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The Clone Wars Was About the Clones: The Unsung Fraternity of Star Wars

Giving due to the unsung fraternity of heroes of Star Wars.

clone wars domino squad

Amid the inevitability of the Prequel Trilogy’s outcome and its bungled Chosen One prophecy, the clones of Star Wars: The Clone Wars series had their prophecy written for them. The Republic government raised them to live and die for war, nothing else. Bred with rapid aging in their DNA, the Republic denied them the benefit of longevity, but in the intervals of war, they salvaged snatches of time to savor their brotherhood and contemplate their station in the universe.

In the live-action Prequel Trilogy, they were copy-paste masses of a breathing plot device to ensure the Jedi-free continuity of the Original Trilogy. But The Clone Wars animated series granted a density of narrative heft to their individuality, collectiveness, and social dynamics. Unlike their Separatist droid opponents, the clones are keener sharpshooters—but susceptible to human error and introspection (not to say that Star Wars droids bizarrely have sensory input programmed into them to feel enough pain to elicit an “oww”).

Even if you’re not always tracing each clone’s name and identity on-screen, the vocal prowess of Dee Bradley Baker gave every single clone an accentuation of individuality and personality quirks. They loved their Jedi commanders. They preferred nicknames over numbers. Some broke law. Some committed benign transgressions like swiping droid parts. Some were stoic. Some told jokes. They bantered with their brothers and Jedi. Some had dreams. Many followed orders. Some bypassed orders. They were a curiosity to society. They were pawns in a Sith’s game.

The bio-ethical debate has a too easy-peasy answer: immoral. Engrossed on its fantasy properties, Star Wars was never a fable of social ethics like Star Trek. It’s palpable from the get-go that it’s unethical to breed living beings to run straight into the line of gunfire. But the series doesn’t dwell on the obvious question and instead illuminates the intricate dynamics of the clones’ lives, down to their battlefield banter and meditation of the war’s effect on their psyche.

Having no parents and raised in Kamino’s cloning facility, their Jedi commanders were the closest to benevolent nurturers. Master Yoda encouraged their individuality and Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano treated them as comrades. But even under the Jedi’s compassion, the gross injustice of a power inequality persisted and the Jedi could never extend their empathy enough to question their use of clones. The clones would be servile to a higher command with no opting out (thus the worse-case scenario in Rex’s Umbara Arc discussed below). Even if the Republic and its Jedi are predominantly on the side of good, they never answered to the immorality of breeding humans for war. Not even the kind words from well-meaning Jedi leaders like Master Yoda can ever undo the accountability of exploiting conditioned servitude.

The clones do have free will, but due to the societal conditioning chains, their agency is considerably under-exercised from the instant they’re tossed into military training, taught that the battlefield would be their only aspiration.

Even though the Lost Missions final sixth season explained their immediate compliance to the lethal Order 66 command by control chips, the Clone Wars team of writers granted the clones the agency to rise and fall in their own stories, before the calamitous murder of their own Jedi commanders.

Clones, Not In The Political Room Where It Happens

In the episode “Senate Murders”, the ethical angle of breeding humans for the sole purpose of warfare stages the backdrop for a Padme Amidala-centered episode about the seediness of politics. Senators like Padme advocated for clones’ rights in the senate chamber, attempting to halt production of clones to minimize the bloodshed. 

But molded for battle, yet voiceless in politics, the clones are absent to lobby and vote for their own choices. If you were to snap a holo-photo of the politicians signing a bill related to clones, there wouldn’t be a clone’s face seen. Picture a clone seeing that photo and musing, “They keep voting away our rights while we don’t have a say!”

Even Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple novel, adapting unproduced Clone Wars episodes, alludes to the controversy. Sith Count Dooku gloats to an audience: “The Republic sends living beings to fight its war while the Separatists sends droids to fight their battles.” Of course, it’s manipulative Separatist rhetoric. But an undercover Jedi, Quinlan Vos, finds himself nodding along with the smidge of truth: Clones shouldn’t be born into warfare servitude.

