Reel Thoughts: “Clone Wars” spinoff “The Bad Batch” targets hardcore fans, but leaves casual viewers behind

May 26, 2021

The Monthly

Good soldiers follow orders.

That’s a common refrain of the clone troopers in the Star Wars animated series “The Clone Wars,” which ran from 2008 to 2014 before Disney’s Lucasfilm acquisition and culminated in a final seventh season that was released on Disney+ in 2020. But should the good soldiers follow orders when their commanders shift from the Republic to Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire and those orders become more insidious?

The animated spinoff “The Bad Batch,” the third Star Wars series to hit Disney+, explores this question, chronicling the aftermath of the Order 66 massacre from “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.” Instead of the sweeping scope of “The Clone Wars,” “The Bad Batch” follows a group of genetically mutated clones with special abilities as they try to evade the Empire and chart their own path across the galaxy. The result is a show that dives heavily into Star Wars lore and will entertain hardcore fans, but lacks the narrative genius to command the general Disney+ audience like “The Mandalorian.”

The first installment of the 14-episode opening season of “The Bad Batch,” which Disney released on May 4 to coincide with Star Wars Day, establishes the series’ role in the massive Star Wars timeline. After starring in a four-episode arc in the final season of the “Clone Wars,” Crosshair, Echo, Hunter, Tech and Wrecker — each voiced by Dee Bradley Baker — return to the battlefield to fight alongside the Republic. 

But when Vader and Emperor Palpatine overthrow the Jedi and turn the clones on their masters, the order makes little sense to The Bad Batch. The clones’ missions then turn from serving the Republic to killing innocent civilians. Without functioning inhibitor chips to make them comply with orders, The Bad Batch escapes the clone factory on Kamino and spends the show’s opening episodes avoiding the grasp of the Empire and the evil Grand Moff Tarkin. 

For Star Wars fans, “The Bad Batch” offers viewing entertainment every Friday. Though the signature lightsaber duels are scratched, the Bad Batch crafts unique ways to use their powers, from Wrecker’s brute strength to Tech’s intelligence, in their inevitable skirmishes. 

The animation for “The Bad Batch” raises the bar, with colorful backdrops that give a vivaciousness to each of the planets and CGI so smooth that it makes the CGI clones of the live action “Revenge of the Sith” look less real in comparison. With more culturally relevant live-action shows like the third season of “The Mandalorian” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” still on the horizon, “The Bad Batch” satisfies the appetite for Star Wars content with its fair share of reveals and connections to other Star Wars shows and movies. 

The flaw in the show’s execution is in its aim for an emotional storyline, which centers on the tag-along child character Omega. A rare female clone who idolizes the Bad Batch and has never left Kamino, Omega pesters the crew into letting her come along for the ride, while keeping secrets about her own abilities. The “protect the child” objective is all too familiar to fans of the Star Wars Universe — but it’s much more resonant with Baby Yoda, and scenes drag on in an attempt to bring out the soft side of the intimidating members of The Bad Batch.

Omega’s antics also detract from the shockingly dark and violent moments that highlighted the “Clone Wars” series and return in the opening episodes, revealing a show tentative about its tone and intended audience. 

The size of the Star Wars franchise means that not every show has to be a hit on the level of “The Mandalorian” or the original movies. Based on its opening episodes, “The Bad Batch” appears unlikely to make a pop culture splash. 

But for fans devoted to the fandom and in search of their Star Wars fix, “The Bad Batch” does enough to capture the magic of “The Clone Wars” and make for a fine addition to the Star Wars compendium. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @john__riker

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