Features and Columns · TV

‘Return of the Jedi’ Will Never Be the Same After ‘The Bad Batch’

Jabba’s pet gets a friend, and the ‘Star Wars’ universe expands a little further.
The Bad Batch Return Of The Jedi Rancor
By  · Published on May 28th, 2021

Welcome to The Bad Batch Explained, our weekly column dedicated to those rough and tumble Clone Wars leftovers and their march through a bold, new galaxy far, far away. In this entry, we’re charging into Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 5 (“Rampage”) and exploring how it connects to Return of the Jedi and the greater Star Wars universe. Yes, there are spoilers here.

As Tech says to his boys, a rampaging adolescent Rancor was not the distraction I was anticipating. Did we need further examination into how Jabba the Hutt’s monster stable came together? When it comes to Star Wars, “need” should never be in our vocabulary. Expansion is all that matters. And going forward, now, every time you watch Return of the Jedi, you’ll be just as weepy as the Rancor’s handler when Luke Skywalker brings that sharp gate crashing on her skull.

The Rancor we meet in Jabba’s palace is named Pateesa. Obviously, he was a mighty titan who routinely gobbled the dopes who foolishly made pests of themselves against the Tatooine crime lord. We thought he was a unique specimen within Jabba’s crew, but we now know he was not alone. There were others. Or at least one other: Muchi.

Don’t confuse her for Poochie, because Star Wars: The Bad Batch has most definitely not jumped the shark. Instead, the series continues to broaden what we know about the franchise, coloring in those edges and making Star Wars‘ canvas all the richer. In this franchise, every walk-on has a name and a history. What you see on first-pass will no doubt be stretched into an epic by the writers and artists who come after.

After last week’s encounter with Fennec Shand, Hunter desperately wants to know who is pulling her leash. Clone Force 99 cannot afford a bounty on their heads. They can’t retreat into hiding without squaring that problem.

Seeking answers, the squad travels to Ord Mantell, the wretched hive of scum and villainy first mentioned by Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s where the scoundrel encountered a bounty hunter that encouraged him to make amends with Jabba. Naturally, the bustling thieves den is the perfect environment for our clone deserters to investigate.

Echo brings them to a dusty bar where a Jedi informant named Cid is supposed to reside. After some verbal rigmarole, the bartender reveals herself to be the one-time Republic spy and agrees to help the clones if they accomplish a job for her first. Reluctant but eager, Hunter accepts Cid’s terms. They weren’t created to be mercenaries, but here they are — sellswords.

On the other side of the planet, a Zygerrian gang is running a small slaving operation. We’ve seen these bandits throughout the franchise, causing problems in cartoons, comics, and video games, but they made their first appearance in the Clone Wars episode “Kidnapped.” In that storyline, Ahsoka Tano realizes that oppression is not uncommon in her glorious Republic. It’s one of several instances that eventually leads to her disillusionment with the Jedi. The Zygerrians serve a similar function here for the squad’s youngest recruit, Omega.

Clone Force 99 agrees to trade credits and information for Muchi’s rescue. “Rescue…” That word is not quite right. And Hunter knows it. With money as their end goal, Muchi is as much a product for them as she is for the Zygerrians. The idea doesn’t sit well with the soldiers, but those on the run must bend their morals.

Hunter quickly receives other worries to focus on. Unfortunately, their Zygerrian infiltration does not go well, and they are captured and shackled alongside the rest of the slaves minutes after engaging with the enemy. Luckily, they kept their kid sidekick Omega back on the ship. Whether it’s her potential Force sensitivity or her tiny size, the youngling does a much better job sneaking about the Zygerrians.

Omega discovers Muchi chained inside a detainment box. When the Zygerrians uncover her, she releases its restraining bolts, and the teenage Rancor immediately tears through the camp. Watching this little King Kong utterly devastate her captors is one of the greatest joys that Star Wars: The Bad Batch has given us so far. It’s pure mayhem. Bodies being yanked, flung, and dropped on their melons. Muchi is a tiny beast, but a beast nonetheless.

The adolescent Rancor design accentuates the creature’s cuteness. Imagine a Chibi version of the monster that nearly made Luke Skywalker a snack. It’s short, squat, and squeaky. But not lumbering. Pateesa slowly plods toward his meal in Return of the Jedi, but in The Bad Batch Episode 5, Muchi’s got speed on her side. Once she’s loose, the Zygerrians don’t have a chance. She turns their bones into butter.

Originally, George Lucas envisioned the Rancor as an homage to Godzilla. He anxiously wanted a man in a suit to bring the pain to Luke, but the costume they constructed was too elaborate and expensive. And, honestly, it failed to elicit any ounce of terror from the crew. So, Lucas turned to master monster-maker Phil Tippet.

Tippet built the wire-rod puppet you see in Return of the Jedi. The result is a vicious, gargantuan beast and the logical extension of everything Ray Harryhausen invented. Sure, in reality, the critter was only eighteen inches tall, but the Rancor will forever tower above us. Despite his short stature and his tiny runtime in Return of the Jedi, the meaty mass looms large in the Star Wars franchise. It’s the kind of design you want to mold into plastic and drop into your toy chest.

He may have died in Jabba’s basement, but he thrived in our childhood bedrooms. In return, Star Wars creators continue to find ways to expand the Rancor concept. Different specimens of the creature have appeared in The Clone Wars, the Star Wars: Battlefront video games, and the most recent High Republic comic book.

We love Tippett’s beastie. It’s only fitting that the original finally get a neighbor and a friend. We can never watch Return of the Jedi in the same way again. Pateesa’s death is now given an extra blast of sorrow and hope. There are more citizens of the Star Wars universe to mourn his passing than Malakili, the Rancor keeper. There is Muchi, too. At the same time, after Pateesa perishes, Muchi may still be out there somewhere, roaming the desert dunes of Tatooine.

The Rancor was a beautiful monster born from George Lucas’ love for Godzilla and Tippett’s adoration for Harryhausen. He was more than the raddest toy in the toy box. He was wonder. He was awe. Muchi is not quite there yet in The Bad Batch, but she’s well on her way.

People complain that these prequels often make the Star Wars universe smaller. Must everything be connected? Does it matter if Pateesa the Rancor has a friend or not?

I say yes. With one half-hour episode, Star Wars: The Bad Batch transformed the Rancor into something more than a design, more than a toy. The Rancor from Return of the Jedi is now a proper character with a relationship and a narrative that extends beyond his introductory appearance. That’s an addition, not a subtraction.

But also, I’d like a new toy in this style. Make it happen, Hasbro.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)