The Bioethics of The Clone Wars

The Bioethics of The Clone Wars

If Yoda says it’s okay, how unethical can it be?

I’ve written about the strangeness of Cartoon Network’s The Clone Wars before. This is a kids adventure show about a massive interstellar war in which one person is secretly controlling both sides for personal gain, and it’s going to end with the good guys all getting slaughtered by their own troops. Take a look at this napkin I saved from my kid’s birthday party. The guy on the left kills a bunch of children. The one in the middle cuts off three of his best friend’s limbs and leaves him to burn to death. The one on the right almost certainly doesn’t make it to her sixteenth birthday party. This is the paradox of The Clone Wars: it’s an upbeat story embedded smack in the middle of a tragedy. You’re supposed to root for the Jedi to crush those roger-rogers, and forget about how completely meaningless the whole thing is in the context of Episode III.

But let’s focus on the clones themselves. They fight for the Jedi, which makes them the good guys. My son often pretends to be Commander Cody, a leader clone. However, the idea of genetically engineering a clone army is ridiculously unethical. Think about it: the Republic happily orders up millions of clones to be used as slave labor, the exact same way the Separatists are churning out battle droids. The clones’ growth is artificially accelerated, so they can be cannon fodder after only ten years of non-stop combat training. As one of the Kamino “cloners” explains in Episode II:

You’ll find they are totally obedient, taking any order without question. We modified their genetic structure to make them less independent than the original host.

This is horrifying stuff. But the Jedi, as far as I can tell, have no qualms whatsoever about leading this army. In fact, they make an implied choice to use clones over drones. The Kaminoian puts it this way:

Clones can think creatively. You’ll find that they are immensely superior to droids.

The good guys?

So let’s get this straight. Presumably, the Republic has the resources to build its own robot fighters. But humans are better fighters than robots, so the Republic chooses to use clones, genetically engineered to have limited free will. This allows them to avoid a draft, which would be politically tricky. And they then dehumanize their clone army by making them wear helmets at all times. In any other work of science fiction, this clone army would be terrifyingly evil and tragic, not plastered all over paper plates for birthday parties. In fact, let’s go ahead and list works of fiction involving human cloning now.

  • Judge Dredd (This is a world in which the police can execute criminals on the spot, and they are still horrified when Armand Assante wants to clone himself.)
  • The Island (A non-Star Wars movie starring Ewan MacGregor, in which people are cloned for spare parts.)
  • The Boys From Brazil (A hilarious movie about Nazi war criminals attempting to clone Hitler, I kid you not.)
  • Alien Resurrection (The best scene has Sigourney Weaver discovering a room with a bunch of deformed clones of herself.)
  • And of course, Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World, in which cloning is central to the government’s attempt to wipe out individuality and free will.

And what have we got for movies in which cloning is good?

  • Multiplicity (Michael Keaton makes a bunch of copies of himself, and hilarity ensues.)

The bottom line is that in almost ALL the works of fiction I can think of, the people who clone people are the bad guys. (For instance, Dimension Films bought up the rights to the not-yet-released-how-to guide How To Defeat Your Own Clone.) And not just in fiction: the United Nations has denounced human cloning too. You can argue that “a galaxy far far away” isn’t earth, and the people of the Republic just don’t share our taboo against cloning, but I’m not buying it. They share every other value of Western civilization, like monogamous marriage, democracy, and a hatred of Jar-Jar Binks. It’s hard for me to accept that the Jedi, who are part of a religion that celebrates the energy field created by all living things, are behind this clone army. They just don’t see anything wrong with it.

To be fair, the show does occasionally deal with this elephant in the room. In season 3, the show set an episode on the cloner planet of Kamino, where a Jedi is overseeing the training of the next batch of “recruits.” This character becomes uneasy with treating living things like machinery. But Dion Detterer, who writes an excellent blog about the philosophical side of Star Wars, sees the hypocracy in this:

It doesn’t really matter if the Jedi consider the clones to be living beings worthy of respect; as soon as they signed-on to use people as property and slaves—as soon as they implicitly gave the nod to breeding humans for war—they acknowledged that, in some cases, living beings were objects, and any compassion shown was more to reassure their own guilty consciences than for the benefit of men bred to die.

Although there are these occassional half-hearted nods at treating the clones with respect, they’re very clearly second class citizens. “Yes, clones you may be,” Yoda tells his troops, “but the Force resides in all lifeforms.” That’s just a tad condescending, right?

But hey, just because the Jedi have no problem using clones doesn’t mean the audience has to feel the same way. If we are uncomfortable with the clone troopers, maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. Perhaps the Jedi are wrong to use the clones, and it’s meant to be another sign of how far the Order has fallen. Years later, when Yoda tells Luke, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” perhaps he’s thinking about all the thousands of clones he treated exactly like crude matter.

Besides, the clones are clearly NOT supposed to be completely benevolent. They are only fighting for the Jedi because Palpatine tells them to fight for the Jedi. When I think about A New Hope, I have no trouble believing that all those faceless storm troopers were grown in a vat. They literally address each other via serial numbers: “TK-421, why aren’t you at your post?” In the original Star Wars trilogy, the individuality of the rebels stands in stark contrast to the storm troopers, little white cogs in a soulless machine. The retcon that made a lot of them clones was actually a clever piece of plotting by George Lucas (he does that on occasion).

But how can we get behind the clone troopers, who are the exact same cogs in marginally different armor? You can’t watch The Clone Wars and not root for them. But in order to root for them, you need to forget where they came from (monstrous genetic engineering) and where they are going (killing all the Jedi). You need to accept that, on this particular day, in this particular battle, we want the clones to win. That brings me back to the show’s lack of dramatic irony. If you see it in context, the cognitive dissonance is hard to get past. You need to just, well, underthink it.

