The Skywalker Saga is arguably the least interesting aspect of Star Wars. After the groundbreaking A New Hope and the irrefutably thrilling The Empire Strikes Back, the film fare never quite matched those heights. The prequel trilogy buried an immensely interesting and prescient parable about democracy and militarization in a poorly executed Chosen One narrative. The sequel trilogy was too busy milking nostalgia to ever be a remotely coherent story on its own. Though all of the films have their moments, the poorness in their overall execution renders a lot of those moments less emotionally resonant. Seven of the nine films feature an overall lack of pacing discipline—with either a plodding slowness or a seeming rush—that would’ve allowed the story to properly breathe.
Star Wars has fared better in the television space. While The Mandalorian, The Clone Wars, and Star Wars Rebels have their own problems (who can forget the horror of CGI Luke Skywalker), at their best these series have rivalled the storytelling prowess that began the Anthology decades ago. Despite that and based on their initial introduction in the final season of The Clone Wars, my expectations for The Bad Batch were low. While the episodes that featured them were somewhat fun and dynamic, the storytelling was shallow. But the premiere episode of The Bad Batch, I am pleased to report, rises significantly above those expectations and demonstrates a potential to reach the heights achieved in the aforementioned series.
What happens to people whose lives have been defined by conflict when that conflict is, at least officially, over? That question has popped up quite often throughout The Clone Wars, with a few clones in particular wondering what their purpose would be if their central war programming was no longer relevant. This Bad Batch of genetically deviant clones, all voiced by the incomparable Dee Bradley Baker (a genuine powerhouse of voice acting talent), find that exact query staring them directly in the face.
That the series begins with the infamous Order 66 makes quite a bit of sense given it is the first time the Bad Batch have had to consider what they’ll become after the Clone Wars come to a bloody conclusion. When Jedi Master Depa Billaba (ARCHIE PANJABI!) is assassinated in front of her horrified Padawan Caleb Dume (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), not everyone in the Bad Batch goes with the inhibitor chip programming designed to ensure the clones’ everlasting loyalty. That their genetic deviation would impact the chips’ functioning is a decent enough explanation and could lead to more dramatically satisfying elements like Crosshair’s turn into a series antagonist.
The success of any story hinges on an emotional connection between its protagonists and audience. Unlike their Clone Wars introduction, the Bad Batch come across as genuine individuals with personalities, conflicts, and with potential arcs of their own here. That careful investment over an hour-long premiere ensures that the two biggest plot developments click right into their proper place.
The introduction of Omega (Michelle Ang) is reminiscent of Grogu (Baby Yoda) in The Mandalorian—an inquisitive and charming child that brings along a multi-layered mystery of who they are, how they came to be, and how the answers to those questions impact the other characters. That Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo) would ensure that Omega escaped Kamino along with most of the Bad Batch adds a huge plot wrinkle and is a deft script stroke that ties into the larger Star Wars narrative without bending over backwards to accommodate nostalgia at the expense of the current story. Why did the Kaminoans create Omega? Why did they deviate from their original practice of male cloning? In ensuring Omega’s escape in an uncertain political climate, what kind of insurance are the Kaminoans buying for themselves?
The second plot development—arguably more intimately consequential—is the tuning of Crosshair’s genetic deviation to an 11. Turning him from the snide ass of the group into a genuine antagonist creates automatic audience investment, makes life more difficult for our protagonists as Crosshair is intimately aware of his former comrades’s skills, tactics, and thought processes, and, more importantly, sets our main characters up for some emotional turmoil in the fights ahead.
Where the story goes remains to be seen but, for now, this sojourn into the galaxy far, far away is worth some credits for you to spend.