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The small screen animated legacy of Star Wars (1985-2020)

Discussion in 'SWNN News Feed' started by SWNN Probe, Apr 27, 2020.

  1. SWNN Probe

    SWNN Probe Seeker

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    Much has been written about the big screen legacy of Star Wars over the last near half century but I have not seen as much written in the way about it's small screen one over the last 35 years. Although niche compared to the films, It is still an interesting footnote  in the fandom nonetheless. For this piece, I wanted to focus solely on the full-length animated series related to the Star Wars  since the 80's. If anyone is still interested after reading this, I will do the various TV specials next including the infamous one that started it all.  The next film entry is not for another two and a half years at the earliest, So feel free to use this as your guide to certain parts of that galaxy far, far away you have yet to explore and only heard about before. Without further adieu and in chronological production order (if not SW timeline order)….

    The 1980's: In the beginning......

    Droids (1985-1986): Full length animated Star Wars animated shows all began in the 'dark ages' of Star Wars fandom after the original trilogy had only recently ended but long before the prequel one began. Produced by Nelvana and running for one season and thirteen episodes on ABC as part of their Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1985. If you were a child as I was during it's run as I was, This wasn't exactly what you had in mind when you heard a new cartoon set in that certain galaxy far, far away was being made. Nevertheless, It had it's own goofy 80's charm with animation that would be considered crude by today's standards and like it's companion series below has never been officially released in it's entirety on home video nor is it allegedly considered part of the current canon. This show focused on C-3PO and R2-D2 in the 19 years between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope or specifically 4 years after Episode III but 15 years before Episode IV. Of a trivial note is that Stewart Copeland formerly of The Police provided the catchy theme song of 'In Trouble Again'. The series was also supported by a very short lived Kenner 3 3/4 inch toy and vehicle line shortly before they Star Wars merchandise went on a near decade line hiatus as well as a Marvel Star Comics line. Although de-canonized, It's not hard to imagine Threepio and Artoo going out on adventures during this time when not serving the House of Alderaan and they even bump into the Imperials a few times though the baddies are largely small time gangsters, pirates, and other assorted thugs in between the various different masters that served as brief story arcs every few episodes. The show came to a conclusion with the TV special The Great Heep in 1986 that was written by the legendary sound designer Ben Burtt himself and was briefly paired with it's sister series Ewoks as half of The Ewoks And Droids Adventure Hour. Something I found curious upon revisiting this series is how closely the character name of Kybo Ren is to Kylo Ren long before character's inception as well as the fact that a particular Wheel Bike vehicle looks suspiciously like the one General Grievous would use onscreen a good two decades after this show ended. Although not the last Star Wars animated series to have a focus on droids, It was the first one and did run the longest of the two.

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    Ewoks (1985-1986): Also produced by Nelvana as well as released at the same time as Droids except running for an extra season for a grand total of twenty two episodes on ABC. This show always felt like a way to cash-in for the cutesy bear craze of the 80's with such competing properties of the time as The Monchichi's, The Care Bears, and Paw Paw's. Interestingly, blues musician Taj Mahal provided the theme song for the first season. Unlike Droids which was more based in the science-fiction aspect of the Star Wars saga this series had  distinct fantasy bent with Wicket W. Warrick and other minor Ewoks from Return Of The Jedi such as Teebo, Chief Chirpa, and Logray serving as part of his supporting cast. It served as a sort of prequel to the two live-action Ewok TV films released a few years earlier. Personally,  I always felt it was the stronger series of the two 80's animated Star Wars ones. Partly due to having more in common with the hero's journey aspect of the saga and also using every episode to explore the never before seen parts of The Forest Moon Of Endor. However, By the second season the budget had been cut drastically (as is the case in struggling animated shows both then and now) the animation while never that high of a quality to begin with became downright amateurish as were the replacement voice actors. Like Droids, There was a small range of merchandise by Kenner that was gone as quickly as it arrived and a similarly short lived Marvel Star Comics line. For those of you who will never watch this show or never got the chance, The final episode actually has The Galactic Empire discovering the planet directly tying in with Episode VI. After this show concluded in 1986 there was no new official animated Star Wars related shows for nearly 20 years.

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    The 2000's: The Return of Star Wars on the small screen.....

