After 12 long years, the final chapter of my adolescence has finally come to an end. On May the fourth (be with you) [and also with you] Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series ended its decade-long run after surviving a network cancellation and a buyout by Disney.
This show was a rarity during the days of fan service feature films and canon-erasing corporate moves. The Clone Wars writers never got off track from weaving episodes II & III together in a way that we can appreciate characters like Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and of course Ahsoka Tano in ways the films came short of during production.
The reason I hold this show so close to my nostalgia is because I was the target audience at the time of its release. What teenage boy wouldn’t want to watch all of his favorite characters return to the screen in tons of stories and arcs about good overcoming evil? But if you’ve ever seen The Clone Wars, you’ll know there’s so much more to this limited time frame in the universe we think we know everything about - especially that the black and white framing of good vs. evil becomes more and more grey throughout the show’s premise.
As exciting as the lightsaber duels, interstellar warfare, and exploration of new and old systems was, nothing came close to the journey the viewer’s took part in with the show’s namesake - the clones. In the films, the clone troopers were awkward, computer-generated, and fairly useless. However in the series, the clones are personified as individuals with unique characteristics, hopes, and challenges of their own. Being bred and manufactured for the sole purpose of war comes with its own existential crises after all.
Viewers are introduced to a slew of clones comprising the 501st Legion - the elite battalion which reports to General Skywalker during the clone wars, and eventually Darth Vader after the events of Episode III unfold. The band is made up of fan favorites like Captain Rex, Fives, Hardcase, and Tup to name a few.
One of the most memorable and critically acclaimed chapters of this entire series comes from S4 E7-10 or better known as Battle of Umbara arc, in which we see the 501st Legion struggle to overtake an entire neutral planet for The Republic. The controversial reason for invasion and attack is merely boiled down to following orders from up above. Through search and destroy tactics, the clones find themselves utterly unfit to dominate in a crude terrain with guerrilla tactics being used by the defending Umbarans.
Normally General Skywalker’s battalion is used to terrible circumstances and odds, but when he’s called out of action by authority, a replacement General Pong Krell is assigned responsibility to oversee the trying battle. The problem with the replacement commander is he sees the clones as property of The Republic and a renewable resource.
During the next few episodes of this arc, Pong Krell and Captain Rex butt heads against each other in vying for direction and execution of battle tactics. The two agendas at play here are accomplishing the mission as safely as possible while preserving as much life as possible vs. aimlessly sending loyal clones to their unnecessary demise due to dark intentions. Pong Krell operates under the latter approach because he is trying to win the attention of Sith Lord Count Dooku, which means Krell has already turned from the light side and the Jedi Order.
Over the course of the arc the clones under Captain Rex begin to rebel against following dangerous orders from General Krell leading to accusations of treason and execution. Pong Krell is evil personified; he memorized his troopers ID numbers so he wouldn't have to know their names, made battle plans just plausibly functional enough to lose a multitude of troops without raising suspicion from higher leadership, brutally pitted two battalions of clones against each other and then proceeds to mop the floor with them when he was finally exposed.
The turning point comes when Captain Rex defies the General and throws a coup to restore order to the battalion. One of the most gripping quotes in the series comes when he says:
“We’re not programmed. You have to learn to make your own decisions.”
– Captain Rex
Most Jedi treated the clones under their command with respect and consideration. They didn’t view them as disposable figures. It’s one reason why Order 66 is so hard to process. But, there were exceptions, and Jedi Master Pong Krell was one of them. Rex rallied his men against the cruel Jedi and explained being a good soldier meant using your head and your own experiences rather than genetics to determine your actions.
So how does this all relate to our lives? Well, right now we find ourselves in the midst of a global war against an invisible enemy that threatens to ruin our routines, livelihoods, and relationships. But we don’t have to be hopeless, because this isn’t an every person for themselves battle. Much like the clones, we have units we belong to like coworkers, family members, and friends. In the Darkness on Umbara arc we learn the key to survival is by being considerate of each other and banding together and doing the right thing, even in the face of adversity cloaked in leadership.
Whether we're on our way back to our regularly scheduled programming or staying inside for whoever knows how much longer, we can choose to lead our communities either from a reactionary approach driven by fear - or we can rise together with patience, reason and care for the least among us. By wearing a mask in public, staying away from crowds, and offering a hand to the most vulnerable in our communities we live into the grace we are called to emanate when the going gets tough.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars was a masterpiece of animation, storytelling and character development. No matter how young or old you are, there’s still learning and adventure sprawled across this massive universe we’ve come to know and love. So if you haven’t seen it yet, I seriously recommend spending some of this quarantine time working through its seven seasons! Here's a sneak peek to how the arc carries out below. And please remember to wash your hands!
Paul Gómez is the Manager, Hispanic/Latino Seeker Communications at United Methodist Communications. He hails from Las Vegas, NV and currently lives in Nashville, TN.
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[Posted May 7, 2020]