Review – The Bad Batch: Season 1

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Overview

Directing Brad Rau, Steward Lee, Saul Ruiz, Nathaniel Villanueva

Producing Dave Filoni, Athena Yvette Portillo, Jennifer Corbett, Brad Rau, Josh Rimes

Writing Jennifer Corbett, Dave Filoni, Gursimran Sandhu, Matt Michnovetz, Christian Taylor, Tamara Becher-Wilkinson, Amanda Rose Muñoz

Starring Dee Bradley Baker, Archie Panjabi, Michelle Ang, etc

Genre Animated/Science Fiction/Action

Platforms Disney+

Release Date May 4, 2021 - August 13, 2021

Star Wars is continuing to gain an incredible second life on Disney+. While the last two trilogies of films have received contentious reactions from hardcore fans and relative ambivalence from casual audiences, the TV side of Star Wars continues to plug along successfully. Following the previous success of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the creative teams behind those shows have moved on to creating new properties like The Mandalorian and The Bad Batch, as well as upcoming shows like Ahsoka, Rangers of the New Republic, and The Book of Boba Fett.

The Bad Batch is a spin-off and continuation of The Clone Wars that uses the same animation style as its progenitor series to tell a new, smaller story about a squad of rogue clones in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Clone Wars. It uses its connections to that series as well to find new ways to tell smaller stories and answer lore questions that have remained somewhat ambiguous among fans of the franchise for years.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Themes about a mystical spiritual force that unites and binds the galaxy similar to Taoism or Buddism

Violence: PG-rated action violence, shooting, stabbing, and no gore

Language/Crude Humor: None

Sexual Content: None

Drug/Alcohol Use: Characters casually drink alcohol

Other Negative Themes: Depictions of violence against civilians, oppression, and obeying authoritarian leaders

Positive Themes: Themes of brotherhood, loyalty, and fighting authoritarianism

Review

When the Bad Batch first appeared in the opening for Season 7 of The Clone Wars, I enjoyed their four-episode story arc. I wouldn’t have guessed these characters would be returning within a year to star in their own spin-off series. To be frank, I didn’t think they had enough gasoline in the tank. The Bad Batch story arc was fun, but mostly just served as a last hurrah for Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi before they blasted off into the plot of Revenge of the Sith, never to return. It was fun and action-packed, but there wasn’t much substance to the characters here beyond getting to watch their silly dynamics and action abilities. I wouldn’t have guessed they could handle their own series.

It was much to my surprise that Season 1 of The Bad Batch has been a lot of fun. For a series with such a small cast, The Bad Batch actually manages to cover a surprising amount of notable galactic history in its sixteen episodes. These characters exist at a moment of such deep turmoil and chaos that their actions feel notable even as they’re busy minding their own business scurrying around the margins of the newly formed Galactic Empire. 

It’s not without flaws. Honestly, of the three series Dave Filoni has produced so far for Disney+, I would argue it might be the weakest. As tends to be his deal, Filoni fills the premiere and finale with universe-defining events, while mostly filling the middle section with fun cameos and action scenes. He also did this in Star Wars Rebels, The Clone Wars, and The Mandalorian, and it was as rough a creative choice then as it is now. It hasn’t ruined the series, thankfully, but I do think there is room for improvement going into Season 2 next year.

Order 66 and the Rise of the Empire

Just as The Clone Wars ends with the epic results of Order 66, The Bad Batch starts in the final hours of the Clone Wars just as Order 66 goes down. Our intrepid team of Clone Force 99 has been called in to support a group of clones and Jedi (namely a young Kanan Jarrus and his master). Without wasting much time, Order 66 comes in over the radios just as the special force joins the group to reinforce them, and suddenly their demeanor changes. The entire column of clones sets about slaying the two Jedi for betraying the Republic while Clone Force 99 watches in bewilderment and confusion as their former allies are hunted down and killed, mostly. 

The team returns to their home at Kamino where they realize Order 66 was just the beginning of the changes around them. The Empire has already risen and new leadership has begun working its way through the Cloning facilities. With the war over, the Empire is questioning its continued alliance with the Cloners and seeking an excuse to sever their contract with Kamino to reproduce expensive clones. This sets up one of the most interesting background details of The Bad Batch. Throughout the season, we get to watch the gradual transition of a wartime Republic shift into a peacetime Empire. Part of the transition involves phasing out the Clone Army for a galaxy-wide recruitment program of civilian peacekeepers. They’re not as effective as the clones, but they don’t need to be. Their commanders are all Clone Special Forces who do the heavy lifting of putting down dissent while the recruits handle policing. 

This explains why the quality of soldiers drastically reduces from the prequel trilogy to the original trilogy. Canonically, the Empire doesn’t care if its soldiers can’t hit the broadside of a barn. They just need large enough forces to maintain order. 

That leaves Clone Force 99 in a pinch, though. Ethically, four of the five members don’t like the empire, and it’s clear the Empire sees them as rogue agents who can’t be trusted. Their mutant natures mean the inhibitor chips in their brains didn’t activate properly. They’re not naturally obedient like the other surviving clones, except for their sharpshooter Crosshair, who is all too happy to obey the Empire. When the clones discover a young female clone named Omega who joins the group, the Bad Batch defect and flee Kamino, leaving their former brother Crosshair behind. He’s subsequently tasked with tracking down the Bad Batch and bringing them back to Kamino. 