    Clone Wars (2003-2005): Longer than the lengthy gap between Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace came this micro-series from Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack/Dexter's Labrotory fame that was originally intended to be just a minute or two originally more akin to a commercial before settling around 3-5 minutes in the first two seasons and 15 minutes or so in the third. At 3 seasons and 23 episodes and airing on Cartoon Network from 2003-2005, It was the longest running Star Wars animated show up till then. Though since the Disney acquisition of 2012 this show has been removed from the official canon but was a real trailblazer in terms of Star Wars animation for being the first one to gain critical acclaim, healthy ratings, and really delve into The Clone Wars after Attack Of The Clones merely teased them at the end. It was also the first Star Wars show to be produced during one of the three existing trilogies and having been made in between Episode II and Episode III, The very first look at General Grievous was seen at the end of season 1 akin to the tease of Boba Fett in The Star Wars Holiday Special nearly 30 years earlier.  Despite being de-canonized, Many important offscreen events of historical Star Wars note took place over the course of this series including Anakin's first meeting with Asajj Ventress, How Ventress came to be under Count Dooku's tutelage, and most curiously the possible conception of Luke/Leia (yes, you read that right). The final episode took place just a few seconds before the start of the final Prequel film with the full blessing of George Lucas. A brief Hasbro toy line accompanied the show and given the success of the show as well as a Dark Horse comic line, There were initial plans to continue the series that never came to fruition however this would be the last of what we saw when it came to the legendary Clone War.

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    The Clone Wars (2008-2014) (2020) Developed by Dave Filoni and George Lucas, This is still the Star Wars series equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back in many fan's eyes and the longest current running Star Wars show in existence at a whopping 7 seasons and 131 episodes as well as spanning Cartoon Network, Netflix, and Disney Plus during it's long run spanning two different decades. Pretty much every single major and most of the minor characters from Episode I-VI (Save for Han/Lando and the unborn Luke/Leia) get their own episode or make a cameo at some point in this series. Supported by arguably one of  the longest running and largest toy lines of the 21st century based around an animated TV show, This series was a massive hit with both fans and critics that only got better with each successive new season in my opinion. Aside from a few episodes and multiple story arcs, Almost every single show featured a new planet or vehicle creating a truly epic scope that some feel rivals the films themselves. Somewhat controversially, It was also the first Star Wars show with a moving timeline in the sense that not all episodes were in chronological order. Although not connected to Tartatovsky's Clone Wars, There was never much done to contradict it either. It was the first show produced by Lucasfilm animation, animated in a 3D style, and the first Star Wars related show to be both nominated and win an Emmy.  The first few episodes were combined into the first full length animated theatrical Star Wars film and the series is largely told through the eyes of Ashoka Tano who is introduced as Anakin Skywalker's never before seen newly minted 14 year old Padawan and the initial run ended with her leaving the Jedi Order then finding her new place in changing new galaxy.  Cut off in it's prime due partly to restructuring under Disney taking the reigns from George Lucas, There was a wealth of future episode material later explored in comics, books, animatics and a 'lost' season. However it has recently been revived for a final season due to popular fan demand and as of 2020, It is the earliest Star Wars show that it is still officially canon and has also returned this year after a half decade hiatus to finally reach it's long awaited conclusion.

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    The 2010's: The Golden Age Of Star Wars animation......

    Rebels (2014-2018) An unofficial sequel of sorts to The Clone Wars and the first animated series and produced in the Galaxy Far, Far Away under the Mouse administration was created by Dave Filoni without George Lucas this time around though he brought over many of the creative talent from The Clone Wars. It aired for 4 seasons and ran for 75 episodes on Disney XD. Unlike Filoni's earlier Star Wars effort, This show differed in a number of ways such as focusing around a much smaller core cast as to relate better with the original trilogy it was set during, stuck to a home base planet for the most part in it's first season, and telling a completely linear story. It begins 5 years before A New Hope inching much close with each episode to the time of the Classic Trilogy. Like the Titular name implies, It was centered around a core group of Rebels who meet many important figures from Episodes IV-VI along the way and detailed how a small group of freedom fighters grew into a larger rebellion. Being produced in real time with the release of Rogue One, There are direct ties to that particular film with actors reprising their roles in key episodes. Although set in a much darker period time than The Clone Wars, Comedic aspects of the show were nearly as much at the forefront since the 80's with Ewoks/Droids. Although not a cheap looking show by any means, The animation was not quite at the level of it's predecessor show which may be another reason though successful was not nearly as much of a hit critically or commercially as The Clone Wars was.  I always considered this one as one of the popular Star Trek spinoffs which although not the absolute favorite of many fans, Does have it's own strong and slowly growing fanbase. A lot of the story threads that Filoni and company left open in The Clone Wars were either finally answered or expanded upon and the last episode took place at the end of the original trilogy which brought a nice fully circle symmetry to where the animated universe of Star Wars began decades ago.

