Crisis on Utapau and The Bad Batch, which were revealed at Star Wars Celebration conventions and made available online. Their unfinished forms even give us a nice sense of how episodes came together.

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The Jedi Temple Guards' armor and lightsabers are some of the show's coolest designs.

Lucasfilm

The follow-up show, Rebels, is set years later, in the era of the Galactic Empire, but it picks up on several dangling plot threads from The Clone Wars and offers some incredible emotional payoff, especially with its Season 2 finale.

And now we know that the show will be returning with 12 new episodes on Disney's untitled streaming service sometime in 2019.

For those who haven't watched the show, check out The Clone Wars on Netflix or Amazon, or pick up a Blu-ray/DVD and get ready for one of the greatest Star Wars experiences out there ahead of its return.

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First published July 15, 6 a.m. PT.

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