Review – There’s Something For Everyone in The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark
Fans asked and Lucasfilm sure did listen. For longtime fans of The Clone Wars, the past year has not only been a renaissance but there’s also more great new stories. Between the final season and the IDW comic series by Michael Moreci, The Clone Wars continues to expand the stories from this pivotal period of the prequel era. The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark is a unique addition, featuring eleven authors exploring moments from various episodes across the series, along with one original story.
Admittedly, I arrived a little late to The Clone Wars. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 and announced the new stories would honor those told in The Clone Wars, I decided to dive in. I’ve heard this from a few other fans, too. Luckily for many of us newbies, Netflix carried all six seasons. I’m not sure why I never paid much attention to The Clone Wars, probably the cynic in me who thought it was only for young kids. And I sure was wrong. Once I began to watch I was hooked. All the stories reminded me why I loved Star Wars and I often revisit them.
The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark offers fans a whole new way to revisit these stories. This collection offers mini-novelizations of several memorable moments from the series. The best part is there’s something for everyone! There’s a lot of joy in each author’s contribution. At several points during my reading I felt like these were love letters to those who’ve been cheering The Clone Wars on from day one of it’s debut. And, they are! Whether you’re a Cad Bane-stan or still mourn the loss of Satine Kryze, I’m fairly confident most fans will find something to love.
Each story is told from a different character’s point-of-view. This gives each author the opportunity for fresh exploration of these stories most fans are already familiar with. While not every story will blow your mind, there are some beautiful and unexpected thoughts we share with these characters. The beauty of novelizations are the quieter moments they elaborate – a facial expression, a sigh, or a tear can provide fodder for a whole chapter. The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark is certainly a great example of that.
There are some SPOILERS AHEAD but the chances are you probably know most of what happens in this book.
This collection opens with a story called “Sharing the Same Face” by Jason Fry, based on the episode “Ambush” written by Steven Melching. It’s a perfect way to bring readers into the state of the galaxy. Yoda and a group of clone troopers make their way across the coral covered planet of Rugosa. The events depicted in the episode, Yoda facing down Asajj Ventress, aren’t as consequential as the time we spend inside of the Jedi Master’s head. Yoda’s reluctance for war is nothing new but his introspection regarding the morality of clones, war stripping away their humanity, and the empathy he feels isn’t something often expressed. Fry’s writing sets the tone for the book, letting the reader know while they may know these stories the retelling of them might not be what they expect.
One of the larger ethical problems in Star Wars, for me, are the clones and their constant deployment into the meat-grinder of war. Yoda first brushes off his inner turmoil regarding the clones but then later acknowledges:
Individuals the clones are. Understand that and nurture that we must. Treat them like machines we must not. If we do, lose something far worse than a war we will.
This sentiment comes to Yoda after sensing the inner desires of each clone, which is solely to be a good soldier. He recognizes these beings haven’t been stripped of humanity, it’s been trained out of them. Despite this existence, Yoda feels the potential for so much more in each of them. Unfortunately, he and the Jedi seem to except their bondage to war as necessary evil, with the hopes their fight for a better future will provide one for the clones, as well. The darkness ahead is one the reader knows but the actors do not, making this story equally tender and haunting.
Another story I really loved is “Hostage Crisis” by Preeti Chhibber, based on the episode of the same name written by Eoghan Mahony. We rarely see Anakin and Padmé disarmed and comfortable in their marriage. They each play vital roles in the galaxy, neither of which leave much room for quiet time. The opening of this story depicts the quieter, happier moments for the couple. It’s easy to imagine they stored moments like these away when the Clone War divided them across the stars. Of course, Cad Bane shows up and disrupts this, but for a short time we are allowed inside the marriage of Padmé and Anakin.
It’s not all smiles and twin sunshine though, as Chhibber highlights Anakin’s impatience. Especially when it comes to Padmé and his love for her. There’s nothing sinister in the text but knowing where their story ends it’s hard not to ignore the possessive tendencies Anakin displays. The curse of any story with Padmé and Anakin is the tragic subtext of each moment due to where they will go.
