Star Wars: The Clone Wars recap: Most Political Series on TV?
Supervising Director Dave Filoni chats with EW about season 3, while "Pursuit of Peace" shows us that Galaxy Far, Far Away's military-industrial complex.
“Pursuit of Peace” represents the halfway point of Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ third season. It’s also the last episode to air this year. But never fear, Padawan readers! Like James Bond, Clone Wars will return—and hit the ground running in January with an epic new storyline about Darth Maul’s brother Savage Opress and the Nightsisters of Dathomir, witches who could rival Bellatrix Lestrange for sheer, cackling nastiness. Since we’ve reached the midpoint of the season, though, we decided to check in with supervising director Dave Filoni about the season so far and, though always in motion is the future, what lies ahead.
EW: I’m amazed at how political some of these season 3 episodes are…
DF: This season has allowed us to go into much greater detail with the Star Wars universe itself. In “Heroes on Both Sides” there are big political overtones, where, as an adult, you see the machinations of greed within the Republic Senate, but, as a kid, I think the big thing you take away is that there are these people like Lux and Mina Bonteri who are Separatists but aren’t villains like Grievous. There are heroes on both sides. The kids are challenged with that point of view, just like Ahsoka is challenged with that point of view.
EW: Until now, we’ve never really seen any humanity on the Separatist side. They’ve all been archvillains like Dooku, Grievous, and Ventress, so it’s been refreshing to see some Separatists might really have legitimate grievances with the Republic…
DF: When you consider that Dooku said the Senate is corrupt, well, he’s right. But he’s also a liar and a double-crosser, which his supporters don’t know yet. And even the Jedi are being exploited [by the Republic’s leader, Palpatine] to a level, where, either they don’t perceive it, or they’re unwilling to recognize it. In Revenge of the Sith, the idea that they would implicate the Supreme Chancellor as an enemy of the state is a really difficult one for them, because, to them, he’s a Sith, so it’s automatic. But I’m not certain it would be so clear for the people of the Republic. Ordinary people would be like “Palpatine’s a Sith? Well, my job is still good, so what does that matter to me, Jedi guy?” It puts the Jedi in a compromising position that I think Palpatine uses to his advantage.
EW: Likewise, until “Heroes on Both Sides” we had never seen Dooku in his role as a political leader.
DF: Well, it starts to explore the duality that all Sith learn. He has a public face, which is Count Dooku, and his private, hidden face, which is Darth Tyranus. So we’ve seen mostly Darth Tyranus on the show when he’s committing his atrocities, the same way Palpatine’s really Darth Sidious. That duality is something he’s learned from his master. He’s playing the same game for the Separatists that Palpatine’s playing for the Republic.
NEXT: Kate Capshaw’s unexpected influence on The Clone Wars. And here come the Nightsisters!
EW: You’ve done a great job of integrating characters from the novels and comic books of the Expanded Universe, but you also have to keep it accessible for first-time viewers, right?
DF: We’ve learned that Clone Wars could be a lot of kids’ first contact with Star Wars, period. They don’t even know Jedi apart from the ones on this show. It’s quite shocking to be honest. Then they’ll move on to the films, and they’re like, “Where’s Ahsoka?” And the older fans are “Who is this Ahsoka?” So Star Wars is unique that way, in how it spans these generations of fans. To the credit of Lucasfilm, we try to keep it all in continuity as much as we can.
EW: Television is the ideal format for expanding upon elements only glimpsed in the movies. I mean, who knew Return of the Jedi’s lounge singer Sy Snootles was such a femme fatale?
DF: I guess George did. That was all his idea, of course. It’s fun when you’re sitting around the table and George is like “Yeah, Sy Snootles. She’s going to kill Ziro the Hutt.” And I’m like, “Really? I didn’t even know Ziro dated.” But he has such a great, quirky sense of humor.
EW: And then to give Sy that elaborate musical number!
DF: I remember saying, “We have to go for this. We need a full musical number.” So I fired up Temple of Doom and said, “This is what I want!” For a while, we had Kate Capshaw on the temp audio singing “Anything Goes,” and that’s what we had Sy Snootles timed to. When I try to sell George on something like that, I think, “Well, let’s use something that he’s used, so he’ll get the context of it. But the team did a phenomenal job with that Busby Berkeley staging. It was a departure for sure, but it reminds you how vast the Star Wars galaxy is. You know, the Hutts do hang out, they do put on old Chicago gangster-style floorshows.
EW: So far, season 3 has been a departure for The Clone Wars. Far fewer space battles and lightsaber duels and more political intrigue…
DF: When we hit the ground running in January with the last 11 episodes, it’s going to be a level of Clone Wars that we haven’t seen before, as far as the excitement and action. And frankly, a lot of the things that fans traditionally love about Clone Wars I think we’re going to do better than you’ve ever seen because of some of the maturity we’ve gotten out of these early season 3 episodes, telling more thought-provoking stories driven by dialogue.
EW: And the Nightsisters (hot witches from the planet Dathomir, for the unschooled) are going to be part of the first new arc in January, right? Seriously, I’ve been a Nightsisters fan since I first read The Courtship of Princess Leia when I was 13!
DF: The Nightsisters are cool enough that anybody will get who they are right away. This story really starts with Asajj Ventress, though. It addresses a big question from the films. Why do the Jedi say there are only two Sith, a master and an apprentice? If they’re only two, then who’s this Ventress? Why does Dooku always refer to her as an “assassin” to Darth Sidious? How much does Sidious really know about Ventress? What does he think of her? The story begins with her, and she goes on a very big character journey where things will change significantly for her. The Nightsisters come in connected to her. They are something the average viewer has not seen before. They’re not Sith. They’re not Jedi. According to George, they don’t use the Force. They have a magic all their own. If you remember one of the first Nightsisters was Charal from Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. Charal was a witch on Endor who used a type of magic that wasn’t the Force. So they’ve been around for awhile!
