The arrival of Clone Force 99 in the final season of The Clone Wars was something of a bewilderment—until it was announced that the Star Wars answer to the A-Team was set to star in their own spin-off series. But with the first season complete, and a second already underway, do we really feel like we know the Batch any better?
[Spoilers for season one of Star Wars: The Bad Batch.]
It’s fair to say that Star Wars animated series—or really any television series at all—often have a rough go in their first year. There’s set up to consider and new characters to introduce, and it can be difficult to invest much feeling when you’re still not quite sure what the exercise is driving at. To help ameliorate some of those issues, The Bad Batch employed a lot of little shoutouts and tethers to any number of other Star Wars stories. This tactic worked in favor of the series sometimes, and other times… not so much.
There were many moments in the premiere season when the show simply felt like a middle ground to bring together a few different story points and include as many references to other bits of lore as possible—for example, at one point the Batch do a job for Cid (a Trandoshan info broker and mercenary handler, played to a grouchy tee by Rhea Perlman) to rescue a baby rancor from Zygerrian slavers… in order to deliver her to a new home at Jabba’s palace. So many winks and nods and connections can make you feel like the only point in Star Wars media these days is making sure that everyone wants to watch other Star Wars media.
But there were moments that worked, too; the chance to meet a young Hera Syndulla before she left her home on Ryloth; a plot to save clone trooper Gregor and reunite him with Rex; the beginnings of an answer to where all the clones went and how the Empire started recruiting ordinary citizens into its ranks. When the show linked up parts of canon that needed some filling in, the show seemed to find its center. Set in that aftermath of the Clone War as the fledgling Empire gains its footing, The Bad Batch is the only canonical tale that features this specific period of time; there’s so much from this specific era that remains unknown, making it excellent ground for new stories.
The base of the plot is a little rote, however; the Batch suffers a loss early on in the season when one of their own decides he would rather work for the Empire and becomes their adversary, bent on hunting them down. The change in Crosshair is one that you can see coming parsecs away because the character’s voice is markedly different from his introduction in Clone Wars—they might as well have scratched the word “villain” into his forehead. But the eventual reveal that Crosshair did not betray his brothers over the activation of his inhibitor chip (the same one that caused the other clone troopers to enact the infamous Order 66) fails to be moving because we’re never given any indication of what Crosshair wants, or why he believes the Empire is the right choice. He just grunts a little about the Empire being good for “order” and then fights with the Batch over who betrayed who in this scenario. Seeing as he’s likely going to be a long-serving antagonist, it would have been nice to see them flesh out the character in a more interesting way. Perhaps that’s a long game they mean to play over the course of the entire series, which is distressing to imagine.
The true star of the show is Omega (Michelle Ang), the only known female clone made from Jango Fett’s DNA. Omega is essentially the same as Boba Fett—a direct clone with no programming and no growth acceleration, secretly created by the Kaminoans so they would have extra genetic material to clone from once Jango’s degraded. With her life in danger, Omega runs away with the Batch and becomes their surrogate little sister/daughter/teammate, despite technically being older in years than the whole group. There’s likely more to her than meets the eye; a lot of folks are trying to get their hands on the kid and she shows an impressive level of intuition and adaptability throughout the season. Presumably the show will continue to center on Omega and her relationship to the squad she now calls family.
There are other bits and pieces that really sparkle in this mix, including Cid’s Parlor and her regulars, the score by Kevin Kiner, the visuals during key moments (something creator Dave Filoni always excels at), and listening to voice-acting veteran Dee Bradley Baker talk to himself for designated half hours every week (he’s the voice of every clone trooper and thus every member of the Batch, even if his New Zealand accent never seems to be aiming for accuracy). When the show hits a stride it does manage to be diverting good fun—but most of the truly dramatic moments haven’t been earned yet and feel largely out of place.
It seems probable that another main arc of The Bad Batch is unfortunately setting up the same thing that The Mandalorian has devoted a large chunk of its screentime to: explaining how Palpatine set up his contingency to be cloned in the event of Imperial failure. The Empire’s actions on Kamino, the genocide and destruction of the facilities on their homeworld while a select few scientists are permitted to live and work on some secret “project” is likely the very first step on this journey. While it’s effecting and important that the show lingers on the level of mass murder and carnage the Empire creates even at its inception, the pivot to this particular narrative thread is irritating as ever. It’s a strange move using multiple shows to further flesh out one of the worst pieces of storytelling in the sequel trilogy. Can you really come back from a line like “Somehow Palpatine returned”? Do we really need to spend this much creative energy explaining how when the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered?
But the true confusion here comes from not being clear about what type of show The Bad Batch intends to be. The Clone Wars did exactly what it said on the tin, and Star Wars: Rebels followed a specific ragtag group as they stumbled their way into the consolidation of the Rebel Alliance. Comparatively, The Bad Batch could wind up being several different shows—is it The A-Team in Space? Four Clones and a Baby? The Empire’s New Groove? Because at the moment, it feels mostly like Here’s Some Stuff That Happened After Revenge of the Sith.
None of this means that The Bad Batch is doomed. It’s just that Clone Wars was a truly excellent piece of Star Wars storytelling and Rebels was arguably even better, setting the bar pretty darn high for a crew of enhanced clones troopers and their littlest (biggest) new recruit. Hopefully the show will find its niche going forward and season two will give fans a little more to chew on.