In the early years of Star Wars new content was limited and sometimes non-existent for years. This is why fans accepted things like the ‘Holiday Special’ and ‘The Ewok Adventures’. Now with the Disney purchase and the advent on Disney+ it can feel like you blink and there is something new. For this reason, knowing what is coming further down the line, the announcement of ‘The Bad Batch’ had little impact on me. Although the characters had be set-up through events in ‘The Clone Wars’ and appeared in the final season, while their episodes were entertaining, they felt like a distraction from the story I wanted rather than the main event.
When I came to watch this first episode I was surprised by the impact it had on me and how much I enjoyed it. This being the latest creation from Dave Filoni there was no reason to be surprised and with the amount of good faith he has built within the fanbase I shouldn’t have been. What he and his team deliver in a direct stylistic sequel to ‘The Clone Wars’ and a story that overlaps ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ in the same way that the final episodes of ‘The Clone Wars’ did. The first episode is packed full of Star Wars themes and familiar characters while building on already established lore.
One of the big questions about the series was how they were going to handle Order 66 and that is answered straight away. The episode starts with Clone Force 99, otherwise known as The Bad Batch, on a mission fighting alongside Jedi Master Depa Billaba, her Padawan Caleb Dume (better known as Kanan Jarrus to ‘Rebels’ fans) and their squad of clones. We are reintroduced to The Bad Batch (Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, Crosshair, and Echo) and each is given an opportunity to show of the unique skills they have been give as altered clones. Once the refresher is over we launch into Order 66. The Bad Batch have just left on a mission with Dume when it happens but he senses it and rushes to Billaba’s aid but outnumbered she is cut down by the clones. Hunter and the others receive the order but it has no meaning to them (it is later revealed that their control chips are faulty) and all of them are confused about what is happening. All, that is, apart from Crosshair. He know that a good soldier follows orders. Hunter wants to talk to Dume but Crosshair now sees him as a target. This creates a situation that results in Hunter allowing Dume to escape and creates a conflict between the team members. This setup is immediately more engaging than their introduction in ‘The Clone Wars’ and lays the foundation for what is to come.
When the squad return to their base on Kamino, the home of the clone, we jump back into ‘Revenge Of The Sith’. All trace of personality has left the normal clones making Clone Force 99 even more on the outside than they already were. They witness a broadcast of Palpatine’s ‘First Galactic Empire’ speech and how all the the other clones have fallen in with the new rhetoric. The only person they meet is a young girl called Omega who works for Nala Se, one of the cloners. She hero-worships the squad and wants to hang out with them but they initially reject her. The squad get into a fight with regular clones in the food hall and Echo ends up in the med bay. Here it is revealed that their programming failed during Order 66 because of their genetic differences and that there are only five enhanced clones left.
It is on Kamino that Tarkin, the original Star Wars villain, is introduced as the chief antagonist of the series and we get the answer of why clone troopers were changed for stormtroopers. Tarkin, a man who hates the clones, is there to assess their value as an army. He straight up says that it is cheaper to employ soldiers than to grow them, the quality doesn’t matter. It all comes down to money. He is clearly there to abolish the clone army and the fact that they all have chips that control them will allow him to do that. The Bad Batch are a threat to this due to their independence and he starts plotting how to get rid of them. First he uses live fire against them during a training exercise and when that fails he sends them on a mission to see how far he can push them. The are sent to take out some separatists but it turns out to be Saw Gerrera (another linking character between various Star Wars properties) and his Republican loyalist including women and children. Hunter stops the squad from killing innocent people, again putting him in conflict with Crosshair whose programming is telling him to obey Tarkin’s command, and Saw puts it to the squad that they have to choose a side rather than just follow orders. When they return to Kamino Tarkin has them jailed for treason and they end up in a cell with Omega who is there because of her interest in the squad.
Tarkin has Crosshair is taken from the cell as he can see he is the one who is not fully free of his programming. Working with the cloners he turns Crosshair’s control chip up to the max. While this is happening the rest of the squad are escaping from their imprisonment with the aid of Omega and flee to their ship. Hunter, loyal to all his team members, doesn’t want to leave Crosshair behind but it soon becomes apparent that Crosshair is now hunting them. Wrecker gets shot and they get pinned down by Crosshair’s fire until Omega shoots his gun out of his hand. She hasn’t been trained but took the shot on instinct. Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, and Echo along with Omega escape in their ship, unknowingly help by Nala Se who is keeping docking bay’s blast doors from closing. Hunter realises that Omega is the fifth enhanced clone as Echo is on the team but not genetical altered. As they enter hyperspace the stars reflect in Omega’s wide innocent eyes.
Omega is a great mystery for the show and, unlike most Star Wars mysteries, there is clearly a plan. Online speculation is rife about who or what she may be. There is a lot of noise that she is a clone of Palpatine because of her hair but the New Zealand accent points to Jango Fett. Is she force sensitive? Well, she is a great shot. But I thinks the name Omega is the biggest clue. If there is an Omega there is most likely an Alpha. If Omega was the last clone was Boba Fett the first? Could Boba have a sister? There is also a character that seem to know exactly what is going on. Nala Se helps her escape but why? This is a mystery I feel will be slowly unraveled throughout the series and will most likely have an impact on the wider Star Wars universe.
The animation in this show is beautiful. It matches the final season of ‘The Clone Wars’ and is a massive step up from ‘Rebels’ and looks very cinematic. You can see the effort has clearly gone into creating memorable frames that once seen you won’t forget. Unlike a lot of lesser animation this does not rely on close-ups and it uses a lot of wide shots to add to the epic Star Wars feel. But the miracle of this show is the voicework the Dee Bradley Baker who is literally a one man army voicing all of the clones. Each of The Bad Batch has a distinct voice and personality and it’s hard to believe it’s all one person and that he is also every other clone trooper on the shows well.
The episode isn’t perfect. Freddie Prinze Jr. returns to voice Caleb Dume and some might find jarring that a teenage sounds like a middle-age man but it is only for couple of scenes and adds a continuity to the character. Also the character’s origin is altered from how it has protrayed in the ‘Kanan’ comic book, again showing onscreen Star Wars storytelling matters more than other media even though it is all meant to be connected. Crosshair’s heel-turn also doesn’t care much weight as it is signposted from mile away. Omega’s broad antipodean accent starts to grate even though the actress (Michelle Ang) is Australian. But these are minor quibbles that are far outweighed by the positives.
The Bad Batch hits all the main Star Wars themes. It features a found family. A grizzled mentor taking on a young protégé. The outsiders battling the system. Characters taking their first steps into a bigger world. Free will versus control. Heroes having to choose their own path. And everything is seen through the eyes of an innocent youngster.
What once seemed throwaway now feels essential