Features and Columns · TV

‘The Clone Wars’ Explained: The Final Season Ends in “Victory and Death”

The last ‘Star Wars’ project started by George Lucas concludes with expected heartbreak.
The Clone Wars Final Episode Helmets
By  · Published on May 4th, 2020

The last episode of the final season of The Clone Wars dropped onto Disney+ unannounced at midnight to kick off this year’s May the Fourth festivities. As expected after last week’s devastating Order 66 execution, the conclusion is an effectively satisfying bummer. Where Revenge of the Sith at least offered us hope in the Skywalker twins, The Clone Wars only allows its audience to find their optimism through their knowledge of Star Wars: Rebels and The Rise of Skywalker. Evil will be extinguished, but many bodies litter the road to triumph. And what good is victory when so many have died along the way?

Victory and Death,” the final episode, begins with Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex trapped within a tiny medical chamber aboard a Republic battle cruiser. Tano has freed Rex of his inhibitor chip, but the army of clones on the other side of the door remains imprisoned by Darth Sidious’ blood-crazed order. The two bust through their cubicle and take on the soldiers who were once their allies; Tano refusing to kill, understanding the demon who possesses their brain.

Lord Maul shows no restraint. Freed by Tano last episode as a means of distraction, Maul butchers his way through the ship and runs straight for the hyperdrive reactor. Using the Force, he pulls the core down upon itself, yanking the battlecruiser out of hyperspace, and jamming it into the gravitational pull of a nearby moon. Having ordered the destruction of the escape pods while under the spell of Order 66, Rex stares death in the face. They will either meet their demise in a blaze of fire or at the end of a blaster triggered by his brothers.

Tano and Maul have faith. They race to the last remaining shuttle, and while they skirmish with each other, the clone army led by our friend Jesse (who has been with us since “The Deserter,” the tenth episode of the second season), rains hell upon them. Tano comes inches from slitting Maul’s throat with her blade, but he’s a wily acrobat and reaches the shuttle first. Tano grasps deep within herself and manages to contain Maul’s escaping shutting via the Force, but when Jesse’s troops gain an advantage on Rex, she releases Maul to aid her friend. We’ll see Maul next for his cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Before the battlecruiser is torn to complete smithereens, Rex finds a solitary Y-wing starfighter in the belly of the ship. He gets behind the wheel while Tano is blown into orbit with the rest of the debris. In what has to be one of the most thrilling sequences ever constructed for The Clone Wars, and a stunt worthy of Tom Cruise to attempt someday in a Mission: Impossible, Tano glides through the plummeting wreckage and into the gunner seat of the Y-wing.

As the Dunkirk trailer says, “Survival is victory.” The Clone Wars ends with Tano and Rex overseeing the burials of numerous soldiers on the surface of the moon. The former Jedi grips one of her lightsabers in her fist. She stares at the helmets erected on sticks to mark their graves. Many of these helmets wear her colors in her honor. The Siege of Mandalore feels like an eternity ago. She lets the blade fall to the dirt.

Tano never got her last moment with Anakin. We never get to see her reaction to his betrayal. Surely, someone out there eventually gave her the word on his villainy. Did she never meet back up with Obi-Wan Kenobi? All we’re left with is her duel with Vader in the Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice.” That’s some good, delicious drama, but not nearly enough to satisfy the love they once shared for each other during The Clone Wars.

The final scene of the episode is set sometime later, maybe years later. The moon and the battlecruiser wreckage is covered in snow. Stormtroopers and probe droids roam about the waste. Darth Vader treks a path toward the graves. As some alien bird swoops overhead, Vader uncovers Tano’s lightsaber. He kneels and collects the trinket.

The blade was the last gift Anakin gave to Tano before she commanded the Siege of Mandalore. The way he holds onto her weapon indicates some love lost experienced by the Sith. Vader is a creature of regret. The Clone Wars marks his happiest days. Attack of the Clones saw him married to Padmé Amidala. He was a friend to Obi-Wan. A teacher to Tano. A puppet of Palpatine.

Anakin gave himself to fear. He held onto his happiness with a stranglehold. The pain he suffered when he lost his mother to the Tusken Raiders was unbearable. He would do anything to never feel such hurt again. Including forcing his will upon the galaxy, eradicating anyone who would oppose that will, meaning children who could one day grow up to face him in battle and the wife who recoiled when confronted with his despotic actions.

When he embraced the Dark Side, Anakin gave up everything he once considered dear. He knows this. To continue, he must ignore the happiness he once felt. Vader is forced to pretend that serving the Emperor is what he always wanted, but in the final shots of The Clone Wars, we see the man beneath the armor. We see the boy who thought he knew what was best for others, and the man who failed himself.

Vader won’t pick up this line of thinking until Return of the Jedi, while he’s standing still as the Emperor fills his son’s body with lightning. The possible death of Luke Skywalker is one evil too many. He makes his stand as an old man of regret. He redeems himself and gets his spirit spot next to Obi-Wan and Yoda on Endor. Would Tano grant him such leniency?

We’ll never know… unless Disney+ grants us a live-action Ahsoka Tano series or feature. Rosario Dawson is taking on the role of Tano for the second season of The Mandalorian. Having come out on the other side of the Rebellion, how does Tano feel about the downfall of the Empire? Did she ever get one more face-to-face with Anakin Skywalker? Does Anakin’s Force-ghost visit her when he’s feeling guilty?

The Clone Wars doesn’t answer every question and leaves enough room for the events of Rebels to play out, but the final season still leaves us craving satisfaction for Ahsoka Tano. Maul’s story is complete. He’s always been a dead man walking. Tano’s story feels like it’s just beginning. She needs to make peace with Vader. Tano needs to free herself of his burden.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)