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Josh Reviews The Bad Batch Season One

September 7th, 2021
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I’m a big fan of the animated Star Wars series The Clone Wars and Rebels.  There’s a lot of terrific Star Wars storytelling in those series.  It’s a huge section of the Star Wars story that remains under the radar for many Star Wars fans.  (Though that’s starting to change, with many characters and story-elements from those animated series being incorporated into the second season of The Mandalorian…)  When Dave Filoni and his team were able to return to The Clone Wars and present a proper final season of that show (which had been cancelled back in 2013 when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney) onto Disney+, the first story-line introduced the Bad Batch: a group of unusual clones whose mutations made them different than the regular Clone troopers.  (This story had been written for The Clone Wars before it was cancelled; I’d actually watched those four episodes in rough animated form back in 2015, when they found their way onto the internet.)  Now, The Bad Batch, the new animated series for Disney+, focuses on this group of Clones, and explores what happened to them in the days after the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

I liked but didn’t love the Bad Batch characters when they were introduced on The Clone Wars.  They were fun characters, but I wasn’t exactly clamoring for them to be the center of a spin-off show.  However, I was overjoyed when The Bad Batch show was announced.  I was excited to see Dave Filoni and his team continue to tell more great Star Wars animated stories, and I think this time period is a fertile ground for stories.

I quite enjoyed the first sixteen-episode season of The Bad Batch, though it didn’t match the highs of the fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels or the brilliant final episodes of The Clone Wars.  This first season felt more like the early seasons of those shows rather than the greatness to which they both eventually reached.  On the one hand, that makes sense.  It takes time for a show to develop.  On the other hand, I must admit to being a little disappointed that The Bad Batch opted for a more episodic formula and one whose storytelling seemed aimed more towards a younger demographic.  I enjoyed watching every episode of this first season, but it didn’t reach the emotional intensity I’d been hoping for.

The animation is spectacular; easily besting any previous Star Wars animation.  The lighting, in particular, has taken a huge leap forward from the previous animated shows.  There are sequences in this series that were gorgeous and memorable in a way that had me in awe.  The smoke-filled fight between Cad Bane and Fennic Shand in episode nine, “Bounty Lost”, stands out as a highlight, as does the destruction of the water-city on Kamino in the finale.

This series was deeply connected to Star Wars continuity, and I was delighted by how many familiar characters appeared over the course of this first season.  I loved that the first episode opened just like a Clone Wars episode, with the classic Clone Wars narration and a shot of the Clone Wars logo burning away to reveal the new Bad Batch logo.  That was very cool.  It was a huge surprise — but a pleasure — that the way the show chose to set the stage and depict Order 66 was by showing Caleb Dune (who would grow up to be Kanan on Star Wars Rebels!!) and the death of his master Depa Billaba.  That was a great gift to Rebels fans.  (Though I’ll admit I was surprised that this series presented a very different version of Caleb’s experiences in Order 66 than what we’d seen in the comic book series Kanan: The Last Padawan.  Disney has made a big deal about how all of the spin-off media, including books and comic books, are canonical.  It wouldn’t shock me to see a Star Wars movie or TV show occasionally diverge from a piece of backstory previously established in a book or a comic, but this was a pretty major digression from what the comic book series had shown us, even though The Bad Batch did take care to present certain characters/locations from the Kanan comic, such as the names of two Clone Troopers who turned on him.)

It was fun to see Tarkin again; I love how well Stephen Stanton, who voices him, is able to mimic the late, great Peter Cushing.  (Though Tarkin weirdly looks a LOT older than he did when he appeared on The Clone Wars — he looks far more like he looked in the original Star Wars, even though that’s set almost two decades after this show.)

I’m glad the show didn’t make us wait too long to see Captain Rex again… and it was very cool to see the Bad Batch meet up with Clone deserter Cut Lawquane (from the early season Clone Wars episode “The Deserter”).  But the Clone Trooper who I really wanted to see was Cody.  Ever since first seeing Episode III, I’ve wondered what happened to Captain Cody.  I really hope we get to see him in future seasons of this show!!!

I loved that the show brought in the character of bounty hunter Shennic Fand, who was played by Ming-Na Wen in The Mandalorian.  It was cool to see her depicted in animation!  It was interesting to see her come into conflict with Cad Bane, who’d been established as a fearsome bounty hunter on the Clone Wars show.  I’d read that there was a lengthy final story arc planned for Cad Bane on that show, that we would have seen had the series not been cancelled.  So with Bane’s fate left hanging, I wasn’t surprised to see him appear on this show.  I’d love to know what ultimately becomes of him.  (Though while I am interested in what the planned endgame for Bane was, I must confess I’m not a huge fan of the character.  He’s supposed to be super-tough and scary, but he’s never seemed that dangerous to me, and his outfit with the huge hat has always felt a bit goofy to me.)

