Why do we wear Darth Vader t-shirts? The villain is not some guy who transferred his anger over the death of his mother into bloodthirsty vengeance, striking down Tusken Raiders for the crimes they committed against his family. Yeah, he did that, too, but he let that anger turn to hatred, and that hatred consumed his mind to the point where he took his lightsaber to the necks of children. He’s a child killer, and we put his mug on our chests?
The prequels are easy to ignore. They’re not good. We don’t need to have that debate any longer. The only gift they gave us is The Clone Wars series, which goes to great lengths to bring painful pathos to the characters and make the prequel narrative cohesive. The Clone Wars also highlights the atrocity of war and the unforgivable evil committed between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Rocking a Vader shirt at the next convention should prove difficult.
The last two episodes of the cartoon series finally caught up with Star Wars: Episode III. Count Dooku is dead. Obi-Wan Kenobi is in mid-combat with General Grievous. Anakin Skywalker is learning about Darth Plagueis the wise. The Jedi sense the hand of the Sith closing around their throats, but they cannot possibly imagine the arm attached to the hand.
“Shattered,” the penultimate episode of The Clone Wars, begins with Lord Maul in custody. He’s wrapped in a Mandalorian prison box, with not a muscle able to move, finally transcending him into his role as the Hannibal Lecter of the galaxy far, far away. Ahsoka Tano believes that inside Maul’s head remains the key to unlocking the mystery of the Sith, revealing the dark strategy of an unseen puppet master.
Unfortunately, she’s too late.
During a holo-conference with a few Jedi masters, including Yoda and the merely-minutes-left-to-live Mace Windu, Tano asks to speak to Anakin Skywalker. He’s too busy psyching himself up for infanticide. Yoda asks Tano if there is a message he can relay upon Skywalker for her. She thinks about it for a second but can’t bear to bring her dark thoughts out into the open.
Maul knows Skywalker is the key to the Imperial rise. As a former student and friend to Skywalker, Tano can’t believe he’s capable of such villainy. “Shattered” reveals her culpability in the tragedy. Her lack of imagination mirrors the same blindness perpetrated by the Jedi since The Phantom Menace. Their high horse vantage point equals the death of billions.
Tano tells the council that she captured Maul out of her duty as a citizen, once again, refusing her membership in the Jedi order. As she explains to Captain Rex, she was raised believing that the Jedi were meant to be keepers of the peace, but all her life she has traveled the path of a soldier. Rex expresses a sense of confusion for the war he’s fought his whole life.
Without The Clone Wars, Rex would not exist. He was bred to fight this fight. With the war on the verge of ending, his purpose comes into question. What is a warrior without a war?
The philosophical questions will have to wait. As Tano and Maul are hit by a vision of Anakin killing Mace Windu, we cut to a holographic Emperor executing Order 66. With the word given, the Clones, including Rex, turn their blasters against Tano. Rex resists the command as much as he can, telling Tano to find his dead brother Fives, the clone trooper in season five who went haywire after his inhibitor chip switched early.
Rex didn’t understand the horror of these planted gadgets then, but he sure as hell does now. Despite that knowledge, he still commands his squadron against Tano. With no one to aid her escape off of the battlecruiser, Tano unleashes Maul from his cage. The demon wants a team-up, but Tano only needs a distraction.
The two go their separate ways, Maul obliterating clones using various chunks of ship metal as guillotines, and Tano partnering with a trilogy of astromech droids to corner Rex and free him of the inhibitor chip. As an army beats down the door of the medical bay, Tano locates the chip using the Force and liberates him of the technological slavery.
Rex turns his blasters on his fellow mind-warped troopers, a sin he’ll carry with him into Star Wars: Rebels. The episode concludes with Tano asking Rex how widespread Order 66 travels. He grimly tells her, “The entire Grand Army of the Republic has been ordered to hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights.”
When the Siege of Mandalore began, Tano could feel the climax of The Clone Wars. Maul’s capture was meant to be a grand victory, but like all Republic victories in this series, Darth Sidious remains the winner. The Clone Wars are coming to an end, but Tano’s war is merely beginning. In next week’s series finale, she will find no joy.
What she may uncover is the true name of Darth Sidious: Chancellor Palpatine. However, that’s not the most satisfying confrontation we want as an audience. We know the deal. We know the evil. What we want to see is Tano come face-to-face with Skywalker’s treachery, but we may not get that either.
When she has her swordfight with Darth Vader in the Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Tano does not immediately recognize the actions of her friend beneath Vader’s cybernetic shell. So, whatever happens, next week will not result in Tano’s eyes wide open to Skywalker’s future, but she must confront his betrayal. She will have to sit with failure.
As George Lucas elected to do with Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars will conclude with tragedy. Can the series find a way to offer hope? A final shot of the Skywalker twins? Uh, can that work with us knowing of Luke Skywalker’s failings in The Last Jedi?
Hope must stay with Tano. She survived The Clone Wars. She will ignite the first spark of the Rebellion, and its refusal to let evil prevail. As long as Tano is breathing, resistance is possible. Give me her t-shirt. I’ll wear it proudly.