Ominous futures aside, there is a great Padmé story in “Pursuit of Peace” by Anne Ursu, based on the episode “Heroes on Both Sides” written by Daniel Arkin. The war-profiteering continues to fuel the expansion of the Clone War. Funds necessary for social programs continue to diminish, all resources dumped into building more weapons. Padmé only sees this getting worse. She and Ahsoka embark on a secret mission to negotiate with Separatist Mina Bonteri – an old friend from Padmé’s past.
With the suffering on both sides apparent, Padmé and Mina see the urgency in ending the war. The toll goes beyond a death count for them both, hearing stories of civilians deprived and suffering. Mina agrees to advocate for negotiations in the Separatist Parliament, and Padmé hopes to echo the sentiment in the Galactic Senate. The dialogue is constructive but shortly after the Senate is attacked by Separatists, shocking Padmé who learns Mina has been killed.
The prospect of peace gone, Padmé continues to fight for the vulnerable of the Republic. Ursu perfectly captures the fortitude and courage of Padmé in this story, as she brings the vote for more funds to a halt by holding a mirror into every senator’s face. She reminds them of their duty. Padmé reminds all of us of our duty, with the grace and strength of a fighter and a queen.
“The Lost Nightsister” by Zoraida Córdova is one of my favorites in the collection. Based on the episode “Bounty”, written by Katie Lucas, we really get inside Ventress’ head and the grief consuming her. The Nightsisters have been massacred. Ventress feels she’s lost everything. The Jedi, the Sith, and now the Nightsisters – all causes she devoted herself to at one point but each of them left her behind. Ventress joins Krayt’s Claw, a group of bounty hunters led by a young Boba Fett.
While their job sounds simple – deliver a valuable chest to a wicked dictator – it becomes more complicated when they fall under attack. Ventress learns the attackers are trying to retrieve the chest because it contains a child. The child is promised as a bride to the dictator. Ventress chooses the light, protecting innocence and helping the child. Ventress not only chooses the light, she chooses herself.
The truth was, she’d always had a path. She’d only lost it for some time. Ventress had been so many things. Slave. Jedi. Sith. Nightsister. Survivor. Bounty hunter. She had never been nothing. She had never been no one.
Córdova is one of my favorite writers contributing to Star Wars and her take on Ventress is wonderful. We also know the tragic end this character moves toward but in this story we see her glimpse herself.
And you can’t have more Clone Wars without Darth Maul. “Dark Vengeance” by Rebecca Roanhorse is brilliant. It’s a Maul monologue and it almost sounds Shakespearean in its cadence. From the junkyard grave Maul’s discovered in to his rebirth, you’ll feel like you experienced every terrible second the abandoned Sith Lord went through. All with a singular focus: Kenobi. Maul is speaking to someone he refers to as “child”, making me wonder if we are hearing this from the Rebels-era. The story is based on episodes “Brothers” and “Revenge”, both written by Katie Lucas. Maul catches up with Obi-Wan but misses his first chance at vengeance.
Unfortunately, we know he’ll eventually get revenge against the Jedi Master his hate follows. And someone else pays the ultimate price for it.
“Kenobi’s Shadow” by Greg Van Eekhout is a heartbreaker. Obi-Wan goes against the Jedi, setting out to Mandalore when he hears his friend, Duchess Satine, sees her rule fall to a coup by Death Watch. What makes the story so effective is the terror in Obi-Wan’s every move. He’s desperate to protect Satine, who I think we can just come right out and say he loved dearly. The weight of her death is already heavy in the episode “A Necessary Bond” but in this story I outright gasped.
The moment when Maul kills Satine, Obi-Wan is tempted to give into his rage. He reflects Satine, her life and all those she’s touched, all the good she could still go, and she’s been reduced to a tool by Maul to hurt Kenobi. That’s what boils his blood most of all.
But in a split second, Maul had ended all that. He’d extinguished a light in the universe and replaced it with shadow.