The really disturbing part is, George Lucas uses the clone troopers, meta-textually, for the same reasons the Republic uses them. The clone troopers are better from a storytelling perspective, because they’re kind of human and thus relatable. That is, in a fight between robots and clones, the audience is on the side of the clones. But clones are also superior to putting actual humans on the battlefield, because their deaths don’t mean that much. A war show where thousands of regular people died might be too intense for Saturday morning. But The Clone Wars can depict scores of troopers getting blown up, and no one really cares, precisely because they’re seen as less than human.

Let me put it this way: if you ask a five-year-old about the clone troopers, he will tell you they are KIND of like people, but not quite. (Believe me, I’ve actually had this conversation.) And that, my friends, is precisely why human cloning is so dangerous: it makes life a little less special. I would think the Jedi, of all people, would be against that.

UPDATE, 8/6: Guys, really enjoying the comments, but a LOT of you are saying things like, “But of course the Jedi didn’t actually ORDER the clone army.” But the Kaminoans says themselves that the clones were ordered by Master Sifo-Dyas, and that’s canon. Sure, Count Dooku kills off Sifo-Dyas and takes over, but it was a Jedi’s idea to create the army in the first place. If this seems strange, that’s because in earlier drafts of Attack of the Clones, Sifo-Dyas was supposed to be an alias for Sidious (a very poor alias). But Lucas rewrote that and made Sifo-Dyas a bonafide Jedi.

Which raises another point that I think is worth remembering: George Lucas is not particularly good at plotting stuff out. It’s very interesting to speculate on why the Jedi use clones: a different value system, a feeling that it’s the lesser of two evils, etc. But the real reason is probably that the Trade Federation was already using robots, and there had to be something called the Clone Wars, so Lucas had to make the Jedi use clones. Whether of not it’s something that the Jedi would logically do is beside the point. But hey, there’s nothing wrong overthinking the implications of something, even if we suspect the author didn’t do so himself.

60 Comments on “The Bioethics of The Clone Wars”

  1. Redem #

    One of my favourite clone war is one where a clone betray the republic the republic basicly justify himself he did it for freedom (which is in some way is true because he picked his side instead of blindly following the republic)


    • Boris #

      Yeah that’s basically the episode where the show gives us a nod at the fact that this is basically slavery. However it does give us the idea that it is *possible* for clones to rebel should they chose to do so, which kind of implies that the clones do want to fight for the Republic (maybe)


  2. Lisa #

    I like to say that the prequel trilogy is proof of the Spaceballs’ assertion that “Evil will always triumph, because Good is dumb.” The Republic and the Jedi don’t actually order the first batch of clones. (Though someone clearly keeps up the processing.) Nobody knows who did, which you’d think would be suspicious, but hey, here’s an army, all convenient, as we’re suddenly at war. So far as we know or see, nobody questions this!

    You could actually also look at it as Lucas’s warning about using anything as property. The series is filled with droids who do their masters’ bidding all placidly, because that’s how they’re programmed. Their memories are wiped periodically, because every good machine needs its OS refreshed every now and again, right? But you might find that machines don’t always suit your needs. They do what you tell them to, not always what you want them to do. So, clones? Hey, they’re more creative, more adaptable. And when you get right down to it, aren’t we all just a series of electrical impulses? So it’s okay, really, especially if we alter their DNA so they’re not REALLY human. They become just a higher-functioning machine. And they’re treated that way.

    There’s evidence that the Jedi, if not the entire Republic, have a very specific mindset about what it means to be an intelligent and thinking being. When Qui-Gon meets Jar Jar, he says “The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.” Jar Jar clearly has his own dialect, and and Qui-Gon has just saved his life. But he then dismisses him as if he doesn’t matter, only going along with him when he realizes that Jar Jar can help him with his own mission. And this is the guy that’s supposedly famous for picking up pathetic life forms? I wonder if any of the other Jedi would have even bothered to save Jar Jar. (Note: I hate Jar Jar a lot less since Darths and Drois (, so I don’t consider that as much of a mercy as others might.)

    Anyway, so, there is already some sort of standard by which you can measure the intelligence of a new species and determine if they’re worthy of interacting with. This is a “them vs us” dynamic that, while not based on convenient things like color or shape or number of tentacles, does still leave a lot of room for prejudice and discrimination.

    I even wonder if the line about speaking not equaling intelligence is something the droid manufacturers had to lobby pretty to get accepted in the early days.

    So it then becomes ironc that, in a series about freedom and individuality, the main character owns droids, who clearly have thoughts and emotions and desires of their own.


  3. Wenyip #

    hmmm. On the one hand, if you were the Jedi in this situation, what do you do?

    Firstly, the clones have already been created. The clone wars last a grand total of 3 years, it takes about 10 years to create a clone trooper at double speed, so no new clones were created and brought into combat once the Jedi discovered them. As such, they’re presented with a fait accompli: someone has created these several million beings. They’ve been modifed and trained their entire lives to be extremely susceptible to orders from their recognised controllers. And the only skills they’ve been taught are to do with fighting. oh, and they’re all going to die of old age when they reach 50 or so. While this is certainly monstrous, there’s not a lot the Jedi can do about it, and they’ve got better thing to do than moan and philosophise about it.

    Secondly, there’s this teensy bit of a war just started. A massive army has arisen, known to be under the control of the Sith. Flawed as the Republic is, a Sith Empire would tend to be worse in many ways (as demonstrated by SW history). Not just from the perspective of the Jedi, but also from the trillions of other beings in the Republic. As such, with the Jedi being guardians of life and guardians specifically of the Republic itself, it would seem they have an imperative to fight this war to the best of their ability.

