Warning: This review contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 7 episode 12
After 12 years, Star Wars: The Clone Wars has finished. We knew where all the key players would end up, but that didn’t stop "Victory and Death" from being utterly devastating.
The episode's central action sequence doubles down on this being a flaming finish for the series as a Venator class cruiser full of clone troopers – now basically Stormtroopers – hurtles towards the surface of a moon with a destroyed hyperdrive, smoldering and breaking apart as it descends. The Republic has fallen, the Jedi have been eradicated, Darth Vader has risen, and Ahsoka and Rex are fighting for their lives aboard the doomed ship.
The Bladerunner 2049-esque score really helps establish the finale's somber mood. The galaxy has dramatically changed since this show began, and even though we knew this was all coming, the characters – ones we've grown to love or come to understand on a new deeper level – have been blindsided by it. That Dave Filoni manages to imbue the final episode with a sense of urgency and suspense is a testament to his merit as a showrunner.
Fans of Star Wars Rebels are well aware that Ahsoka and Rex survive this series, but I was still subconsciously clenching my jaw throughout this episode. "Victory and Death" picks up right where "Shattered" leaves off – clone troopers cutting their way into the room where our heroes are holed up while Darth Maul wreaks havoc around every corner.
Ahsoka and Rex approach this "shipful of clone troopers trying to kill them" problem from entirely different angles, which gives us a great moment of character development for them both. Ahsoka doesn't want to kill the clones and instructs Rex to set his weapons to stun. "They're willing to die and take you and me along with them," he argues. Ahsoka, instead of replying with one of her patented snarky retorts, reaches for his helmet and removes it, revealing Rex's face and the single tear rolling down it. "They may be willing to die, but I'm not the one who is going to kill them," she insists.
Meanwhile, the Sith aboard the same cruiser has a far different mindset: Maul is handily dispensing of clone troopers while wearing one of the deceased soldier's comm links. Ahsoka frees him to cause some chaos, and the former Sith apprentice does exactly that, and – in a truly Maulian display of excess – destroys the ship's hyperdrive. When Ahsoka and Rex realize they are heading for a crash landing, they enlist the trio of adorable droids from last episode to help stage an escape without leaving casualties in their wake (well, except for the droids).
Although "Victory and Death" is mainly a series of beautiful action scenes, each moment is layered with emotion, adding a deeper meaning to the carnage that plays out. Ahsoka has Maul literally in her grasp (she Force grabs his escape shuttle), but lets him go physically and figuratively in order to save Rex. The two repeatedly attempt to get the clones out of their way without killing them. In the process they push themselves to the absolute limit. By the end of their fight to escape, Ashoka is covered in blaster bolt marks, and Rex's armor is littered with holes. Their empathy doesn't kill them – but it damn near comes close.
That empathy is what The Clone Wars has all been about. Ahsoka has always had a special bond with the clone troopers, and the last time we see her in this series she is mourning them, standing in front of graves she's presumably dug for each one. The final shot of Ahsoka Tano, the purest embodiment of the Force, shows us the Togrutan adult that she becomes when we meet her again in Rebels, cape and all, leaving the lightsaber Anakin Skywalker gifted to her just a few episodes before.
The final scene of The Clone Wars is one steeped in the imagery and ambience of the original trilogy. There's been a time jump: the moon on which Ahsoka and Rex crash landed is now covered in snow, Imperial droids and troopers scour the rubble, and Darth Vader strides forward. As he discovers Ahsoka's lightsaber, we understand the depth of the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker without the need for any words or facial expressions. He kneels and takes Ahsoka's lightsaber in his hands before bringing his eyes up towards the heavens, where Morai circles the crash site (for details on that cameo, head here). He lingers on that visual, aware that Ahsoka is alive but letting her fly freely – for the time being.
This man has lost everything and everyone, and the final shot – of a retreating Vader reflected in the visor of a clone trooper helmet – reminds us that the galaxy fell into chaos because of a conflicted, scared orphan torn between two flawed ideologies.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars ends with a somber beauty and a brilliant grace. If Rebels did not exist, this ending would seem even bleaker. Good thing, then, that there’s a new hope for the galaxy around the corner.