A Republic fighter like Ahsoka leaves Jedi duty and she is not deemed a deserter (though Anakin tries pressuring remorse into her). Even if Ahsoka carries emotional uncertainty and Anakin stigmatizes her choice as selfishness, she has the privilege of agency in her identity and took a leave of absence from the war without legal ramifications.

But as for a clone who abandoned his post, he’s subject to charges of insubordination.

Cut Lawquane opted out

Cut fled the war in favor of marrying and raising stepchildren. For pursing domestic tranquility, he risks punishment.

Cut surfaced for one Clone Wars episode (with a mention in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath), but his presence externalizes the grand arc of Rex. He encounters the injured Rex, who was hauled off to his barn by chance. When Rex realizes it’s the face of a brother, attired not in Republic armor but farmers’ clothes, he has the kneejerk reaction: “Deserter!”

But over the dinner table, with the hospitality of Cut’s new family, Rex hears out Cut’s motive for departing from a war he did not understand. By the end, Rex decides not to report Cut.

It isn’t that Cut abandoned the virtues of loyalty and honor. It’s just that he reapplies them to his own personal life decisions outside the bureaucracy of the Republic, namely, aspiring to protect his family.

The fateful meeting with the deserter spurs Rex’s own odyssey of individuality while balancing out his fidelity to a flawed Republic. 

The tale of Rex

Rex lived out the longest on-screen odyssey than any clone in the Star Wars Universe. It’s no surprise that he is a fan favorite, provoking whoops of cheers at a previous Star Wars Celebration when a Star Wars Rebels trailer revealed his on-screen return after the Clone Wars cancellation.

Entrapped in the moral horrors of the infamous Umbara Arc, Rex and other clones weigh out following orders from a tyrannical and war-Darwinist Jedi Pong Krell, who has none of the Jedi kindness, demands unreasonable compliance, and intensifies the casualties with his reckless command. In the series’ most powerhouse scripting, Rex and his brothers embroil in debate: How can they reconcile their conditioned obedience with reasonable mutiny in the name of what’s right? They bypass orders, commit fibs before Krell, risking execution, in order to achieve their objective.

Krell’s card-holding final solution plays with the inevitability of a Shakespeare tragedy. Under Krell’s order, Rex and his troops supposedly aim their guns at enemies disguised in their armor. But the carnage of their blind obedience is unmasked once Rex discovers its their own brothers—under Krell’s machinations—they’re shooting. There’s a powerful shot of their collective bewilderment, gazing into the faces of surviving brothers, because only a few seconds ago, they saw each other as gun targets rather than brothers. It would’ve been in their power to see it coming like the audience did.

The clones reach an ethical verdict to execute Krell. Later, Rex targeting the gun to a Jedi’s skull stages the thematic irony: At the time, we didn’t know Rex would bypass Order 66, but the image of a clone reluctant to shoot even the most tyrannical fallen Jedi says loads about his military conditioning. Rex has all of the free will of his decision, all the practiced rationale to his motive to shoot Krell, yet he cannot commit to pulling the trigger.

Ultimately, another clone, Dogma, does pull the trigger for Rex, leaving Rex to be forever haunted by his hesitation. Throughout the Umbara Arc, Dogma was the archetypical blind follower, protesting the air of mutiny among his brothers and rationalizing Krell’s actions as legal. But even though he comes around to fire the final execution blow to the corrupted Jedi, like Rex, he remains wracked with self-reproach, “I had to!” needing to voice his justification aloud to alleviate his shame over a reasonable action.

Rex’s indecision is completely independent of his control chip. Dogma’s initial allegiance to orders was an externalization of his own personal ideals rather than the machinations of his chip. Conditioning isn’t as automatic as a brain chip. It’s also in circumstantial upbringing and the societal limits enforced on them. It isn’t that Rex and Dogma have no free will, but rather, life left them untrained to wield it.

The tragedy of the Domino Squad

The Domino Squad first appeared in “Rookie”, the first Clone Wars episode to centralize the clones in the on-screen narrative. One-by-one, the Domino brothers—Hevy, Droidbait, Echo, 99—met misfortune. Then later, a dazed Tup murders his Jedi commander in the midst of battle. As Fives unearths the source of his brother’s sudden illness, he veers toward the Order 66 conspiracy and the chips embedded in their brains.

