Tales of the Jedi offers the perfect mid-point between the childish and mature themes that The Clone Wars navigated. I was deeply surprised. I just wish it were longer.
We’re in a sweet spot for Star Wars TV that I want to feel like is a positive trajectory, but is more likely a singularity. While Andor is blowing our minds with concepts long unseen in A Galaxy Far, Far Away—such as “good writing,” “coherent plot structure,” and “actual characters”—that seems more indicative of a surprising positive development than a trend. Still, with Disney’s vision for Star Wars transitioning from a new movie every winter holiday season to an endless glut of television shows, it’s nice that some of them are memorable. While this production trajectory has gotten special attention lately because of the increased emphasis on live action, Star Wars on TV has been a constant presence since Star Wars: The Clone Wars started in 2008, followed by Star Wars: Rebels from 2014 to 2018 and Star Wars: Resistance from 2018 to 2020, with The Clone Wars getting a third send-off in an eight-episode, two-arc 2020 season. The creator of all those shows and this one is Dave Filoni.
Tales of the Jedi is just one of several spinoffs from The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni’s CG cartoon about the time between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Last year, Disney+ premiered the pretty-good made-for-kids look at the Republic-Imperial transition in The Bad Batch, and they have the upcoming live-action show Ahsoka, which presumably will show fans what the titular character was up to between her last appearance in The Clone Wars and first appearance in The Mandalorian (aside from or including what was already seen in Star Wars: Rebels). Filoni has been deeply involved with much that is good and bad about Star Wars in the last fifteen years, including collaborating with Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian (a mixed bag) and The Book of Boba Fett (mostly trash), and consulting with Deborah Chow on Obi-Wan Kenobi (thoroughly mid). So how does Tales of the Jedi fit into these overlapping and intersecting continuities of corporate creative vision and canonicity?
It’s an assembly of shorts: six distinct episodes, three focused on Ahsoka and three on Count Dooku. It’s also an anthology, like last year’s Star Wars: Visions, but shorter and less connected. Without spoiling anything you wouldn’t know from the trailers, I can say it shows small moments about Ahsoka’s early life and training that weren’t featured in The Clone Wars, and shows parts of Dooku’s backstory unknown to any of us except perhaps those who read Dooku: Jedi Lost. The animation here is in the style of The Clone Wars, but sharper, slightly closer to real life without losing style—in fact, adding texture. So it feels better and more grounded without losing the distinction that makes it a cartoon. With an animation style that could be considered “more mature,” we also get some of the most mature themes in this segment of Star Wars animation. I can’t speak to much of Rebels or any of Resistance, but I’ve seen all of The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch, and these short episodes are some of the most explicit I’ve seen Filoni’s animated Jedi be about corruption in the Republic—at least, some of the least mealy-mouthed and both-sidesy takes.
The episode focusing on Ahsoka’s affinity with space magic is the one most centered on childlike wonder and exploring alien culture in the galaxy. It has the morals and music of a kids adventure show; a cute missive, a reference-lite fan service. This is followed by several episodes showing Dooku’s separation from the Jedi Order and the Republic’s politics. It’s nuanced and surprisingly dark. The first of these caught me off guard with the high level of narrative quality, and the second followed-up on its use of themes, its incorporation of the sorts of critiques about the Jedi and the Republic that Lucas tried to make clear with the prequels, but which have been further drawn-out by writers, podcasts, and—within Lucasfilm itself—some of the more recently involved creatives.
That the show is made up of short episodes (all between 10 and 17 minutes) makes it feel like an appetizer, but at the same time it keeps everything quick and clean, and making sure the stories and ideas don’t overstay their welcome or become cumbersome. Perhaps this is proof of concept for more to come later. The other major critique is that it requires a little bit of foreknowledge, though less than you might think; a new viewer could make reasonable sense of what’s going on in the shows having only seen the Prequel Trilogy and the Clone Wars movie; even entering it blind, it could be an enjoyable experience just because of the craft and the conciseness. But that’s speculation; I’ve seen most of what precedes these.
That Dave Filoni wrote such thematically challenging episodes is a good sign for whatever he’s working on next. He has a sole writing credit for five of the six episodes, though Charles and Élan Murray share writing credits on another, which Charles Murray directs. Saul Ruiz directs three and Nathaniel Villanueva directs the first episode. The score by Kevin Kiner is also epic and memorable in a way that surpasses his work on The Clone Wars. The overall result, as overseen by Dave Filoni, is surprising and strong. Tales of the Jedi succeeds by saying exactly what it means to and then making its exit, sure to have viewers ready for more. Whether it’s ultimately a one-off season or the start of something greater, it’s worth Star Wars fans’ time to check it out.
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi debuts Wednesday, October 26th on Disney+
Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer with an MA in history, who loves videogames, film, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. He can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.
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