Warning: This review contains major spoilers for season 7 episode 1 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been absent from our TV screens for just over six years – and it’s been a long wait. Sure, we’ve had five Star Wars movies and The Mandalorian, but the prequel era of the Skywalker saga has remained relatively untouched. Despite this, the season 7 premiere does nothing to jolt your memory of past events, forgoing a cute "last time on The Clone Wars" catch-up episode and instead throwing you right back into the heart of the show.
“The Bad Batch” shines a kyber crystal-powered spotlight on the Clone War’s most important aspect: the clones. Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all the clones, stretches his vocal muscles, deftly moving between portraying a clone suffering from survivor's guilt and the eponymous batch of defective clones who all have distinct personalities. It's a brilliant decision to focus on this ragtag squad, and hammers home exactly why the clones are such tragic figures.
The episode centers on Captain Rex – a trooper under the command of Anakin Skywalker – whose crew attempts to steal data from a droid cyber center based on the planet Anaxes. The droids, it turns out, are using algorithms to predict the Republic army's every move – at least, that's what the clones tell Anakin and Mace Windu. Rex has another idea; one that's rooted in the nasty side effects of war.
Rex believes Echo, a member of his old squad who seemingly died earlier on in the series, is a prisoner of war. Why? Because all his battle plans were drawn up with Echo by his side – and the droids seem to know each and every one of them. This leads into one of the episode's more poignant moments: Rex sitting alone before the crew heads out on the mission, staring at a picture of his old squad.
"Fives, Echo, before that, Hevy, there's so many troopers gone," he says. "Yeah, regular folk don't understand," Commander Cody responds, "Sometimes in war, it's hard to be the one who survives." Rex and Cody share not only invisible personal bonds with those they have lost, but also their faces, something that only heightens the enormous sense of guilt weighting upon them. The clones were created for this war, and suffer immensely because of it.
Following the rather somber opening, the middle section gives us some much needed comic relief. The self-titled “Bad Batch”, AKA Clone Force 99 – named after the defective Clone 99 who never left Kamino – is packed full of characters: a Solid Snake rip-off named Hunter; a big brute who loves to smash things called Wrecker; the token genius known as Tech, who's giving big Ghostbusters-era Rick Moranis energy; and the strong, silent, sniper-type Crosshair. They come flying into our lives in a scene that highlights the show’s sparkly new cinematography.
Of course, this being Clone Wars, we get a huge fight sequence that demonstrates the squad's rather unorthodox tactics. While these scenes are occasionally tough to make out, they are primarily clean, legible, and well-paced, and these are no exception. The Bad Batch and the Regs (as the defective clones take to calling them) continuously bounce off each other in a manner we're not used to seeing - the clones are, after all, relatively harmonious for much of the series. It's a great note to hit and one that rings with the echoes of the episode's opening quote: "Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole."
As is common in Clone Wars, this season 7 premiere is the first part of a larger arc. The team fights their way through to the cyber center and Rex’s worst fears are proven true – Echo’s being held captive on another planet, forced to transmit codes that telegraph the Republic's next moves. Looks like our motley crew is going to head to Skako Minor, home of the transmission's origins…
This was a fast and tight opening to the season – one that reminds us that, despite our love for big-ticket names like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the true heart of the clone wars are the men born to serve in them. The animation looks beautiful, especially when you consider that this episode was first teased back in 2015. As usual, the music slaps in a way that only Star Wars score can, a way that teleports you right back into the fray.
I'm so happy to be writing these words: The Clone Wars is back baby, and it's good! But don't you think for a second that I didn't notice Anakin's longer hair, which is both beautiful and worrisome… Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 7 episode 2 reaches Disney Plus on February 28.
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