    Thirdly, it’s not really their decision anyway. Sure, Yoda is the one to take them to Geonosis, but the High Council is subject to the Republic’s Executive and Legislature. Since the Ruusan Reformation 1000 years ago, Jedi have been prohibited in serving in government. They’d be duty bound to report the matter to the Senate, or at least the Chancellor, at some point. Plalpatine would then be free to order them into battle.

    As such, it’s difficult to see what other course the Jedi could have taken with respect to using the clones as troops in the war. And instead of drafting in millions of other (previously untrained) sentients to fight and die, they let if happen to people for that is their single purpose and desire in life (even if it was programmed into them).


    • Rob #

      “On the one hand, if you were the Jedi in this situation, what do you do?”

      Work or fight for the liberation of the clones from the evil people who created and control them. Help them develop their independence and individuality, if possible. Not step in as replacement masters. The ends of defeating the Sith or winning the war do not justify the means of controlling a more or less slave army genetically engineered for obedience.


      • Wenyip #

        Utilitarianism would say otherwise. Weigh the temporary slavery of 3 million clones (who are entirely happy with their situation), against the almost certain destruction of a galaxy spanning government, a period of major turmoil/destruction/death until the territories of said government (comprising at least trillions, probably hundreds of trillions, of sentients) fell under the thrall of an utterly despotic, speciesist, occasionally genocidal, regime. Effective slavery for much of the galaxy. The regime being the Sith generally as the Jedi knew them, rather than Palpatine’s New Order Specifically.

        In any case, what you suggest would be impossible in the circumstances. The only course the Jedi could possibly take at the start of the Clone Wars would be refuse to use the clones as soldiers, leaving them in slavery under the control of the Kaminoans. This would lead to them either a) being used to possibly create further discord if the Kaminoans went on a war of conquest, even joining the Separatists; or b) living out their short lives not only in slavery, but without being able to use their single skills and fulfil their raison d’etre. If the Jedi took control of the clones, then to try and ‘liberate’ them would lead even more swiftly to the consequences I said above. Trying to liberate people who don’t want to be liberated, although a nice moral sap, tends to have disastrous consequences unless done over the long term (including ruining those people’s lives).


        • Gundato #

          Again, Traviss’s books actually touched on this. Many clones DID become Mandalorians. So violent mercenaries, but many probably became doctors (medic training) and farmers and what not on Mandalore.

          And who is to say they are happy? Just because they weren’t starting up a rebellion on their own?

          And the Jedi could easily have done the following:

          Refuse to participate in the war: The EU has many examples of this (they refused to fight the Mandalorians until Revan forced their hand). And honestly, it is never really made clear what the Separatists want beyond not being part of the Republic.

          Take the slave army and liberate them: If all the clones really wanted to fight, they could CHOOSE to fight. It is arguable as to whether they are capable of giving consent, but so be it.

          But the fact of the matter is, the Jedi accepted the clone army to fight the Separatists because they saw at least one of their personal enemies (Dooku) was there, and they had no other choice but to accept the clone army if they wanted to rescue their best buddies Obi-Wan and Anakin.


        • Gundato #

          Oh, and Utilitarianism is a dangerous approach to take to Star Wars. By and large, there was stability and security under the Empire. Under the New Republic, they were attacked by a new Sith Lord every five minutes and couldn’t hold off the Vong (to the point that they ended up forming an alliance with the Imperial Remnant).


          • Wenyip #

            You’re right about the Empire, but previous Sith regimes weren’t so good for ordinary people. Probably because that was before the Rule of Two came into being. But it’s their knowledge of the previous Sith that would have informed the Jedi at the start of the Clone Wars, and would be relevant to this decision.

            As for Traviss, the clones who set out on their own were pretty much all ARC troopers or Nulls, who were designed and trained completely differently to most ordinary troopers, and almost all of them embraced their Mando heritage by becoming bounty hunters or mercenaries. Yeah there were exceptions to the rule: one or two took up more peaceful professions, but never in the short term. In any case, most of the clones were completely happy being soldiers for the Republic, and especially in doing it really really well. It’s seen in several Clone VPs in novels by people other than Traviss – note at the start of ‘The Cestus Deception’, for instance. (yes I know what happens later on, but only to a single clone in drastically different cirumstances to his brothers).

            Hell, if the clone army wanted independance, they wouldn’t even have to rebel. They were quite literally the only organised military force in the Republic and could have taken over by default, if they wanted to start a coup.

            And the Jedi could not have simply refused to participate in the war, too. They were the ‘guardians of peace and justice in the Republic’. When an evil agressor, like the Separatists, starts a military campaign to take over, the Jedi are pretty much obliged to act. On absolutely every level I can think of, they are obliged to act to defend the Republic (which includes, incidentally, not running off to right every wrong that’s happening, like, idk, liberating some clone army. The Jedi are wise enough to know that it’s not their role or obligation to fix every single injustice taking place in the galaxy, especially those outside the Republic, like in Kamino).

          • Rob #

            Stability is sometimes modern shorthand for “making the trains run on time.” And a good example of “security” might be the TSA searching diapers of dying elderly people, patting down infants and small children. It keeps us safe from some very rare threats, but who protects us from being groped by the TSA?

            Re: clones who are happy with their situation, but genetically engineered to be happy with their situation. By that reasoning, if we can find some mentally ill or disabled people who would enjoy being slaves, then there would be nothing wrong with enslaving them right here and now. If a person can’t accurately understand a situation, then they can’t consent to it. I don’t see how a person can be made to generally obey others unless they are somehow made incapable of seeing when they’re being manipulated unfairly.

    • Steve #

      I was going to reply, but decided to scan and see if someone said what I was going to say…and Wenyip nailed it.

      It was the “evil” people in the story line who had the clones commissioned. The Jedi merely found them in an “Oh crap…we need an army!” moment and took advantage of the bizarre situation with which they were presented. As noted during the execution of Order 66, the Jedi were leading the frey…putting themselves in harms way ahead of their clones. They gladly would have “taken a bullet” for any of them whether they were named Cody or some other less human alpha-numerical designation.