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    The Freemaker Adventures (2016-2017) Although not strictly canon per se in the sense that The Clone Wars or Rebels is, This is basically the first Star Wars sitcom officially released (Sorry, Detours) and lasted two seasons for 26 episodes on Disney XD. With tongue firmly planted in cheek and loads of subtle joke references to the decanonized Expanded Universe, I feel it is the most underrated series on this list due to so few fans having watched it. The first season begins immediately after The Empire Strikes Back and ends during the very last scene of Return Of The Jedi. Being a Lego based show, A Lego toy line served alongside the series and it revolved around The Freemaker family and their often comedic struggles trying to survive in the Star Wars galaxy staying one step ahead of some very familiar villains. Though aimed at a younger set, There are some very creative action set pieces and vehicles designs along the way.  Although a comedy based show, There is also a lot of heart as well (though it probably helps if you take your canon hat off before watching it) some things seem like things that feasibly happened off screen. For fans of Rebels, Several characters make apperances along the way during the run of this show. The Freemaker Family and their descendants later appear in Lego TV specials explaining what they were up to in the time of the sequel trilogy.

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    Blips (2017) Much like the original Clone Wars micro-series from a decade before, This was the first official YouTube Star Wars short web series and focused on R2-D2 and BB-8 with cameos by Chewie, some Stormtroopers, and later Porgs as it was released in the lead up to The Last Jedi at which the series appears to take place.Chances are you haven't seen this one but it's easily available online or Disney +. Being the first online animated Star Wars show it only had 8 episodes and there was no real ancillary material but it did get the ball rolling for future short series in the 2010's. Although the shortest Star Wars series both in episode length and actual episodes, I felt this show was a sort of bare basics homage to Droids but with Artoo as the sole star this time around.

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    Forces Of Destiny (2017-2018) A Flash based animated show where nearly every episode (save for a handful) centered around one of the female protagonists of the Star Wars saga. Airing through Disney's YouTube channel for 2 seasons and 32 episodes. Supported by a short lived doll, comic, and book line. Up until this series, There really had not been any official 2D Star Wars animated shows since the original Tartatovsky's Clone Wars. Like Blips before it, Each episode was under 5 minutes and was the first real Star Wars show aimed at a female audience featuring little life lessons along the way. Though not considered a real success on any front, It made it's mark by being the first series to encompasses the prequel, classic, and sequel trilogy along with the two spinoff films spanning a whopping 62 years in continuity. It even featured episodes with both The Clone Wars and Rebels casts. I also appreciated that almost every character on the show who appeared in the films was voiced by their living onscreen counterpart which no other Star Wars show can really boast about.

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    Galaxy Of Adventures (2017-Current) The Clone Wars of web based Star Wars series in terms of it's sheer longevity and number of episodes, This show was intended to get young kids unfamiliar with the classic trilogy interested in episode IV-VI by breaking down key moments in the saga and using the film audio/score to modern animation, Running for 44 episodes (and counting!) at the time of posting. Arguably the most successful of the Disney web based Star Wars shows, It also had a Hasbro toy line which included a comic with each figure. Though intended to focus on the original 70's and 80's films, Recently they have delved into the sequel trilogy era as well as the spin off Solo in the lead up to it's release. It's testament to the richness of John Williams how well his musical tracks work to different scenes and adds greatly to the authenticity. Something I felt worked about this series was when they went off script so to speak and had a flashback to Episode I-III at key moments adding something new to think about next time you watched the films.

