Star Wars reviews: The Bad Batch part one

We are now halfway through the first 16 episode season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch on Disney+, which makes this a good time to look at the animated series so far…

A group of experimental and defective clone troopers created by the Kaminoans, the Bad Batch made their debut last year in the seventh and final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  When I first heard these characters were getting their own series I was skeptical. My first impression of them was that they were a set of broadly-drawn stereotypes, i.e. the level-headed leader, the brainy intellectual, the big, angry strong guy, the brooding lone wolf, and the battle-scarred veteran. I really didn’t know if they could carry a series on their own.

So I was pleasantly surprised at how good the premiere episode “Aftermath” actually was. It definitely went in directions that I wasn’t expecting, and left me looking forward to seeing more.

I think the game changer was the introduction of Omega, a young female clone created by the Kaminoans as part of a mysterious experiment. Plucky teen sidekicks can be a tricky feat to pull off, but The Bad Batch succeeds admirably. Omega is just the right mix of clever and innocent. Her presence also pushes the Batch members into unfamiliar territory. Now, instead of a military squad, they are a family, and they have to raise Omega. That really changes the dynamic of the show.

Omega definitely has had a visible impact on Wrecker, the aforementioned big, angry strong guy. Wrecker was previously my least-favorite member of the Batch, but Omega’s presence has really brought out another side of the character. Wrecker is really just a big kid; consequently he and Omega establishing a sibling-like bond which is actually really sweet & funny. I loved the bomb disarming sequence with the two of them at the beginning of this week’s episode.

The Bad Batch has been exploring a number of questions Star Wars fans have had for quite some time: After the Clone Wars ended, what exactly happened to the clone troopers and the droid armies? How did the Republic transform into the Empire? What were the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance? I like that The Bad Batch is exploring these topics, and getting some pretty good stories out of them in the process.

“Cut and Run,” the second episode of The Bad Batch, sees the return of AWOL clone trooper Cut Lawquane, his wife Suu and their children, who previously appeared in The Clone Wars episode “The Deserter.” I was happy to see them again. Cut and his family are actually the perfect characters to appear at this point.

Back in “The Deserter” Cut was trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Captain Rex that the clones were only being used, and that it was more important that they find their own purpose, instead of fighting & dying for the Republic. The audience, of course, knew Cut was actually correct, because we knew how the Clone Wars would end in Revenge of the Sith. So it’s nice to return to Cut, to a point where the rest of the characters have realized that he was right, that the clones were nothing more than pawns used by Palpatine / Darth Sidious to eliminate the Jedi.

Additionally, I felt this episode was a good illustration of creeping fascism. It is very rare that people go to sleep in a free democracy and wake up the next day in an absolute dictatorship. Usually the process is much more gradual, some might even say insidiously gradual (yes, deliberate choice of wording there), with liberties slowly being eroded and freedoms surrendered bit by bit.

Here we see the nascent Empire acting in a seemingly-reasonable way to make its citizens feel that, hey, these new “chain codes” are actually a great development and everyone should be happy to have them. Only a handful of people realize that the chain codes are how the Empire is going to keep track of and monitor the entire populace of the galaxy.

“Cut and Run” also did excellent work showing Omega’s first experiences on an alien world, and Hunter having to adjust to being a parental figure rather than a squad leader.

The Bad Batch also brings back Trace and Rafa Martez from the final season of The Clone Wars. While I felt the four episode arc with the Martez sisters on that show was padded out, I nevertheless thought it was a very necessary one, because it showed the Clone Wars from the point of view of the average person on the street, and caused Ahsoka to realize just how badly the Jedi had become disconnected from the people they were supposed to be protecting.

So I’m glad to see the sisters return in episode six, “Decommissioned.” It once again allows for these events, the transformation of the democratic Republic into the fascist Empire, to be seen from the POV of ordinary people.

Some people were writing off “Decommissioned” as “filler.” I don’t think it’s a good idea to write off something as filler because you often don’t know if it’s actually setting up something for a big payoff later. I mean, when I was watching Rebels, I initially thought the space whale episode was just a throw-away story… and then two seasons later we got to the series conclusion, and it became hugely important.

