Warning: This review contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 7 episode 9
Star Wars: The Clone Wars has never been more cinematic than in "Old Friends, Not Forgotten" – an episode that feels special from the outset, simply because it is. Instead of the loud, bright placard that normally proceeds each episode, we instead have the lightsaber green "A LucasFilm Production" logo fading in gently as John Williams' original score plays. So starts the best episode of the season – if not the entire series – so far.
We knew the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was going to lead right up into the events of Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, but we certainly didn't know the timelines would end up speeding alongside each other like two pod racers destined to perish in a fiery explosion. The realization that the events of "Old Friends, Not Forgotten" share a stage with Revenge of the Sith comes about 10 minutes into the episode, and a sense of unnerving dread settles as Anakin and Obi-Wan decide against helping Ahsoka and the Mandalorians take back the planet from Darth Maul in favor of saving Chancellor Palpatine. The decisions made in this episode are large in the scope of the Clone Wars, but their reverberations are bigger than the characters involved could ever imagine. We, the viewer, however, know the tragic ripples that emanate from these precise moments.
There's a scene in this episode that perfectly encapsulates the core function of The Clone Wars and the unparalleled storytelling the series is capable of when firing on all cylinders. Ahsoka has gone to Mandalore with a team of Togruta-painted clones under the command of newly-minted Commander Rex – all thanks to Anakin, who clearly wants to help Ahsoka but cannot, due to Obi-Wan's desire to keep the Jedi ensconced in politics.
Ahsoka and company head into the tunnels under Mandalore to capture the planet's crooked leader. But as our heroes forge forward, deeper into Mandalore's underground, the camera pulls back and shows the parallel movement happening just one tunnel over: one of Maul's Mandalorian troopers peers around the corner and watches Ahsoka and her clones' forward motion. Then the camera slowly pans over at the same pace Ahsoka is walking, showing the vast group of Maul loyalists waiting in the wings before refocusing on Ahsoka's movement.
The scene is precisely why The Clone Wars exists – it shows the heroes blindly heading down a trajectory the audience knows is doomed. When The Clone Wars gets things right, it can evoke true upset and distress, and this episode opens with all the Jedi in the exact location in which they die in Revenge of the Sith. Damn. That's cold.
There are some other moments in this episode that truly shine, including a scene in which Anakin shows off by dodging a blaster bolt with the imperceptible movement of his head before deftly demolishing an entire drone battalion. There's also the beautifully poignant and complicated reunion of Anakin and Ahsoka, where both are clearly struggling with conflicting emotions but can't help showing their affection for each other. In this moment, Anakin gives Ahsoka her own set of Tano-kitted troopers and returns her dual lightsabers and Ahsoka says goodbye to Anakin Skywalker for the last time. Yes, I cried.
Repetition be damned, as I also have to point out once more how beautiful this final season looks. It feels like "Old Friends, Not Forgotten" looks even better than the preceding eight episodes – a brief shot of General Grievous in the opening looks better than the prequels; facial expressions carry so much more weight than previous seasons; and the combat is smoother than Han Solo talking his way out of trouble. It's truly remarkable how much this show has evolved. Mark my words: these last four episodes will feel more like a Star Wars movie than half of the actual films recently released.