      With that being said Matthew, I have to admit that your napkin story made me LOL pretty L! :)


      • Rob #

        A person or group who creates clones for use as cannon fodder is engaging in one kind of immoral act. A person or group who didn’t create them, but discovered they were available and still decides to use them as cannon fodder, is not much better. If they were made to be obedient, that basically means they were made to be less rebellious and less independent. Unless the Kaminoans are lying about creating the clones to be more obedient, these are humans who are not capable of making an independent or fair decision whether to participate in the war. I guess if it’s proper to conscript average adults against their will, then it wouldn’t make a difference whether they are consenting to it. But this is more like conscripting children or people with brain damage, in terms of their ability to consent.


  4. Gundato #

    Agree with a large part of that, but you do make a few mistakes.

    Count Dooku (so Palps) is the one who ordered the clone army. Fun fact: He picked the prime DNA sample based on a guy who killed multiple Jedi in a single fight, often with his bare hands.

    So essentially, the war suddenly crops up, and the Republic can either institute a draft (and lose a bunch of Jedi who were on that planet whose name I forgot), go start manufacturing droids (and lose a bunch of Jedi who were on that planet whose name I forgot), or use the Clone Army that they already had available (and probably paid for).

    That being said, Yoda is still a war-criminal for continuing to use the slave army. And just about every Jedi is guilty of not looking out for the benefit of their clone army.

    Karen “crazy pants” Traviss actually wrote a great series of books that essentially tell the Clone Wars from the perspective of some clone troopers (Commandos and Nulls) and the mandalorians who actually cared about them. Actually managed to make Order 66 a horrifying event (rather than “Aww, little Annie’s gonna shank a kid. Still a crybaby”)


  5. Carl #

    Brilliant post, but you have it all wrong.

    In the Star Wars universe, robots are sentient! So, from an ethical standpoint, the use of clones vs. robots is mute. Both sides are using independant, intelligent beings as cannon fodder.

    Imagine this situation from the perspective of the robots. “Hey, C4P0, did you hear the damn separatist humans are forcing massive numbers of us to fight and die for them?” Which is more ethical – to force your own people to fight in your war, or to force some other kind of people to fight in your war.

    To the extent that war is justified in any situation, I submit that it is more ethical to do the fighting with your own people and resources than it is to co-opt another people to do your dirty work for you.


    • Jasin #

      You raise an interesting point about the robots. Star wars robots are more than throw-away machines, especially in the cartoon show. The cartoon gives them plenty of goofy lines and character development that humanizes them.
      What a strange up-and-down motion we have with clones and robots. Humans that are clones so we don’t feel so bad about them, but also robots with personalities so we feel more for them.


    • Kenneth #

      Thank you for pointing this out. The original trilogy actually touched ons the discrimination against droids: not being able to go into Mos Eisley cantina (where we learn there are droid scanners to keep them from sneaking in), the fear of having your memory wiped or even being broken down for scrap. Both groups are sentient beings forced to do grunt work.
      Lastly, lest we forget that the stormtroopers are more than mindless drones: if you watch the tractor beam scene in A New Hope, the troopers are discussing the latest model of speeder. Merely identifying each other by their military designation doesn’t dehumanize the troopers any more than Luke being called “Red Five”.


  6. Vid #

    The clones were made to fight. They wouldn’t be fit or happy doing anything else.


  7. RHJunior #

    Lucas wasn’t in it for introspection. it just has to look cool– character, plot, and common sense be damned. The physics in his movies would make a grade-school science teacher weep; is it any marvel that the schizoid morality of his “heroes” would make an ethicist rip his own hair out?


  8. thecowgoesmoo #

    I was under the impression that during the time of the Empire, at least some portion of troopers were conscripts and/or volunteers (which would explain the deterioration in their accuracy).


    • Gundato #

      Shortly after the Clone Wars, Kamino basically rebelled by using their own army of Jango-clones. Also, clones artificially aged and had short lifespans. That, combined with the danger of soldiers who were indoctrinated by a third-party, led the Empire (Palps) to switch to normal people (ratio of conscription to volunteers varies based on author).

      By Ep4, the only mostly clone unit left was the 501st, and I think a lot of them died on the first Death Star.

      But the decreased accuracy is a mix of:
      Different “training” regimen (Kamino made it an art-form. The flash-training the Republic’s cloners did was just bad…)
      Deteriorated samples (a copy of a copy… as it were)
      Additional source DNA (other warriors were used, and there was even some work with Jedi/Siths)
      The awesomeness of Harrison Ford.


      • inmate #

        There’s also something to be said for the psychology of shooting a farm boy, pilot, and young woman in cold blood. A uniform makes it much easier to kill dozens of other people.

        It is also easier to maintain the fear of ‘dangerous rebels’ when they are killing volunteer soldiers and not just another batch of clones.


        • SamLowry #

          Agreed. There was even a Cracked article explaining why it’s much easier to target and shoot something that looks like a robot compared to a person who has a visible face.

          TL,DR: The poor aim of troopers is all about psychology, baby.


  9. marcusg #

    The entire Jedi in Eps 1-3 were arrogant, selfish and failing. Ginny treated just about every other life form beneath him; whether it be JaJa, Armadala, Wato, the Jedi council or Obi. He saw himself as a superior being as did most of the Jedi. Why would they care about some expendable clones. Even Yoda had great difficulty stopping the big hunk of tubing from falling on Ani and Obi in Ep2, and got is little butt kicked by Palp in Ep3. As for the troopers in Ep4-6, I think the clone quality control was questionable.