The title is what really gets me. The idea Obi-Wan will carry Satine with him, her memory and her tragic end, as he sits in isolation over the sand dunes of Tatooine. Maul relishes in his perceived victory but we experience Obi-Wan calling himself back to the light after approaching hate. He knows killing Maul will only give the Sith Lord his revenge. Obi-Wan chooses to honor his love the best way he can – fight for the good left in the galaxy.
“Almost A Jedi” is a delightful story by Sarah Beth Durst. Told from the perspective of Katooni, the Tholothian youngling in the episode “A Necessary Bond”, this story is so much fun to read. Katooni gushes over Ahsoka Tano as they fight to evade Hondo and a group of pirates, who they eventually work with to escape General Grievous. Katooni idolizes Ahsoka and this is an episode I barely remember, so it felt like experiencing it for the first time. The episode it’s based on is the last part of an arc of Ahsoka leading these younglings to retrieve their kyber crystals.
The bond Ahsoka forms with these younglings is so great. Hearing Katooni describe every move Ahsoka makes in her fight with Grievous reminds me of my own admiration for the Padawan. Katooni struggles to assemble her lightsaber and when she finally does I wanted to cheer. There’s a lot of action in this story but it ends with quiet pride as Obi-Wan congratulates Ahsoka and the younglings on working together.
Now, I’ve never been a huge Cad Bane fan so his story really wasn’t for me. Not really a huge bounty hunter fan in general, with the exception of The Mandalorian. Discounting my own preference, Tom Agnelberger writes a lengthy recap of Cad Bane’s attempted kidnapping of Sheev Palpatine in “Bane’s Story”. It’s told by Bane in the first-person, so it’s a great chance for fans of the strong, silent bounty hunter to hear a little more.
I also wasn’t crazy about Lou Anders’ “Dooku Captured”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dooku, but this story just didn’t do much for me. Anders does a great job capturing the regal Sith Lord’s voice but the story itself falls flat. It’s hard for me to swallow Dooku being bested by Hondo Ohnaka, even if it is a small victory. That said, there is some pretty great Dooku dialogue, snootily looking down on Anakin and Obi-Wan as they find themselves in the same predicament as him. It has it’s high points for sure and it’s not bad in any sense, just not for me.
The final story in The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark is an original one and my favorite. “Bug” by E. Anne Convery, inspired by the episode “Massacre” by Katie Lucas. I’m very hesitant to go into detail because it shouldn’t be spoiled for anyone. Taking place on a remote planet, a young girl called Bug by her neglectful parents spends her days listening to transmissions from across the galaxy and cleaning her family’s shabby inn. As the Clone War rages, the transmissions become more distressed and one day she hears a cryptic one about “Mother’s instructions“. Not long after, a mysterious older woman arrives, booking a room at their inn. Bug is intrigued by the woman with a pale face and red markings near her eyes.
Bug’s curiosity overcomes any sense of caution and she sneaks into the room. There, she learns why the woman roams the galaxy now, searching for someone whom the Nightsisters of Dathomir took from her.
E. Anne Convery writes an engrossing entry into this, both eerie and touching. I loved every word of it and really hope there is more to tell. The Nightsisters of Dathomir definitely deserve more attention and we know very little about them. If there are more stories to tell I think Star Wars found a prime candidate to tell them in E. Anne Convery.
The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark delivers some great writing paired with characters and stories we already know. Is this for everyone? Probably not. If you don’t have any interest in The Clone Wars I’m not sure this collection of stories will move the needle either way. However, I could see someone not knowing anything about the series picking this book up and loving it. Everything fans love about The Clone Wars exists in this book. These stories are the same ones that captured fans. Everything good about The Clone Wars is in this book, so I could see it definitely grabbing the attention of a curious fan and turning them into a devotee easily.
The layout of the book is also gorgeous. Character illustrations by Ksenia Zelentsova greet you at the beginning of each story and the cover will definitely grab the attention of any Star Wars fan. Editor Jennifer Heddle did a great job with this project. Whether you go in looking for something new or just want a love letter from some of the finest authors out there, I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy your time reading The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark.
Special thanks to Disney Lucasfilm Press for the advanced copy used in this review.