Clones are born to die. Bred in labs, from cells sold by the bounty hunter Jango Fett, clones wake up to a life of service. Here’s your armor. Here’s your blaster. Go get them droids, and we’ll sit back and watch from our throne rooms.
In the previous six seasons of The Clone Wars, we’ve come to learn that the clones are not the brainless drones briefly seen in the films. They have wants and desires. They know friendship. They experience loss.
Last week’s final season premiere, “The Bad Batch,” saw Captain Rex lead a squad of genetically deviant clones behind enemy lines in an effort to disrupt a droid algorithm supposedly predicting Republic attacks. In that episode’s climax, Rex discovered the algorithm’s origins in the voice of a fallen comrade: ARC Trooper Echo. The soldier had turned traitor.
The revelation stirred a profound sense of regret inside Rex. The last time he or we saw him, Echo was consumed in the blast of a shuttle explosion while attempting the rescue of Jedi Master Even Piell (“Counterattack,” Episode 19 of Season 3). We’ve seen plenty of clones and stormtroopers slaughtered over the last 40 years of Star Wars continuity. Their deaths carry about as much weight for us as any ant accidentally crushed under our boot as we walk from home door to car, maybe less so.
Echo’s death was the first time we considered the life of a soldier trapped in a star war. In Rex’s shock and horror, we found our own. The news that Echo might be alive sends a shiver of pain into Rex. His failure to keep his squad together resulted in further loss of life across the clone army. Every laser blast to a clone’s chest might as well have come from his rifle.
Most of Season 7’s second episode, entitled “A Distant Echo,” revolves around Rex and The Bad Batch, now saddled with General Anakin Skywalker, tracing Echo’s signal to the dragon infested planet of Skako Minor. There, Anakin proves himself less of a Jedi Knight and more of a damsel in distress as he’s immediately captured by the native Poletec people. They want nothing to do with the war they’ve brought to their planet and only ease up when Rex assures them that they are there to rid their land of those other warmongers taking up residence a few klicks away.
The Poletecs allow the soldiers safe passage, and the clones make their way to the Techno Union’s towering eye-sores and the source of the algorithm. Here is where Anakin proves his worth, as wave after wave of D-Wing battle droids floods the tower hallways. “A Distant Echo” is the first appearance of these little robot beasties, designed to go toe-to-toe with the dragons of Skako Minor (also called Keeradaks), their backs are mounted with little pterodactyl wings. Sadly, they don’t get much flying in as Anakin and the clones chop ’em up quick. Battle droids make Stormtroopers look like sharpshooters.
While Anakin and The Bad Batch hold off the droids, Rex and the brainy clone named Tech work to penetrate the control room. Wet Tambor, the Techno Union’s head honcho, appears on a viewscreen to mock their efforts. “Your friend is dead,” he chortles. “His mind is ours.” Rex and Tech enter and discover a stasis pod hanging on the opposite end. Tech hits all the right buttons, and the pod bursts open, and Echo tumbles out.
Echo is not the clone he once was. Cords run in and out of his brain. His color is off, frozen to the point of rotten. Below the waist are a couple of droid legs reminiscent of the ones that brought Darth Maul back to the land of walking. For Echo, not much time has passed. In seeing his old friend, he recalls the citadel where he made his last stand for Even Piell. Rex comforts his brother, “Just sit tight trooper. You’re going home.”
Home? What does that mean for Echo? He sure as hell won’t recognize the man in the mirror. In a universe where his brothers eagerly try to differentiate themselves with tattoos and haircuts, there will be no trouble spotting Echo in a crowd. Free from the Techno Union, if he’s to continue fighting the good fight, one could easily see him joining ranks with the aberrant Bad Batch.
Earlier in the episode, Rex asks Bad Batch squad leader Hunter to whom does he and his troops report? Hunter is rather glib and evasive. He says, “Good question. Can’t say that I’ve got an answer?” The mind begins to wander. While Rex and his clones do reappear later on in the timeline via Rebels, we have yet to see The Bad Batch in any other form of Star Wars. What happened to them? Did they make it out of the Clone Wars? Do they make it out of this season?
The Bad Batch might have more than a chip on their shoulder. As they look around, staring at all the good clones marching to their master’s orders, these guys beat to the tune of their own drum, or maybe their own master. Their morality could be right there in their name, a genuine bad batch of clones doing missions for the likes of the Empire on the horizon. Is that too much of a stretch? Aren’t all the Clones and Jedi effectively fighting for the Dark Side unwillingly? The Bad Batch could be the Emperor’s less subtle division of soldiers.
That’s a lot of speculation, and it could all turn to dust by the next episode. Rex’s recovery of Echo is not a happy ending. It’s not an ending at all. Imagining him up and at ’em by next week is absurd. He needs his time to find his place back in the world. Let’s hope he gets it. As is, he’s a shadow of Rex’s regret made manifest. That sorrow will put some distance between the two unless Echo forgives Rex in some fashion, or he gets the cheap narrative way out and goes full-evil.
Two chapters into this final season of The Clone Wars, and showrunner Dave Filoni and his gang are wading into the darkest realms of character. The writers are taking their shot to say their definitive statement on their toys, redefining many of them from what we’ve seen in the movies. You’ll never be able to watch the prequels as dismissively as before. Obi-Wan mildly addressing Rex in Episode III is now a millisecond packed with hours and hours of serialized storytelling.