It got off to a slow start, but by its midpoint, it became clear that the third season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars had found its groove, thanks to digging deeper into the Star Wars mythology, and delivering some truly epic story lines.
Undoubtedly the series’ best season to-date, Season 3 gave us the excellent “Savage Opress” story arc, where we learned that Asajj Ventress was one of the Night Sisters of Dathomir, and were introduced to another deadly member of Darth Maul’s bloodline. Then there was the fascinating “Mortis” trilogy, where Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka faced their respective destinies and learned more about the nature of the Force. There’s the big “prison break” story arc that introduced Anakin to his future ally Tarkin for the first time. And the season ended with the triumphant “Trandoshan Hunters” arc, where Ahsoka and some Padawan pals must find a way to escape from a deadly group of aliens who are hunting them for sport — and get a helping hand from Chewbacca. Season 3 also brought about the debut of Quinlan Vos, a popular Jedi character from the Star Wars novels; the Clone Wars debut of Baron Papanoida, George Lucas’ briefly-glimpsed character from Revenge of the Sith; and the return of assassin Aurra Sing.
Many of these three-episode story arcs, when watched at once, work quite well as mini movies. Of course, it wasn’t all a total KO. The obligatory Jar-Jar Binks episode wreaked as usual, and the less that’s said about Ziro the Hutt, the better. There’s some clone-centric eps that fare better at getting us to care about the clones than earlier series episodes. And the first half of the season gets bogged down in too much tiresome politics, with Padme constantly trying to broker peace among warring factions. But no matter. The Savage Opress and Mortis stories kicked the entire series into overdrive with the awesome fight scenes, mythology-rich storytelling, and incredible visuals that fans have been begging for since the show debuted.
Part of the fun of The Clone Wars is in knowing that the show’s producers get to play in the enormous Star Wars sandbox, and zero-in on secondary characters and stories that otherwise would never be used at all. So it’s still fun to see what bits and pieces from the movies they might choose to bring to light (such as the Papanoida character’s episode), or what brand new ideas they might import into the Star Wars universe (Season 2’s “Zillo Beast” is a perfect example of this; it’s essentially “Godzilla on Coruscant”). It’s also worth noting that Season 3 saw a boost in the show’s technical achievements, with a grander scale than it was capable of before. The show also debuted new, more detailed character models for Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka that have softer edges and subtle changes that bring them closer to their Revenge of the Sith appearances (except for Ahsoka, of course, who we assume won’t survive the TV show since she’s not in the movies).
The number of special features is pared way down from past Blu-ray releases; I remember there was a feature for every single episode in the first season’s set, whereas this set has only a handful. The Blu-ray menus are bare-bones as well, with the same image of “angry Anakin” that’s on the cover art standing in for every menu (earlier discs had clips from the series running on a loop). But these are small quibbles. The bonuses that are there are genuinely interesting — particularly the Savage Opress and Asage Ventress stuff, which we learn was smartly written by George Lucas’ daughter, Katie — though the cheeky “non-feature” for the Mortis story line is nothing but a tease about the questions it raised. The producers seem to have tied their own hands with this one, as they promise that there’s more to come about the issues raised for our characters on Mortis, but there’s no way to talk about these episodes without spoiling what’s to come. I still would have liked to have seen some insights into the visual designs of this world and the Family that lived there, and maybe some insights straight from George Lucas about the nature of the Force; the one thing we do learn is that Lucas pulled some of his original notes about what the Force is and how it works out of mothballs to use for these episodes, so some additional context and background from Lucas himself would have been cool.
In the end, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3 collection is short on extras but long on storytelling, and for that reason alone, it’s the series’ first collection that I’m deeming a must-own for anyone who calls themselves a Star Wars fan.