The Bad Batch also returns to the subject of the “inhibitor chips” which caused the clone troopers to carry out Order 66 and execute the Jedi. I know some fans didn’t like the inhibitor chip retcon. However, reiterating what I’ve said before, I think that once The Clone Wars became an ongoing animated series it was an essential change. It enabled Dave Filoni and the other writers to develop the clones into actual three-dimensional characters and still have a plausible reason for why they would then immediately turn on the Jedi the instant Sidious told them “Execute Order 66.”

In the way, the clone troopers were just as much victims as the Jedi were, having their free will stolen from them, forced to betray their oath of loyalty, turning them into murderers. That’s definitely the case here, with Crosshair being the only member of the Batch to have his chip activate, turning him against his friends. Throughout the next several episodes the audience, if not the Batch themselves, were aware that the chips were bombs just waiting to go off, and it was shown that Wrecker’s was bothering him for several episodes, before becoming active in “Battle Scars.”

“Battle Scars” also elaborates on the effect the inhibitor chips have on the clones, first through Rex’ recalling his experiences during Order 66, and then by Wrecker’s chip activating. As they each explain to the other members of the Batch, they were aware that they were being controlled and made to act against their will, but they were completely powerless to do anything about it. That is just horrifying.

Anyway, I’m glad that The Bad Batch got the business of the chips getting removed out of the way in “Battle Scars” because I really don’t know how much more suspense I could have taken, wondering each week if Wrecker or one of the others would get activated and turn on everyone else.

The voice acting on The Bad Batch is impressive. Dee Bradley Baker returns to voice the clone troopers, including all of the members of the Bad Batch. Baker has always done an amazing job at giving the physically-identical clones individual personalities with his performances. He’s definitely upped his game with the members of the Batch, all of whom sounds different from one another. If you didn’t look at the credits you might think they were each of them was being portrayed by a different actor. This video on the Entertainment Weekly website of Baker going through the voices of each of the Batch members really demonstrates his talent.

New Zealand actress Michelle Ang also does a good job voicing Omega. I was surprised to learn that Ang is actually 37 years old. She does a convincing job making Omega sound like a genuine teenager.

Fennec Shand, the highly skilled assassin played by Ming-Na Wen on The Mandalorian, appears in episode four, “Cornered.” Fennec has been hired by someone (the Kaminoans?) to retrieve Omega. Wen returns to voice this younger version of her character. That’s definitely an advantage of animation: it allows you to play a character in live action who is your own age (57 in Wen’s case, although she certainly doesn’t look it) and then voice the same character in stories set three decades earlier.

Likewise, in the debut episode we briefly see young Jedi padawan Caleb Dume, who a decade and a half later, having adopted the alias Kanan Jarrus, is one of the main characters in Rebels. Freddie Prinze Jr. returns to voice Dume, and does a credible job at performing a teenage version of his character.

Andrew Kishino, who voiced the younger version of guerilla fighter Saw Gerrera on The Clone Wars, returns to the role. Here we see Gerrera immediately transitioning from fighting the Separatists to fighting the Empire, as unlike most of the galaxy he is immediately aware that Palpatine has set himself up as a dictator.

Cory Burton once again voices Cad Bane, that incredibly dangerous and ruthless bounty hunter with a fondness for wide-brimmed hats. Seriously, the second this guy showed up in today’s episode I was like “Uh oh!” Burton has stated that he used Peter Lorre’s voice as inspiration of Bane, and it definitely always results in a creepy performance.

The format of The Bad Batch is effective, with each episode being mostly self-contained, yet nevertheless setting up and advancing various different subplots that arc throughout the entire season. The most recent episode, “Reunion,” does end on a cliffhanger, though, with Cad Bane having captured Omega, and the rest of the Batch being pursued by Crosshair and the Empire. And now I have to wait a week to find out what happens next!

Dave Filoni, head writer Jennifer Corbett, supervising director Brad Rau and everyone else involved have done a fine job with these first eight episodes of The Bad Batch. The stories are well written, the characters are engaging, and the quality of the animation is fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with the second half of the season.

(For some great detailed reviews of the individual episodes of The Bad Bach, I recommend heading over to the blogs Star Wars: My Point of View and Star Wars Thoughts.)

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