I finally started watching Star Wars: Clone Wars — and here’s what shocked me

Ahsoka Tano wielding two light sabers, with fire behind her in art for Star Wars: Clone Wars
(Image credit: StarWars.com)

For months, my lack of Clone Wars viewing was a regular topic among myself and some of my Star Wars-loving friends and colleagues. It's too many episodes, I'd say. The CGI looks poor in stills, I'd say. And somehow I'd keep thinking "Should I be watching Star Wars: Clone Wars?" 

That question bubbled up again during the holiday season, when I had a spare bit of time off near the end of a vacation. Since The Bad Batch season 2 was on the horizon, and that series is a spin-off of Clone Wars, I thought it would be worth it to try out the animated Star Wars universe. I've been told that the Clone Wars and all of its connected spinoffs have some of the best storytelling in Star Wars proper. (I manage our guide how to watch Star Wars in order, so I've had an inkling of its importance.)

I'm always trying to expand my pop culture knowledge base by filling in various gaps. Heck, I even tried Yellowstone, though it's not my cup of coffee, and I've yet to give up on it... I'll watch episode 4 once I finish some screeners. 

So, I hit play (thanks, Disney Plus, for having all of Clone Wars on hand) and discovered I had made a critical mistake in the process.

The attack of the (terrible) Clone Wars movie

Nobody prepared me for the crisis of bad quality that is the 2008 animated Clone Wars movie. Multiple people did say start with that film, though. And I guess it's on me for not looking it up on Rotten Tomatoes first. Then I would have seen its 18% score, a critical consensus akin to hearing Jon Lovitz's Jay Sherman declare "It STINKS!"

The only warnings I got were that young Ahsoka Tano (who becomes Anakin Skywalker's Padawan, his Jedi in training) was kind of annoying. But I survived the early episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi with its pint-sized surprise of a too-clever child. I could have handled Ashoka on her own. What I wasn't ready for is how the animation was even worse than I thought.

I get it, The Clone Wars movie was made in 2008, a long time ago in a video editing bay far, far away. So I can forgive that. It's not as bad as  the1990s animated series ReBoot, but the Clone Wars animation did such a poor job of expressing emotion.

That's not the biggest sin, but it's still amusing to me that Lucasfilm let anyone make Star Wars look this clunky. I guess sending it back for another few years in the hopper wasn't available. 

Here's the moment for me that made the Clone Wars movie laughable:

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The manner in which Obi Wan Kenobi introduces himself to young Ahsoka, and how she replies and brings Anakin into the conversation, is so unnatural that it recalls everything I don't like about Star Wars. As if I didn't get enough of a reminder when Jimmy Smits reprised the role of Bail Organa in the Obi-Wan series.

Before you even get to how wooden the voice actors sound, the dialogue alone is just plain wrong. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka aren't talking like real people, but more in the way of how non-playable characters talk to you in a video game. And paired with the lackluster voice acting — where people sound like they're a computer interpreting text to speech — you get a scenario where I just don't understand how it got made.

The Clone Wars film's plot — Jabba The Hutt's son has been kidnapped and he needs to be saved because of the politics surrounding the trade routes — is also undercooked that it continues the bad vibes that you're engaging with a relic from a bygone era: an edutainment (educational and entertainment) game.

Don't let the Clone Wars movie turn you to the dark side

While watching the Clone Wars movie, and posting the above tweet, I got a fair amount of "don't judge the show for the movie" replies. And even though I didn't have much time left in the day, I did have enough time for one episode of the actual Clone Wars show. Annoyingly, it began with the same booming voice narration that felt incredibly out of place. 

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Clone Wars, as you can tell by watching it, is pitched at younger audiences. But this nostalgic voice-over is catering to the parents who are watching it with their kids. I get that the younglings won't want to read a screen full of text, but a better solution must have been around. 

"Ambush," a Yoda-specific episode of Clone Wars, calmed my nerves about Clone Wars. It's not a historic piece of the Star Wars culture, but it's almost a layup in terms of giving Star Wars-loving audiences what they want. In it, Yoda enters what Admiral Ackbar would call a massive trap, in order to convince King Katuunko that the Galactic Republic should be allowed to build a base in Toydarian territory. The fact that we're dealing with the Toydarians at all is a red flag for those who aren't extremely positive about the prequel trilogy, as they're Watto's people.

But, once I stopped thinking about Watto, I got to enjoy Yoda's clever behavior in how he brought a group of clones through Asajj Ventress' traps. Clone Wars' Yoda is a terrific version, brought to chuckling life by veteran voice actor Tom Kane. 

And as for Ventress? The character already feels more alive in this show than she did in the movie. And I've been told this Dathomirian is an even-more fantastic character the more the series goes on.

Outlook: A new hope for comfort food TV

One of my worst flaws as a consumer of pop culture is my stubbornness when it comes to watching things in any other order than how they were released. That approach means watching The Clone Wars' 133 episodes in the slowest of drips. And that's before Rebels and The Bad Batch and all of the other spinoffs.

I'm aware that there is a playlist of important Clone Wars episodes. I've been pointed in the direction of custom fan-curated watch orders. Alas, I don't operate like that. So I see Clone Wars as something I'll turn on when I'm winding down. That said, I'll always hit "Skip Intro." While I will always try and see a show how the creators intended, that booming voice is a step too far.

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Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.