May the Fourth be with you!
Today, we commemorate a franchise that is loved unconditionally. From the biggest disasters (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Rise of Skywalker) to the biggest wins (Empire Strikes Back, Rogue One, The Mandalorian), Star Wars has been the one franchise whose highest highs make it simply impossible for us to quit. The Original Trilogy is, and always will be, regarded as one of the greatest film sagas of all time. The prequel trilogy and the sequel trilogy, however…?
Anyway, in between every big budget live action epic in the saga of this galaxy far, far away lies, perhaps, one of the most underrated highs the franchise has ever seen. The unsung hero of Star Wars, Dave Filoni’s Animated Universe, or “The Filoniverse” (for the purposes of this review, we’ll use the phrase to collectively refer only to the first two animated projects, even though The Mandalorian and Resistance are also part of it, and Mando is amazing).
Yes, most hardcore Star Wars fans are already aware of the amazing writing and incredibly knowledgeable scope of series like Clone Wars and Rebels. Through those, Filoni found a way to add depth in the most unlikely of places; the prequel trilogy. What many wrote off as 4-5 hours of bad dialogue and wooden acting solely from two films has been expanded, and given complexity, purpose, and earnestness through Filoni’s work. Now in the grand tradition of the series that improved on Star Wars, Filoni and his crew have once again impossibly found a way to enhance their enhancements with the latest installment in The Filoniverse, Star Wars: The Bad Batch.
With The Bad Batch, Filoni proves once again that he’s better at beating Star Wars at its own game than anyone else. You may remember that six years ago, Finn’s arc in The Force Awakens began to explore the captivating idea of a Stormtrooper rebelling against orders to find greater purpose and identity in the universe among friends and allies. You may remember two years ago, Finn’s arc in Rise of Skywalker was, well, nothing, since that storyline and what it meant was seemingly abandoned through the course of that trilogy. Yet, what Star Wars: The Bad Batch does so much better than $600M worth of sequel trilogy ever did (and for a fraction of the cost no less) is explore those themes fuller and deeper. The whole show is about Clone Troopers with independent thought and personality, realizing quickly that the abruptly changing political status quo around them is becoming one that disgraces everything they morally stand for. And even just through that idea itself, you know The Bad Batch is once again carrying the weight of a franchise filled with missed opportunities.
The first chapter of the show starts out at the end of the Clone Wars (happening concurrently with Ahsoka’s pursuit of Maul on Mandalore and Obi-Wan’s pursuit of Grievous in Revenge of the Sith). Clone Force 99, consisting of Hunter (the leader), Tech (the engineer), Wrecker (the muscle), Echo (the android new recruit), and Crosshair (the sniper), all of whom we first met in the initial four episodes of Clone Wars Season 7, are assisting two Jedi (the Padawan is someone many fans of Rebels may recognize) fight against a droid Separatist army. Unexpectedly, the infamous words of Palpatine echo through the comms of every Clone Trooper in the area: “Execute Order 66.” And chaos and murder begin. However, being mutated offshoots of the traditional cloning program on Kamino, Clone Force 99 is the only team to question those orders. From there the episode becomes about questioning the system and systemic programming, fighting for your freedom, and taking a moral stand against a society you know to be blatantly wrong, regardless of what you’re ordered to do.
As far as the film and television history of Star Wars is concerned, I don’t believe we’ve ever seen the events of Order 66 from the perspective of the Stormtroopers asked to carry out those orders. And up until meeting Clone Force 99, there wasn’t much to ask for in terms of exploring that perspective. Naturally, with the exception of Rex and a handful of others who removed their chips, the rest of Palpatine’s clone army executes their orders without any sort of hesitation. This is what makes The Bad Batch so unique. These characters share more in common with Finn’s wasted story arc in the sequel trilogy than Rex’s arc in the Filloniverse, because these characters were given a choice and free will dating back to their creation. The whole team has unique personalities and moralities that are otherwise inhibited in their “Reg” Stormtrooper brothers. The choices they make are their own, and how the show explores that element of choice from the perspective of those being asked to be the hunters, rather than the hunted (i.e. The Jedi), during this era of Star Wars is something entirely new for the franchise.
