The Biggest Challenge Dave Filoni Faced With The Clone Wars' Final Season

The animated series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" led an unusual life. It began as a 2008 feature film that hastily stitched what were originally meant to be the first three episodes of the show together, with pretty clunky results. (That's not to say it didn't turn a profit; this is "Star Wars" we're talking about.) The TV series properly debuted two months after the movie's theatrical release in October 2008, with George Lucas executive producing and "The Clone Wars" film helmer Dave Filoni acting as a supervising director.

Starting out, "The Clone Wars" was mostly aimed at kids, carrying over the juvenile humor and lighter tone of "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" and the "Clone Wars" film. The show also brought back a key newcomer from the "Clone Wars" movie in the form of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker's over-eager padawan and a character Lucas created in an effort to make a galaxy far, far away less of a boys club. Reviews weren't great at this stage, with the Los Angeles Times calling the series' early episodes "brief and insubstantial but colorful and fluid." But that same review also includes a gross joke about Carrie Fisher's "Return of the Jedi" costume, so maybe don't put too much weight into it.

As "Clone Wars" progressed, its plot threads got darker and more emotionally complex. Building on the "Star Wars" prequel movies, the show began to paint its heroes and villains in shades of grey, rather than purely black-and-white. Along the way, Ahsoka matured and deepened as a character, expanding her fanbase and evolving into the series' true lead. She even left the Jedi Order at the end of season 5, having rightly come to question their ways after being falsely accused of a crime for which she was later acquitted. This also presented a challenge for Dave Filoni when it came time for Ahsoka to return in the show's seventh and final season.

Wrapping up Ahsoka's story

The year after Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" was more or less canceled to make way for a new animated "Star Wars" prequel-era series titled "Star Wars Rebels" (which is excellent, by the way). It was then revived on Netflix in 2014 for a sixth season made up of multi-episode stories, aka "The Lost Missions," separate from the series' over-arching plot. However, thanks to its gains in popularity and critical acclaim over time, the show would ultimately return for a more traditional seventh and final season on Disney+ in 2020.

Speaking with Deadline in 2020, Dave Filoni cited Ahsoka's storyline (which picks up where season 5 left things) as the biggest challenge of "The Clone Wars" season 7. He explained:

"The middle four episodes, which is kind of Ahsoka on a walkabout, experiencing what it's like to be living in the New Republic in this time of war, were a pretty difficult arc. That took a lot of working and reworking just to establish what this experience is supposed to be for her. It's a path intended to inform a different point of view for her on the entire war. So that had its own challenges."

Lucky for Filoni, he didn't have to worry about wrapping up Anakin Skywalker's story from "Clone Wars" seasons past, what with "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" having already done that. Instead, he could focus on bridging the gap between Ahsoka's journey on the series and her return as an older, wiser, non-Jedi Force user in "Star Wars Rebels." Season 7 also had to cover the battle for control of Mandalore between Bo-Katan Kryze and Darth Maul, which (along with Ahsoka's storyline) was the other major plot thread left dangling at the end of season 5.

The other tricky part? Bringing closure to Ahsoka and Anakin's relationship prior to the latter becoming Darth Vader. Filoni elaborated:

"I had to make a real decision to have Anakin and Ahsoka reunite, and that took about half of that first episode. Anything less than what I did would really be shorting the audience, because they had looked forward to that for so long. So, you have to be managing the expectations of this versus the reality for the characters in the moment, because they don't know. Ahsoka doesn't know it's the last time she's going to see Anakin. She doesn't feel the time the way the audience does..."

Don't chase what the fans want

All in all, I would say "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" nicely sticks the landing in season 7. The series had to endure some real ups and downs after being prematurely canceled, but in the end, it reached a conclusion that felt satisfying and honest to who Ahsoka (and the show at large) had become over the course of its run. This hasn't always been the case with "Star Wars" projects, least of all under Disney's watch. In fact, just over two months before season 7 premiered in February 2020, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" deservedly came under fire for going out of its way to service fans who were left cold by its predecessor — the subversive "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" — rather than building upon it in a more organic fashion.

Speaking to Deadline, Dave Filoni explained why it was important for him to tell a story he felt was worthwhile on "The Clone Wars," rather than trying to chase what he thought fans would want to see:

"Working with George [Lucas], I would be able to watch firsthand decisions being made and instincts he had, and I've tried the best I can to replicate that, but ultimately as a fan, I put these stories in the context that I like. I always felt if you're just chasing what fans are going to like or not like, I don't think you'll ever get done. And really early on when I worked here, when I first started on 'Clone Wars,' I thought, if I can't make this show in a way that's natural to me, that George likes, then I probably shouldn't be doing it. I would be wrong for it, and that would be fine, but I had to take my crack at doing it off of what he taught me and see if it worked, and so far so good. Fifteen years later, I'm still here, so I guess I get it right most of the time, I hope."

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" season 7 is available on Disney+. Newcomers needs not worry, either. If you've looking for a guide to essential "Clone Wars" episodes to watch leading into season 7, we've got you covered.