Star Wars captured the minds and hearts of generations of people with its combination of mysticism, laser sword, and epic space battles to become a mainstay of world culture. While the original trilogy caused so many, me included, to fall in love with the universe,
But the TV series are easily the best of the Star Wars content, better than the movies (except maybe Empire). The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian expand the universe and offer interesting insight into the various species, their shared history, and how the force works. Here are my five biggest takeaways from the series.
Lots of spoilers below. You have been warned
1. The New Trilogy Isn’t Set In The Same Universe
Despite having the same “Star Wars” title, the Disney movie trilogy isn’t set in the same universe as the other movies, Clone Wars, and Rebels. Anyone who’s read a good fantasy novel (Star Wars is space fantasy, not science fiction) knows that an author must create a world with rules and follow them. The new movies don’t follow the same rules as the originals.
To keep from being confusing (and wordy), I’m going to describe the original universe as the Star Wars Universe and the most recent movies as the Alternate Universe.
The Force Is Different
In the Star Wars universe, the force is limited to a few abilities. Jedi and Sith can use the force for a limited version of telepathy, knowing the past, future, or someone else’s emotions, as telekinesis, to increase strength and speed, and to heal or destroy. Throughout the originals, Clone Wars, and Rebels, force users push or pull people, see the future, and zap enemies with lightning, but we don’t see them use some of the powers they use in the new movies. Even Knights of the Old Republic, with its expansive list of video-game force powers, follows the same rules, though Knights of the Old Republic 2 pushes those boundaries a little.
The Alternate Universe adds so many odd powers to the force. Leia does a Mary Poppins in space. Both Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker use the force to extract information from unwilling or unconscious subjects (Is that really a light-side thing to do, Luke?). This might sound like the same thing as what Vader does when he’s dueling Luke in Return of the Jedi, but Vader only reads what Luke is feeling at the moment.
In the Alternate Universe, Snoke links Kylo Ren and Rey with some form of telepathic knot. In Empire, Luke and Vader speak over short distances, and Leia hears Luke as for help while he’s hanging from an antenna in the cloud city. But Snoke somehow connects two different people with a long-lasting force spell. It’s weird nothing like what we’ve seen before.
The Rise of Skywalker is the worst transgressor, though. Now the force can make two people fight long-distance with real-world consequences. They’re not just communicating. They physically interact with each other. In the final scenes, Rey teleports a lightsaber into Ren’s hands to get him out of a sticky situation.Finally, I guess that using the force now diminishes the user’s life force and it causes Kylo Ren to die. Is that really a thing? So weird.
The Technology Is Different
The technology of the Star Wars Universe is consistent from the prequels through Star Wars: Rebels. The ships and land weapons are all clear variants on each other. The Republic uses a version of X-wings and Y-wings to battle the Separatists. Republic All Terrain Tactical Enforce (AT-TE) looks and acts like a prequel to All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT).
The Alternate Universe’s problems are well-known. For some reason, the Resistance decide that the faster, more agile Y-Wings with torpedoes are too effective, so they built slow, vulnerable bombers. Sweet! The Last Jedi’s entire plot depends on an entirely new concept, fuel, too. As far as I know, no one mentioned fuel in the entire Star Wars series before this.
At least the First Order‘s tech is similar. Their ships look the same. Their version of AT-AT’s is similar, too. And Starkiller base is just a bigger, meaner version of the Death Star.
Worst of all, The Last Jedi uses hyperspace as a weapon to destroy a whole fleet of ships, perhaps the most effective weapon since the Death Star. When one ship entered hyperspace, it destroyed a fleet! If hyperspace were this powerful, it would be the only weapon the rebels would need. Build some missiles with hyperspace drives, and you can take out just about anything.
But wait! In Rise of Skywalker, they do hyperspace jumps, which are quick bursts of hyperspace that allow you to dodge enemy fire and hop through obstacles. Um…you can’t both use hyperspace as a weapon and use it to hop through things. It just doesn’t work.
2. Star Wars Is In A Dark Age
The Star Wars universe is going through a prolonged spiritual, philosophical, political, and technological dark ages. The Clone Wars gives us a special window into a society that is desperately trying and failing to hold onto past glory.
When Lucas released the prequels people wondered why Naboo’s ships looked so great compared to the originals. In Revenge of the Sith, they marvelled that a people with so much technology wouldn’t know that Padme was carrying twins. Her labor and death were baffling to an audience that expected a highly developed society.
This makes sense if the Star Wars universe is in a dark age. Human beings rely completely on the technology of the past. There are no doctors or scientists. Every time someone gets hurt, they call a medical droid or dump them in a bacta tank. Even great pilots rely on their droids in flight. In The Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker, one of the best pilots in the galaxy, has to ask his droid to cut the power to the engines instead of doing it himself.