I wasn’t surprised that this show picked up on characters and situations from the Clone Wars series, since it takes place immediately afterward.  But I was quite surprised by the many connections the show had to Star Wars Rebels!  I’ve already mentioned the appearance of Caleb Dune in the series premiere… and we also got a two-episode arc focusing on young Hera Syndulla, and Chopper!  I did not see that coming.  I was certainly not expecting to see Chopper in this show!!  (Episode 11, “Devil’s Deal”, focuses almost entirely on Hera and her parents, with the Bad Batch weirdly barely making an appearance in their own show.)  It was fun to see Cham Syndulla (who appeared on both The Clone Wars and Rebels) again, as well as getting to finally see Hera’s mother.  (I kept waiting for something bad to happen to Hera’s mom, since she didn’t seem to still be around during Rebels, but the show didn’t go there.)  It was cool that Vanessa Marshall reprised the role of Hera, but voiced young Hera using her French-sounding original accent.

(I also thought the show gave us the origin story for how the Devaronian arms dealer Vizago from Rebels lost one of his horns… but after consulting the internet, it seems the Devaronian whose horn was cut off by the Pykes in episode 13, “Infested”, was a different Devaronian: Roland Durand.  Hurm…)

One of the most interesting aspects of the show for me, and one of the main reasons why I was excited to see a new Star Wars show set in this time period, was to learn more about what exactly happened to all of the Clone Troopers after the rise of the Empire.  Particularly after watching so many episodes of The Clone Wars, and really getting to know and like so many different Clone characters over the course of that show, I was invested in learning what happened to them all!  For years, Star Wars fans have debated whether the Storm Troopers in the original trilogy were Clones or not.  Most fans have believed that the Clones were phased out by the Empire, and that the Storm Troopers were regular people under the armor… but that had never been canonically depicted on-screen, until now.  I loved the storyline weaving through this first season about the Empire’s secret plans to replace the Clone Troopers with newly trained Storm Troopers.  It was very cool, and sad, to see the Empire turn on the Kaminoans.  (The destruction of the Kaminoan water-city by Star Destroyers in the season finale was one of the most memorable sequences of the entire show in my mind.)

While I enjoyed all of that, I wish the show had dug deeper into that story and other questions left hanging by the depiction of Order 66 in Episode III.  I’ve often wondered just what the activation of that Order did to the Clones.  Did they lose all personality and become zombies?  Or did that Order just change how they felt about the Jedi, while allowing their individuality and personalities to remain unchanged?  I’ve wondered about this specifically in connection to Commander Cody, as I’d noted above.  I’ve long wondered what he felt about his betrayal of his friend Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the days/weeks/years afterwards.  The series made some attempts to answer these questions, though not with as much depth or clarity as I’d hoped.  We see some chilling scenes in the premiere in which we see the Clones (except the Bad Batch) uniformly cheering Emperor Palpatine… but we also see the Clone Trooper Howzer on Ryloth, who objects to what the Empire is doing on Ryloth and ultimately helps the Syndulla family in defiance of the Empire.  So it seems that some Clones did maintain some individuality after Order 66… though we don’t really know how many and how much.  We also don’t actually learn what happened to the thousands (millions?) of Clone Troopers still alive across the Empire.  (I wonder if season two will address that?)

There were many places where I felt the show opted for more simplistic storytelling than I’d wanted, rather than going more deeply into these characters and these situations.  As soon as the show was announced, I assumed that meant the Bad Batch somehow still remained good guys after Order 66, so I was very curious as to how they were able to do so.  Rebels showed us that Rex, Gregor, and Wolfe were able to remove their chips… we got the full story of how that happened for Rex in the amazing final episodes of The Clone Wars.  But I wondered: how would the Bad Batch be able to escape their chips’ programming?  I was surprised that the show dodged that issue by basically just saying that because the Bad Batch were mutated Clones, their inhibitor chips didn’t work.  That is a lame explanation!  That they were basically just magically immune was such an easy way out of this narrative dilemma.

I was also expecting the show to explore what the Clones in the Bad Batch felt about Order 66.  Wouldn’t it be horrific to realize that their brothers were all being robbed of their free will by the Empire?  And yet, the Bad Batch seemed to barely give it a second thought.  That was a surprise and disappointment to me.  The Batch don’t even seem too broken up about their former teammate Crossfire being turned against them when the Empire souped up his inhibitor chip!  They seem angry at Crossfire for betraying them, rather than being angry at the Empire for using him as a puppet.  That seemed so weird to me, and like a big missed opportunity for the story.

Speaking of Crosshair, while I liked the idea of a former member of the team being turned into a menacing villain, I didn’t love how this played out.  Because I knew that Crosshair was being controlled by the Empire, what little drama there was over his betrayal (and, as noted in the previous paragraph, there wasn’t nearly the amount of drama over this than what I’d expected) all felt like what I call false drama.  This wasn’t real drama coming out of characters, this was just a case of one character being mind-controlled.  So none of it was of any interest to me.  Then, in the finale, the show revealed that Crossfire HAD removed his inhibitor chip.  That was supposed to be an exciting surprise, but I thought it was a bad narrative decision.  If Crossfire WAS thinking for himself and had a true reason for wanting to side with the Empire over his former comrades, wouldn’t it have been much more interesting for the show to have SHOWN US that and so given some actual real drama to his interactions with the Bad Batch across the season??  (Also, it makes zero sense to me that the Empire would have allowed him to remove his chip.)