Story Structure and Fan Service

As I said, Filoni is not a great writer of second acts. His strategy is always to spin a yarn and fill it with enough placative material that fans don’t question the structure. They know it’s all leading somewhere and all of the waiting will pay off at the season finale. Frankly, I don’t think this style works. Every time it’s tried, I hear Star Wars critics online say things like, “maybe the series is already falling apart” or “it’s disappointing that the story is grinding to a haunt” before the finale arrives and most everyone is placated. 

The Bad Batch Season 1 in particular is pretty close to being obnoxious with just how far it goes to fill its excessive sixteen-episode run. They clearly only had six to eight episodes worth of material and spread it out in between long periods of gratuitous fan service and cameos. To be frank, this is some of the most overt fan service I’ve ever seen in modern Star Wars. There’s hardly an episode that goes by that doesn’t consistently roll out some fan-favorite character. Characters from all the other Filoni shows keep making appearances: Kanan Jarrus, Fennec Shan, Saw Gerrera, Admiral Tarkin, Captain Rex, the Martez Sisters (OF ALL THE CHARACTERS TO BRING BACK…), Cad Bane, Hera Syndulla, Chopper, Bib Fortuna, AZ1-3, and even the Rancor from Return for the Jedi factor into the show’s plot. 

Every minor character from The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian that feasibly can show up does show up. 

Sometimes the cameos feel well-integrated, and other times, they don’t. Maybe that’s not a terrible thing, but the problem is it makes the show feel like it lacks confidence in its own story. Having a handful of these characters show up could make sense, but if they do so all at once, the Star Wars universe starts to feel small again when the same characters keep popping up in every series.

That’s not to say nothing happens during episodes two through 14. There are a lot of minor events, such as the characters having their defective inhibitor chips removed and them joining up with a crime lord and working as bounty hunters. There are some fun minor stories like them getting caught up in organized crime disagreements. There’s also a lot of false drama and stories that lead nowhere. We don’t need a character arc where Cad Bane kidnaps Omega briefly, but we get it and it ends with very little about the story changing. 

Season Finale (SPOILER ALERT)

That ultimately leads us to the final two episodes of Season 1: Return to Kamino and Kamino Lost. After one of their missions goes wrong, Hunter, the leader of the Bad Batch is taken prisoner on Kamino. The three remaining members of Clone Force 99 then create a plan with Omega to sneak back into the cloning facilities and find Hunter before he’s executed or brainwashed. Much to their surprise, Kamino’s cities are empty. The cloning facilities have been evacuated and all of the Kaminoan scientists have been arrested by the Empire and taken off-world to new cloning facilities where they’ll be expected to perform work for the Empire. 

The only individuals left in the city are Crosshair and a handful of stormtroopers who have laid a trap to capture the remaining Bad Batch and try to convince them to join the Empire. When the trap fails, the Empire sets about the final plans: three star destroyers open fire on the floating city, and the cloning facilities that once produced the Grand Army of the Republic are turned to ashes. 

This moment represents the final moment of the Empire’s rise to power and the end of the prequel area. Kamino as a location is one of the most stylistic and iconic locations of the prequel trilogy and its final destruction at the hands of the Empire is treated as a solemn moment. This is the moment the Empire consolidated its power. This is the moment when they made it clear the Empire answers to nobody. The tensions between Kamino and the Empire were never going to work out in Kamino’s favor despite their contracts and mutual agreements. The Empire is simply going to tighten its grip and hold all of the valuable Kaminoan resources hostage for their own benefit.

For our heroes, this creates a tight situation. The Empire evidently wanted to wait to destroy Kamino’s city until just after Clone Force 99 returned to the city with the hope they could lure them back before destroying their home once and for all. Naturally, it doesn’t work. Crossfire tries to negotiate with them, but the team doesn’t respond and subsequently tries to negotiate with him to join them again.

This leads to the most important reveal of the season: Crosshair isn’t being brainwashed. He willfully joined the Empire after his inhibitor chip was removed. He simply believes in the Empire’s ideology and doesn’t have a problem being a “good soldier” and doing what he’s told, even when that means killing civilians and putting down rebellions.

Conclusion

I’ve heard a lot of fans complain about the finale reveal of the season and that it marks a very anti-climatic final moment for Season 1 to go out on. In some ways, I understand that. The series is small and doesn’t really have the space or conceptual ability to go big with its action or combat. I’ve heard fans who wanted the season to end on a big space combat scene or have a larger reveal.

To me, the reveal was exactly right. The Bad Batch was always going to be a smaller personal story about six people caught at a tension-filled moment in galactic history. There’s no Republic or Rebellion for them to fall back on at this point in the timeline. All they can do is rely on each other and try to find a small place in the galaxy to make a living. As such, the reveal sets up a darker and more personal story the next season is going to need to tackle: How do you deradicalize a space nazi?

The season ends with Crosshair and the Batch going their separate ways after saving each other to escape the flaming wreckage of Kamino. The team wants Crosshair back because they miss him, but he just believes in something different than them. They can’t just unplug the chip in his brain that’s brainwashing him into being a space nazi. All they can do at this point is agree to disagree. Nothing will change in the universe outside of this moment, but the question going forward will be about Crosshair’s redemption. From now on, he’ll have to go through a journey of discovery to determine what he’s fighting for and why.

While I’m not sure where the series can go after that, I think it’s a really good pitch for the next season. As imperfect as it was, almost everyone I’ve talked to loves The Bad Batch and wants more of it desperately. I certainly agree, and can’t wait to see what comes next in 2022.

The Bottom Line

 

The Bad Batch continues the standards of excellent storytelling and production design Dave Filoni continues to bring to his Star Wars shows. While it's uneven, it has enough great moments to warrant a watch.

 

8.3

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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