Shortly before Fives dies, he has an unpleasant taste of civilian living. A one-minute taxi ride scene perfectly surmises Fives and his brothers’ liminal place and how clones are effectively othered by society. Although they may have the treat of a clone bar to mingle with Republic citizens, the cab driver’s surprise at the bar’s existence denotes the clones’ limited presence in a civilian society aware of their existence. Ultimately, the taxi ride scene is a reflection on the would-have-should-have-been: a Republic society where clones would be embraced and integrated rather than planted into the battlefield. Fives’s rant to the taxi driver uncovers his dismal prognosis on the clone’s fate and their exclusion from the leisure of society.

After machinations by Palpatine and a mad chase, Fives descends into the role of the Star Wars-equivalent of the prophet Cassandra, spewing out the truth about the ensuing apocalypse but never getting heeded. His demise ultimately marks the final domino falling in the Sith’s scheme, a call forward to the spiritual death of his brothers, where they will commit terrible atrocities. In Filoni’s words, post-Clone Wars, the clones were reduced to menial jobs, uncompensated for their valor and displaced by stormtroopers in the Empire.

As in the motions of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, Fives has an audience of his own brothers, listening to the catharsis of his final breaths, with pitiful expressions. In Rex’s arms, a dying Fives raves about “the mission… the nightmares,” surrounded by forlorn clones, who seem to know Fives’s prophecy without quite understanding it. Something terrible is coming for them. But unlike the viewers, they cannot answer the last Domino’s riddle.

Aftermath

If there is solace in the fate of the Dominos, Rex takes heed to Fives. Although the exact specifics are not covered in visual canon, Rex and a few clones did not fall for the “the chip inhibits violence” propaganda and removed their brain chips, permitting Rex to disobey the Order 66 command and assist in Ahsoka’s escape (alluded to in E.K. Johnson’s Ashoka).

Rex renewed his tenure in the fight for galactic justice. In Rebels, he opts into the Rebellion. His veteran brothers, Gregor and Wolffe, are thankfully allowed to opt out.

Rex may be a survivor’s story of consolation, but survivors can’t erase their scars. Even as Rex exercises agency by willingly serving the Rebellion (leading to the Star Wars Celebration visual confirmation that Rex fought in the Endor mission), he contends with PTSD, blurting out for Commander Cody in “The Last Battle”. The namedrop reminds the audience of Rex’s past and the unresolved nature of Cody’s fate.

The case of Grey in the Kanan Marvel comics demonstrate that some clones resist their control chip and momentarily reclaim lucidity, and thus, experience the revulsion of what they’ve done. How did Cody react to the realization he shot blindly at his General Kenobi once he snapped out of the chip brainwashing? Did Cody resist enough to grasp intervals of lucidity over the wake of Kenobi?

Upon the Clone Wars cancelation, the audience is tormented by the emotional loose ends on the fate of Rex’s brothers. The welfare of Rex’s brothers, Cody, and the witnesses of the final Domino’s tragedy linger in the audience’s consciousness.

The Star Wars Universe, with Clone Wars as no exception, places prominence on the story of the Jedi. But for me, The Clone Wars had always been about the clones, not the Jedi. The clones may have been designated to be an ensemble of pawns, but it turns out the Jedi might as well be the supporting players—and unwitting oppressors—of the clones’ story.

Fans wanted to know more about the clones because each and every one of these brothers deserved more.

(image: Lucasfilm)

Caroline Cao is a Houstonian Earthling surviving under the fickle weather of Texas. When she’s not angsting over her first poetry manuscript or a pilot screenplay about space samurais, she’s doing cheesy improv performances for BETA Theater, experimenting with ramen noodles, engaged in Star Wars fanfictions, or hollering vocal flash fics on Instagram. Her columns and poems have popped up on The Cougar, Mosaics: The Independent Women Anthology, Glass Mountain. Her flash fiction recently earned an Honorable Mention title in Sweater Weather magazine. She has her own Weebly portfolio and contributes thinkpieces to Birth.Movies.Death. She’s also lurking in the shadows waiting for you to follow her on Twitter.

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