Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Season 1 Review
The risk of telling any story about a group of clones is that each clone can come across as having an absence of an interesting personality. Sure, each one will have different experiences and stories to tell, and will vary somewhat in outlook—but not only have they been raised and trained to do the same job—be a soldier—but they also have the same genetic template. They’re clones! This was a problem in Attack of the Clones: was there any character development of a Republic clone trooper in that movie? Not much, and what’s worse, they had about as many memorable lines as the Separatist droids whom they fought.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars did a good job of fleshing out the identities of individual clones. Different clones would question each other or themselves, desert their comrades, even mutiny, and—by the premiere of Season 7—the clone Echo, thought to be lost in battle—had, we came to discover, suffered outright body horror and had to heal from his trauma. It was in this long-demanded seventh season that served as a backdoor pilot for the so-called “Bad Batch”—a group of clones whose genetic modifications delivers unique abilities in battle, and whose combined power as Clone Force 99 is stronger than the sum of its clones. The batch is “bad” because they are irregular, but “bad” also applies in the sense of the Eighties—cool and masterful at handling trouble.
These modifications also help explain the differences of the characters and makes them much easier to distinguish among each other than the “haircuts, whiskers, colors, tattoos, and scars” which was usual the five visual ways that individual clone troopers were generally identified in The Clone Wars. Now, we have the loud, barrel-chested clone Wrecker who stands at nearly 2 meters (6 feet, 6 inches) tall and has one blind eye; measured and bespectacled Tech; the sniper Crosshair, with narrow and fine features and an eagle eye; and Hunter, the Rambo-like leader of the group who also is an expert tracker. Echo, who after his rescue has a droid-hand prosthesis similar head cybernetics to Lobot, joins the team in Clone Wars.
Is there an Echo in here? (Yes, he is on the show!)
One of the challenges faced by any voice actor playing homogeneous characters—twins, the same character from different timelines (or multiverses), or clones, for example—is to allow for the character to sound similar (they should have the same voice, after all), but to also deliver differing motivations, perspectives, knowledge about a situation—all while tugging at the heartstrings of the audience. I must take an early moment to praise the brilliant performance(s!) of Dee Bradley Baker, whose drive, stamina, and commitment not only made the similarities of the clones a background feature, but also brought forward the pathos of each one. Fortunately, he is allowed to expand his range in The Bad Batch (the presumption being that the genetic modifications gives each character even greater differences), and the show has a lot more emotional color as a result.
The Bad Batch is properly a sequel to Revenge of the Sith, and a prequel to Star Wars Rebels. In the show’s movie-length pilot, the Emperor’s Order 66 to kill all Jedi is given, yet the Bad Batch—with one exception—is unaffected by the order. The regular clones, though, go on to execute a Jedi master in the Bad Batch’s presence (the master’s padawan, Caleb Dume, survives into Star Wars Rebels as the renamed Kanan Jarrus). Fans of The Clone Wars will recall that the clones were doomed to follow the programming of the inhibitor chip (which presumably inhibits independent thought).
The Bad Batch’s unique genetics seem to be the key to sparing them the inhibitor’s effects, with the exception of the serpentine-sounding Crosshair. This sets up the general arc of season 1, with Crosshair as a potentially redeemable antagonist. The other main dynamic is the team’s interactions with Omega (voiced by the talented Michelle Ang), an agreeable, clever, curious, and loyal female child clone who falls in with the Bad Batch in their adventures. The reveal of her identity and incredible importance isn’t rushed—and this slow-burn approach is one of many great things that Dave Filoni brings to The Bad Batch, as he does on all projects he helps produce.
It wouldn’t be an animated Star Wars show if there weren’t tie-ins to other shows and movies in the SWU. At times, this is tolerable (as with Admiral Tarkin and Kanan Jarrus) or even integral to the plot (as with the Kaminoans), but at other times it feels a little shoehorned in: Cad Bane, Fennec Shand, Chopper, Saw Gerrera, and even Cham and Hera Syndulla (and Chopper) all make appearances. Thankfully, a recurring character is Cid (Rhea Perlman in a role she clearly is having fun in), a Trandoshan who finds side-quests which fill out the plot of many of the season’s middle episodes.
The quality of the animation is the highest I’ve seen in a Star Wars show. The actions scenes are easy to follow and is thankfully not cartoonish (one show which will remain nameless showed bad guys missing shots from closer range than any of the movies, which completely undercut the stakes). The lighting is done well and really is its own character in the show.
This undersells the emotional development and meaning that the show delivers—and what else is a TV show for? Overall, I happily give the show an A—an A+ if you are already a Star Wars fan. There’s still time to binge Season 1 before the release of Season 2, which is due out on Disney+ this fall.