The Clone Wars’ inhibitor chips explained why the clone troopers carried out Order 66, but they also removed a darker reason behind their actions.
Palpatine’s Order 66 was one of Star Wars‘ saddest moments, but Clone Wars‘ inhibitor chip retcon dampened the harsh reality of the clones’ actions. The Republic’s clone troopers spent years fighting alongside the Jedi in numerous battles during the Clone Wars, seeking to restore balance to the galaxy by defeating the Separatists and their droid army. They were brothers in arms, and they managed to push the Separatists back up until the end of the war – in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Of course, then-Chancellor Palpatine finally saw his decades-long plans come to fruition and he seized the opportunity to transform the Republic into the first Galactic Empire, while simultaneously using his clone army to wipe out the Jedi using Order 66. It wasn’t until the Clone Wars animated series that it was revealed the clone troopers were under the influence of behavior biochips, which forced them to comply with the order whether they wanted to or not; even Captain Rex was temporarily affected by Order 66. But the thing is, Order 66 was much darker before the control chips were added into canon.
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Star Wars canon wasn’t as stringent before Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm; there were tiers to canon material and many stories built off one another, including video games. LucasArt’s original Star Wars: Battlefront II was a tie-in of sorts with Revenge of the Sith, and while it didn’t bridge any gaps like The Force Unleashed did, it still offered supplemental information regarding the prequels (all of which are now part of Legends). One of these things was the 501st Journal (narrated by Temuera Morrison), which makes up the game’s campaign. The final Republic mission – Operation: Knightfall, aka Siege of the Jedi Temple – a journal entry from one of the clones illuminated their loyalty to the Chancellor and their willingness to kill all the Jedi.
What I remember about the rise of the Empire is… is how quiet it was. During the waning hours of the Clone Wars, the 501st Legion was discreetly transferred back to Coruscant. It was a silent trip. We all knew what was about to happen, what we were about to do. Did we have any doubts? Any private, traitorous thoughts? Perhaps, but no one said a word. Not on the flight to Coruscant, not when Order 66 came down, and not when we marched into the Jedi Temple. Not a word.
With the fall of Coruscant and the elimination of the traitorous Jedi, Palpatine’s rise to power was complete. In recognition of our service and loyalty to the Emperor, the 501st were placed under the direct command of Lord Vader. Armed with deadly new weapons, blazing new ships, and shiny new armor, our presence let the galaxy know that the days of the Old Republic were well and truly over. We were establishing a new era, an era of order and peace.
It’s possible George Lucas always intended to explain that control chips were used on the clones to make sure Order 66 was carried out, but the fact that Clone Wars took that step in explaining the clone troopers actions is questionable. The biggest implication of the retcon is that the clones weren’t at fault, which differentiated them from their successors, the stormtroopers. The clones weren’t just following orders, they were forced to obey the command of a Sith Lord. But the original Legends depiction of Order 66 dehumanizes the clones and aligns them more closely with stormtroopers – at least, closely with what the stormtroopers were meant to be.
Now that Star Wars is owned by Disney and there’s an official canon that’s maintained, the Clone Wars‘ control chips explanation has remained part of the continuity. In fact, it was even raised in an episode of Star Wars Rebels when Kanan Jarrus told his apprentice, Ezra Bridger, about the Clone Wars and the Great Jedi Purge. Kanan harbored animosity towards clones despite them saying they had chips in their head and carrying out Order 66 wasn’t their choice. While it took some time, just knowing that Rex and the others had chips in their head made it easier for Kanan to accept them and move on. But in keeping this retcon, Star Wars made the truth about Order 66 a little less bleak; the clones were no longer the villains but victims just like the Jedi.
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