Disturbance in the Force: Reacting to the end of The Clone Wars

TCW-6-uhoh-66

Yesterday’s announcement that Lucasfilm Animation will be wrapping up The Clone Wars with some bonus content but not a full sixth season, while preparing for a new series was not a big surprise, but it was still a sad piece of news for me and other fans of the show.

Stooge and I are both big fans and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about The Clone Wars and its winding down. So I asked Stooge to share his opinion and I’m tacking on my own reaction to this all, using Stooge’s points as a start.

Stooge: Two things are clear. The first is that The Clone Wars was meant to go beyond five seasons. Dave Filoni has often talked about future episodes, and certain characters – Ahsoka and Rex, most prominently – were promised resolutions. We also got hints that we’d see more of Boba Fett’s evolution, and I find it hard to believe that they didn’t have more in store for Ventress. Darth Maul’s storyline was left particularly gaping, since the decision was made rather late in the game (late enough that Tim Curry had to voice the line) to keep him alive. And since this is an expensive show to produce (most animation is), I doubt we’ll see more than what was already nearly finished. “Wind down” means finishing what’s begun, not starting what’s been planned.

Jawajames: While I share that sense that it certainly would be easiest to finish the episodes that are nearest to completion, I have a hope that in this wind down, Filoni and his crew will be allowed to finish some episodes that would give stronger resolutions to our favorite characters even if it means doing more work to finish those episodes over ones nearer the end of the pipeline. While it seems likely that most of this bonus content will be stuff that was originally slated to be in season six, it could be that some of it might need to be re-worked to give more closure to the show, and thus go in new ways, pulling in ideas that were left on the table for later seasons. Ahsoka, Rex, Maul, Ventress – they all have open fates that could be resolved. And I’d always love to see more Hondo Ohnaka woven into the adventures. We got a hint of a potential Cad Bane/Boba Fett storyline, which I’d like to see, but if push came to shove when culling for a budget, it might have to sit unfinished.

Stooge: The second is that, despite the best intentions of Lucasfilm’s publicity department, this is not good news. I suppose it’s a nice gesture that we’ll get a few more episodes, or at least snippets of them, instead of a straight up, clear-out-your-desk cancellation. But make no mistake, The Clone Wars was canceled. And it was canceled at its peak, at least creatively. Especially for the past couple of seasons, the show worked on two levels: it was great television and, as Pablo Hidalgo liked to say, some of the best Star Wars ever. (And the news that another show is coming? It’s way too vague and unknown at this point for me to get excited. Plus, we’ve been teased with other show concepts — two recently — that never came to pass. So it’s not much of a consolation.)

Jawajames: I definitely get the same vibe here – canceled at its peak. There are some shows that go off the air after they’ve jumped the shark, and some that go as they are starting to hit their stride, but The Clone Wars really was on top of its game. And still heading up – both with stories and characters, and animation. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to see some of the best parts of this past season on the big screen, and will tell you again, if there’s an opportunity to see this show on the big screen, do it. It is a nice gesture that we will get a few more episodes or story arcs, and with that clip introducing a whole pre-Order 66 storyline, it hopefully means that we will get some story arcs that aren’t just there to wrap up the show.

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That clip that Filoni introduces at the end of the video, ‘The Future of Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ maybe even sums up some of the mood of the show’s staff for me. We have the Jedi and clones moving in against the droids, with Fives even proclaiming, “We’re almost to the finish line.” As our heroes advance, there’s a unexpected change on the battlefield, a betrayal from their own side. And then more enemies appear, and Anakin has to declare, “We’ve lost our momentum. Fall back,” and the Republic forces are pushed into a retreat, with Anakin wanting answers. Like the heroes, despite almost making it to the finish line, the show is forced to pull back because of a change. Maybe I’m reading too much into the selection of this particular scene and potential parallels faced by The Clone Wars crew. It could just be an awesome clip of something new and surprising.

Stooge: There’s been speculation that The Clone Wars was, on a per-episode basis, too expensive to be profitable. Let’s assume that’s true for a minute, even though I doubt it. I suppose it’s possible that Lucasfilm would produce the show at a loss for five years, since it introduced new generations of fans to Star Wars and (if we want to be really cynical about it) kept the merchandise machine cranking. And maybe nowadays, with the focus on the sequel trilogy and the standalone movies, that aspect of the show became unnecessary, so it was ripe to be canceled. But if The Clone Wars really did operate at a loss, why would Lucasfilm produce another animated show – Detours, which looked similarly pricey – if there was a good chance it would also lose money? George Lucas is many things but a bad businessman he is not.

