Last night, I watched a couple of episodes of series 2 of The Clone Wars with my 6 year old daughter, Isobel. We both like The Clone Wars, and for myself, the series does a much better job of articulating Lucas's ideas about the Jedi than the prequel trilogy is ever able to do. In particular, Annakin's journey from padawan to Obi-Wan's equal to Darth Vader always seemed under-motivated to me, partly through the execrable script in Attack of the Clones, and partly through Hayden Christianson's limitations as an actor in that film and in Revenge of the Sith.

The idea that Annakin wishes to forestall the death of Padme as a kind of psychological effect of the loss of his mother doesn't really work for me; how does this explain his fall to the 'dark side', and in particular the scene where he enters the Jedi temple to slay all the younglings? How does this square with him soon to become a father? While I think it's an interesting thing for Lucas to do to make Annakin so monstrous at this point, the 'fall' is insufficiently convincing psychologically. This is where The Clone Wars comes into its own.

The series fit into the gap between the second and third films, where Annakin has grown from callow and precocious teen-warrior (as in Attack of the Clones) to the brooding presence of Revenge of the Sith. The Annakin of The Clone Wars is heroic, his reckless courage the resolution to many of the narratives, but he is also placed in the role of mentor to the female padawan Ahsoka Tano. This 'father' role (in which the young girl comes to resemble Annakin in temperament and recklessness) plays against the Revenge of the Sith in an interesting way, shading the characterisation of Annakin to make him far more sympathetic. He has flaws, but he is one of the good guys.

However, in the second series, just what Annakin has been trained to be, and what the Clone Wars are turning all the Jedi into, becomes increasingly apparent. In the episode 'Voyage of Temptation', Obi-Wan accompanies the Mandalorean Duchess Satine (an avowed pacifist) and protects her from assassination by a war-mongering dissident group from a Mandalorean moon. It is revealed, as the episode goes on, that Obi-Wan and Satine were once unrequited lovers, the object of ironic commentary from Annakin, who expresses surprise that Obi-Wan has come close to violating the Jedi code not to allow personal emotional entanglements to cloud their judgement.

At the end of the episode, a traitor kidnaps Satine and is pursued by Obi-Wan. Satine escapes the traitor's grasp, and she holds a blaster on him, while Obi-Wan has his light saber in close attendance. The traitor baits them both, noting that if Obi-Wan kills him and saves the ship (the traitor has a device to cause the ship to explode) he will be a hero, except to the ultra-pacifist Satine, who will abhor him; if Satine kills the traitor, she will violate everything she holds dear. This no-win situation is ended when Obi-Wan calls up the need for a 'cold-blooded killer'; the next moment, a light saber protrudes from the chest of the traitor, wielded by Annakin, who catches the device as it falls. 'What?' Annakin asks, to their horrified looks. 'He was going to blow up the ship.' The insouciance with which Annakin dispatches the Mandalorean (no mere droid) is purposely chilling: the act has no ethical weight for Annakin. He has become so inured to battle, to violence, to killing, that this moment of ethical decision is entirely lost on him.

But who is to blame? Is it Annakin himself, or is it the Jedi training and warrior role he has assumed? One of the things The Clone Wars is able to do is to complicate Obi-Wan, not only by offering romantic entanglements in the past, but to suggest that his judgement is awry at crucial stages of the narrative. This is most evident in the confrontation in Revenge of the Sith, during the light saber battle between he and Annakin. In a pause, Annakin declares that to him, 'the Jedi are evil'. Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan shouts back, 'then you are lost!" It's actually one of the most striking lines of the film, but it points out Obi-Wan's failure as a mentor to Annakin: even here, he could explain things, try to show Annakin where he has done wrong; but instead he only repeats that he has 'failed' Annakin. Later in the sequence, he calls Annakin 'brother', not 'son'; it is, in a sense, the failure of patriarchal authority at work here. Annakin becomes what the Jedi need him to be, the warrior nonpareil; unfortunately, the warrior-prince finds another father and brings about the doom of the Jedi that made him.

In Revenge of the Sith, the failure of the Jedi is partly couched in heroic terms, in the personal duels Mace Windu and Yoda have with Palpatine which fail to kill the Emperor-to-be. However, I think The Clone Wars more cunningly reveals that it is not a failure of heroic action which is at the root of the Republic's downfall: it is an ethical, strategic and political failure on the part of the Jedi - a 'peace-keeping' order who assume the role of pursuing martial victory - that is the real cause of defeat. It's a shame, then, that the prequel trilogy, in its inability to tell the personal/ dynastic AND political narratives of the fall of the Republic (most apparent in the clumsy structure of Attack of the Clones) at the same time, has somewhat marred the reputation and reception of the Star Wars films as a whole; The Clone Wars, with its painterly animation and more shaded (though still heroic) storylines, recovers much of the lost ground admirably.

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Location:Chester,United Kingdom


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