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Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 6 Review (Part 1): A Band of Brothers

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars S06E01, S06E02, S03E06, and S0604: 

"The Unknown", "Conspiracy", "Fugitive", and "Orders"

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when Star Wars: The Clones Wars was first announced, the idea that some episodes would focused on the clone troopers more than the Jedi struck me as ambitious in its bold belief that kids (and adults, let's be honest) would tolerate episodes that didn't feature lightsabers. It also brought out the cynic in me, in that it seemed like an easy way to keep costs down; the show wouldn't have to animate faces under those helmets, and could get away with using only one voice actor for every single clone that appeared. But then the series premiered and proved me wrong. Not only did audiences like and enjoy clone-centric episodes—I've met plenty of kids who love Rex and Cody more than the Jedi characters—but The Clone Wars never shied away from showing us the troopers underneath those helmets.

What's more, it gave the clones personalities and identifiers. They weren't just mindless, mass-produced biological automatons sent into battle the mindless, mass-produced mechanical automatons of the Separatists. They took initiative beyond their programming and training and, most importantly, they developed loyalties to one another, not just as members of a squad but as a sizable population in the galaxy.

We saw that dedication and sense of camaraderie on full display here in the first four episodes of Season 6 as Fives sought to the get the bottom of why a clone cadet named Tups went and killed a Jedi while fighting on the circular space station (has there been a sharper metaphor for the seemingly unending nature of war on this show than this space station?). Even if the episodes hadn't spelled it out for us, as audience members we knew it was an action linked to the dreaded Order 66, a trigger implanted in the clones to be activated by Palpatine and cause the clones to turn on the Jedi and then become the stormtroopers of the Empire.

So Fives did what he could to unearth the secrets buried by the Kaminoans and the Sith regarding the nature of Order 66. He disobeyed orders, he teamed up with a not completely annoying medical droid, and he discovered the conspiracy, only to steadily lose his mind in the process, reducing the truth to the ranting of a clone who'd gone lost his grip on things after having an "aggression inhibitor"—which actually triggered Order 66—removed. Fives, who had been with the series since Season 1, was shot down at the pits of his instability, fully unable to explain what was going on, and without any evidence.

One of the hallmarks of science-fiction, and speculative fiction in general, is extrapolation. I'm sure I've mentioned this elsewhere on, maybe even in earlier discussions of The Clone Wars. So, possibly in reiteration, extrapolation is what allows speculative fiction writers to comment on present-day society by jumping a few years or a few thousand years into the future and thinking about where things end up, or by putting the contemporary world into a different context so as to call attention to it, to make the audience see it in a new light.

The Clone Wars has done this in the past, of course, but this particular arc used Tubs and Fives' behavior to touch on a number of topics related to serving in the military. I personally read it as a commentary on how the U.S. military in particular struggles to support its soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorders. The episodes wrapped the troopers' behavior in a cloak of investigating a conspiracy, but consider the paces they were put through to get there. Nala Se provided incorrect diagnoses for an ulterior purpose; PTSD is routinely misdiagnosed, ignored, or receives inadequate treatment. Shaak Ti and Nala Se got into jurisdictional battles over who the clones belonged to—who was responsible for them—mirroring the ways in which real-life service members have to find assistance from a range of bureaucratic services that just don't communicate well with one another.

By the end of "Orders," Fives' mental state felt like a commentary on where many military personnel who've seen combat have found themselves: in need of help, and confused about what to do and where to go. Even Tubs' dying words about a never-ending mission in their dreams were not-so-subtly intercut with seemingly knowing head tilts from helmeted troopers, and thus summoning the stories of sleeping nightmares and waking flashbacks recounted by many veterans.

These sorts of stories are what speculative fiction is for. It seems like a rollicking adventure and conspiracy yarn set in the narrative universe of a famed and lucrative media franchise, but every now and then, you scratch away at the surface and find something very purposeful.


– Welcome to the coverage of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 6 a.k.a. The Lost Missions. These episodes are, as of right now, only available for streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly. As you may have surmised from this post, we'll be tackling the season not on an episode-by-episode basis, but as a set of arcs. My next review will cover "An Old Friend" (Episode 5), "The Rise of Clovis" (Episode 6), and "Crisis at the Heart" (Episode 7)—an arc that was supposed to appear in Season 4, but kept getting pushed around. As a result, and perhaps unfairly, my hopes for it are not high.

– Part of my thinking on the clones here was informed by Karen Traviss's excellent (and sadly unfinished) Republic Commando novel series. If you enjoyed these four episodes in particular, I'd encourage you read that series, as they're easily some of the better Star Wars novels in who knows how long.

– On an aesthetics level, I don't know that the show has ever looked this good. I'm chalking up a lot of that to finally watching the series in something better than standard definition, but it was still leaps and bounds ahead of previous season. Even if it wasn't just an issue of image quality, "The Unknown" was especially good-looking, with some nicely executed cinematography and sequences, like the zero-g battle in the medical transport or the slightly topsy-turvy climb on the space station. The other episodes don't reach the same heights, but I still felt like I was seeing the show for the first time, in a lot of ways.

What did you all think of this first arc of The Clone Wars Season 6?

Note: If you've already finished the season, please avoid spoilers for Episodes 5-13 in the comments!

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