Before there was 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, there was … well, 2003’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Produced and directed by veteran animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack), the Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated “micro-series” of shorts holds a special place in the hearts of many Star Wars fans who watched it when it first aired on Cartoon Network, and for good reason. And after years of being impossible to watch in a legal manner, the collection has appeared on Disney Plus under a “Star Wars Vintage” banner.
From Obi-Wan Kenobi’s fierce battle with the immortal Gen’Dai bounty hunter Dirge (complete with an Akira bike slide reference) to Anakin Skywalker’s tense lightsaber duel against the Sith wannabe-apprentice Asajj Ventress on the jungle moon of Yavin 4 and Mace Windu single-handedly defeating an entire droid army like an invincible Jedi warrior, Tartakovsky’s take boasted some of the most impressive and memorable moments to ever be put to the screen in the saga’s history. But one episode in particular stands out for its introduction of one of the most terrifying villains seen in Star Wars before his live-action theatrical debut: the Confederate droid commander General Grievous.
In “Chapter 20” of the Clone Wars series, which comprises the last four minutes of the first of two hour-or-so-long compilations released on Disney Plus, we see a group of five Jedi knights cornered inside a wrecked starship by an army of droids. Just as the forces encircle the wreckage, a clawed hand is seen held up, halting the droids to a standstill. The short has all the energy of a hopeless last stand, with the Jedi stating that the droid’s unexpected victory is owed to the strategy of their confederacy’s mysterious new general. Grievous is heard before he’s ever fully seen, announcing to the Jedi that there is no hope of rescue, and that he will grant them a warrior’s death. After a few moments of tension, the ambidextrous four-armed Jedi hunting assassin cyborg makes his appearance; a towering skeletal figure in a white flowing cape, brandishing a pair of lightsabers presumably stolen from a pair of Jedi he had previously murdered and collected as trophies. The short ends with the frightening pace of a horror-movie climax, as Grievous proceeds to mercilessly kill and incapacitate the Jedi until only one is left.
Designed by concept artist Warren Fu, General Grievous was developed by George Lucas as a new antagonist for the final installment in the theatrical Star Wars prequel series. Lucas’ initial requests to the artists at LucasFilm were simply for the new villain to simply be “a droid commander,” while later specifying that he wanted the character to be seen as the deadliest hand to hand fighter the galaxy— someone, or something, that could strike fear even in the heart of the Jedi. Grievous’ debut in Tarkavosky’s Clone Wars certainly leaves that impression, a predator hanging from darkened ceilings and skulking like a Xenomorph from Alien, stalking prey silently before pouncing in for the kill. More impressive than even Grievous’ design is his fighting style that, according to the DVD audio commentary for the second volume of the series, was inspired by the Brazillian martial art of Capoeira.
Grievous would go on to serve as a formidable and recurring unstoppable threat for the rest of the series until the final moments of “Chapter 25” when, while abducting Chancellor Palpatine in the wake of defeating the trio of Jedi charged with protecting him, Grievous’ chest was force crushed by Mace Windu as the general made his escape. The droid commander would make his next on-screen appearance in 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith; a wheezing, hunched over shadow of his former intimidating self. Grievous would nonetheless hold his own in his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet of Utapau, though his final moments pale in comparison to the unrelenting force of death and destruction seen in Tarkovsky’s series.