  10. Ally #

    Good article. Discussion afterwards has gone way past the point of geekiness and into actual ‘get a life’ territory. Nothing wrong with discussing it and giving you opinions on it, it’s an incredibly popular series and I love it too. But come on, talking about the Ruusan reformation and suchlike is just a few steps too far down that road.

    No doubt i’ll have annoyed some people after this message but come on guys, it’s stuff like this that give geeks (of which I am proud to be one) a bad name.


    • Rob #

      “Discussion afterwards has gone way past the point of geekiness and into actual ‘get a life’ territory.” Perhaps you didn’t notice the name of the site,, or you didn’t think people would take it seriously? You might enjoy the posts that are tagged “underthinking it”.


      • Mike E. #

        Thats why I tagged mine at the end with that comment about Lucas thinking it just sounded cool. At the very least the article makes a nice diversion on my morning break. Would you rather discuss this or the ramifications of the debt ceiling deal on Chinese investment in America and how it effects the bond market?


    • Brian #

      Ruusan reformation is going too far, in a good way, information on ways of treating the clones differently from the Jedi is why this article was written. Bioethics are important, so is how we learn about them and Star Wars is how a lot of people first encounter these issues, granted not first and only place, hence ‘get a life’ overthinking.

      Star Wars has muddy bioethics, one of my fav SF authors Robert J. Sawyer gives a brutal take down of Star Wars ethics here’s a clip It pains me to here this, but as harsh as Sawyer is I have to agree. But I don’t think Lucas is as dismissive of how people really live as Sawyer claims or that Lucas meant for any of those ethics to go un-scrutinized, he’s showing how people actually live and sometimes it sucks.


  11. Mike E. #

    To me it shows how far the Jedi had fallen and why “The Force” set everything in motion. Similiar to Noah’s flood, Anakin wipes clean the slate and the whole thing starts anew. Then again maybe I’m thinking too much and Lucas just thought “A Grand Clone Army” sounded cool.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      I think Lucas didn’t think this through, but I also think you have the right way of looking at it. The Jedi leading this massive army of clones is wrong. It may be kind of cool, but it’s not really consistent with their whole space-hippie value system. More importantly, if the Jedi were stupid enough to use this army that was VERY CLEARLY created under suspicious circumstances, than they kind of deserve what’s coming to them. They are too stupid to live.


      • Bronn #

        I actually felt like this was a plot point that Lucas was going to explore. You had the weird conversation between Dooku and Obi-Wan in the Episode II, where Dooku basically tells Obi-Wan the whole plot: The Senate is controlled by a Sith Lord, you’re all being manipulated. It seemed like, for a moment, he was going to make Dooku and the Separatists the good guys which the Jedi had been fooled into killing. But then Dooku then goes on to try to publicly execute Obi-Wan (who, based on his later role as Luke’s spiritual guide and mentor, would be very hard to be seen as a villain) and is indisputably cast as the bad guy when he meets Sidious at the end of the film. As you’ve said, Lucas wasn’t that great at plotting.

        But this plot point comes up yet again, very briefly, when Padme suggests in Episode III that “We might be fighting for the wrong side.” It’s like this was an undercurrent that was discussed during script-writing, rejected, but elements still found their way on-screen.


        • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

          I forgot about how weird that scene is, where Dooku reveals the whole plan to Obi-Wan for no conceivable reason. Reminds me of The Breakfast Club:

          Vernon: What if your home… what if your family… what if your *dope* was on fire?

          John Bender: Impossible, sir. It’s in Johnson’s underwear.


          • Bronn #

            It really IS weird. Especially when you put in the context of where the story was at the time, rather than understanding what we’ve later learned about the plot. At that time, all you really knew about Dooku was that he had left the Jedi Order willingly (which, again, they somehow didn’t find suspicious?), and had perhaps hired Jengo Fett, who had tried to kill Obi-Wan. It would have been easy, and good plotting, to at this point make Dooku the tragic hero who is killed because the close-minded Jedi wouldn’t listen to an outsider.

            But unfortunately, that scene also happens to have the last substantial dialogue for about 40 minutes-3 straight minutes of characters actually discussing the plot. After that you have the fight in the droid factory, then the battle scene in the arena, the Jedi rescue team, the Attack of the Clones, and the Dooku lightsaber duel all flowing from one to the next with only sparse dialogue (I love you Padme, I love you too, Anakin) sprinkled in.

  12. JosephFM #

    I’m more familiar with the early era of the Expanded Universe (i.e., the part that coincided with middle school for me in the mid 90s), and to my knowledge the first major discussions of cloning technology and the Clone Wars in Star Wars “apocrypha” was in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. One of the key points there is that a cloned person’s Force energy “feel different” than that of a non-clone, and does so in a consistent enough way that a Jedi can tell clones and non-clones apart just from their Force auras.

    Of course, the prequels did a mix of borrowing directly and disregarding entirely when it came to the back-stories set out in the 1990s EU books, and some of the clone stuff in the Thrawn trilogy don’t entirely square with the prequels – for one, they mostly refer to a different cloning technology called Spaarti cylanders that is both faster and less stable than the Kaminoian method shown in the prequels and Clone Wars series.

    (Those books were also where it was first established that the galactic capital was a Trantor-like city-planet called Coruscant.)


