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TV review: ‘Star Wars: The Bad Batch’ establishes canonical continuity in premiere episode

(Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd.)

"Star Wars: The Bad Batch"

Directed by Brad Rau

Disney+

May 4

By Drake Gardner

May 4, 2021 4:13 p.m.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

The “Clone Wars’” legacy continues on “Star Wars” Day.

Exactly one year after the finale of the seventh and final season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” ushers in a new era of “Star Wars” storytelling on Disney+ that builds on the long-standing acclaim of the former show. The new animated series, premiering Tuesday, follows the Bad Batch, a squad of experimental clone troopers with genetic mutations that afford them enhanced physical and mental abilities. The squad consists of five members – Hunter, Crosshair, Tech, Wrecker and Echo – all of which are voiced by Dee Bradley Baker and introduced in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”

The premiere episode “Aftermath” picks up in the middle of the “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” timeline, when the devastating Order 66 mandates clone troopers to execute the Jedi for treason against the Galactic Republic. The inclusion of an Order 66 scene alone is momentous, albeit gut-wrenching, showing a new perspective of the clones hunting down their Jedi generals. But perhaps the highlight of the episode is how the opening sequence resonates with fans of the animated series “Star Wars Rebels” by establishing canonical continuity.

[Related: ‘The Mandalorian’ season 2 recap – episode 1: ‘Chapter 9: The Marshal’]

On the snowy world of Kaller, the Bad Batch teams up with the Jedi Depa Billaba and her Padawan Caleb Dume to fight off separatist forces. While the Bad Batch is disoriented by the clone troopers’ betrayal of the Jedi, Dume escapes despite Hunter attempting to prove he and his squad are not the enemy. Given the Bad Batch’s supposed immunity to following Order 66, a worrisome contradiction appears when Crosshair intends on hunting down the Jedi and suspects that Hunter falsely reported that he killed Dume.

Back on the cloning planet of Kamino, the Bad Batch infers they did not follow Order 66 because of their genetic mutations. In stark contrast to the friendly clones seen in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the clones on Kamino appear more militarized and dehumanized, wearing their helmets more often and not engaging in casual conversation as they did before the Order.

Likewise, the most goosebump-inducing moment of the episode is when Emperor Palpatine declares the formation of the Galactic Empire to the galaxy’s senators. The scene highlights an endless sea of assembled clone troopers as they cheer in unison to welcome their new emperor and government with a chilling Imperial theme song complementing the haunting assembly.

Offering some relief to the episode’s unsettling events is the introduction of the cheerful, curious Omega (Michelle Ang), a young girl and assistant to the Kaminoan clone doctor Nala Se. Omega is soon fascinated by the Bad Batch because of their experimental genetics and forms a bond with them, especially with their leader Hunter.

However, Admiral Tarkin (Stephen Stanton) arrives on Kamino and disrupts their budding relationship, asserting that galactic citizens will be recruited for the Empire’s military since recruitment would be cheaper than producing clones. Despite being conscious human beings, this discussion paints the clones as mere commodities in the burgeoning Empire, further dehumanizing them.

[Related: ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ season 1 recap – episode 1: ‘New World Order’]

After Crosshair discloses to Tarkin that Hunter did not kill Dume, Tarkin then sends the squad to eliminate insurgents on the jungle planet Onderon to test their loyalty – foreshadowing the dire circumstances awaiting the cohort. Similar to the opening scene, this mission ties into the greater “Star Wars” canon when the squad stumbles upon the insurgents’ leader, Saw Gerrera (Andrew Kishino), who appears in other “Star Wars” content.

The encounter is eye-opening for the Bad Batch since they now understand the Empire has no moral bounds as the insurgents are families who fought for the former Republic and oppose Emperor Palpatine’s dictatorship, driving home just how much the state of the galaxy has changed in a short period.

After refusing to follow orders to eliminate the resistance, Tech reveals to the rest of the group that he discovered Omega is an experimental clone just like the rest of the squad. This is a significant revelation as Omega is the first female clone in the “Star Wars” canon, adding an unexpected but welcome diversity to the traditionally male battalions.

The group agrees to return to Kamino and rescue Omega before going into hiding, but they are captured upon arrival. Meanwhile, Tarkin and the Kaminoans examine Crosshair and predictably find that his inhibitor chip – organic implants in all clones’ brains that program them to comply with orders – is still functioning despite his genetic mutations. While the Bad Batch and Omega make a desperate escape, they have a near-death confrontation with Crosshair who is under orders from Tarkin to prevent their breakout.

The turn of events is distressing, since going into the premiere, it was expected that all members of the Bad Batch would be united and immune to the new directive. But Crosshair’s betrayal to the group poses an abrupt external conflict to the cohort’s camaraderie that will surely unravel throughout future episodes as the squad is pursued by their turned comrade.

With the same animation style as “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and the inclusion of many familiar characters, “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” may initially seem like a thinly veiled eighth season of the former show. However, the new series expands upon the lore and mythos of the Star Wars universe like never before by integrating an abundance of canonical continuity and insight into the formation of the Galactic Empire in just one 70-minute episode – promising fresh perspectives in a largely unexplored era.

The season premiere sets the bar high for the rest of the series, but if the first episode is any indication, the show might just surpass “Star Wars” fans’ high expectations.

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Drake Gardner
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