Or was he? Ever since the sale, Lucasfilm has tightened its belt pretty drastically. The 3D movies got postponed. Detours got shelved. And now the plug has been pulled on The Clone Wars. So my guess – and it’s just a guess, one which I hope isn’t true – is that Lucasfilm Animation may not be long for this world. Lucasfilm Animation’s two public projects are now kaput, and from a corporate standpoint, shuttering the entire division probably makes sense. (If there’s one thing Disney has enough of, it’s animation departments.) But while business is business, The Clone Wars was art. It’s a shame when the former murders the latter.

Jawajames: Certainly, Lucas was someone who valued sharing the story over the financial costs time and again. You can see that from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (which, like The Clone Wars, brought motion picture level production into a TV program,) and Red Tails, which would not have been made save for Lucas paying over $90 million for production and distribution. About the belt-tightening, it could be that some of it is general “we now have to appear profitable to our owners and their stockholders instead of just make an already-rich independent filmmaker happy” as well as the shift of resources for the production of the sequel trilogy and other upcoming projects. The new series for Lucasfilm Animation: Could this exploration be the third show that Lucas hinted at back at Celebration VI (instead of the possible spinoff of Young Jedi from The Clone Wars – or even some sort of continuation of those younglings in a post-Episode III timeframe)?

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Stooge: Reading over the announcement, it struck me as an obituary for Lucasfilm Animation. And watching the clip with Admiral Trench, who I instantly loved during his first and only appearance to date, made me realize how many stories The Clone Wars hasn’t told, and now won’t be able to. Animated shows are expensive, yes, but the successful ones tend to run for a good long while. With someone as creative and dedicated as Filoni in charge, The Clone Wars could have gone a solid decade and gotten better every year. I was looking forward to the cartoon equivalent of M*A*S*H, a show that got increasingly creative and daring the longer it aired, and in the end lasted much longer than the actual war it portrayed. I know Yoda would tell me not to mourn for what can’t be, but screw it. He’s a Jedi. I’m just a Star Wars fan. And I’m in mourning.

Jawajames: I don’t know if I’m in mourning, exactly. Part of me has been preparing for this news for the past few months, especially when Cartoon Network announced their fall season without The Clone Wars, and there was no official re-assurance that the show would be somewhere else. Thinking randomly about network upfronts, what if Disney announced in their upfront today that there’s going to be a new Star Wars show instead. Mind would be blown. But I really am going to miss The Clone Wars. So much fun, adventure and good times. So much good Star Wars.

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Jawajames: Thanks to all the crew and cast of Star Wars: The Clone Wars for bringing us this amazing series and will continue to do so as they wind down. As I said on Twitter, #fiveseasonsbonusmaterialandamovie just isn’t quite the same as #sixseasonsandamovie.

10 thoughts on “Disturbance in the Force: Reacting to the end of The Clone Wars

  1. Lin

    Great writeup, very sad subject matter. The heart of George Lucas, that’s what’s going to be missing in the future of Star Wars, and that this wasn’t just about cranking out toys to entice a new, younger audience (or apprentices) but literally putting his money – and there was a ton of it, right? – towards projects that he cared about and could only hope (but doesn’t demand) that others would, too. You take George out of the equation and Star Wars is at the mercy of what is perceived to drive the market – $$$$$$, just like everything else. And who does the accounting? Do Celebrations make money in their profit and loss statements?

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  2. Crazy

    I’ll admit it, I don’t really like seasons 4 and 5 anywhere near as much as season one. Now maybe that’s because I prefer the SW books over any other format, but Clone Wars never connected with me as much as the books. It’s sad we won’t see more Ahsoka, but I’m not crying. Maybe they’ll commission some Clone Wars books to tie up any loose ends.

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  3. Neil

    Thanks, James and YZ, you both eloquently summed up our collective thoughts, and presented two sides of the same eulogy very clearly.
    However, I want to toss my two pence in. Yes, I turned British again, such is my melancholy.
    The decision to wind down the show is indeed short-sighted, and I am among the throngs who would have loved to see more resolution on screen (on DVD is better than nothing, but then we lose the delightful weekly online postmortems. As for the future of Lucasfilm Animation, I do hope Stooge isn’t correct in his trepidation. With this news coinciding with Disney’s announcement that they will not be making any more trad 2D films ever again (again), there is a glimmer of hope that LFA will be drawn into the folds of the mouse house to work on their future projects, besides this mysterious ‘new show’, which I won’t hold my breath for.
    As for losing money with the Clone wars, they have now hit the magic syndication number – nobody can convince me that there is no windfall to be made from selling the show all over the galaxy.
    I love you all!
    nob01

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  4. Dom

    As long as we get the resolution to the Maul arc. I have a feeling the S5 finale will be the last time we see Ahsoka on screen though. Ashley Eckstein hasn’t even hinted at having recorded any more lines.