  13. Gwendolyn #

    Well all this talk of free will and apocrypha is great. And yes, I love Star Wars ALL the movies and books. I know this story very well, and since this is, I’m taking a political science stance and going to ask… Is a slaughter of a clone army considered genocide?? We’re all in agreement as to a creation of an army for the sole purpose of going to war. Obviously it IS a war, and there are different codes of conduct, but there isn’t any legislation in the Republic dealing with clones. There should be. First of all who is to decide that clones are disposable? They’re living, breathing and cooperative look a likes. They are replicas of an individual. An individual has rights, maybe clones should too. The Kamino lady says it herself when she mentions they were modified to take orders and be cooperative but that they think creatively.. how hasn’t one of them started a revolution?? And lastly, if all of this was to become a treaty, who would be accountable for the genocide of the clone army?? The Separatists? The Imperialists? It all stemmed from the great Republic! Just so happened there were a few bad apples aka the Sith in control of the fate of the grand clone army. Yet the Jedi council voted to use the army that was given to them on a platter…

    These are just things I wonder about and I’m so happy this blog was written because it really does make you think!! :)


  14. Eleni #

    Very interesting points, especially relating the Jedi’s use of the clones in the show to Lucas’s own use of them. I’m going to through this idea out there, not because it’s a fully thought out argument meant to refute anything you’ve said, but just because it came to mind.

    In a biology class, my professor made an interesting point about bacteria. It was in relation to viral infections. Yes, a rampant viral infection can kill a human, but a single virus infecting and destroying a single cell in a human isn’t going to be fatal. If you’re a bacterium, and have only one cell, a lytic viral infection is definitely going to be lethal. You might take this to mean that viruses are far worse for bacteria than for humans. But consider that that bacteria was formed asexually–basically, by cloning. It is one of millions of bacteria exactly like it. If one dies due to a virus, it’s not a significant loss, because so many more remain. My professor said that one might consider that whole strain of bacteria to be like one organism, with many identical cells. Losing one doesn’t kill the whole strain, just as a human losing one single cell doesn’t kill the human.

    This then can be compared to the situation of the clones in The Clone Wars. If all of the clones are exactly identical, then in a way, losing one isn’t as great a tragedy as losing a unique human, because thousands of other clones exist. The clone army is like an organism of identical parts, and losing one doesn’t kill the army as a whole, or remove a unique and crucial part of it.

    The biggest problem with this argument, of course, is the “if all of the clones are exactly identical” part. Yes, they are genetically identical, they are raised/trained similarly, and somehow they have been made to have less free will, and probably thus less individuality. But being human clones, with obviously far more mental capacity than a bacterium, they must have individual thoughts as well as individual experiences that DO make them each unique. It doesn’t matter that they are genetically the same or somehow stunted in mental abilities; if they are “people” enough to be more useful than droids, they are individual enough to destroy my analogy. The slavery also still can’t be justified by simply being a clone.

    OK, then, I’ve just totally shot down my own idea, but there are some thoughts.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Interesting idea, but by that logic, it’s not such a big deal when one of a pair of identical twins dies, because we have a “spare.”


  15. Gab #

    Well, if the guest post I submitted a while ago ever gets run, the point I’m about to make will be hashed out in almost-bullets. But, basically, I find the Jedi “philosophy” or moral code is inconsistent and hypocritical. The professed ideology is of Kantian moral absolutism, where doing the Right Thing in one place applies everywhere. But their actions are grey and relativist, at best. So they act more like utilitarians (but by no means pure ones), assessing an entire situation and acting accordingly. Were they living by the ethical code they claim to live by, they would have liberated the clones somehow and not used them in the war, regardless of the advantage those clones gave them.

    I feel like adding a bit about these clones to that entry and resubmitting, now, though…


    • Bronn #

      It’s problematic that they recruit only preschool aged youths, isolate them from the larger galaxy, and essentially teach them that they will be different-and, by implication, “better”-than the rest of the galaxy. They aren’t allowed to have committed relationships, so they’ve been cordoned off from much of human experience as a matter of course. They build a big huge temple where they mostly congregate, and seemingly seldom venture out unless assigned on certain missions. This isolated existence might work for Buddhist monks, but Buddhist monks aren’t given unilateral police powers for an entire galaxy. Jedi end up becoming rather unworldly as a result.

      It seems like it would have been better if Jedi order was excluded to people who made the adult decision to seek to join the order, and, if qualified, to undergo the serious training and learning necessary to become Jedi. Clearly it’s possible to train a full Jedi who starts at age 18-the original series is very largely about that journey.


  16. Rob #

    first of all, dude, are YOU a clone? you seem to be taking this way to personal. second, i thought the clones were ordered by the emperor to be used against the jedi but the jedi ended up finding out about it and claimed them before he got the chance? so the jedi didn’t actually order the clones be made, they just decided to use them rather than be wiped out by them. third, who really cares? if you dont like it, just play a SITH when STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC mmorg comes out later this year! woohoo!


  17. james #

    One thing your article forgot to mention or I missed it was the fact that the entire plot of episodes #1 – 3 (The blockade of Naboo and the sending of the Jedi to Naboo, Darth Maul revealing himself in combat, the creation of a clone army, The clone wars, turning Anakin to the dark side or at least creating doubt in his beliefs, order 66 and the destruction of the Jedi) was Palpatine’s plan as a follower of the Sith to play both sides against each other and crush the Jedi for the history of them crushing and oppessing the Sith.

    Basically, it came down to basic Revenge against the group that had hurt your people and if it meant creating and killing off a bunch of clones, in order to kill off the entire Jedi order, in the process, then so be it.

    There have been episodes where the clones make decisions that go against their programming and show that the might have real feelings – like when they found out Kamino was under attack. They made a decision to go home and defend their home against attack. Boba fett was a clone but he was allowed to grow like a real child and he can think for himself. For the most part, clones were created to fight and that is their purpose for being and that is what they do because that is there purpose.

    The other point about the clone wars series itself is that it fills in the gaps that are missed by the films. Episode 2 ends with the start of the clone wars and Episode 3 is the conclusion of the clone wars so there is a 3 year gap that we know nothing about. This also allows George Lucas to basically make stuff on the series Canon so that anything that is outside of the films and tv series may not be considered as part of the story if the tv series specifies it as fact.