There are almost no technological developments, too. Every weapon is just a variant of previous ones, even the Death Star, which is just a space-station-sized blaster. Even when Thrawn introduces a new TIE fighter, it’s just a faster version with shields. The only new truly new tech comes from Mandalor in Rebels where Sabine develops a devastating weapon that uses Mandalorian armor against them.
The Jedi and Sith, too, have lost technology. Much of the plot of Star Wars: Rebels focuses on lost Jedi and Sith temples, which do amazing things. Season two ends with the destruction of a sith temple and superweapon, which both Darth Maul and Darth Vader want to use to destroy their enemies. They imply that it is far more powerful than anything either the Empire or the Rebels have. Both Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus spend a lot of time trying to discover the secrets of a mystical Jedi temple. In it, Bridger speaks to Yoda, and he travels into some in-between world in which time and place mean nothing.
No one knows about these temples in the other Star Wars content, not in the movies or the other animated series. They are newly discovered in Rebels, and the Sith, Rebels, and Emire compete to harness their immense power..
Politics And Economy
The political and economic network is broken. In The Clone Wars Season 6, episodes 5 through 7, we get a window into the politics and economics of the republic (If you love parliamentary procedure and accounting, these are the episodes for you. Ugh). First, Economic activity has been centralized into corrupt clans with no transparent reporting. Like the trade federation, there is only one bank in the entire universe. Does no one know how to lend money or did the Republic make it illegal for anyone else to run a bank?
When the Republic borrows money to create new clones for the war effort, Padme argues that they need the credits to provide electricity for their citizens. You heard that right. The Republic is in charge of providing electricity to countless worlds. You can see why the Separatists wanted to leave.
The Republic itself has no vision for the future. There isn’t a grand narrative that drives their business other than keeping the worlds under the yoke of the Senate. Only the Separatists and Palpatine have a vision for an active form of political rule. The Separatists want freedom from the oppressive Republic senate (Season 3, episodes 10 and 11), and Palpatine’s drive toward empire breaks the Senate’s complacency.
Philosophy of the Jedi
Most of all, the Jedi are in a philosophical and spiritual dark ages. Despite being a people known for meditation and introspection, the Jedi of Clone Wars and Rebels don’t think through the moral implications of their use of the force and of violence.
The Jedi in Clone Wars are careful not to kill anyone with their lightsabers, but they’re fine with blowing up ships and shooting down fighters. They don’t use the force to attack, unless you count using the force to push enemies or to help them wield their lightsabers. They despise slavery, unless you need a clone army or want to keep obviously sentient droids in your service.
It is most apparent in Star Wars: Rebels. Kanan Jarrus, who takes Ezra Bridger as a padawan, Jarrus clings to a half-remembered doctrinaire philosophy. Kanan refuses to kill anyone face-to-face, because Jedi don’t kill. When Ezra starts to fight in earnest in the second season, actually using his weapons to kill his enemies, Jarrus chides him for falling to the dark side. When they’re in space, Jarrus has no problem blowing up a ship filled with people. I guess killing for the light side of the force is just fine as long as you can’t see their faces.
The Conflict Is Not Between Good And Evil
I had always assumed that the main conflict in Star Wars was good versus evil. The light side was the good, and the dark side bad. That’s not really how it works in Clone Wars and Rebels. The light side of the force is acceptance while the dark side is control.
If you compare the Jedi code and the Sith code, which we discover in the 2002 game Knights of the Old Republic, there is nothing inherently good or evil about them. The sith strive for power and control to gain personal freedom. The Jedi are supposed to accept the world as it is with peace and calm. You could follow the sith code and do good for the world. You could follow the Jedi code and allow evil to go unchecked.
The Clone Wars was supposed to show Anakin’s descent into the dark side to explain how he turned into Darth Vader, which it does very well. But the whole Jedi order follows his path, even if they do it while repeating light side pious platitudes. In Season 5, episodes 17 through 20, a Jedi saboteur, Baris Offee, sets off a bomb in the Jedi temple to show how the Jedi have fallen to the dark side. Her critique is spot on. When the Jedi joined the clone wars, they became foot soldiers in the Republic’s war. The Jedi show more restraint in war than Count Dooku, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are fighting to subjugate worlds that only want freedom.
The Emperor, on the other hand, does a lot of good with the dark side of the force. Yes, he’s a terrible, homicidal despot, but the Republic was also a terrible, despotic democratic government. Destroying the Republic brought a lot of good to the galaxy. The Trade Federation’s and the Banking Clan’s monopolies show how the Republic’s political and economic system oppressed the people. A powerful dictator could immediately end their horrible influence on the galaxy.