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  5. derp

    Great discussion. It really sums up all our disapointment. I doubt the show wasn’t profitable: it was a derivated products gold mine. Of course, it was probably very expensive to produce, so I guess we will never know why they made that decision: because of the price, or to focuse on the new trilogy? It’s now that we realise how lucky we were to have George Lucas leading Lucasfilms. He worked on Star Wars because he loved it, and I’m sure that if he hadn’t retired, he would’ve continued the Clone Wars, no matter the price tag or Episode 7.
    I would just like to point out some things I think are worth mentioning that weren’t said. Dave Filoni really talked about showing many important arcs. Never he talked about episodes; just arcs. And he said there were many arcs to show. That makes me think we can expect around at least 12 episodes: three 4 episode arcs. He also mentinned how they were very important to the storyline. That makes me think that their priority is finishing the most important arcs of season 6 to give the show a proper conclusion, and not finishing first the arcs that are the most advanced in development. Also, I think it is plausible to think that they have begun animating most if not all arcs of the season; the animation process takes place a long time in advance, everything is written and probably voiced by now. I won’t get my hopes to high, but I hope we will get the full sixth season. On a more realistic basis, I think we can expect between 8 and 16 episodes (2 to 4 story arcs).

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  6. derp

    Folks, WE CAN SAVE THE SHOW! There is still time! It has happened in the past the fan campaigns brought back cancelled show, including a Disney show: Kim Possible. If it could be done for Kim Possible, it can be done for the Clone Wars.
    WRITE A LETTER! Letters are the most efficient way to get the word though to Disney. Since it takes time to write, print and send them, and since they cost a bit of money, corporations like Disney pay for attention to letters than anything else. write to the following address:
    Walt Disney Studios
    500 S Buena Vista St
    Burbank, CA 91521
    Attn: Bob Iger
    Go on social media! Disney has a Facebook page there, go and make yourself heard! Corporations have already backed off from decisions after social media campaigns. Send an e-mail! Use this webpage to do so: http://thewaltdisneycompany.com/contact-us/corporate-communications

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  7. Iiari

    Great article, great summary of the situation, and great comments. A couple of thoughts I had:

    * How’s LA’s business?
    I agree that the decisions made since the acquisition certainly seem to raise the question of how LA was doing beforehand. I don’t think Disney wants to tick off fans, but perhaps they looked at the balance sheet and realized that costs seriously needed to be brought in line to industry standard post-haste… Who knows?

    * Um, how’d those negotiations go George?
    It would have been nice if Uncle George had, as part of the Disney negotiations, secured the future of some projects he cared about. Think Disney would have walked out of negotiations if he said, “Oh, by the way, I need Dave Feloni and crew to be allowed to finish up their show into Season 7 at current funding”? I don’t think so either. The junking of ongoing and completed projects that have George’s fingerprints all over them has to be seen as ominous and I think, from a legacy standpoint, is more than a bit disappointing…

    * Star Wars Overexposure?
    If there’s any possible intelligent logic in all of Disney’s recent decisions, the only thing I can figure out is that they’re worried that the Star Wars franchise is getting overexposed between the zillion shows, books, comics, licensing, reference materials, etc and they are concerned SW universe fatigue might be setting in. Perhaps they have a balance sheet showing SW retail offerings up 20% but revenues down 20% and feel the need to aggressively trim offerings to focus the fan community and its dollars. That would perhaps explain everything. They want Star Wars to feel a bit more rare and special rather than for it to feel ubiquitous as the movies approach…

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  8. Melinda W

    Kind of reminds me of the scene where Bail, Yoda, Mace, Obi-wan (am I forgetting anyone?) are watching the clones walk up the ramps of the transports. The beginning of the end. That scene depicted far-reaching ramifications that no one really envisioned at that time … and look what happened!
    (I don’t mean to sound quite so pessimistic, but shelving Clone Wars and Detours [which looked fantastic!] does not necessarily bode well…)

    Reply
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