Here’s another example of the show’s taking the easy way out with regards to storytelling: the first batch of episodes have a thread of Wrecker’s having a headache.  I suspected something was going wrong with his inhibitor chip, which indeed proved to be the case.  The idea of Wrecker suddenly becoming an enemy could have been cool.  And, indeed, the sequence in which he turns against Omega and the others was an exciting sequence.  But it happens in the episode in which the Bad Batch had met up with Rex; so they conveniently are with the one Clone in the galaxy who knows exactly what’s going on with Wrecker and how to fix him.  What a lame coincidence!  Wouldn’t it have been cooler and more exciting had Wrecker’s chip activated BEFORE the Batch met up with Rex?  Then they’d be desperate, not knowing what was happening with Wrecker or how to handle him… so they’d have had a reason to try to track down Rex, who could help them, as opposed to being coincidentally lucky that he just happened to be there with them right exactly when they needed him.

Other thoughts:

* Dee Bradley Baker is phenomenal, as he always was on the Clone Wars series, at using his voice to create different and distinct Clone characters.  It’s pretty wild that he basically voices all of the main characters on this show!

* All but one, that is.  The show introduces Omega (voiced by Michelle Ang), a young female Clone who escapes Kamino with the Bad Batch.  I liked Omega, and I’m interested to see where her story goes.  I understand why the show’s creators wanted to add a female character to the all-male Bad Batch group.  The series occasionally veered into Wesley Crusher territory, in that Omega seems incredibly good at a LOT of things.  But for the most part, I think the show found a decent balance between keeping Omega capable enough that it made sense that the Batch would keep her around and allow her to come with them on missions, while also keeping her as a believable kid.

* It was fun seeing Gregor (who would pop up, along with Rex and Wolfe, on Rebels).  I liked hearing Dee Bradley Baker give young Gregor a bit of that familiar cackle in his voice!

* I loved hearing some of Ian McDiarmid’s Episode III speeches in the series premiere.

* It was interesting to see all three named Kaminans from Episode II appear in the show: prime minister Lama Su, Scientist Nala Se, and Taun We (who showed Obi-Wan around).  I actually sort of grew to like them all on this show!  I was sad to see Taun We and Lama Su meet unfortunate ends.  (I presume Lama Su is dead, though we didn’t actually see that on screen.)  I wonder if we’ll see Nala Se again.  The last scene in the finale was intriguing, in which we see the Storm Troopers have brought her to a secret imperial cloning facility.  Is this the facility that will eventually create Snoke and the cloned Palpatine from The Rise of Skywalker?  I also loved the Mandalorian connection in that the Imperial Cloning officer was wearing the same uniform that Doctor Pershing wore on The Mandalorian.  Intriguing…

* I loved hearing Rhea Perlman (so memorable as Carla on Cheers) as the friendly criminal Sid, who shelters the Bad Batch and gives them jobs.  (Though the whole idea that the Bad Batch — who are being hunted by the Empire — could hang out in Sid’s bar all the time — still wearing their Clone armor, mind you — and not be immediately reported to the Empire by some criminal or another is yet another example of the show’s taking the easy way out with its storytelling.)

* I loved seeing Saw Gerrera in the early episodes.  This was yet another cool way this show linked different shows/movies/timelines of Star Wars.  (Saw previously appeared on both The Clone Wars and Rebels, and he also was of course in Rogue One.) I hope we see more of Saw, and the early steps in his rebellion against the Empire, in future seasons.  (Mentioning Saw reminds me of the brutal murder of the civilians Saw’s rebels were trying to protect.  At the time I was shocked by that violence — which seemed out of character for this generally kid-friendly show.  I also wondered how on earth they could walk that back if Crosshair ever became a good guy again.  That incident was never mentioned again on the show, so maybe the writers just wanted the audience to forget about it… again, taking the easy way out with their stories…)

* I was very surprised, but pleasantly so, to see the Rafa sisters!  (They were introduced in the middle Ahsoka story-arc on the final season of Clone Wars.)  Yet another fun connection!  I didn’t love the Rafa Sisters on Clone Wars — I thought they were a bit one-dimensional.  But I liked seeing them again.  (It made the time devoted to them on Clone Wars feel a little more retroactively worthwhile to me.)

There was a lot that I liked about this first season of The Bad Batch.  It was a pleasure to have new Star Wars animated adventures every week again!  The series didn’t hit the emotional highs I wanted it to.  I have seen how amazing these Star Wars animated TV show can be at their very best; is it wrong for me to want that immediately from this new show?  I do hope that in future seasons this show will dig deeper into the characters and situations, as both Clone Wars and Rebels did as they developed.  I definitely enjoyed watching this first season of The Bad Batch, and I’m excited that a second season is in the works.  I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see it!!  I can’t wait.

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