Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 1 Review – Five Alive

The Bad Batch got a bit of a raw deal in their Star Wars debut. Introduced at the beginning of the final episodes of The Clone Wars, this team of unusually modified Clonetroopers felt like both a gratuitous spinoff setup and a stalling tactic to keep us from the Ahsoka story we all really wanted to see. Plus they basically came off like the Ninja Turtles as Clonetroopers: Leader Guy, Rowdy Party Dude, Brain, and Edgy Emo. This is arguably true of many, many super-teams.

The Clone Wars series ended, and Lucasfilm has positioned The Bad Batch as a direct sequel. So much so that the beginning of the first episode features The Clone Wars logo burning up to reveal The Bad Batch underneath. And yes, the same narrator recaps background info. In this case, we actually see some scenes from Revenge of the Sith animated in Clone Wars style. As with every prior season of The Clone Wars animation thus far, the details have improved, and the humanoid faces continue to look slightly less like carved wood.

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Timeline-wise, this series begins just as Obi-Wan Kenobi prepares to confront General Grievous on Utapau in Revenge of the Sith. Jedi Master Depa Bilaba and her Padawan Caleb (who will become far more significant under another name one day) lead a Clone force against one of Grievous’ last droid battalions. Under fire and outgunned, they’re saved by the Bad Batch, who are now a five-man team since rescuing the now-cyborg Echo, technically the only one of them not genetically modified. Then Order 66 hits, and it’s Jedi-killing time. Except because of how “different” the Bad Batch are, only one of them, sniper Crosshair (voiced, as they all are, by Dee Bradley Baker), feels the deeply embedded inclination to exterminate.

The bulk of the episode takes place on Kamino, at the primary cloning facility/barracks, as most of the troops get recalled. It happens just in time for Palpatine’s announcement of the new galactic Empire, and the arrival of Tarkin (Stephen Stanton) to assess the budgetary value of Clones. Draftees, he reasons, will save a lot of money over the purchase of lab-grown soldiers. This is why Stormtroopers are bad shots, folks: forced austerity by a fascist bureaucrat.

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List-makers who insist on including The Star Wars Holiday Special and an hourlong Droids episode in their rankings of best Star Wars “films” will probably consider this 70-minute pilot to count as such. If it is, it will likely turn out to be one of the least divisive of them. There’s really only one new character, a young female Clone named Omega (Michelle Ang), and she’s not super-annoying. The story fills in mythology gaps without being too overly referential (one familiar character feels unnecessary, but oh well). The existing characters behave consistently, with no wild divergences to make fans yell “He wouldn’t do THAT!” It helps that the Bad Batch come to us as essentially blank slates, with little established as to what they would and would not do.

Yes, it would be nice if the folks making The Clone Wars and all of its spinoffs would hire a dialect coach to inform non-English, non-New Zealand actors faking those accents that the “a” sound in words like “blast” should be pronounced as an “ahhh” sound. Stanton’s overall English accent as Tarkin has always been super-dodgy. Plus, if a character says her name is “Oh-MEE-ga,” it seems rude to call her “Oh-MAY-ga.” But at this point, all of that is baked in as a feature. Considering Dee Bradley Baker stars as every member of the Bad Batch, recording all the voices in the same take and keeping them distinct, folks can cut him some slack.

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In its goals, however, this most certainly plays like a pilot, designed to establish a new status quo from which to springboard continuing adventures. As one executive producer noted, The Bad Batch feel a bit like The A-Team in set-up. It remains to be seen if they will continue forward as benevolent mercenaries helping the oppressed as well. We haven’t had any series set in the immediate post-Sith galaxy before, and that makes this inherently the darkest animated series yet. The Bad Batch can’t overthrow the Empire, because they didn’t. And it’s a good decade before the events of Rebels start to turn the tide even the tiniest bit. For all the fans who constantly ask for their Star Wars to be grim, yet don’t want existing good guy characters like Luke Skywalker in any way tainted by darkness, this feels like a winning formula.

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Sound design is generally great in any Star Wars production, but it’s particularly worth a call-out here. Since the animation, despite getting ever-more sophisticated, still looks stylized, the atmosphere truly sells the reality. In particular, a key scene in the Clones’ cavernous cafeteria is full of ambient noise and empty-space echoes. This creates as immersive a space as any in all of the prequels.

It’s probably a matter of taste whether fans will take to a lead ensemble that’s almost entirely jaw-clenched manly men. Wrecker, who likes to break and blow up stuff, should amuse younger children. Omega is clearly in there because somebody realized a complete lack of female characters could become a problem. But in terms of quality, the show operates on the same level as the previous Dave Filoni shows. That’s good news whether or not this particular angle appeals.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Bad Batch episode 1, “Aftermath,” is now streaming on Disney+.

Recommended Reading: Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Clone Wars Vol. 1

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