Star Wars: The Bad Batch may pick up where The Clone Wars left off, but don't get it twisted – this is a very different beast compared to the previous animated series.
Instead of focusing on the Jedi and their role in the Clone Wars, The Bad Batch starts with the execution of Order 66, kickstarting the early years of the Empire. While the other Clones are all now the pawns of the Emperor, one group of five genetically mutated clones known as The Bad Batch (or Clone Force 99) are unaffected, leading to this group of outcasts – who appeared in the final season of Clone Wars – being pushed even further to the fringes of the galaxy.
"It's a whole 'nother level," Dee Bradley Baker tells GamesRadar+ during a roundtable – and he’s not wrong. The actor played a central (and impressive) role in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, voicing every clone in the series, from fan-favorite Captain Rex to the nameless, faceless clones that appear alongside Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in battle. But Baker's work on The Bad Batch is an even more impressive feat, as the titular group is made up of clones who drastically differ from each other thanks to their genetic mutations, meaning Baker morphs his voice to fit each of them.
A different batch of clones
There's Hunter, the leader of the group who Baker describes as "smoky and covered". Then there's Tech, the calculated tech genius who's "easy, breezy" under pressure. Wrecker, a giant clone who's all brute force and simple-mindedness "is his own adjective", while Crosshair is "like a coiled snake – there's an implied threat to him". Echo, who joined the Bad Batch during The Clone Wars final season, is the newest member, but also the grumpiest, as he's reckoning with a body that's part man and part machine. Baker's descriptions of these clones don't just serve as easy character profiles, but help him identify themes to easily shift his voice to portray each character. It's wild, but what's even wilder is how Baker records episodes.
"We record it scene-by-scene,” he explains. “And for the most part, I will just read straight through it as the characters and we record it that way." That means the actor – who you may also recognize as Wrecking Ball from Overwatch – is having lengthy conversations with himself while seamlessly shifting between six (or more) different character voices. He demonstrates quickly as someone forgets to unmute themselves during our conversation –
"I could connect remotely," Baker-as-Tech says with a smile.
His ability to voice so many characters is as impressive as it is imperative to the new series. Where The Clone Wars had Anakin (Matt Lanter), Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor), and Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) at its center, The Bad Batch is primarily devoid of the iconic trio, instead focusing on how these clones exist in a new Galactic Empire. Does Baker miss working with the trio? "It's kind of like I was placed in an escape pod and fired off onto another planet," he laughs. "I do miss having the ensemble together… But I accept the new responsibilities of this new universe that I'm playing in now."
The new Galactic Empire
We've seen the era of the Galactic Republic, the Clone Wars, the Rebels fighting an established Empire, and the Resistance going up against the First Order. But the infant stages of the Galactic Empire has been unmined – until now.
"The timeline is one of the main things that really drew me in with this series, because it hasn't really been explored on-screen – the immediate aftermath of Order 66," explains head writer Jennifer Corbett. "As a history buff, I was drawn to that because I wanted to see what the early years of the Empire were like in terms of not only the clone troopers but also just the galaxy. It was fun exploring planets that were in favor of the end of the war and embraced the Empire, not knowing what that actually means."
One of the main questions the show answers is what happened to the clone troopers (called "regs" by the Bad Batch) now that their inhibitor chips have made them entirely subservient to the Empire. "The clone troopers themselves are really the forces of the bad guys," supervising director Brad Rau points. "One thing we've done, when you see an AT-AT tank, we've taken all the color off of it and painted it an imperial gray. The clone troopers, we've taken off their individuality, the really awesome color schemes, and they've become more standard clone trooper armor. And you see these armies of regs against our team. It's interesting how quickly they look like the bad guys."
So, what about the Bad Batch, whose genetic modifications clearly change the way their inhibitor chips do (or don't) work? "When it comes down to the Batch, who with the Republic were given a sense of autonomy that they didn't really report to anybody except Commander Cody, but now that they're with the Empire,” Rau continues. “[We see] how they're going to react to having more rules, and how they react to certain things they're not in favor of."
An early run-in with Grand Moff Tarkin shows the Bad Batch just how serious the new Empire is, and how many rules this squad of rule-breakers will be forced to follow. Speaking of Tarkin, expect to see a few more familiar characters – just not all of them, as Corbett and Rau want to make sure familiar characters are only brought back "for a reason”.
"It makes total sense for Tarkin to be there," Corbett says. "It's fun seeing his evolution from the Republic to the empire. We do have some things coming up, but we can't really talk too much about it."
Just know that whatever characters show their face in The Bad Batch, Corbett and Rau didn't casually throw them in there – these are measured cameos that weave beautifully into the core story at play. Plus, the series is being created under the watchful eye of Dave Filoni, who wields the Star Wars television stories like a lightsaber.
Dave 'the Force' Filoni
Filoni – who acted as showrunner on The Clone Wars and as an executive producer on The Mandalorian – may not be the supervision director or lead writer on The Bad Batch, but his presence is felt like Luke's Force projection in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The initial Bad Batch story arc was created by George Lucas, who wanted to tell the story of a unique group of clones, and was initially meant to be part of The Clone Wars when the series was on Cartoon Network – the episodes were fully scripted, voiced, and animated to a certain point. But the series was canceled in 2013, and snippets of the story were shown during a special 2015 Star Wars Celebration airing.
It wasn't until The Clone Wars was brought back for a final series on Disney Plus that Filoni was able to bring Lucas' vision to light, with the first episode of season 7 aptly titled "The Bad Batch". Filoni acts as creator and executive producer on the new spin-off series, but effectively handing over the reins of this beloved crew to a new batch of Star Wars writers. Don't worry, though, he's always ready to dole out some Star Wars knowledge as requested.
"His presence is always felt," ensures Baker. Rau adds: "Knowing how intense and how passionate he is about carrying on the legacy of George Lucas in The Clone Wars – I think that's the secret sauce of why that show is so good. So when we talk with him about the production of the show, and the writing of the show, we try to keep that secret sauce going forward. It's a lot of pressure, but it's a lot of fun."
Speaking of pressure, Star Wars: The Bad Batch has a giant hurdle to clear straight out of the gate: it's runtime. The first episode in the series comes in at a whopping 77 minutes – longer than any episode of The Mandalorian. It's more in line with the first piece of animated Clone Wars content that was ever released – the 2008 Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie that ran for 98 minutes. It's clear Corbett and Rau are trying to capture that Clone Wars lightning again by giving fans a nice, meaty first episode to get accustomed to the new crew. "It's not a little portion of the awesomeness that is to come, you get a full serving of it," Baker promises.
It's impossible to not get excited about the series after Baker says with gusto: "I feel that Clone Wars was the wind-up. And this is the knocking it out of the park part."
The first episode of Star Wars: The Bad Batch is available on Disney Plus on May 4, with the following episode out May 7. In the meantime, check out every new Star Wars movie and TV show coming your way.