Star Wars reviews: The Bad Batch part two

The first season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch concluded on Disney+ last week. I previously took a look at the first eight episodes, and here’s my thoughts on the second half of the season.

When we last saw Omega (Michelle Ang) she had been captured by ruthless bounty hunter Cad Bane (Corey Burton) who was acting on behalf of the Kaminoans. I was expecting the rest of the Bad Batch to have to come to Omega’s rescue. Instead, she nearly succeeded in rescuing herself, and then the arrival of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) did indeed enable Omega to escape, requiring only a last minute assist from the rest of the Batch. Omega is definitely no damsel in distress.

It was surprising to learn that Fennec Shand had actually been hired by Kaminoan scientist Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo) to protect Omega. Back during The Clone Wars animated series Nala Se had actually been one of the most ruthless of the Kaminoans.  She regarded the Clone Troopers merely as property, and helped the Sith cover up the true purpose of the Clones’ inhibitor chips, thereby indirectly assisting them in wiping out the Jedi with Order 66. So I am curious why Nala Se is now acting so benevolent and trying to save Omega’s life.

The next episode, “Common Ground,” sees the Bad Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) sent to rescue Avi Singh, a former Senator in the Separatist government, from the Empire, who are now occupying his  world. Echo, who was previously a prisoner of the Separatist military and who was experimented on by them, is understandably reluctant to help Singh. However, as was seen in several episodes of The Clone Wars, many of the Separatist’s civilian leaders did genuinely want what was best for their worlds, and just like the Republic’s Senate, were being used & deceived by the Sith. Such is the case with Singh, who is truly despondent at the thought of the Empire enslaving his people.

Singh is voiced by Alexander Siddig, formerly Dr. Julian Bashir of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making him the latest actor to have roles in both franchises. I hope the character will return again in the near future. Perhaps he will become a founding member of the Rebel Alliance?

The next two episodes shifted the focus to a few familiar faces. Hera Syndulla was one of my favorite characters from Star Wars: Rebels, so I really enjoyed seeing a two-part “origin story” for her and her sassy astromech droid Chopper.

I thought Vanessa Marshall did an incredible job portraying a teenage version of the Hera, clearly making it the same character that she previously portrayed in Rebels, but distinct enough that it’s clear this is Hera at a much different time in her life. Marshall is definitely a talented actress. I really appreciated the fast friendship that develops between Hera and Omega, who plays a major role in setting the Twi’lek teenager on the path to eventually becoming an accomplished pilot and an leader in the Rebel Alliance.

I was genuinely surprised to learn that, due to the COVOD-19 pandemic, all of the actors in The Bad Batch recorded their parts separately, and that Marshall had no idea who Omega was or what she sounded like until the two Ryloth episodes were broadcast. Credit to Marshall and Ang for their performances, really making it seem like they were acting opposite one another in the studio, giving the two teenage girls a genuine friendship & chemistry.

By the way, it was interesting to watch these two episodes and then read the novel A New Dawn written by John Jackson Miller, which explores how Hera first encounters Kanan Jarrus. I really appreciate the thought Dave Filoni & Co have given to how Hera develops as a character throughout the years.

What I found really surprising about these episodes is that Hera’s father, the militant Cham Syndulla (Robin Atkin Downes), is shown as initially being willing to give rule by the Empire a chance. After the Clone Wars, he wants peace for his people, and his family. Unfortunately the fascist, duplicitous Empire is completely uninterested in acting in an honorable manner

I like how these episodes also continued to examine the reasons why the Empire chose to replace Clone Troopers with Stormtroopers. On the face of it Clone Troopers were much better soldiers. But as we previously saw in the Umbara and Fives arcs on The Clone Wars, the clones are intelligent beings who are capable of independent thought, of feeling compassion & loyalty, and of disobeying orders that they feel are morally wrong. The Bad Batch has further explored that.

It’s very obviously that without the inhibitor chips the majority of the clones would never have turned on the Jedi, and even with the inhibitor chips functioning we still see Howzer and other clones on Ryloth questioning orders. So from the Empire’s perspective it makes sense that they switch to Stormtroopers, who may be inferior, but who they can just draft wholesale from the populace and indoctrinate to be complete loyal and follow orders without question.

Anyway, props to Dee Bradley Baker for getting so much of Howzer’s internal struggle across vocally. And the animators did an amazing job at the very end when we see Crosshair’s expression, and rather than being gleeful at the idea of finally going after his former comrades, he looks genuinely ambivalent. The animation for the planet Ryloth was also stunning.

The next episode “Infested” was a heist-type episode, with the Batch and their manipulative employer Cid (Rhea Perlman) stealing a shipment of spice in order to pit wannabe crime lord Roland Durand (Tom Taylorson) against the Pyke Syndicate. This one was fun, although it did seemingly come across as unimportant. However, I do wonder if this was a setup for future developments, and if we will see Durand again in a larger role.

This brings us to the final three part story of the season. The Empire accelerates its plans to transition to Stormtroopers, bringing in the clone Gregor to train them. Rex asks the Batch to rescue Gregor, but that leads to Hunter being captured by the Empire. The rest of the Batch now must return to Kamino to save their leader, who is in the custody of their former comrade Crosshair.

The surprising development about Crosshair was his claim that his inhibitor chip was removed some time before (perhaps destroyed in the starship graveyard on Bracca?) and that he’s now acting of his own free will in working for the Empire. Unlike the rest of the Batch, who remain loyal to the principles of the fallen Republic, Crosshair regards himself as a superior being who has an important place within the Empire’s fascist system. The rest of the Batch are despondent at the possibility that their brother is willingly working for the Empire, and that he actually wants them to join him.

There’s a brief interaction between Crosshair and Tech where the later explains that Crosshair has always been like this, and his behavior actually makes perfect sense. It’s one of the very few times Tech has ever been developed at all this season. He remains the most thinly-drawn members of the Batch. I hope that next season he is actually given more material.

The Empire, having seized the Kaminoans’ cloaning technology and forcibly recruited Nala Se, destroys Tipoca City. The finale has the Batch struggling to escape the rapidly-sinking ruins. Truthfully I found this episode to be a bit drawn-out, consisting of an extended action sequence. Nevertheless, it does set the stage for the second season.

There were some criticisms that the first season of The Bad Batch was tonally inconsistent, alternating between light family fare and exceedingly grim, depressing violence. I think that description pretty much sums up the entirety of the Star Wars franchise! After all, in the original movie one minute R2D2 and C3P0 are engaging in their latest round of comedic squabbling, and the next the Death Star blows up Alderaan. Personally I’ve always found Star wars to be at its most effective when it can successfully shift its tone back & forth between comedy and drama.

So what happens next? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait until 2022 to find that out! A few bumps in the road notwithstanding, I did enjoy the first season of The Bad Batch, and I look forward to season two.

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.)