After its abrupt cancellation, fans were passionately trying to get Disney to “save the Clone Wars“, the first CG animated series that Star Wars made and the only non-film property to remain canon when Lucasfilm and Disney wiped the Expanded Universe from existence. Season 7 finally came about on Disney+ in 2020 and opened up with a four episode arc about a group of elite soldiers known as The Bad Batch, genetically modified clones who were bestowed special traits. That arc was fine and a decent debut for the resurrected show, but it wasn’t gripping or as memorable as previous arcs in the series. Which is why it was a surprise that The Clone Wars would have a spinoff series that would follow the titular Bad Batch. Could these off-brand clones really carry a show on their own? Let’s find out.
The Bad Batch is created by Star Wars guru Dave Filoni (Clone Wars, Rebels, The Mandalorian) and follows the members of Clone Force 99, aka “The Bad Batch”. The show opens up with a ninety minute premiere special and within minutes of its opening, you can tell that this is the most visually striking animation that Star Wars has ever produced. I think one of the most notable changes is how the animators decided to use depth of field to their cinematography, allowing for a more cinematic blurry background. Usually, animated content doesn’t have this effect as they want you to see the background that they worked so hard to render, but this show opts for the same cinematic language that film would use and I think the presentation is all the better for it, coupled with its widescreen aspect ratio.
Seeing as the primary characters are basically all clones, the voice talent means this is essentially the Dee Bradley Baker show. He’s been voicing clones since the first season of Clone Wars and has managed to make each clone sound unique, each with their own personality. The same is true of Clone Force 99 (named after the clone 99) and the other clones in the series. Baker does a great job at making the named clones feel different from one and other, to the point where you can identify each clone based off of their voice and mannerism alone. The protagonist of the series is Hunter, a knife wielding tracker with facial tattoos that resemble a skull. Then we have Wrecker, a behemoth of a clone who loves violence and explosions. Tech is the computer guy while Crosshair is the sniper. Echo, technically not genetically modified like the others, joined the squad in the seventh season of Clone Wars and found a home among the outcasts. Each clone sounds like a one trick pony and the season sometimes struggles to get away from their unique character trait, which makes the clones likable but not instantly lovable like characters from previous shows.
The action packed opener puts us on the frontlines of Order 66 but the inhibitor chips don’t work on the clones of 99 as they witness their brothers strike down the Jedi and the Palpatine declare the first galactic Empire. When the Batch return home to Kamino, things are certainly different, with Tarkin sniffing about and the Kaminoans trying to justify the Clones worth to their potential new employer. It’s here where we meet the heart of the story, Omega. She’s an unmodified clone of Jango Fett, meaning she ages naturally like her brother, Alpha, a.k.a. Boba Fett. Technically older than the rest of the Batch as a result, Omega is a child who yearns to leave the labs of Kamino and see the galaxy, like her brothers. As she’s been modified to not have accelerated aging, she has a kinship with the Batch in particular for their own unique traits that seperate them from the “regs” like Captain Rex. Her eventual relationship with Wrecker is adorable, who takes on the role of big brother to her. I feared Omega would be another child character who would bog the show down with incompetence, but she’s honestly the best character on the show. Always eager to learn and prove herself, she’s the soul of the first season and something that the Kaminoans kept secret from the Empire. It’s heavily implied that Omega could actually be force sensitive, something that shouldn’t be possible as clones are engineered and not a natural form of life. This would naturally be something that would be of great value to Palpatine, who has cloned himself by the time Rise of Skywalker happens (unfortunately). Since clones can’t be force sensitive due to their lack of midi-chlorians, I feared the show would heavily mirror Mando’s attempt to protect Grogu from Moff Gideon.
Bridging the gap
Thankfully, the show is more about free will versus programming and control at its core. The Batch, who quickly defect from the Empire and eventually remove their inhibitor chips after Wrecker’s malfunctions, are free to do as they wish and choose not to be nameless soldiers blindly following orders in the name of the Empire. Crosshair, like the droids before him, prefers a singular purpose, to be an instrument in the Empire’s new machine. The transition from Republic to Empire seems rather rapid, as the Imperial logo has replaced the Republican one by the second episode of the series, with TK conscripts (soon to be stormtroopers) being introduced towards the finale of the season. Palpatine must have had all the new armour and logos stashed away in a warehouse all those years, waiting for this big reveal.