Good people believe in the Empire, too. In the single-person campaign for Star Wars: Battlefront 2, the main character, Commander Iden Versio believes that she is fighting for the good of the universe. She, a soldier in the Empire military, must have seen the good for which she was fighting. She didn’t change her mind until she met Luke Skywalker and the Emperor started killing his own people upon his death.
I’m not the only one who sees problems in the ways we have associated good and evil with the light and dark sides. Jonathan Last famously wrote an article, called “The Case For The Empire,” in which he argued that the Empire, and the dark side, are the good guys. The confusion can be solved by seeing the dark side and the light side not as morality in conflict but philosophical schools of reality, that is control vs acceptance.
The Force Needs Character Driven Development
That leads us to something I would like to see in future Star Wars movies or TV, a character driven exploration of how the light side and the dark side can be used in an individual Jedi both for good and for evil.
I thought that’s what I would get when I started watching the third season of Star Wars: Rebels. Ezra had just worked with Darth Maul to bring a Sith holocron out of a Sith temple/super weapon. In season three, episode 1, Bridger learns new lightsaber techniques and force powers that he uses to fight the Empire. Darth Maul and Kanan Jarrus, both of whom claim Ezra as an apprentice, each represent the influence of the light and dark sides of the force on Ezra.
Ezra was the perfect opportunity to explore that balance while he struggles to free his home world. Could a force user be grey, neither light nor dark? How dark could he become without losing himself to the dark side? In the end, Bridger becomes a another light-side cliche when he returns to Jarrus’s half-remembered Jedi doctrine, the one-dimensional good guy we’re used to seeing.
Rebels also introduced new force beings, both the Loth wolves and Bendu. While the Loth wolves seem to be connected to the Jedi temple on Lothal (the light side), Bendu is neither on the light side or the dark side. A major character in season 3, episodes 1 and 2, He says, “Jedi and Sith wield the Ashla and Bogan, the light and the dark. I’m the one in the middle. The Bendu.” Bendu may represent a third way in the force, neither light nor dark, and I would love to see a Star Wars story that explores it.
Mandalore Is The Most Compelling Story In Star Wars
The original trilogy first introduces Mandalor through Bobba Fett’s armor. Fett was a minor character, with only a few lines, but he received outsized attention. In the same year Attack Of The Clones came out, 2002, Bobba Fett got his own video game, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. The 2003 game, Knights Of The Old Republic, we see the very first Mandalorian, Canderous Ordo.
Canderous Ordo describes a culture that prizes strength, honor, and victory that points back to a Earth’s pre-Christian pagan culture. Ordo also hints at an old war when the Jedi and the Republic defeated a Mandalore bent on conquering the galaxy.
We finally get real Mandalorian content in Season 2, episode 12 of The Clone Wars. Mandalore is torn between a majority pacifist culture and Death Watch who wants to restore Mandalor’s militaristic culture. While Death Watch is a minority early in The Clone Wars, that begins to change when they are drawn into the clone war. By the time we get to Rebels, Mandalor has returned to its tribal, militaristic past with tribes and houses as the main political forces.
By the time we get to The Mandalorian, this tribal culture has descended into chaos after the Mandalorians were nearly exterminated by the Empire. Stripped of the clans and family armor, they create a new tribal structure with new rituals and religious fervor. In both The Clone Wars and Rebels, Mandalorian warriors take their helmets off all the time. None of them say, “it is the way,” like they do in The Mandalorian. In repristinating a half-remember tradition, they create a fanatical sect that expands Mandalore’s military culture into a religion.
From the time Vader warned Bobba Fett not to disintegrate Han Solo, Madalorians captured our imagination. Mandalorian armor is just cool. Jet pack, missile, blaster, and even a cable, their armor is so much more interesting than any other fighter in the galaxy. The legend of the darksaber is really cool, too. A Jedi Mandalorian creates an ancient weapon that represents power and leadership in a culture. It carries both history and symbolic authority that Mandalorian warriors respect.
Mandalorian culture, history, and behavior is also much more interesting than the cardboard-cutout Sith and Jedi. Their characters all care deeply about the good of Mandalore, but they are conflicted in how to do it.
Bo-Katan Kryze represents this more than any other character. A member of Death Watch, she turns on them when they join up with Maul and begin to hurt Mandalore. Then, she joins in with the Rebel assault on Imperial forces in Mandalore with Ezra and Sabine in Rebels. At the end of Rebels, Sabine hands Bo-Katan the Darksaber to solidify her rule over the planet.
The Mandalorian is the most exciting upcoming Star Wars content, and it spans the overall arch of the Darksaber from The Clone Wars, through Rebels, and into the future. It carries the emotional investment I have had with Bo-Katan, Sabine, and the rest. I was so excited when Moff Gideon stepped out of his TIE with the dark saber, I leapt out of my seat and shouted, “He has the Darksaber!” I can’t wait for more.