The Bad Batch
In 2013, word first emerged that Star Wars: The Clone Wars was to end. Then, in 2014, after the Netflix release of The Lost Missions, it did exactly that. Now, in 2020, the longest-running Star Wars TV show has found a place to finish its tale, once again on a streaming service in the form of Disney+.
Since the announcement at San Diego Comic-Con two years ago of the show’s return, much debate has raged over what episodes will form the final twelve – exactly which storylines would be featured, and what characters would find closure within them. The accompanying trailer featured a great deal of focus on Ahsoka Tano, the series’ greatest success story, and Darth Maul, a controversial addition to the later seasons who quickly became its most compelling villain.
As with most seasons of The Clone Wars, this final run opens with something of an introductory arc. Focusing not on Force users but instead on a story previously featured in unfinished form on StarWars.com (SPOILER LINK), these first four episodes follow a group of unorthodox Clone Troopers who call themselves “The Bad Batch” that find themselves fighting alongside popular series mainstay Captain Rex. This first episode sees the group attack a droid outpost on the planet Anaxes, in an attempt to surprise a droid army that are quickly learning and predicting the troopers’ offensives – a not entirely surprising development, considering that droids are basically computers on legs (with added blasters).
Those fearing a waste of four episodes or an uninspiring set of characters may want to hold off on their criticisms until this story wraps up. One bittersweet fact about the later seasons of The Clone Wars was that the series seemed to find that its more memorable plotlines featured situations and characters existing outside of the titular conflict, in tales that treated the war as more of a backdrop (as examined in our top ten ranking of Star Wars animation). “The Bad Batch” and their accompanying adventure seem like an effort to remedy this, to foreground a group of the series’ loyal soldiers before exploring its more fan-pleasing cast. The four new clones – aptly named Hunter, Wrecker, Tech and Crosshair for reasons their monikers alone should make clear – do steal a great deal of the spotlight from the ever-present Rex and the quickly-injured Commander Cody, but in the face of a relentless enemy like the droid army on an exotic battlefield such as this, their presence is quickly established as entirely and strategically necessary.
These selectively-bred troopers do border on stereotype – Tech utilizes all kinds of gadgetry, Wrecker wields an unhinged cackle, Hunter sports a skull tattoo and Crosshair exhibits a surly mood – and you may find yourself wondering why whoever modified these clones didn’t just give all four the same attributes, rather than splitting their skillset across a squadron. They also seem to mirror their movie influences a bit too obviously; Hunter, their leader, has the red headband and mullet essential to any Rambo tribute, and if you’ve seen the original Predator then it won’t be too difficult to imagine these brutes slashing their way through a Central American jungle.
But there’s much more good than bad about this batch. In the line “What kind of suicide mission do you have for us THIS time?”, visions of a chaotic and violent backstory are immediately forged, and the seeds of conflict and a duelling ideology with the “regs” – the assembly-line Clones that we’ve all grown to love – are clear to see. Surely, over the next hour of television we will see the two differing sets of heroes come to blows over their differing methods. For now though, the group acts cohesively; though they face an expected and powerful droid opposition, they don’t lack for success. Plus, the fortunate result of episodes just like these is that the droids serve as more than just ‘saber fodder for the gallant Jedi Knights – after all, when the playing field is levelled to remove ancient and mystical energies, a sense of true combat between the combatants is established.
As is commonplace for any arc (and especially in the streaming age), the episode finds a way to end on a cliff-hanger. The Clone Wars has always found news ways to introduce adversaries over its 121 preceding episodes, from rogues to deserters, from neutrals to saboteurs, and from Sith to even Jedi. It seems as though Season 7 has found another new form of enemy and whilst you won’t find a spoiler here, fans of past episodes like The Citadel and Rookies will either be fascinated or outright drooling over the events to come.
One thing above all else is clear, though – The Clone Wars is already en route to justifying the hype surrounding its long awaited return. Likely due to the budget offered by Disney and the longer production time, already this is arguably the most cinematic instalment of the entire series, one which welcomes back long-time fans and delivers a hearty dose of intrigue as the end of The Clone Wars begins in earnest.