The Clone Wars is the one Star Wars project that just refuses to die. One year after the series returned for a belated seventh season, Lucasfilm kicks off a spinoff series focused on the elite, eccentric members of Clone Force 99. It’s a series that might as well be labeled The Clone Wars: Season 8, given the visual and tonal similarities between the two. That’s really all the reason Star Wars fans need to tune in.
None of this is to say The Clone Wars is required viewing before diving into The Bad Batch. The 72-minute premiere is basically a movie unto itself, one that reintroduces Hunter, Crosshair, Tech, Wrecker, and Echo following their original The Clone Wars: Season 7 debut. The key difference here is that The Bad Batch takes place shortly after the events of Revenge of the Sith rather than before. What place is there for a team of misfits and outcasts in Palpatine’s newly minted Empire? What happens to an army bred for war once the war ends? Those questions make for a strong foundation on which to build a new series.
Like so many Star Wars projects that fall outside the scope of the three film trilogies, The Bad Batch is tasked with filling in holes and bridging gaps between established pieces of the timeline. Presumably, this series will address the lingering question of how and why Palpatine phased out his clones in favor of conscripted Stormtroopers (a topic that’s been addressed in various stories but never definitively answered). There are plenty of larger franchise ties to be found, with Grand Moff Tarkin (Stephen Stanton) and a young Saw Gerrera (Andrew Kishino) both appearing in this episode, and another familiar Star Wars character featured in the trailers.
But if that was the only goal here, The Bad Batch might have trouble justifying its existence. The best Star Wars spinoffs are the ones that honor the example of the original trilogy – putting the emotional journey ahead of lore and minutia.
This episode is able to add far more depth and nuance to these characters than we saw in The Clone Wars.
Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be a problem with this series. “Aftermath” is very rooted in the emotional struggles of Hunter and his team. This episode is able to add far more depth and nuance to these characters than we saw in The Clone Wars. There, the characters were cast more as supporting players and a chance for voice actor Dee Bradley Baker to show off his range. But here, the end of the war has an immediate and profound effect on all five characters. They quickly begin to wrestle with their place in a post-war society. Over the course of the premiere, it becomes clear not every member of Clone Force 99 sees eye to eye with Hunter, with that growing friction going a long way toward further fleshing these unusual clones and differentiating their respective personalities.
The Bad Batch also introduces a brand new character in the form of Omega, the light-haired child featured in the second trailer. Without giving too much away about Omega or her role in the series, she proves an entertaining foil for the clones and a crucial piece of the puzzle in her own right. Tonally, there’s a lot that could go wrong by injecting a young protagonist into the middle of a gritty post-war story. But anyone fearing the second coming of Jar Jar Binks needn’t worry. Omega fits right into the plot and helps add to the emotional stakes involved.
The pacing in “Aftermath” could be a little tighter. It never quite feels as though the premiere needs 72 minutes to lay the groundwork for the rest of the season. That sluggishness is particularly felt during a detour to a familiar Star Wars locale late in the episode. This was always a recurring problem with The Clone Wars, a series whose defining philosophy seems to be “never do in two episodes what you could do in four.” Lucasfilm has never confirmed whether The Bad Batch is meant to be a limited series or a multi-season affair, but it would be nice to see an animated Star Wars show devote itself to telling one focused story for a change.
It never quite feels as though the premiere needs 72 minutes to lay the groundwork for the rest of the season.
Beyond that, fans of The Clone Wars know pretty much what they’re getting with this series. In terms of animation and music, it’s cut from the exact same cloth. Again, Lucasfilm could just as easily have packaged this as a Season 8. The visual similarities are certainly welcome. As rough as some of those early episodes are by today’s standards, in general, the animation in The Clone Wars is far superior to that of its successor, the weirdly sterile Star Wars Rebels. It’s good to see that more detailed and lively approach to Star Wars animation carrying over to the spinoff.
The inclusion of so many familiar actors and characters doesn’t hurt, either. Baker is, even more, a one-man show than he was during the previous Bad Batch arc in The Clone Wars. Baker voices all but a handful of the major characters in this episode, yet each one comes across as a distinct individual with their own personality and mannerisms. Baker’s greatest strength here is establishing the stark contrast between the restrained, orderly Clonetroopers and the more individualistic members of Clone Force 99. It can’t be easy framing a series around five near-identical twins, but Baker is clearly up to the challenge.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch is a worthy successor to The Clone Wars, so much so that it could easily be rebranded as an eighth season. It uses a loose end from that show to build a brand new story about the plight of clones after the war’s end, and it’s one that immediately resonates. The premiere episode captures a lot of what made The Clone Wars so great (including the slick animation style and the vocal talents of Dee Bradley Baker), but it doesn’t entirely escape that show’s flaws, either. But if you crave more Clone Wars in 2021, The Bad Batch is definitely the show for you.