One of the most appealing aspects of the science fiction and fantasy genres is the reflections of the contemporary society that can often be found within their stories. With a lifespan of almost 40 years George Lucas’ cultural phenomenon, the Star Wars saga, is an ever expanding allegory for the social issues and crises that have swamped recent American and Western history. Though the epic space opera series focuses on one of humanity’s greatest and oft repeated follies, Star Wars’ anti-war stance has never been too far away from its central conceit.
While the heroes from both trilogies are active soldiers in wars, the films make sure never to glamorise the concept. War is a struggle in this universe and they find neither satisfaction or fulfilment in bloodshed. The core protagonists themselves are often outsiders to the skirmishes or reluctant to align themselves fully with one faction of the conflict, noting that neither can claim the moral high ground whilst such carnage ensues. Initially conceived in the closing years of the Vietnam War, Lucas has always claimed his original trilogy of films to be a criticism of the American empire’s involvement in the conflict. Though critics argue there is little substantial evidence to back up these claims within the text itself there are certainly obvious parallels between the two conflicts, as a small group of freedom fighters take on an imposing and technologically supreme empire. 20 years later in the late 1990′s and early 2000’s, Lucas produced a prequel trilogy to Star Wars, which (allegedly plotted some years before certain world events took place) saw a politician manipulating those around him into conceding more and more power his way until he ultimately had the sway to lead both his people and contemporaries into a war founded upon lies. Commonalities with the Bush administration and the War on Terror are again plain for all to see.
It should come as no surprise then, that Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TCW) continues to explore themes of war. Despite being an animated series primarily aimed at children, The Clone Wars quickly develops into a surprisingly mature representation of war, tackling the myriad of problems the grim topic presents in a way that is appealing yet responsible to younger audiences who found themselves growing up the midst of it. Breaking free from Star Wars’ traditional summer blockbuster structure, TCW utilises an anthology format that opts for a stronger focus on the here and now than a procedural or serialisation might. Despite the fact that individually these stories don’t typically have stakes quite as high as an Empire Strikes Back, or a Revenge of the Sith, the stories can (told over multiple episodes) have just as long a running time, thus allowing the tales to really breathe, the characterisation to come to the fore and for the first time in the franchise’s history truly examine the personal toll war can take on its soldiers.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes place in the time frame of the prequel trilogy, specifically between the second and third instalments of the saga, ‘Attack of the Clones’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’. The titular Clone Wars are a staggeringly large scale and bloody conflict fought between Chancellor Palpatine’s democratic Galactic Republic, and Count Dooku’s Confederacy of Independent systems (CIS) – a vast league of planets and systems that are either disenfranchised by the corruption that is rife in the republic, greedy corporate committees who seek to establish a more business-friendly form of government, or smaller systems who have been bullied into joining. Throughout both the animated series and the film series the Republic is portrayed as the heroic faction of the conflict, enlisting the help of the peace-negotiating religious order of Jedi Knights and a grand army of clone soldiers. The CIS are presented as the villains, mobilising an infantry of soulless battle droids, corrupt politicians, and morally destitute bounty hunters to prevail. Concealed from the galactic populace, however, is the fact that Palpatine and Dooku are both Dark Lords of the Sith who have together orchestrated the war as a plot to destroy the Jedi Order, overthrow the democratic government, and establish a totalitarian Galactic Empire. The Clone Wars tells the stories of Jedi knights, clones, droids, politicians, witches, bankers, monarchy, prisoners and pirates as they navigate through wartime life; be it actively participating in the war, negotiating to bring it to a close, or trying to escape its influence altogether.