“Star Wars” is always better when it leans toward its darker side, and that’s certainly true of the batch of “The Clone Wars” episodes, dubbed “The Lost Missions,” premiering exclusively on Netflix. A huge coup given the importance of fan passion in driving subscription enterprises, these episodes are more adult in tone than many past installments of the animated series, including an extended interlude that could easily be dubbed “The Last Temptation of Yoda.” Frankly, just trumpeting a “Star Wars” property is a win for the streaming service; to quote a certain green-hued sage, that the episodes are good, a happy accident, that is.
Animation — and particularly the half-hour format — has proved especially beneficial to this permutation of the “Star Wars” franchise, given the shortcomings (clunky writing, stiff performances, wonky dissertations about tariff policies) that tended to leech some of the fun out of George Lucas’ most recent film trilogy.
“Clone Wars,” by contrast, was practically stripped to the bone — a much leaner machine, able to indulge in various kinds of stories from that rich far-far-away galaxy, while showcasing the kind of wholesale action that animation makes economically feasible.
The previewed episodes of “The Last Missions” harbor additional resonance because they expand upon a story thread from “Attack of the Clones,” delving into the commissioning of a clone army by the Jedi knight Sifo-Dyas, as well as attempts by Yoda (voiced by Tom Kane) to identify the nature of the Sith threat they face. That latter objective pushes the ancient master into a weirdly trance-like state with surreal aspects (at one point, he battles a Golum-esque version of himself), while the Jedi ability to see into the future and past creates an opportunity to explore matters dealt with in the prequels without completely obliterating the movies’ time line.
Navigating, as it does, the asteroid field between movies, there are obvious narrative limitations on “The Clone Wars.” After all, nothing beyond a stalemate can happen whenever Count Dooku shows up.
Nevertheless, the beautiful visuals, abundant action and creative latitude to plunge even further into the “Star Wars” universe’s nerd-obsessive quadrants (as in “Omigosh, it’s Yoda’s first trip to Dagobah!”) make the show considerable fun, especially for anyone who has ever waved a toy lightsaber at a John Williams concert.
As the proprietor of Lucasfilm, Disney can take full advantage of that in promoting its own TV channels. So it’s an endorsement of sorts to see this deal with Netflix, which was extremely shrewd to ante up for fanboy properties, including this most recent season of “Clone Wars” as well as repeats of previous seasons shown on Cartoon Network — and new series featuring second-tier Marvel characters from the studio.
Because whatever the price, given the marketing force “Star Wars” still wields, the streaming service should have a very good feeling about this.