There's probably no greater contemporary commentary on the futility of war than LucasArts' Star Wars: Clone Wars saga. What could possibly be more futile than a war between a droid army and a clone army? The whole thing is orchestrated by a Sith puppet-master with no interest in either side winning, but rather in wreaking chaos, weakening his enemies, and consolidating personal power. In envisioning the Clone Wars, Lucas has brought our generation a story more complex and relevant than the simple good-versus-evil semantic of the original trilogy.
In the trenches of the Clone Wars are the famous knights of the Jedi order. Their training has prepared them to keep a cool head, but they're only humanoid, and they've never been involved in a conflict this big or this scary. Try as they might, they can't help being sucked in by the murky business of war. In this scene, a younger Jedi makes a strong case to her mentor in favor of bullying a prisoner for information. The mentor stops her - "Terror is not a weapon the Jedi use," she says - but here, as later in the episode, the question of whose judgment is correct remains unresolved.
Pull the slider to 4:00 for some hot Jedi torture
The greatest example of how war corrupts, of course, is the star of the show - Anakin Skywalker, well on his way to becoming Darth Vader. Anakin's in over his head, and his emotions are beginning to strain even as his reputation grows (cartoon Anakin is actually a better actor than Hayden Christensen). It's impossible to imagine that this powerful Jedi's experiences in the Clone Wars played no role in his turning to the Dark Side. On the contrary - his exposure to violence, anger, frustration, and power were just what Palpatine had in mind.
It is... unfortunate... that Clone Wars has not been more popular with the American public. Perhaps it was the hackneyed dialogue of the prequels, or the complicated plot, or perhaps the message of the Clone Wars was simply not what the audience was expecting to hear (I'd have missed it myself had my brother, a Star Wars expert, not pointed it out to me after The Phantom Menace). But there are real wars out there, and universal challenges, and our generation is inheriting them. I am concerned that America is still thinking in terms of good versus evil, black and white, us versus them. We would do much better to heed the harsh lessons of the Clone Wars: that all war is costly, and we often do not recognize the real menace until we taste his lightsaber. And of course, sometimes that menace is us.