Despite a promising start, The Bad Batch ’s first episode quickly fizzles out and makes it a disappointing first impression for Star Wars’ latest animated series.
*Warning: This piece contains spoilers for episode one of Star Wars: The Bad Batch*
When the opening title of Star Wars: The Bad Batch kicked in, following the same aesthetic footprints as Star Wars’ greatest series, The Clone Wars, I quickly became excited by seeing a direct sequel of one of the best-animated series ever made. The Bad Batch was introduced in the final season of The Clone Wars, where five genetically enhanced (or modified) Clones fought during the fall of the Rebellion and went above and beyond the regular clones’ programming, due to a defect in their inhibitor chip. In the spinoff series’ first episode, Tom Kane’s narrator shows up for good measure, to remind us what happened during the final episode of The Clone Wars, Victory and Death, and to segway the viewers into The Bad Batch.
The first episode starts smack bang in the middle of Order 66, as we learn that Clone Force 99 (all voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) were impervious to the call from Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to exterminate the Jedi order. During a firefight involving Battle Droids, Order 66 causes the death of General Depa Billaba (Archie Panjabi), which prompts her Padawan, Caleb Dume (also known as Kanan Jarrus, if any fans of Star Wars Rebels are reading this. And, yes, Freddie Prinze Jr. voices him again), to stop trusting the clones and escape. This sequence is one of the few good moments of The Bad Batch’s first episode, as its 70-minute premiere is plagued by sluggish pacing and a terribly uninteresting story to hook its viewers into the continuation of The Clone Wars storylines.
Setting it right after The Clone Wars ends is the “hook” The Bad Batch gives the viewers to stay until the very end—but its “story” feels terribly familiar. Case in point: Crosshair, the sharpshooter of the gang, wants to murder Dume at the beginning because he feels Clones must respect orders and complete any missions and/or tasks given, slowly distancing himself from the other members of the Clone Force, who doesn’t want to listen to the newly formed Empire’s orders, clearly hiding many things from them. Predictably so, Crosshair will deflect from the Force and join the Empire, to follow orders and, during the moment in which he betrays the Clone Force, there isn’t any emotional resonance or feelings elicited from any of the team’s members (or Crosshair) that makes it powerful.
During the first moments in which Clone Force 99 knows that something is wrong with the Clones’ programming and begins to question what their role will be in the formation of the “new galactic Empire”, these are the sequences in which the relationship between the five clones start to become clear and where they show their true feelings on the stakes at hand for the audience to start caring about them. It never really happens—as viewers are mostly forced to watch painfully tedious sequences of the Clones reacting to one event after another, without the basis of their character arcs starting to flourish. Two things make a great show: story and characters. You can sacrifice a tad bit of the story to spend more time building character arcs, and the 70-minute runtime seemed like the perfect opportunity for The Bad Batch to start not only establishing its main storyline but setting the stage for its characters. All we know about The Bad Batch is that one of them’s very strong, the other is good at shooting, one is a techno wiz, we’ve got a hybrid robot and someone with “enhanced senses”, without going into specifics as to what those “senses” are. Maybe later, who knows.
It’s not deep enough for the audience to invest themselves with the characters. Oh, I know that some will read this and say, “Why are you expecting this show to be deep? It’s Star Wars, baby! Pew! Pew! Pew!”. Valid, but riddle me this: how come a show like Star Wars: The Clone Wars (or Rebels), with a shorter runtime and more focused story arcs, not only delivered excitingly high-powered action sequences (The Clone Wars contains some of the best Star Wars action. Ever.), but also constructed incredibly compelling character arcs? I am referring, in particular, to the one of Ahsoka Tano, where the audience sees a progression in her journey from Padawan (Clone Wars) to Jedi legend (Rebels/The Mandalorian).
The Clone Wars delivered on both fronts: amazing action, great characters and terrific story-arcs. Yes, sometimes, some of the storylines weren’t as good as others (can’t win ‘em all), but the characters stayed consistent throughout the entirety of its seven-season run, and the creators developed many of them further in subsequent shows. So far, The Bad Batch hasn’t given me a reason to care about any of the members of Clone Force 99 and their relationship with the newfound Empire, whereas, in The Clone Wars, their story arc was quite enticing (albeit a little too formulaic, but the first storyline of its final season served to bring the audience back to the world of The Clone Wars so it didn’t really matter here). Now you’ve got a show dedicated to them, and none of the writing has given the viewers one single reason to care about any of the clones? It’s definitely not a great start.
There were, however, a few enjoyable things in its season premiere, but they were so few and far between it doesn’t give me any hopes that the show will get better. A nice callback to Rebels with Caleb Dume at the beginning was something I didn’t think I would see in a show like this, and the action scenes were, as expected, very well done and grandiloquent in scope. The animation is also excellent and has a great cinematic look to it that magnifies on a 4K display. A tease at the end, where the Clone Force “knows a guy” can bring about interesting (or overzealous) fan theories on who that person might be (definitely not Anakin—he has turned into Darth Vader now) gives hope that the show will start to pick up steam, but a sluggish and uninteresting pilot is not a great sign from a Star Wars spinoff brimming with incredible potential. We’ll just have to see in which direction it goes next, during its second episode premiering May 7th. Until then, May the Force be with all of you.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch: Aftermath (Ep. 1) is now available to watch on Disney+.
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