In 1996 when I was 14, I wrote several letters to Dark Horse Comics, expressing my concern over what I thought was unrealistic and cheesy dialog spoken by members of Rogue Squadron in the Shadows of the Empire mini-series. Dark Horse published one of these letters in a subsequent issue, complete with an editor’s rebuttal. Since then, my enthusiasm for Star Wars has slowly wavered, partly because entering into a discussion about Star Wars is such a loaded gambit. Outspoken support of contemporary Star Wars is rare among adults. But through adventures in babysitting, I’ve discovered the most vocal fans of modern Star Wars. Children. And these kids—the current generation of rabid Star Wars fans—they like The Clone Wars best of all.
Now, I am not one of the haters who believes that George Lucas has “raped my childhood” or some other hyperbole. My adult Star Wars philosophy for the most part has been a passive one; I figure Star Wars is owned by George Lucas, not me, and he can do whatever he wants to it. But lately, while babysitting, I’ve been asking a new question—what about the active childhoods out there? Is their Star Wars not their babysitter’s Star Wars?
Full disclosure: I have not seen every single episode of the current Clone Wars animated CG series. But I have seen enough to know the basic characters and situations. I know who Ahsoka is and that her nickname is “Snips.” Most of this I learned because of babysitting, but I admit to having watched some of the 1st season of the CG Clone Wars out of fan curiosity. (While not as rabid in my fanboy praise as others, I really did enjoy the Genndy Tartakovsky non-CG version back in 2003)
The eight-year-old I sit for most frequently loves The Clone Wars. His favorite character? Captain Rex, a clone commander. His least favorite character? Obi-Wan Kenobi. This kid, (we’ll call him Boxy in order to protect the innocent) has an encyclopedia which lists every single character from the series. On more than one occasion, he’s handed it to me and asked me, “Who is your favorite clone?” The first time I was taken aback and simply said, “I don’t like the clones. They end up being stormtroopers.”
“But they’re so cool!” Boxy insisted, “Captain Rex can kill anybody!” At the end of this conversation, I calmly told him that I like Ahsoka better than any of the clones, because at least Ahsoka is a Jedi. He responded that Ahsoka is “lame”, to which I had no rebuttal. If I was a kid, I might not like Ahsoka either, but as a babysitter, I’m really glad she’s in there. Because Ahsoka is the only character who isn’t a solider spewing generic military dialog, or a Jedi/senator saying confusing things about galactic politics, her presence makes the show a little more human.
The next time we had the discussion concerning “who’s the best clone?” I looked over the book in a little more detail. Lo and behold, I found a clone who had deserted the Army of the Republic! Great, I’d found my favorite one. He’d never be a stormtrooper.
“This guy,” I said, “He’s my favorite clone.”
“He doesn’t even count!” Boxy said, “Why would anyone leave the clone army? That’s stupid.”
Another boy I watch, a seven-year old who I’ll call “Wesley” is significantly confused as to what actually happens to Anakin. His parents haven’t let him watch Revenge of the Sith, because of the PG-13 rating. I wholeheartedly support their decision, because at this point, I’m not sure if this kid could handle the idea of Anakin turning on everybody, to say nothing of all the clones going ballistic. Like Boxy, Wesley likes the militaristic and shoot-em’-up aspects of The Clone Wars. He’s constantly making shooting sounds when we go to the park, and constantly refers to himself as “Captain Rex.” One day, we were playing with Star Wars Legos, and I was desperately trying to find one character from the classic trilogy. Suddenly, I find Lando and promptly stick him in the pilot’s seat of one of those faux-X-Wing things the clones flew in Revenge of the Sith.
“You can’t do that!” Wesley says, “Lando doesn’t know how to fly spaceships!” I’ve been babysitting for awhile, so I didn’t snap at him or anything. I calmly asked him if he remembered how Return of the Jedi ended. “I don’t like that one,” Wesley says, “It’s boring.”
Now beyond personal taste, I’m not sure I have any real proof that a show centered around soldiers is any less Star Wars, than my Star Wars, which was pretty much all about guys who were anti-establishment. Through the eyes of these kids, I try to see The Clone Wars the same way I saw the Rogue Squadron comic books back in the 1990s. But therein lies my problem. All the characters in Rogue Squadron had different personalities. The majority of the characters on The Clone Wars are literally the exact same person.
An old friend of mine started teaching Junior High drama last year. He played a theatre game with his students, telling them to pretend to be any fictional character they wanted. The other students would then guess who they were by the clues given. One student said the only person cooler than him was Captain Rex. Immediately, another student knew who he was. “You’re Commander Cody!”
Obviously the ironies here are numerous. But the most important one is this: the Commander Cody they are talking about is the guy who tries to shoot Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith. Why is this guy cool? And further, why is there an entire kid’s show in which these sorts of identical, personality-lacking automatons are depicted as the heroes?
Last time I checked, stormtroopers/clones were known primarily for one personality trait: Being “the weak-minded.”
Ryan Britt’s writing has appeared here as well as Clarkesworld Magazine, Nerve.com and elsewhere. Ryan once made a lightsaber out of a broken sprinkler and still has numerous copies of the Shadows of the Empire, and X-Wing comics in which his childhood letters to the editor were printed.