‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ – A Political Playground

Credit: Wookiepedia

Science-fiction has often reflected the politics of our own world into theirs, and Star Wars is no different; as a franchise, it has been doing this since the very beginning, with ideas of empire, rebellion, democracy and manipulation all explored throughout the vast galaxy. So while it is no surprise that The Clone Wars carries these political themes into an animated, kid-friendlier form, it is a surprise that it does so with the same level of depth that was achieved in the films, despite being aimed at a younger audience. 

The Clone Wars is a testament to the skill of many people, but first and foremost, Dave Filoni and his crew. Spanning across seven seasons, the show has targeted arcs dedicated to the perspectives of many different people across a galaxy at war, though the main focus of the show is often on Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter), Obi Wan Kenobi (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) and Clone Captain Rex (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) as they attempt to navigate the Clone War, a conflict fought between the Galactic Republic and the Separatist Alliance. 

Through exploring the horrors of warfare, Dave Filoni draws on elements seen all too often in real conflict. The fighters of Umbara successfully employ vicious traps and guerrilla tactics, earning themselves the nickname “the shadow people”. The leader of the operation, Pong Krell, shows no ability to adapt to the tactics used by the Umbarans, approaching conflict by use of full forward assaults and other conventional tactics, and not adapting to the situation. Throughout the episodes, Krell’s tactics cause disillusionment within the 501st, shown most prominently through ARC trooper Fives and clone troopers Jesse and Hardcase. This resentment runs deep, similar to the resentment felt toward many US Officers in the Vietnam War, whilst Krell’s fate is reminiscent of many US Officers during this disastrous conflict. In a tense scene toward the final part of the arc, the 501st kill Krell, again reminiscent of Vietnam, where many soldiers took it upon themselves to kill or “frag” their superiors. These episodes leave the audience questioning war and whether it’s a worthwhile endeavour due to the events shown.

Within episodes centred around the political debates, a new side of the war is shown. Due to the immense cost of the war, the Republic economy is falling apart. It is unable to provide the basic living costs for its citizens, yet private contractors like the Kaminoans and Kuat Drive Yards are given increasingly lucrative contracts to continue war production. In one episode, the Kaminoan Senator drafts a bill to fund five million extra clone troopers, enriching the Kaminoans whilst bankrupting the Republic. This slowly turns the citizenry of the Republic against the Senate, and only serves to increase the suffering.

A more subtle, insidious change also occurs over several episodes: the installation of a military bureaucracy and the militarisation of the Republic, represented by the introduction of Captain Tarkin and his increased presence in the show. Officers within the military are granted more power, perfectly shown within the final three episodes of season five. There has been a bombing within the Jedi temple, and Ahsoka Tano is framed for it. These episodes take a darker tone, encapsulating the rise of an unaccountable force within a democracy. This is shown through the introduction of the Republic Military base, its design evoking the grey Imperial bases seen under the Empire. The Jedi are shown to be losing their power, forced to expel Ahsoka in order to partake in a military trial, not a Jedi one. Tarkin, and by extension the rest of the bureaucracy, have the direct ear of Chancellor Palpatine, meaning they can ignore the legislative body, the Senate.

Both of these aspects highlight how Filoni and the show’s writers are able to capture the essence of military bureaucracy in America. In its simplest terms, this system refers to the close relationship the legislative and executive branches of government share with the military and its contractors. This can take many forms, but the most common is the perpetuation of war for profit, through private contractors like the Kaminoans in Star Wars or Lockheed Martin in our own world. This perpetuation happens via lobbying, something that Tarkin signifies. This not only results in endless conflict, but also the militarisation of society, something which the Star Wars universe would later explore with the Empire. 

These aspects of the series and many other political themes prove that a crowd pleasing, animated kids show can be filled to the brim with concepts that explore the political nature of our world. The show offers a warning about the corruption found in democracy and the horrors of war, ultimately building off the messages that the films give. Through engaging writing, masterful direction and (ultimately) beautiful animation, Star Wars: The Clone Wars created a political playground for all ages to enjoy.

Words by Kieran Burt

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