Works adapted for television produce a new set of concerns. With movies, one of the big limitations is time; commercial film releases run anywhere between ninety minutes to two hours, with rare releases reaching the three-hour mark. A television series, however, has far more running time available to it than a feature film. Even accounting for commercials, there’s still twenty-two to forty-five minutes of show each episode. Long-running series may run out of original material before ending and will need to create new content*. With novels, especially those in a series, it’s possible to keep using existing content in a TV show. HBO’s A Game of Thrones is an exemplar of this sort of planning. Adapting a movie as a TV series, though, means that the show’s writers will be adding material. Today’s review looks at that situation.
In 1999, George Lucas released the first of the prequel movies, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. In the gap between that film and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, released in 1983, numerous tie-in novels, comics, games, and toys were produced, creating the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or EU. The EU added more characters and settings to Star Wars. With the prequel movies filling out more of the history of the Rebellion, more EU products were created to fill in details not covered by the movies.
Such is the case with the CG-animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the series covered the Clone Wars at several levels, from the clones on the front to the politics of the Senate to the Jedi Council. The Clone Wars ran for six seasons, from 2008 until 2014, before ending. During its run, familiar characters mingled with new ones, showing the toll of the wars on all levels of Republic and Separatist society.
The Clone Wars started with a feature movie, with Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi and a number of clone troopers defending Christophis against the Separatist droid army. Young Ahsoka Tano is introduced as Anakin’s padawan, an attempt by the Jedi Council to try to teach Skywalker the dangers of his inability to let go of those he holds dear. Once the battle is won, Anakin and Ahsoka are assigned the task to retrieve Jabba the Hutt’s son, who has been kidnapped, to get the gang boss’s favour. The search leads to Teth, where the Separatists are holding the Huttlet. Anakin leads a force of clone troopers against the droids’ base, leading to a showdown against the assassin, Asajj Ventress, a protege of Count Dooku. Senator Padmé Amadala of Naboo finds out about Anakin’s mission and tracks down Ziro the Hutt on Coruscant, but discovers that he is part of the conspiracy against Jabba and the Jedi. With the help of C3PO, Padmé escapes and Ziro is arrested. On Tatooine, Anakin deals with Count Dooku long enough for Ahsoka to return the Huttlet.
The first season continues in a similar vein, at least to begin with. “Ambush”, the first regular episode, features Yoda and several clones on a mission to meet with the king of Toydaria. The episode sets the tone, showing that the clones, even though they look alike, are individuals, and Yoda treats them as such. As the seasons progress, the stories become darker, with the Jedi forced into becoming what they are not and Darth Sidious’ manipulations starting to pay off. That’s not to say that the first season was all light-hearted. Clones and Jedi died on-screen, and one Jedi fell to the Dark Side before being killed by General Grievous. The first season also showed why the Republic was fighting; the episodes “Storm over Ryloth”, “Innocents of Ryloth”, and “Liberty on Ryloth” depict what the droid army did with the Twi’leks and the liberation of their homeworld.
Being placed between the second and third prequel places a few limitations on the series. First, several characters had script immunity due to appearances in Revenge of the Sith. That’s not to say that the couldn’t inflict non-permanent injuries and psychological issues on existing characters. Second, new characters had to be written out in a way that their absence in Sith made sense. In particular here, Ahsoka could not be Anakin’s padawan by the end of the series. Likewise, Venrtess could not remain Dooku’s apprentice.
As mentioned at the beginning, adapting movies for television may mean adding new material. The Clone Wars did just that, but in a way that added to the original. New characters, like the aforementioned Ahsoka and Ventress, clone troopers Waxer, Boil, and Fives, and bounty hunter Cad Bane had their own stories that intersected with the lives of the original cast. In addition, minor characters like General Grievous had their roles expanded. Grievous, first seen in Sith primarily escaping before being defeated by Obi-Wan, is shown to be far more dangerous and far more callous, killing several Jedi and targeting medical frigates.
The series delved into other parts of the Galaxy Far Far Away. Seasons three and four showcased the Nightsisters, a sect of the Witches of Dathomir, and Asajj Ventress. Mandalore, the home of some famed armour, also had several episodes focused on it and its internal politics. The Galaxy felt larger as a result, away from Tatooine and Coruscant. At the same time, classic equipment seen in the original Star Wars began appearing, from the Y-Wings to the evolution of the clone trooper armour to look more and more like that used by stormtroopers.
The Clone Wars also managed to make Revenge of the Sith a stronger movie. Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is shown throughout the series, as Palpatine introduces doubt that worms through his mind. The deaths of the Jedi as a result of Order 66 hit harder. No longer are they nameless characters in a montage but Plo Koon, Kit Fisto, and Aayla Secura, Jedi who have appeared and were developed as full characters in their own right.
As an animated adaptation, The Clone Wars took characters that were larger than life in movies and brought them in a new form on television. The animation evolved over the run of the series, noticeable even in the first season, and evolved to handle more difficult challenges. There were times when certain elements, such as the clone troopers, the battle droids, and General Grievous, were indistinguishable from what appeared on screen in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The eye to detail and the desire to respect the films came through. While it is true that Lucasfilm was still the studio behind The Clone Wars, not all of the studio’s releases matched the quality and care shown in the animated series.** The Clone Wars is well worth studying as a successful adaptation.
* I’m ignoring filler episodes here. Filler is more commonly seen in anime based on manga, where the series has to wait for new content to be created.
** The Star Wars Holiday Special stands out as a prime example here.