"I've always been interested in animation. And, again, it's a chance to experiment with ideas and new people and Star Wars characters. The Star Wars world is much easier to deal with in animation. You can be much more flexible in development of ideas. I've put off doing it for years because I didn't have the time." - George Lucas
The Faithful Wookiee (1978)
I'm not being sarcastic when I say that this cartoon, though nothing phenomenal, is pretty decent considering the context and not at all painful to watch. Even if it were, its introduction of Boba Fett would still provide a beautiful lesson on how sometimes great things have to be born from terrible ones. I also find the unnecessary formality and wordiness of the line "Princess, we're in mortal danger from our own forces!" more amusing than I should.
Like in "The Faithful Wookiee", some big liberties are taken with the animation of the droids. Threepio can blink and is consistently faster and more flexible than he ever was in the movies. R2-D2 may as well be made of Jell-O, sometimes moves his swivel dome head thing almost off his body (like during the aforementioned breakdancing), and sports an absurd range of gadgets including but not limited to confetti, an air mattress, red gloop, and a squirting flower (the latter being rendered even more ridiculous when the big bad droid that he squirts with it produces a larger flower and squirts him back with enough water to knock him over). Because of regulations at the time, they weren't allowed to show blasters that looked like guns, so the bad guys chase them with an array of weapons that look like magnets, police radars, joy buzzers, and royal scepters. And they usually have execrable aims that stormtroopers would laugh at. A few elements, like the Boonta Race and the four-armed chef and the wheel bike, were drawn on for inspiration in the prequels.
In essence it's just for fun and very difficult to take seriously, but it was actually canon until Disney took over. Even when "Revenge of the Sith" came out and showed Artoo and Threepio given to the same masters on the same ship they started with in the next movie, someone came up with an official story explaining how they got separated and found their way back and thus were able to have a bunch of different adventures with different masters in between. Wow. The series was canceled after only one season and has never been released on home video in its entirety, though some of the episodes have been edited together into movies with different soundtracks. The cartoons in their original form are all available on YouTube and elsewhere. I don't know how and I don't care. Most awkward inappropriate moment: Threepio telling an amorous giant elephant-type creature that has him in its embrace, "It would never work out between us." Does that go over the kids' heads? What do they think it has in mind, dinner and a movie?
This series isn't as dated as "Droids" and lasted twice as long, but has suffered the same fate re: home video releases. In the second season it underwent some revamping with a different theme song, different voice actors, most episodes split into two stories, and a shifted focus to a core group of Wicket W. Warrick, Teebo, Princess Kneesa, and Latara. I found the latter's transformation particularly jarring. The writers decided to overhaul her personality; specifically, by giving her one. They made her greedy and narcissistic, which at times is endearing but at other times is a bit much. For example, when she hatches a plot to get rid of her old wooden flute in exchange for a new golden one, Teebo protests, "But Latara, we gave that to you!" and Wicket adds, "I carved most of it myself!" and she disdainfully responds, "I noticed." In the first season she had a crush on Teebo, but now that status quo is reversed and she consistently snubs him until she needs to exploit him for something. Despite the continuity problem this creates I believe it was a good move that lends some much-needed realism to the cartoons.
In one episode, the Snow King's evil wife freezes his heart so that he wants to make it winter forever, and his siblings who each rule over one of the seasons get together with the Ewoks to figure out how to stop him. One of them is the Sun King. His head is shaped like a sun and he wears a Hawaiian T-shirt and talks like a California surfer dude. There's also a direct Wizard of Oz parody as the Snow Queen's guards, who are shaped like hockey pucks, march outsider her fortress chanting "Snow-oh! Snow-ee-oh!" I mention this episode because it's probably the most absurd thing ever released through an official channel under the name "Star Wars". And remember, it was canon for nearly thirty years. But I love it anyway. My favorite line from another episode: "You shouldn't spy on anyone, Latara. Unless, of course, they're doing something very interesting." - Wicket W. Warrick
Clone Wars (2003-5)
The Clone Wars (2008-14)
This series (and the previous one, though not to such an extent simply because it's much shorter) does something that the movies spectacularly fail at - it makes Anakin Skywalker likeable. It makes him a witty, charming, kind-hearted soul who struggles with some flaws and personal demons. None of this whining about Obi-Wan and sexually harassing Padme and slaughtering a bunch of innocent women and children nonsense. And Ahsoka Tano, who was annoying in the movie ("Artooie"? Seriously?) literally became my crush after just a few episodes. She's smart, funny, beautiful, and a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with in combat. The way she uses two lightsabers and holds them backwards was an inspired design choice. But she's no Mary Sue, as she shows weakness and vulnerability too. When she had infatuation and jealousy and heartache that were all beautifully communicated to the audience without words (are you taking notes, George?) I just wanted to give her a great big hug, and not with any ulterior motives, mind you, but just because I care about her and wanted to take the hurt away.
The series is far more realistic and serious than anything that came before, but still doesn't take itself too seriously, with plenty of humor and sometimes entire episodes devoted to comic relief as a break from the fighting and intrigue and stuff. It doesn't consider itself above eye-rolling jokes either, as when Ahsoka Tano says of the criminal who stole her lightsaber, "He was from an aquatic planet. You know, one of the water worlds." and Jedi Master Tera Sinube responds, quite pleased with himself, "So you're saying there was something... fishy about him." Ba-dum-tsh.