War! We’re right in the thick of it for the seventh, resurrected, and final season of The Clone Wars. Knowledge of Emperor Palpatine’s traitorous machinations remains in shadow, as does Anakin Skywalker’s torrid love affair with Senator Amidala. The stench of the Sith emanates around everything, but the Jedi are confident they’ll push them back to their dark corners of obscurity.
Blah. None of that matters for the grunts in the trenches. They are the cannon fodder. This is their story.
Six years may have passed since we last saw an episode of The Clone Wars, but you wouldn’t know it based on what this new chapter delivers. Directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Matt Michnovetz and Brent Friedman, “The Bad Batch” puts its focus on the soldiers following the orders of the Jedi sitting safely back at camp. These are the Star Wars stories so many of you have clamored to witness. The universe is massive, and the kooky space religion need not be at the forefront of every saga.
With The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars, Disney+ is now the open-world sandbox for all to explore the ever-expanding Star Wars universe properly. Whatever your thoughts on the last film are, let’s just say that Abrams put a capper on the name Skywalker and move on. We all have our favorite action figures, now let’s give them stories to match their rad designs.
Besides, at twenty-four minutes, “The Bad Batch” doesn’t have time to get into anything else beyond its mission statement. The Republic is desperate to regain control of a shipyard stationed on the planet of Anaxes, but the droid army seemingly knows their every move before they strike. Our faithful Captain Rex has a theory about that, and he proposes a behind-enemy-lines infiltration to obliterate the communications hub directing battle droid traffic. Rex secretly believes that his old clone pal Echo, thought to have been killed in the season three episode “Counterattack,” is alive and using the plans they cooked up together against their comrades. Say it isn’t so, Echo.
Mace Windu agrees to allow Rex to take a small squad out into the field. Rex and Commander Cody join the titular team of goons, also known as Clone Force 99. These are a motley collection of defected clones featuring mutations that visibly set them apart from their brothers. There’s a tall one (Wrecker), a skinny one (Tech), a mean one (Crosshairs), and a long-haired one (Hunter). Being the dirty quartet who do the jobs that the Republic wouldn’t waste a pristine clone upon, they’ve got a bit of a chip on their soldier.
Most of “The Bad Batch” is consumed with action. There’s a sense of “been there, done that” to its plotting. It’s the inclusion of the mutants that makes things interesting.
The clones have always struggled with individuality. They’re born from the DNA of Jango Fett. They were created to fight for those that did not. They’re slaves.
In past seasons, we’ve seen clones differentiate themselves through body modification, tattoos, and military brands on their uniforms. Rex and Commander Cody were our gateways into the incredibly strange lives these lowly fellows were forced into, and the best episodes were usually the ones that focused on their very unique point of view.
Confronted with genetic aberrations, there is an initial unease from Rex and his fellow roughnecks. Such anxiety stemmed from self-doubt cannot last on the battlefield. When they’re shot out of the sky and crash into the middle of a melee, the Bad Batch and the rest of the clones have to work together to get their butts out of the fire. What Rex sees is a team of hardheaded bastards tearing their way through the Separatist’s squadron of junk soldiers. Meat through the grinder. It’s perfection.
The tall one, the skinny one, the mean one, and the long-haired one all offer talents unavailable to Rex and his men. Diversity is the key to a successful operation, and that’s the driving philosophy of the episode. As the opening title card states, “Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole.”
The Bad Batch make the clones a better army. Without their aid, Rex and Cody would not have made it out of their suicide mission alive. Not only that, Rex would not have had his theory proven correct. Echo is alive. His voice is uncovered at the communications hub, and the first episode of the final season concludes dreadfully.
If we never hear from a Skywalker again, and we’re stuck with these hardcases for the rest of the season, The Clone Wars would be absolute appointment television for any Star Wars fan. Of course, the series will venture back to Anakin, Obi-Wan, Darth Maul, Ahsoka Tano, and the rest. No doubt it will be solid storytelling, but The Clone Wars feels the most on point when it’s detailing the tales of those in the trenches. Twelve years after The Clone Wars film premiered, and kicked off this particular branch of the canon, the series cements itself with those that give it its title.