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One of the things many fans enjoyed most about Star Wars: The Clone Wars is that it added new elements to the mythology and, in many cases, answered long unanswered questions. The show especially tackled a number of concepts relating to the Force and its origins. Now, thanks to one of the show’s stars, we now know the animated series was even planning to address the revamp of Anakin Skywalker’s Force ghost in Return of the Jedi.
For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, when the redeemed Anakin Skywalker originally appeared during the closing moments of Return of the Jedi, he appeared as an older man played by Sebastian Shaw. However, in the film’s 2004 re-release, Shaw was replaced by Hayden Christensen, as George Lucas sought to link the Prequel and Sequel trilogies even more. Many fans took issue with the change, but it would appear that Lucas had a reason for doing so.
Sam Witwer, who voiced Maul on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, recently revealed during IGN and CineFix’s Return of the Jedi watch party that a deleted piece of dialogue from the series finale was meant to explain why Anakin appears as a young man when he’s a Force ghost. According to Witwer, George Lucas explained that Jedi can reach out to their friends and sense their presence when they’re alive. And during the Clone Wars finale (which coincided with the Jedi Purge from Revenge of the Sith), Ahsoka wouldn’t have been able to sense Anakin:
There was a piece of dialogue that explained this, that was excised from the finale. Lucas explained that when you're a Jedi and you think of your friends, you can sort of touch them in the Force. You can just kinda reach out and think of your friend, and you get a good feeling, you know that they're out there. And you look out in the starlit sky, and there’s stars out there and every one of them is a Jedi. And when the Empire starts taking over, one by one the stars start winking out, until Order 66, ‘Boom’, almost all of them are gone at once. And when Ahsoka reaches out to touch her friend Anakin, he's gone. She doesn't sense Anakin Skywalker out there. He is no longer there, so her assumption is he’s dead. He was killed. So that idea that Anakin Skywalker died when he did in Revenge of the Sith was also built into the Clone Wars series and into George's understanding of how the Force works and how these things work.
So it seems that because Anakin’s death as a Jedi occurred the moment he became Darth Vader, it was only natural that he would maintain his pre-dark side appearance. Sam Witwer further explained that when someone turns to the dark side of the Force, they become a shell of their former selves:
Ultimately, with all these bad guys, the further down into the dark path that they go, the more they become a caricature of themselves. I mean if you look at Darth Vader, the sweep of his helmet is a mockery of Anakin's hairstyle. His robes are like a mockery of what Anakin's Jedi robes were. Even Darth Maul becomes a twisted mockery with spider legs and all kinds of weird stuff. Palpatine is completely an evil caricature of Senator Palpatine. The darker they go, it's like if you never hear the word 'no' from anyone or you refuse hearing the word 'no' from any other human being, you're no longer living in the real world, and suddenly you start behaving very strangely and start living this strange Howard Hughes type thing, except Star Wars and the dark side. So the idea that Anakin became a different person, that's part of the DNA all the way back from these movies and all the way through the Clone Wars, all the way through the prequels, all that stuff. It's fun, interesting stuff to think about.
George Lucas has always been thoughtful when it comes to the lore surrounding his franchise, and this is a further testament to just how much he considers the more nuanced details. And while that deleted dialogue wasn’t absolutely essential to the Clone Wars’ finale, it would’ve been nice to have.
All seven seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars are now streaming on Disney+.