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How ‘The Clone Wars’ helped me appreciate Anakin Skywalker again (Repost)

(Originally published March 30, 2015 for EW. Reposting for safekeeping)

When it comes to the Star Wars movies, people generally fall into two different camps: loving the original trilogy and hating the prequels, or accepting all six films. In the first camp, many feel that the prequels were substandard, for a number of reasons. Some of the divide breaks generationally, but there are multiple explanations—and pretty much any Star Wars fan is happy to give you their thoughts on what they think and why at the drop of a hat.

It’s a hot-button issue.

I’m one of those fans who falls into the “Love the Original Trilogy, meh on the prequels” category. One of the reasons I have a hard time with the trilogy is the evolutions of Anakin Skywalker from open, gregarious child to youngling murderer apprentice in the space of three movies. Not only did I think the transition was abrupt, but I’m fairly sure that (and pardon me while I besmirch George Lucas) neither Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christiansen were given any kind of direction, and were left fending for themselves. In Lloyd’s case, it left him looking like a terrible actor. In Christiansen’s case, Anakin ended up coming off as a petulant, whiny, sullen man-child.

Those two factors meant that I pretty much hated Anakin Skywalker as a character—which is not good when you realize that Luke redeems Vader because he thinks there’s good in him.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars to the rescue.

Until recently, I had never watched The Clone Wars. However, my well-documented love for Star Wars Rebels and the return of Ahsoka Tano made me curious enough that I wanted to check it out. Enter Netflix. TCW covers events between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and ran for five and a half seasons. The entire series (well, at least through season four, which is where I am now) has been an in-depth look at the characters we know and love from the movies; it also adds new characters to help flesh out the story.

So there I am watching; as I’m going on, I realize that I’m beginning to like Anakin. He’s smart. He’s capable. He’s funny. He’s a good leader. Sure, he’s a little reckless and his independent streak is fully in effect, but Anakin Skywalker is a trusted general among the leadership. He’s not Obi-Wan’s apprentice. He’s a Jedi with his own apprentice. In that relationship between Anakin and his padawan, Ahsoka Tano, we see a control and understanding of the force that we never got to see in the film version.

Suddenly, I care more about what happens to Anakin Skywalker than I ever thought possible; I’m genuinely invested in what happens to him. Knowing where he ends up doesn’t make me care less. Actually, it makes me care more, because I’m starting to see so many facets of the character that I hadn’t imagined. Now I can see why Luke would have felt the good in him.

In addition to this new love and respect for Anakin, TCW has filled in so many parts of the larger Star Wars saga that couldn’t be covered in six movies.

I was watching last night, and all of a sudden I hear the name “Captain Ackbar.” I know that name! Oh, right, he wasn’t born an Admiral! Huh.

Have you ever wondered how Grand Moff Tarkin came up in the ranks, or why he has sway over Vader? There’s an episode for that. You know how Obi-Wan and Yoda say Luke reminds them of his father? Do you wonder how the Empire came to be the Empire? Or have you, like me, just wanted to know more about the Star Wars universe as a whole? All of these subjects are covered.

I’ve loved Star Wars since I first saw the first film in 1977. I camped out for ROTJ when I was 13 years old. I even slept out overnight for The Phantom Menace because I was that excited for a new Star Wars movie. But I’ll admit that, as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were released, I felt some of that love shift to another time, a simpler time—to the original trilogy.

Sure, I was excited for The Force Awakens, but I also felt some trepidation because I knew what it felt like to get my hopes up and be disappointed …

Until I watched The Clone Wars. Now I feel hope. Because I’ve seen what someone can do with the lore, the canon that’s built into the Star Wars universe, and the new canon that’s being created. I’ve seen the caliber of actors that have come on board. I’ve seen the renewed interest and commitment that Lucasfilm and Disney have to the larger story. And I feel that maybe this new movie will be everything we all want it to be and more.

So thank you, Dave Filoni and everyone behind Star Wars: The Clone Wars. You’ve given me something I thought I had lost …

A new hope.

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