Before we had Filoni and Lucas’ Clone Wars, before we had Rebels and Resistance, and before we had The Mandalorian, the only extension of Star Wars in television- since the Ewok animated series from 1985-1986- was Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars. To some of you, this name might have little significance. For others, this name and short-lived series might bring back the nostalgia of the first look at Clone Wars. Genndy Tartakovsky helped create a three-season Clone Wars show on Cartoon Network to bridge the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and it does a remarkable job doing so.
Tartakovsky was a long-time creator on Cartoon Network, helping create shows like Samurai Jack, Powderpuff Girls, and Dexter’s Laboratory. His previous work on Cartoon Network and the aforementioned shows influenced his work with Star Wars: including the animation style that he made a career out of. The animation and storytelling style he became accustomed to made its way over to Star Wars.
So Tartakovsky didn’t have the luxury of having four, five, six, or even seven seasons of twenty plus episodes to tell a story, so he had to figure out a way to tell this story efficiently. He also had to tell a story that wouldn’t contradict what would happen in Revenge of the Sith and it had to live within the parameters of what was set up in Attack of the Clones. With such short episodes, he had to tell a story with a lot of action that pushed the story forward without going too deep on character arcs or even having a lot of dialogue. He had to use a visual style of storytelling that would push forward a compelling story in the quickest way possible, it had to be fast paced, include a ton of action, and he did just that.
Outside of the animation of Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, there are many inherent differences between his version and the new canon version of Clone Wars. The Cartoon Network version came in a smaller variation of three to five-minute episodes, while the later version of Clone Wars spans from about twenty to twenty-three minutes. The Filoni and Lucas Clone Wars is often touted as some of the best storytelling in Star Wars: mainly because it goes into these deeper character stories. Still, I think the question has to be asked – is longer always better for storytelling? Yes, the Clone Wars we have now had these rich lore-based stories, but it has also had some bland and, quite frankly, dull story arcs. On the other hand, Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, when put together as a whole, is more told like a movie and lasts about two hours and twelve minutes. It has a much more efficient way of telling the story.
Another difference with Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars comes down to how violent it is, even by today’s standards for a cartoon. It very much feels like a piece of art that represents the times. By that I mean the style of warfare to me is much more urbanized and displays similarities to the Iraq War: it’s an urban style of fighting where Clone Troopers get pinned down by snipers. This is instead of drawing from World War II trench warfare that the Original Trilogy does. The show creates a much more realistic feel that is in ways more violent and is a true reflection of the times.
Another aspect that makes Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars so great is how it leans into the mythos of the Jedi. In the Original Trilogy, the idea is built up that the Jedi are viewed as myths. Throughout this show, the Jedi legitimately seem like gods. There is a point in the show where Mace Windu takes on an entire droid army by himself. It is three or four minutes of complete god-like animated fun. Now when I say army, I don’t mean a few hundred. I mean, he takes on what seems like at least ten-thousand battle droids. If you told me it was a billion, I’d believe you.
This helps build up Mace Windu’s character. Even though he is a very well-respected swordsman among his peers in the movies, in the end, his arc is somewhat underwhelming, to put it lightly, from the perspective of the audience. It also makes the Jedi feel invincible and like they cannot be beaten, and I liked that they leaned into that mythological aspect of the Jedi lore.
The last part that ensures Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars a special place in my heart is the introduction to some crucial new characters- Asajj Ventress and General Grievous. Ventress in this series embodies everything I love about her. From her first moments on screen, I fell in love with this character. It is this version that I think of when Ventress is mentioned, not Filoni and Lucas’ Clone Wars. She is powerful, at times witty, a great swordswoman, and so, so evil. Not evil in the way Palpatine is, you know she is a bad guy, but you’re pulled to her character. She also has a moment where she has a lightsaber duel with Anakin Skywalker that (hot take incoming that may or may not be a hot take) is a top tier lightsaber duel. In fact, I would put it in the top three of all lightsaber duels. Her face-off with Skywalker is emotional, has a great score, and visually looks stunning.
Then we have General Grievous. He is portrayed as this almost horror-villain archetype, and it is perfect. He looks just like he does in Revenge of the Sith, but he moves better and fights better than he does in the movie. You can see why some Jedi may fear him as he is almost like a Michael Meyers serial killer. He lurks in the shadows and before you can comprehend what is happening, he has killed a handful of Jedi. He is genuinely feared in this version of Clone Wars. While Filoni and Lucas introduced a fair share of notable characters in the newer Clone Wars (mainly Ashoka Tano), Ventress and Grievous are up there with newly introduced characters in terms of quality.
Whether or not you loved Tartakovsky’s version of Clone Wars, or maybe you’ve just now heard of it, – it is hard to ignore its impact. It was the first modern-day Star Wars TV show, and without its success on Cartoon Network, we may have never got shows like The Mandalorian, Rebels, and so on. It introduced new characters that people fell in love with, told a compelling story, and helped create anticipation for Revenge of the Sith. Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars remains great and should be watched by every Star Wars fan. It was a show that had high octane action and the only issue I have with this version of Clone Wars is that it was so darn short.