Twenty years ago, if you asked a Star Wars fan to name the most pivotal moment in the franchise’s fictional history, you could be confident that they’d answer with the Battle of Yavin, the climax of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. After all, this event serves as the starting point of the official Star Wars calendar; fans and producers alike measure time in Star Wars in terms of years BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin) or years ABY (After the Battle of Yavin), endowing the destruction of the Death Star with a historical importance within the fictional galaxy that’s equivalent to the birth of Christ. Though the BBY/ABY calendar is still in service today, the ever-expanding Star Wars continuity now revolves around a different moment of historical import: Order 66, the flashpoint of the Jedi Purge and the rebranding of the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire.
First depicted in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Order 66 has become the most revisited moment in the current Star Wars canon, and explored from a multitude of perspectives. Then-Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s directive to execute the entire Jedi Order, from the ruling council to the youngest student, is now the inciting incident for Star Wars as we know it. Every character active in galactic affairs in the year 19 BBY has their own Order 66 story, and several of them have been depicted in film, television, and video games. Let’s takea look back at each substantive on-screen portrayal of the Jedi Purge to determine what (if anything) each of them adds to our understanding of the tragedy and its repercussions on the Star Wars galaxy.
Revenge of the Sith shows the broad strokes of the Jedi Purge
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The execution of the Jedi has been an important piece of backstory since the original Star Wars in 1977. Obi-Wan Kenobi regales Luke Skywalker with a heavily editorialized version of the fall of the Jedi, explaining that his pupil Darth Vader betrayed his comrades, including Luke’s father, Anakin (Vader and Anakin were not yet the same character when A New Hope was written, and storytellers would spend the next 40 years unpacking Kenobi’s choice to withhold the truth from Anakin’s son). It wouldn’t be until 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith that audiences learned exactly how the extermination of the Jedi took place. After convincing Anakin Skywalker to side with him against the Jedi, Supreme Chancellor Sheev Palpatine issues the famous Order 66 to his Clone Troopers across the galaxy, summarily convicting all Jedi of treason. Programmed to obey his commands without question, the Clones turn their blasters against their Jedi comrades, depicted via a montage that draws comparisons to Michael Corleone “settling all family business” in The Godfather.
In addition to the battlefield executions of Jedi Generals like Ki-Adi Mundi and Aayla Secura, Revenge of the Sith also shows Anakin Skywalker, now rechristened as Darth Vader, leading a legion of Clone Troopers into the Jedi Temple to slaughter everyone inside. Not even the children are spared, with Vader himself cutting down a roomful of preadolescent Younglings. This highlights the brutality and totality of the Purge. It’s not just an act of betrayal, but an act of genocide.
The viewing audience is not the only witness to this atrocity — Alderaanian Senator Bail Organa visits the burning Jedi Temple during the purge and watches helplessly as a group of Clones shoots down a teenage Jedi Apprentice. This no doubt contributes to his radicalization against the new Empire. While Palpatine and his propaganda machine are able to convince most of the galaxy that the Jedi were traitors to the Republic, Organa knows what he saw, and will spend the rest of his life building the Rebel Alliance.
Finally, Revenge of the Sith shows us how two key Star Wars characters managed to escape execution — one by Jedi intuition, one by blind luck. When the order is issued, General Obi-Wan Kenobi is fighting the Battle of Utapau alongside Clone Commander Cody and the 212th Attack Battalion. As fate would have it, Kenobi is separated from the rest of his squad when they receive Palpatine’s orders, and they open fire at him from a great distance, knocking him off of a cliffside and into a pool of water below. Assuming (incorrectly) that no one could survive such a fall, they make no effort to find the body, leaving Kenobi alive to fulfill his destiny established in the original Star Wars trilogy.
He goes into hiding on Tatooine to watch over the infant Luke Skywalker, staying off the Empire’s radar for the next decade. Master Yoda, on the other hand, is strong enough with the Force to sense his Clones’ betrayal, and beheads his would-be assassins before they can open fire. After failing to defeat the newly crowned Emperor Palpatine in battle, Yoda retreats to the lonely planet Dagobah, where Luke finds him in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Kenobi sends a warning to any remaining Jedi, implying that there may yet be more survivors, but so far as we know from Revenge of the Sith, only he and Yoda are spared.
Jedi: Fallen Order puts the player through the trauma of Order 66
In the 2019 video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, players take on the role of Cal Kestis, a young survivor of the Jedi Purge. Though most of the game is set five years later, it includes a heartbreaking playable flashback sequence that provides the player with the firsthand experience of the terror and heartbreak of Order 66. Still only a Padawan in the final days of the Clone Wars, Kestis is stationed on a Republic battlecruiser alongside his master, Jaro Tapal. Kestis is something of a little brother figure to the Clone officers with whom he serves, which makes their sudden betrayal all the more shocking. One moment, these men are firing nonlethal practice shots at him as part of his training; the next, they’re shooting live rounds.
While Tapal fights off the Clones, the player must sneak through the bowels of the ship to the escape pod, separated from their master and unable to put up a defense. They are eventually reunited, but Tapal is shot as he boards their escape pod and dies shortly thereafter. Kestis escapes alone in the escape pod and crash-lands on the junkyard planet of Bracca, where he remains in hiding for the next five years.
Kestis’ emotional scars from this event are actually represented through gameplay, as his Jedi skills are repressed behind a mental block. Kestis gradually reacquires his abilities over the course of the game as he finds the strength and confidence to revisit the memories of his training. In addition to being a clever way to incorporate a traditional skill tree into the adventure game, it also makes Jedi: Fallen Order the most complete way to experience the horror and aftermath of Order 66.
