The world of animated efforts within the Star Wars universe has proven a surprising treat for more than a decade with both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels surpassing expectations. Both shows, though in some ways perhaps “YA simplified,” are fun adventures with intrigue and character complexity that rivals the films and builds on the universe as a whole in ways that, among other things, make the prequels slightly bearable. Where both of these truly set themselves apart is in their effort to go beyond what is probably considered necessary.
That tradition continues with Star Wars: The Bad Batch, even if the establishment is a little labored and the main characters start out rather over the top.
The series takes place right at the end of The Clone Wars and follows the group of clones who are not in fact referred to (at this point at least) as The Bad Batch – Hunter, Crosshair, Tech, Wrecker, and Echo. We enter the series just prior to the end of the war as Clone Force 99 (The Bad Batch) are called in to reinforce a clone/Jedi position. That’s when the call comes in directing all clones to attack the Jedi, which leaves the members of our crew confused not only about the order, but why all the other clones are so willing to follow it without any hesitation.
I am more reluctant than normal to reveal virtually anything that happens because while much of the initial 70-minute introduction and second episode travels in establishment that is pretty easy to predict generally, how things actually come together is a lot of fun and opens up the characters. That we’re focusing on a group of clones who have each been genetically manipulated to enhance certain attributes is an introductory gimmick that gets us into the story, but the series already reveals that it is after much more than simply finding excuses for these enhancements to come into play, even if being strong is naturally going to come in handy from time to time.
That said, the series set up ultimately puts us in a position that feels similar to The Mandalorian. Our crew, who were largely comfortable with their place in the world, suddenly find themselves forced to be concerned with the larger powers that be, and their machinations, and discover that “ethical considerations” aren’t necessarily just something other people bother with. Moreover, as these unusual clones try to figure out how to exist in a new world order, it looks as though we are going down an “episodic escapades” style arc that focuses more on the survival steps of the day, as opposed to a grand story that fits the clone misfits solidly into the grander Star Wars story.
Though the initial entry into the series doesn’t manage to get us far down the road of expectations, it’s easy to guess, based on the previous series, that we’re going to get a mix of adventure and “regular life,” within this universe, and the setup here opens the door to visit all sorts of worlds/civilizations. Even a cursory glance at a synopsis makes it obvious that this is going to be a series that is almost exclusively about being on the run, and there isn’t really any way for the series to ever get past that stage. That means, as we dive into the story at a stage where the Rebel Alliance hasn’t even had a chance to respond enough to have such a name, we might well be taken anywhere at all as the Bad Batch tries to figure out what their possibilities are.
Buoyed by the voice talents of Dee Bradley Baker, a staple of an unimaginable number of animated efforts, and several others, the characters are brought to life, much as is the case with the other series, in ways that make them able to deliver certain moments of gravity, some real laughs, and surprising emotion. The establishment is somewhat clunky at times, but when we get to some of the payoff scenes, it’s hard to deny the power of really working a good story with interesting characters. That kind of delivery, in what is arguably a bit of a lark aimed at younger audiences, is how the other efforts lasted as long as they did.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch checks off all the boxes when it comes to laser fire and larger-than-life good vs. evil, but what it does best is create an unclear openness and characters you want to follow. It’s building on a lot of what the universe has done well before, and throwing it all into a blender that might lead anywhere, which is simply to understand the pull of the whole “fantasy that’s sci-fi” ballgame.