Once the Batch and Omega defect, they realize that they no longer have the resources provided to them by the Republic and that life will get very difficult without money for food and fuel. First, the Bad Batch are on the run as fugitives but eventually end up working as mercenaries in the employment of Sid, voiced by none other than Rhea Pearlman of Cheers fame. The show can feel a bit fillery as they do odd jobs for Sid in this part of the show. The opening episode, thanks to its extended runtime, ends up feeling like the pinacle for the series while episode two feels like the weakest, leading to quite the shift in quality out of the gate, as the chain codes plot line didn’t really go anywhere and the characterization of Hunter’s fatherly responsibilities didn’t feel earned this early on in the show. On the other hand, there were fun episodes that had some intense moments, such as Crosshair killing civilians and his own soldiers in the third episode while the Cad Bane reveal in a Sergio Leone duel with Hunter and his eventual fight with Fennec Shand was a highlight of the series. Likewise, a rendez-vous with fan favourite Rex on Bracca was a fun reunion and led to the eventual removal of their chips, critical for the story.
An Uneven First Season
The show is not without some problems. One of them is the character Tech. Despite being genetically more intelligent than anyone on the team, Tech (perhaps thanks to a superiority complex) often ignores or misinterprets crucial information, such as when Wrecker’s head is hurting right where the inhibitor chip is, or when a proximity alarm is triggered and he says it’s likely faulty. Tech becomes more of an inconvenience and less dependable as the show goes on and his lack of contributions overall make the character feel wasted. He also suffers from the least amount of characterization. Likewise, some of the episodes suffer with a lack of any characterization from any of the characters, making them feel less impactful and important overall. Overall, they don’t have that much character growth and feel a bit one dimensional at times. Omega ends up being the only one with any true character arc. Crosshair could have had potential towards the finale, with his revelation that he removed his own inhibitor chip and elected to stay with the Empire coupled with the abrupt rescue of AZI and Omega in the finale that resulted in him…staying loyal to the Empire. Also, for a character as bright as Omega, ejecting from her pod to save AZI felt very out of character for her. It was a very reckless move without any guarantee of coming out alive. Crosshair rescuing AZI also undercut the drama of his potential sacrifice to save Omega, but by having her trying to save the droid which forced Crosshair to save them both with no progress in his character arc felt odd and anti-climactic. Hunter and Wrecker both change a bit over the season, with Hunter learning about the greater good and Wrecker about taking care of a lifeform as opposed to wanting to blow things up all the time, but their growth still feels minimal overall.
Another problem the show has, as evident by the closing shot of the series, is how it feels like it’s leading up to become more damage control for The Rise of Skywalker. In the end, Nala Se is captured by the Empire and brought to an unknown location to work with cloning. Much like The Mandalorian’s grand Imperial plan, it all feels like it’s trying to justify the existence of the Palpatine clones, a plot line that came out of nowhere and wasn’t explained at all in the movie. So extended media, including the shows, have been trying to rectify that and enrich that lore. The only problem is the Palpatine clone plot point is one of the most mired aspects of the entire franchise, and any attempt to patch up that storyline feels tedious and uninteresting as it just feels like further damage control.
Another unusual choice was the sudden introduction of the Ryloth plotline in the second half of the show. Considering how every episode up until this point focused on the Batch themselves, it was odd to have an episode that focused on a young Hero from Star Wars Rebels. If the series introduced the concept of these spinoff episodes earlier on, it wouldn’t have been as jarring, but to have only one two episode arc (barring the finale) in the show and to have one of those episodes focus on characters that some fans may have prior history with was an usual move. The show should either commit to keeping Force 99 as the protagonists for the entire season or introduce these special episodes where we follow other characters much earlier on and much more frequently. As such, the sudden introduction to Hera, Chopper and Cham likely felt very out of left field for those viewers who never saw The Clone Wars and the absence of the Batch as our protagonists in that first episode only made it more jarring for those viewers.
In the end, The Bad Batch is a decent first season that had some great highs and gorgeous animation, but doesn’t quite reach the same levels of characterization that Rebels or The Clone Wars did. The show can often be quite dramatic and the voice talent is exceptional from series lead Baker, but it sometimes gets lost in trying too hard in being Clone Wars season 8, as opposed to Bad Batch season one. It’s a fun series, with a truly exceptional opener and great callbacks for longtime Filoni fans, but needs more characterization and consistency going forward. There’s a second season on the horizon, so hopefully the show can address some of these problems and give more substance and weight to the characters. In this writer’s opinion, every single Star Wars animated series has always gotten significantly better in it’s second season, so here’s hoping The Bad Batch continues this trend.