    So the main point of the show is not is a clone a real person or just cannon fodder but an animated show that fills in the gaps between episodes 2 and 3 and allows the viewers to see how characters grow and develop during that time frame. This is also the problem with prequels. Knowing the history of something before it happens in the series can make you think this way but there is also the answering of questions as to why a character says or does certain things at a later point in the series. Also, the emotional context of things later in the series may appear the way that they are suppost to with the addition of prequel events.

    Remember, this whole clone wars thing started when George Lucas planted the dialogue “You fought in the clone wars” (luke skywalker to ben kenobi – episode 4) and basically introduced us to the force and jedi knights. Because of that scene in episode 4, we as the viewer began to wonder what the clone wars were and how did it affect the jedi and the universe. Fast forward to 2011 and we have our answer.

    I think debate and discussion is good but sometimes it is just better to enjoy the show for what it is. Also, how old is your child and should he be watching the show? Also, do watch it with him? If you do, great. This is the perfect time to explain and talk to your child about the greater story that is the Star wars saga because it all fits together in the end.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Actually, Oliver hasn’t seen a whole lot of Clone Wars. He’s more of a Phineas and Ferb kid. He’s seen a handful of episodes, including one where, in his words, “Anakin has to save Jabba the Hutt’s baby.”

      I gather that there are episodes that get surprisingly dark, and don’t hide the fact that Anakin is a very troubled young man who is heading towards disaster. Good for them.


  18. Jesse #

    I’m sorry but I didnt read through the comments so if someone already said this I apologize.

    Anyway, I think you have to look at it kind of like slavery. In the sense that based on their shared societal view that the use of clones is ok, then well, its ok. For instance back during slavery times in the United States owning and using slaves was ok, now does that make everyone that was alive during that period a bad person? No. Because during that time period that sort of thing was acceptable. It was hundreds of years before people started finally admitting that “this isn’t right, and we shouldn’t be doing it” then everyone finally stopped turning a blind eye and abolished slavery. I’m sure with time the Jedi and people of the star wars universe would come to a similar conclusion.


  19. David #

    I’d like to say that the Clone Wars books by Karen Traviss, are a spectacular journey into the minds of clones. Especially the second and third books in the series. They do begin to drag by the fourth and fifth. However, the first three books investigate the idea of clones being 2nd class citizens, whether they can love, being superior to non-clones yet being inferior, their individuality and so on. You should read a couple of the books, and come back and update this blog.

    I think the jedi being okay with it also speaks to their general detachment from life as a whole as well. Good article.


  20. Patrick #

    One solution to including the Clone Wars in the prequels would have been to have Episode I, as it does, depict the uselessness of the robot army, and thus in Episode II the bad guys would decide to scrap it in favour of clones. The Jedi and Republic would be horrified by this. In the end, it could have been Palpatine who ordered the clones.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      I KNOW. This is dead on. In fact, it’s occurred to me more than once that wars are normally named after the OTHER side. The Mexican War, the Iraq War, etc. Seems strange to name a war after your OWN army. I’d bet serious money that when George Lucas originally wrote a passing reference to the Clone Wars into A New Hope, he had a vague idea of the Jedi FIGHTING an army of clones, not leading them.

      Great observation!


  21. Joe #

    Wow…I’d like the time back that I spent reading this. Seriously, it’s a cartoon..based on a series of sci-fi action movies that are a work of fiction. Yes, cloning humans to use as disposable soldiers isn’t very moral. Yes, Anakin ends up killing children after he succumbs to the Dark Side and then Obi-Wan is forced to attempt to kill Anakin. But in the end, it’s a story. If there end up being children who can manipulate a hidden power, wield lightsabers, and try to take over the universe and create a galactic empire…then yeah, we may want to keep them from viewing this show and these movies and getting any wrong ideas. But until then how about we all enjoy it for what it is, an entertaining show that allows fans to continue to enjoy the Star Wars universe.


    • Andrew #

      Do you know what site you are on?


    • Bronn #

      It’s entirely possible that the author of this article is overthinking things. I don’t know why he would do that.


  22. Timothy J Swann #

    Wow, this article really has brought out the underthinkers!

    I guess I’ve thought a lot about this, on account of, well, clearly not having enough real ethical issues to think about. I think by the point we get into the Clone Wars, the Jedi have already been outmanoeuvred – refuse the Clones, the Separatists slaughter the Jedi. Accept the clones, be responsible for a slave army of fully sentient beings. Beings that happen to be ‘programmed’ for war. Free the clones, then their training and inclinations mean they’ll fight anyway.

    I fall on the anti-Traviss side, in that I think that accepting the clones is the lesser of two evils, and indeed throughout the EU tales, including The Clone Wars, it’s the Jedi leading the way by contrast to the Republic hierarchy and military to treat them as more than ‘meat-droids’, pushing for their rights.

    The Jedi ethics are a tough one – non-attachment is sometimes cited as allowing a Jedi to act in a utilitarian manner, but clearly, they have a code, they eschew violence except where absolutely necessary (whatever that means) and there’s also the intuitive element of the Force.

    I had the thought that the situation resembles the Allied powers accepting Stalin’s Russia to fight the Axis. (This of course is predicated on the Separatist Confederacy being as worthy of fighting as the Nazis, and that’s not certain – they are corporatist, pro-extreme-free-market (at least, free of state intervention, less so free from cartels and monopolies) and happy to use biological and chemical weapons, but they’re not actively genocidal, persecuting other races/species, and the war, starting of Geonosis, is not really due to their aggression). The Allies must know, to some extent, the treatment of the Russian people, the brutal methods of their army, but they are making an impossible choice. (And indeed, the following split of Jedi and some of the Republic, aided by a few key Separatists, against the Clones and the rest of the Republic, is not so dissimilar from the Cold War).