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    Resistance (2018-2020) Not only the latest show in the timeline chronologically but the last full length one on the air spanning two seasons and 40 episodes. This series begins shortly before The Force Awakens  thirty years after Return Of The Jedi and ends not long before the events of The Rise Of Skywalker about a year later.  Dave Filoni who already had success with the prequel era in The Clone Wars and classic era Rebels took a swing at the Sequel era with this one though his input was greatly reduced on this one due to his commitment to The Mandolorian which was still in development at the time. In a nod to the 80's roots of Star Wars animation, This is probably the most colorfully animated of any of the shows on here and has a very distinct visual style unlike any before it. Unfortunately, It was also the least successful of the Star Wars shows so far and only inspired a single wave of action figures. I feel this is for a number of different reasons both within and out of the creator's control. For one thing, It was marketed as a sort of Top Gun in space and inspired by the World War II tales of Filoni's Grandfather but as the show went on this was less of the case and there was an unusual heavy focus on both comedic and filler episodes. The entire first season takes place entirely on one planet and it's not until mid-way through that the First Order really comes into play. The female characters were also far better written than any of the male ones and much more visually interesting as well for the most part. The second season refreshingly  took place on more of a variety of planets but instead of revealing anything insightful into Episode VII-IX,  It felt more akin to a cash-in video game adaptation paddling alongside the films. A handful of film characters both old and new make cameo appearances for the most part with Poe Dameron and BB-8 getting fleshed out the most. It is noteable though because at the time of the writing it is the only full length animated series solely set in the sequel era as well as being the last entry so far ending shortly before the end of The Skywalker saga.

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    Roll Out (2019-Current) Another web based short series aimed at children based on the art of Hideo Itoyanagi as well as the first one centered in the Sequel era running a total of 16 episodes so far. Essentially a sort of 21st century silent animated series that explored things that happened off camera to the main characters from Episode VII, VII, and IX. The best way to describe this one would be a pop up book come to life in animation. New episodes were recently released starring the first onscreen appearance of the future Kylo Ren as a young Ben Solo with his famous Father.

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    Which brings us to *drumroll*……….

    Detours You might call this infamous one The Star Wars Holiday Special of this list and apparently was so polarizing that it was cancelled before being released though clips were released though not the entire 39 episode run. Created by Seth Green, It was going to take place between the prequel and classic era and was the last show produced before Disney took control of the franchise. Not much is known about this show other than it had similar humor on Green's own Robot Chicken and Family Guy which have been chockfull of Star Wars references in the past. The Mouse House was in preproduction on The Force Awakens when the plug was pulled on this series due to feeling that a comedic look at the first six films would not be good in helping sell their own upcoming trilogy out of fear of making light of the original Lucas written/produced films.  Personally I never bought this excuse because I've never met a fellow fan who did not at least like Spaceballs as well as the fact that The Freemaker Adventures did it's fair share of mocking sacred green milk producing space cows. I've seen all the clips released and though the majority of it is cringey, I still have a morbid fascination in wanting to see all of this one from start to finish having the very dubious distintction of sitting through every Star Wars based TV show since 1985.

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    And a look into the near future......

    2020's

    Untitled Rebels Sequel (????) Taking place years after the Rebels series finale, This will be the first ever real sequel Star Wars series in that it will allegedly concern Ashoka and Sabine's search for Ezra as well as potentially explain their whereabouts in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise Of Skywalker.  Outside of the final season of The Clone Wars, It will also be the inaugural full-length original Star Wars show on Disney Plus. Please keep checking back with us as we learn more about this series as the release date draws near.

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    So there you have it. Not all of these were critical or commercial successes but I'm sure a great deal of even the most hardcore fans have not seen all of them yet but I highly recommend you all do. One thing you can say about the animated shows in Star Wars is with the exception of possibly The Clone Wars series, None of the aforementioned shows really treaded the same ground and covered their own unique part of the galaxy as well as usually brought something new to the table animation-wise. I've never really thought about this till recently but as far as American film series goes, Star Wars really does have the most animated series of any of them and it's astounding that for nearly four decades there has been at least one show on the air. We really are living in a golden age far as a variety of content goes on this.

    Which is you're favorite of each decade and why? What era/premise/characters would you like to see explored next in animation?

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    #1 SWNN Probe, Apr 27, 2020
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2020
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