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How The Clone Wars TV Show Might Shape the Future of the Star Wars Saga

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We all have a place in this.

“I need someone to show me my place in all of this,” Rey begs Luke Skywalker shortly after meeting him in The Last Jedi - and her quest for meaning, for belonging, forms the much of the narrative engine for Disney's current extension of the Star Wars saga. That hero's journey - from being "nobody" to being somebody who can make a difference - has been in Star Wars' DNA from the start, reflected in everything from A New Hope to The Clone Wars series - and embracing that quality could be the key to the franchise's future.

Rey is an outsider by design (it’s telling that J.J. Abrams chose to introduce her as a purposefully isolated character, severed from the narrative threads of the Skywalker family in The Force Awakens) and while fans are still debating whether her parents are truly nobodies from nowhere, as The Last Jedi states, the notion that one gifted but lowly hero could change the course of the galaxy harkens right back to George Lucas' original 1977 film, when Luke's father wasn't secretly Darth Vader and his tragic descent into darkness wasn't the catalyst for an entirely separate trilogy of movies.

But Rey wasn’t the franchise's first new addition to take Star Wars in a different direction on-screen. When the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie introduced us to Anakin's apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, three canonical years before Revenge of the Sith, the first question on many fans’ minds was what would become of her by the end of the series, given that she was never mentioned in the original trilogy. But Ahsoka, much like Rey, was designed to take Star Wars in a bold new direction.

In 2008, a young female hero was suddenly the main character in the beloved franchise, with (at the time) no upcoming big-screen features to disrupt that. Her unique perspective on the Jedi and politics of the Clone Wars allowed the saga to do some self-examination on what the prequels and even the original trilogy had been about. We saw through Ahsoka that the Jedi weren’t perfect, infallible heroes, a lesson that informed her decision to leave the Order toward the end of the series after growing disillusionment - a counterpoint to Anakin's own, more drastic turn from the light. Now, ten years later, fans are still reflecting on the way Rey learns a similar lesson about Luke, the supposed savior of the galaxy.

This week, a panel at San Diego Comic-Con will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While most fans would argue that the series tremendously expands the Skywalker saga — essentially carrying all the dramatic weight of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side that the prequels failed to explore — this was still a show that obviously wanted to tell a wide range of stories and explore certain points of view that the movies didn't have time for.

And for the most part, The Clone Wars portrayed those outsider perspectives well enough that even casual fans started to take notice. Here we are, a decade later, and The Clone Wars is arguably the most widely celebrated piece of Star Wars canon outside the main episodic movies (okay, Knights of the Old Republic is up there too, but is also notably far removed from the Skywalker family and their ongoing drama).

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But the series didn’t become so iconic by simply showing the slow deterioration of the goodness inside Anakin through training his new apprentice. After the theatrical film got the series off on the wrong foot with fans and critics, it was the Season 1 episode “Rookies,” the show’s fifth ever installment, which helped audiences start to take it seriously.

Here was a Star Wars story focused entirely on a small group of clone troopers, showing how they interacted, squabbled, and banded together to save the day. It gave characters who were literally clones individual traits and personalities, revealing a new perspective on the war they were fighting along the way. Pretty unanimously considered one of the best episodes of The Clone Wars’ shaky early seasons, “Rookies” paved the way for more clone-centric storylines down the road that went deeper into a the soldiers' questionable role in the galaxy at large (the Season 4 arc set during the Battle of Umbara is a standout among these).

Then there’s Ahsoka, a character inextricably tied to Anakin’s story, who was nonetheless allowed to develop a uniquely rich and satisfying hero's journey of her own. The young, impressionable padawan opened the door for a lot of larger, more complicated discussions about the nature of war and the ethics of the Jedi, internal monologues she largely didn’t share with her master.

In the Season 3 episode “Heroes on Both Sides,” she got a peek at what it was like for the Separatist politicians fighting the injustices of the imperfect Republic. In her fate-sealing arc at the end of Season 5, she learned just how much of the noble “Jedi way” the Order had to sacrifice to win in this war. These experiences, among others, led her to exit the Skywalker saga before the events of Revenge of the Sith even began.

Acting as the point-of-view character for much of the series, Ahsoka was the closest precursor to Rey that pre-Disney Star Wars gave us, in terms of a strong female lead character who actually got to drive the narrative (Leia and Padme are both integral to the plots of their movies, but their characters still support the development of Luke and Anakin, respectively, in the larger context of their trilogy’s story arc). Of all the characters George Lucas personally created after the original trilogy, Ahsoka has become one of, if not the most, celebrated, with merchandise and crossover appeal that extend beyond The Clone Wars itself (including a pivotal arc on Star Wars Rebels).

And that's one of the defining characteristics of The Clone Wars: the series was created by the same mind that hatched Star Wars to begin with. It seemed to be Lucas’ intention to start telling stories outside the Skywalker saga with a multitude of different voices and a fresh palette of storytelling mechanics. Ahsoka and the clones are just two of the most prominent examples of characters whose stories were given weight outside of the central saga, with other Clone Wars arcs focusing on dark siders, droids, senators, bounty hunters, and creatures from across the galaxy. That's why Rian Johnson and David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been given trilogies that will reportedly have no connection to the embattled Skywalker clan or its closest allies.

And broadening the scope of the Star Wars universe seems to be something that audiences are interested in, given the massive box office totals for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi compared to Solo’s, the safest and least expansive of Disney’s big-screen efforts thus far, which revisited a character we already know well, as opposed to exploring uncharted territory.

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The Clone Wars was the first piece of this vast puzzle that Disney inherited from Lucas (it's the only major project from before the Lucasfilm sale that Disney officially recognizes as canon rather than falling under the Expanded Universe "Legends" banner), and the franchise's longevity will rely on the studio figuring out how to fit those pieces together to keep the hardcore fans happy while still making the series accessible for newcomers, not to mention working out how to tell stories beyond the Skywalker family, now that the original characters are no longer driving the narrative.

But the fact that we’re even still talking about an animated Cartoon Network series after a decade proves that its influence has been a lasting one. Now it’s up to the writers of the many projects in the works at Lucasfilm to continue to introduce more fresh perspectives, as well as other relatable heroes that might be scavenging in a desert, swamp, or icy wasteland and staring at the horizon, waiting for their story to be told. That’s what The Clone Wars represented when it debuted, and that’s what Star Wars will hopefully continue to do in the decades to come.

For more on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, check out our ranking of the top 10 episodes, and how to watch the series in chronological order.

San Diego Comic-Con runs from July 19-22, and IGN will be on location to provide you with live coverage from the event. Check out our guide on how to watch Comic-Con 2018 live on IGN, and be sure to bookmark IGN's SDDC hub page, where you'll be able to keep up with all the big trailer reveals, panel reactions, and more.