As such, some characters with that choice may choose the morally right one, while others may choose to follow darker ones. It serves to really add complexity and stakes, as well as tension to the characters and their relationships to one another. And this is unheard of for Clones, yet equally, if not more relatable and engaging when compared to Jedi struggles to follow the Light Side or the Dark Side. Additionally, I don’t think we’ve ever had a series or film that shows us the immediate aftermath of Palpatine seizing control of The Republic, and converting it into The Empire from The Empire’s POV. It also feels exciting because we now have a chance to see what these characters can become after making these choices, and how they will deal with this sudden change – what sort of lives they’ll create for themselves and how they’ll evolve. This is something the other clones are completely incapable of, and it feels so fresh and insightful. Which is why this is Finn’s story done right.
The show also features a host of Easter eggs that fans who have stayed true to this franchise will instantly recognize. The opening of this episode bridges a huge gap between Clone Wars and Rebels that fans will very much appreciate; the events of which serve as a significant catalyst for the choices the team makes (particularly, Hunter and Crosshair). You also get at least two other appearances from other key characters of Clone Wars lore throughout the episode as well. And yet, surprisingly enough, it’s the new characters that catch your attention. You can’t help but smile at the antics of this rag-tag group of misfits. Hunter and team are constantly mocked by the “Regs” for being “defective,” and are the underdogs on Kamino because they’re not sheep like the others. In addition to their ability to distinguish right and wrong from their orders, their distinct personalities, and senses of humor, along with their proclivity to strategize and plan outside of the typical Imperial “shoot and miss” strategy, are elements of these characters that make them endearing.
In addition to Clone Force 99, we’re also introduced to Omega, a female clone that was created by the Kaminoans to aid them in the manufacturing of clones. It’s through Omega and her “My Four Dads” relationship with the Batch, particularly Hunter, that we start to see a potential for greater future purpose that Clone Force 99 can make for themselves. She’s a promising new character with a lot of spark and innocence to her, but is incredibly helpful and a fighter in her own right. Rumor has it her role is a crucial one to the rest of the Star Wars franchise, but naturally that’s not hinted yet in this first episode. Thus, we’ll wait with eager anticipation to see how her story arc plays out.
The animation here is great, walking the line between adhering to the look and feel of the original Filoni series, but veering closer to the more advanced Clone Wars Season 7 look than earlier work. In that respect, it’s more refined and less “blocky” than the earlier seasons of Clone Wars. The action is also well animated and executed, making every tense moment Clone Force 99 finds themselves in incredibly exciting (particularly a really cool high-stakes training sequence they’re put through in the middle of the episode).
All in all, those skeptical that a show based on a backdoor pilot about mutated Clones from the final season of Clone Wars could work will be incredibly surprised about how well it does. If Clone Wars and Rebels represent the Breaking Bad of The Filoniverse, then The Bad Batch would be the Better Call Saul of this animated “Order 66” saga — a spin-off series that dives into perspectives and characters we never fully explore in the original series that enriches the themes touched upon in those series in different, but deeper and just as meaningful ways. Characters I initially wasn’t excited to see a series revolve around are instantly converted to ones I really do care about, and want to know more about. In short, I want to see what happens next for Omega and Clone Force 99. And it’s because of the power of storytelling, character, and good writing from Filoni, and Head Writer Jennifer Corbett — things sorely lacking in many of the recent film installments. All in all, while I’m preaching to the converted right now, it’s clear to me and the entire Star Wars fanbase at this point in time that between his work with Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian, and Clone Wars adjacent animated titles like The Bad Batch, Dave Filoni is officially becoming The Chosen One, and the man to lead Star Wars into the brightest future of the highest highs for generations to come. And I, for one, can’t wait to see how the adventure will continue next!
Overall Score: A-
Star Wars: The Bad Batch is now streaming on Disney+! May the Force be With You!