EW: I had heard that The Clone Wars might only run five seasons. Now that we’re three seasons in, might it run longer?
DF: I think we’ll be making it as long as George likes it. He’s been so invigorated by the creative process of making this series that we’ve been making more and more and more episodes, and suddenly we all looked up and were like “Oh my gosh, we have 3+ seasons of episodes, and we haven’t even gotten to some of the bigger stories we want to tell yet.” So I always tell the fans, as long as you keep watching it, we’ll probably keep making it.
NEXT: Palpatine would totally buy in to Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive.
Now on to the recap proper! “Pursuit of Peace” opened one of the most gripping Senate sessions prequel-era Star Wars has ever given us. As smoke still hovered above the darkened Coruscant skyline in the aftermath of the “suicide bombing”—as the opening narration accurately put it—carried off by General Grievous’s infiltration droids in “Heroes on Both Sides,” the Senate met to debate a bill that would commission 5 million more clone troopers from the Kaminoans. Inevitably, this would extend the war, and put the Republic deeper in debt, to the point where vital social services like education and healthcare—as Padmé herself actually suggested—would be underfunded, if not bankrupt. Palpatine proved himself once again to be the galaxy’s greatest actor, pretending as if he only considered this new measure with the greatest reluctance—instead of outright glee and enthusiasm. Remember, if you’re truly power mad, you have to be supremely careful not to act like you’re power mad.
Padmé, Bail Organa, and Rodian senator Onaconda Farr—Padmé’s uncle!—met to discuss how to oppose this new bill. Bail set about gathering “ammunition” to bolster his argument, which Farr—no relation to Jamie—quipped they couldn’t afford. You know, because the Republic is bankrupt and can’t afford ammo? (Okay, definitely no relation to Jamie Farr. That M*A*S*H dude is funny.) Even Padmé had to call Uncle Onaconda on the lameness of that one.
Of course, the Banking Clan immediately raised their interest rate on the loan they offered the Republic for the new clones. The Clan leader said, “We have no stake in this war,” but clearly they’re making major profits from it. If they do have a stake in it, it’s not with a particular side, so much as it is to just keep the war going ad infinitum to balloon their profits. In a few weeks, it’ll be the 50th anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address, in which he warned of the influence of a military-industrial complex that would desire a constant state of military readiness and war. How amazing it is to think that his concern is now seems to be allegorically dramatized—quite effectively, no less—by the Clone Wars, of all things!
Of course, Onaconda was immediately beaten by bounty hunters hired by those…(cough) Palpatine & Company…whose power is derived upon greed and fear. (Incidentally, Palpy was the first choice to deliver the keynote address at Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive.) Like Dobby, the bounty hunters intended to maim, or at least seriously injure, rather than kill. Some of the other opponents of the bill immediately caved, fearing a Nancy Kerrigan-style clubbing of their own. Desperate to find a way to keep their opposition alive and relevant, Padmé, worried that acquiring new clones would cripple the Republic “financially and spiritually,” persuaded Bail Organa to give a rousing speech to the Senate. Apparently, his word would carry with it a lot of weight. But then, he too was attacked! So, you really wouldn’t need the Force to figure out what was going to happen next.
NEXT: Is The Clone Wars the most political series on TV?
Yes, Padmé took the Senate floor—or rather, a pod—and gave an earnest, sincere speech articulating the all-too-true, but all-too-frequently-overlooked idea (in our galaxy too) that the internal threat of wartime-derived poverty and privation can be as deadly as the external threat of a military opponent. And how stirring was the animation during that sequence? We got a montage of images from around Coruscant as Republic citizens listened to her address on holodisplays, some in a train station, others in a vast, open square. Dave Filoni & Posse really outdid themselves with this—it made the Galaxy Far, Far Away seem like so much more than just a forum for laser and lightsaber battles, but a real, lived-in universe.
Of course, we can imagine that during all of this Palpatine is thinking of nothing more than how he would like to dissolve the Senate and rule by decree. Starting with the Zillo Beast two-parter last season, the Supreme Chancellor has come across as more and more sinister on the Clone Wars, a welcome departure from the series’ initial decision not to focus on his true villainy. How chilling was that close-up of the back of his swivel-chair after Padmé’s speech last night, as he slowly turned around to face forward and ask, “Isn’t it remarkable that one can have all the power in the galaxy, and yet the words of a single senator can sway millions?” When a crony asked what they could do next, he replied, “For now, we must adhere to the principles of our democracy.” Emphasis on for now.
Together “Heroes on Both Sides” and “Pursuit of Peace” may have defined The Clone Wars as, amazingly, the most political show on television. I mean, these last two eps have been all about a government with crippling debt, controversy over deregulating the financial sector, debates over defense spending, the precarious dialectic of liberty and security in the wake of terrorism. Sound familiar? Considering that most TV producers shy away at all costs from anything remotely political, fearing that they may alienate part of their audience, this depiction of the relationship between war and business, like a CGI animated version of the 2005 documentary Why We Fight, has been surprising. And refreshing.
Padawans, did you feel the same? Or are you looking forward to what Dave Filoni promises will be a more action-packed slate of episodes come January? And is there any way you could be as excited as I am about the arrival of the Nightsisters?
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Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…