  23. Jake #

    Your amendment to the original post, which is stating your counterargument to several of the comments on here, counters the point that the jedi didn’t really “order” the creation of the clones by stating that Sifo-Dyas was the original commissioner for the clones and he’s a jedi.

    But the reason why Sifo-Dyas was the one that ordered the creation of the clones was because the council rejected his idea when he proposed creating a clone army and he decided to do it himself. It’s inaccurate to use Sifo-Dyas as a representative of the entire jedi order because his ideals directly contrasted those of the other jedi (at least those on the council).

    The jedi council actually refused to use clones at first, but ended up being forced to use them when the war started. Yoda even shows that he regrets having to use a clone army and wishes that jedi weren’t being used as generals when he first allows the use of a clone army.


  24. Tchronin #

    Lets face facts, if they cloned Lando Calrissian no one would dare try to justify the use of a clone army.


  25. Greg #

    What’s interesting is that the Jedi never did track down the mystery of why Sifo-Dais ordered the clone army or who gave the order. I mean, you can hide some money, but don’t go tell me that no one doesn’t know where that money for arms, equipment, and vehicles was going to. Even when the stealth fighter was under development during the late 1970s, rumors were being sneaked out into the press. Doesn’t anyone think that it was weird that the army just happened to be there when they needed them the most? Additionally, what the investigation into finding out who erased the files from the Jedi Archive? Everyone knows that once something is out on net, it lives forever. Let’s face it, the Jedi were killed by their own stupidity and incompetence.


  26. Jake #

    I watched a lot of star trek after i watched the clone wars and i noticed that the battledroids in the show have total sentience compared to the droids seen in the movies. I get that it’s played for comic relief, but these battle droids are emotional, react to pain, and are self protective. Yoda mentions there is force within every living being, including clones. If battle droids have that level of sentience, why do jedis have no qualms with mindlessly killing thousands of them?


  27. Boris #

    One thing that I haven’t seen in the comments, perhaps I missed it, is anyone recognising that The Clone Wars does deal with this very issue? We have an episode where a clone *chooses* not to fight. Now while obviously this doesn’t answer all questions and make it totally okay to use them in combat, it does imply (to a certain degree) that the clones can chose not to fight and therefore most are willing participants. We even see in Rebels that certain clones choose to rebel against the empire, so clearly they’re not that easy to control (despite suggestions to the contrary). Obviously there are still some unresolved ethics here, but maybe (just maybe), there’s a reason to suggest that the Jedi aren’t just callously using an army of slaves to do their fighting


  28. Nicholas G #

    I agree that the clone army as a concept is morally suspect, however I do not think the Jedi are the ones dehumanizing the clones. The clones dehumanize themselves because they know that they are just meant to fight in a war bigger than themselves. The Jedi actually humanize clones by encouraging individuality and making sure they know that they are important. In fact the Jedi and Clones are very similar. Both have had their lives picked for them, are trained from a young age, and serve a purpose they don’t fully understand or subscribe to just because they have been raised to do so. The Jedi do not question the ethics of the clones, because in doing so, they would have to question their own ethics. The clones are just mass production, non-force sensative, servants of the republic while the jedi are low production, force sensative servants of the republic. The only thing that separates jedi from clone is expendabilty, and even then, when a Jedi dies the only people who mourn are jedi and clones. It is the senate and people of the Galaxy who should question whether it is ethical to not only clone an army, but take force sensative youth and train them to serve their senate.


  29. Aaron Trujillo #

    Hello Matthew,

    I enjoy reading your articles. The ones on Star Wars certainly give good food for thought. It is certainly tragic what happens in episode 3 but I think part of the magic of the Clone Wars is you really feel for the characters particular Ahsoka, Anakin, Obi-wan and some of the clones like Rex and fives. I think the Clone Wars does get the audience thinking a little bit “What would happen if one day some clones very peacefully tell Anakin we want to retire/quit and live a normal life?”. Sometimes I watched and wondered if perhaps Lucas was making a subtle commentary on the armed forces in modern times. Perhaps he feels like armed forces stress uniformity (same haircut, same uniforms, follow orders). The clones(and Anakin for that manner) do best when they don’t go by the book but instead come up with creative solutions on their own. Maybe Lucas thinks the armed forces should stress less uniformity or maybe this speculation is incorrect. What do you think?I don’t have kids yet but when I do the plan is to introduce them to Star Wars chronologically so that they are kept at the edge of their seat. (Like you say Padme, Obi-wan and Anakin nearly die every episode. If you don’t know about episode 3 then I think you are kept in suspense). I think it will be a really interesting experience if future generations watch things chronologically and get through the 7 seasons of Clone Wars before Revenge of the Sith, Rebels and Rogue One before New Hope, Return of the Jedi before Force Awakens.

    Best wishes,



  30. Malarkin #

    So if Palpatine was the mastermind behind the creation of the clone army, and the reason was to implement order 66 one day and destroy the Jedi, and in clone wars he shares this plot with Dooku, so then why in season 3 episode 2 “arc troopers”, where kamino is attacked by the separatist fleet where dooku sends grevious and ventress to steal the clone dna because it will help them gain an advantage in the war or some vague shit grevous coughed out


  31. Alejandor #

    I am just in the middle of watching The Clone Wars and, appalled by this, started to look for opinions online. I have come to the conclusion that it’s another sign of brutal shallowness of ideas here. Good guys = can’t do wrong, hence cloning cannon fodder is OK. And there are no extenuating circumstances, like the army already exists. The Jedi discuss purchasing more clones, and the rate of production in at least one episode in recent memory.

    The good guys more than once refrain from killing in cold blood a defeated Very Important Baddie, but won’t bat an eye every time clones are dropping like flies around him.

    I wasn’t impressed either with the several 2 Jedi vs 1 Sith in the prequels, seems very unknightly of them.


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