Warning: This review contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Bad Batch Season 1 Episode 1
From the opening moments of the new Disney Plus show, Star Wars: The Bad Batch feels like an extension of the final season of The Clone Wars. After the Lucasfilm and Star Wars logos flash across the screen, the voice of Clone Wars narrator Tom Kane bursts forth, as we're treated to never-before-seen (in animation) scenes from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Even the title of this first Bad Batch episode – "Aftermath" – points to a direct continuation of the events we saw at the end of The Clone Wars season 7, when Order 66 instigated the fall of the Republic.
But The Bad Batch creators want to forge a path that strays somewhat from The Clone Wars, or, as Dee Bradley Baker tells me in an interview, "knocks it out of the park" after the previous show teed it up for success. And while it may be hard to imagine an animated series without the core trio of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano, the first Bad Batch episode is clearly trying to take the baton and run it over the finish line.
It's clear from the opening moments that The Bad Batch looks good – even better than the final series of The Clone Wars. The animation is lifelike but still hyper-stylized, and the composition of each shot feels consistently cinematic. There are a few moments in this episode that are jaw-droppingly gorgeous: two figures standing on either side of a snow-covered chasm, rain lashing against a window on Kamino, scores of clone troopers standing at attention in front of a giant Emperor Palpatine hologram. And the writing is more toned down and nuanced than that of earlier Clone Wars seasons, which could sometimes fall a bit too close on the children's show side of writing.
However, it's also clear from the opening moments that The Bad Batch has to carefully toe the line in what has now become the Dave Filoni Star Wars Cinematic Universe. Less than five minutes into 'Aftermath', we're introduced to a young Caleb Dume, the Jedi Padawan who survives Order 66 and ultimately becomes Star Wars: Rebels' Kanan Jarrus. It's a smart move (even though Caleb's somewhat oddly voiced by Freddie Prinz Jr., who sounds a bit too old to be playing a teen), as we're given an instant emotional connection to the victims of Order 66. We've seen the order to betray the Jedi play out enough in Star Wars media that the threat of it being overused lingers, but The Bad Batch deftly handles the Order 66 retread, even if Caleb is one of three major cameos in the 72-minute long episode.
From this opening scene, both the audience and the Bad Batch are thrust into the infant moments of the new Galactic Empire, which is quickly attempting to hoover up any last remnants of the Jedi, the Republic, and the Clones – that is, if Moff Tarkin decides the latter are not worth the credits. The Bad Batch acts as a perfect lens through which to tell this story – the squad isn't blindly loyal like the rest of the clones (or "regs" as they call them) thanks to their mutations affecting their inhibitor chips, and they have no previous political allegiances. Watching the crew attempt to assess where they stand in this new world is interesting and effective: Crosshair' chip seems to work just enough that he wants to follow these orders, while Hunter is highly suspicious of the call to kill all Jedi, and Wrecker is initially intrigued at the perceived lack of rules.
While we get a brief glimpse into what it's like for a clone to resist his programming in The Clone Wars season 7 episode 11, the Bad Batch operates in a really unique space that helps fully flesh out the horrors of the burgeoning Galactic Empire. They're clones, yes, so they've been subjected to countless experiments and have only known a dingy barracks on Kamino as home, but they're empowered enough to be able to choose a path when faced with the potential horrors that this new world order will impart. The tragedy of The Clone Wars is that the clones have no agency, while the beauty of The Bad Batch is that there are a few clones that do.
When the team returns to Kamino, they're met with a clone force that is changing into Stormtroopers before their very eyes. After a cafeteria fight between them and the rest of the regs ensues, Tarkin invites them to show off their combat skills in a practice arena – a test to see if their unorthodox approach will make them the perfect tool for the Empire. But when Tarkin's disdain for clones becomes apparent (he swaps the practice rounds into live-fire rounds halfway through the practice session), the Bad Batch realizes just how much their lives are changing, and how powerless they may be to that.
The only major weak point in this episode is how it handles Crosshair, who is clearly more susceptible to the whims of his inhibitor chip than the others. After Tarkin recognizes him as a potential Empire empathizer, he asks the Kaminoans to run some tests and the results are a bit too convenient for the plot and a bit too weak for the character's development. The Kamino scientist tells Tarkin that Crosshair's chip doesn't work as well as other clones' but that Order 66 still appears to be working. "Can you intensify the programming?" Tarkin asks in a cringe-worthy moment of pseudoscience that even feels weird for Star Wars. And that's what they do – enter the season's bad guy.
But it's the addition of Omega, a young girl who is also a clone, that gives a necessary emotional weight to the series. Omega is scrappy, curious, and a bit of a Bad Batch fan girl. She catches up to the squad when they first return to Kamino and rattles off their names in awe, sits with them at the cafeteria and causes the reg fight, and ends up imprisoned with them after she's caught snooping around their barracks and they're caught ignoring Tarkin's orders to exterminate the people on Alderaan (turns out Saw Gerrera can be very convincing).
By the time the episode ends and Omega joins the crew to flee from the ever-watching eyes of the new Empire, it's clear that there's more to this young girl than the fact that she's another clone. She exhibits traits that seem to mimic the members of the Bad Batch, and I wouldn't be surprised if this special young woman turns out to be a clone cooked up in their image, maybe even with their DNA.
The Bad Batch episode 1 is a delightful episode that feels like a wildly better version of the 2008 Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie. The story is perfectly paced, the characters are expertly fleshed out, and it sets the scene for a series that seems worthy of a weekly watch.
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