The Clone Wars finale depicts a desperate escape for Jedi and Clone alike
The animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars is set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but was made after the Prequel Trilogy was released, allowing its producers to employ dramatic irony to underline the tragic inevitability of Palpatine’s revolution. Told from a multitude of perspectives on both sides of the war, The Clone Wars features several story arcs that foreshadow Order 66 and its impact not only on the Jedi, but on the Clones themselves.
During Season 6, trooper CT-5555 (aka “Fives”) even discovers the existence of an organic control chip implanted in each of his brothers to overwrite their thoughts, forcing them to obey a particular command without question. When his attempts to expose this conspiracy are foiled by Palpatine, Fives goes mad and is eventually killed. The story of Fives helps to reframe the Clone Troopers as victims of Order 66 rather than perpetrators, since they were robbed of their personhood and brainwashed to murder their friends.
In the epic four-part finale of The Clone Wars, which was released in 2020, we finally see the events of Revenge of the Sith from the perspective of The Clone Wars’ most important original characters, Clone Commander Rex and Jedi-in-exile Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka and the clones of the 501st Legion essentially grow up together, with Rex and Ahsoka developing a strong family bond and the entire 501st eventually painting their helmets in Ahsoka’s image.
When Rex receives the order from Palpatine, he is unable to resist his programming and tries to kill Ahsoka. But, unlike the other Jedi we see defending themselves against turncoat Clones, Ahsoka is unwilling to give up on Rex. Risking her own life, she successfully excises Rex’s inhibitor chip and the pair fight their way to safety, refusing to use lethal force against their brainwashed foes. Despite their efforts, the 501st is killed anyway, and Ahsoka and Rex give their former comrades a proper burial before retreating into hiding.
A few other animated Star Wars stories expand on the anguish of the Clones’ betrayal. In the Tales of the Jedi short Practice Makes Perfect, Ahsoka flashes back through her years of training alongside the 501st as she prepares to meet them all in battle after Order 66. In the follow-up series Star Wars Rebels (which was produced during The Clone Wars’ long hiatus), we catch up with Rex and a few other clones who remain scarred by their role in the Jedi Purge 15 years later.
The Bad Batch retreads familiar territory
Aftermath, the 2021 series premiere of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, shows the end of the Clone Wars from the perspective of Clone Force 99, a band of five Clone Troopers with unusual mutations that make them distinct from their army of otherwise identical brothers. Like many Clone units, 99 attached to a Clone battalion and a pair of Jedi on the day that Order 66 is issued, in their case Master Depa Billaba and her apprentice, Caleb Dume. When the rest of the assembled Clones turn against Master Billaba, she is able to hold them off for long enough for Dume to flee the scene.
However, when Clone Force 99 receives the order, only their sniper, Crosshair, immediately obeys and attempts to kill Dume. The four remaining mutants refuse to fall in line with the new Empire and go on the run, while Dume grows up to be the guerrilla fighter and informal Jedi master Kanan Jarrus in Star Wars Rebels. This revisiting of Order 66 is important as a turning point for the main characters of the two Clone Wars spinoffs, but in terms of depicting the event itself, there’s not much new here.
Obi-Wan Kenobi shows the temple massacre from a Younglings’ perspective
The 2022 live-action miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi reveals that not all of the Younglings in the Jedi Temple are slain during Order 66. At least a handful escape, including Reva Sevander, but only after watching Anakin Skywalker kill their teachers and classmates. Some time later, Reva is captured by the Empire and conscripted into the Inquisitorius. Introduced in Star Wars Rebels and explored further in Jedi: Fallen Order, the Inquisitors are a small group of Force-sensitive warriors trained to hunt down and kill surviving Jedi, and include multiple Jedi Younglings and Padawans who Palpatine and Vader deem young enough to be reeducated. In Reva’s case, her cooperation with the Inquisitors is only a means to an end, part of a long game to exact revenge against Vader for destroying her life.
The experience of surviving Order 66 had been thoroughly documented by the time Obi-Wan Kenobi was released in 2022, but Reva’s flashbacks still offer a new perspective, as we see her run through the besieged temple alongside the Younglings in real time, via a handheld camera, and with only a single cut. Still, it’s difficult to compete with the feeling of panic and immersion found in the Jedi: Fallen Order flashbacks from three years prior.
Grogu’s escape from Order 66 is split across two different series
Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, is the breakout star of the live-action series The Mandalorian, but he also appears in the 2022 companion series The Book of Boba Fett, where he receives some Jedi training from Luke Skywalker. In the course of their meditation, Luke helps Grogu to unlock his repressed memories of surviving the Purge of the Jedi Temple. In this instance, we only get a very brief glimpse at a group of Jedi Knights fighting off Clone Troopers, shown from Grogu’s perspective inside his floating carriage. It isn’t until the following year’s season of The Mandalorian that we get a more substantive look at Grogu’s escape from the temple, where an even more itty-bitty Baby Yoda is ushered to safety by Jedi Master Kelleran Beq.
By this point, as with the reiterations in The Bad Batch and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Grogu’s flashbacks don’t add very much to the overall narrative or emotional understanding of Order 66, only specific context for the backstories of individual characters. This doesn’t necessarily render them useless or unnecessary, but there does come a point when returning to the same event in the fictional history of Star Wars starts to make the galaxy seem a little smaller.
The idea that this one moment has a profound effect on people throughout the galaxy helps to unify the Star Wars narrative, but the more we see characters experience it in the same way, the less impact each reprise is going to have. Should the storytellers at Lucasfilm Ltd. choose to mine this fictional tragedy again in the future, they would do well to find new angles from which to interrogate it. Otherwise, they are likely best leaving it alone for a while.