The Bad Batch- Less is more.

The Bad Batch: Tech, Hunter, Echo, Wrecker and Crosshair.

If you had asked me about my interest in a new Star Wars show 2 years ago, I would have been curious, but not excited. If you had asked me the same question 3 or 4 years ago, I might not have been even remotely curious. This isn’t without good reason, for me like many others I’m sure, the acquisition of Star Wars by Disney in late 2012 signalled a new era in the franchise’s history, an era which was hailed in by the ultimate visionary, George Lucas, taking a step down from his crowning achievement. Even as a 13 year old at the time, the decision seemed almost alien. As was grimly predicted the resulting trajectory Star Wars would take in the 2010’s was a rocky one. The near-immediate cancellation of the beloved Clone Wars series was among the first displeasing decisions made in what looked like a dismissive, cold corporate take-over.

Now while it has undeniably been a rocky journey, it’s not been without its good, even great parts. 2015 saw the first true Star Wars movie released since 2005, while TFA certainly had glaring flaws, the characters introduced seemed interesting and personally I enjoyed seeing it. Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One in 2016 blew me away, a Star Wars take on a classic War film which seemed to do everything right. Despite a janky first season, Rebels really came into its own during season 2 and continued to not only get better, but push the boundaries. By the end of Season 4 in 2018, Rebels had told a watertight, gripping story. Conversely only months before, Disney released The Last Jedi, while it had some spectacular visuals, what could have been an improvement of what TFA started became an atrocity that both our new and old generation of characters were caught right in the middle of. On reflection its about at this point that I lost interest in Star Wars as a whole. I never bothered to catch up on Rebels Season 4, stopped paying attention to announcements, and ultimately felt like to some degree I had moved on.

Now fast forward to the present, currently June 2021. The Sequel trilogy is finished, Clone Wars Season 7 released, The Mandalorian has 2 excellent seasons, a fantastic narrative driven single player game in the form of Fallen Order, not to mention there are so many prospective shows and content in the works it’s almost dizzying. The Mandalorian’s 2nd season was certainly the turning point that made me hopeful again, every week since the first season me and my long time friends would gather in discord to watch the episode that had released that week together. With the arrival of familiar characters whom had made appearances in both Clone Wars and Rebels, I wanted to remind myself of their roles in both shows. So I went back and watched all of their respective arcs, as I was watching I stumbled across Clone Wars Season 7, a release that I somehow wasn’t consciously aware of. Next I watched Rebels again, only to realise I had never finished watching the show in the first place. Since then, my love for the franchise has returned, over the course of the last year or so I’ve gone back and watched everything I could, read comics, re-played old games, and re-discovered part of my childhood. A point both me and a close friend of mine made to each other was that we both felt like kids again, eagerly awaiting weekly releases of our new favourite shows in much the same way that I remember looking forward to seeing Clone Wars on Cartoon Network when I got home from school.

It’s in this context that The Bad Batch, the latest Star Wars show found me in. Since it’s release early last month, I’ve been attentively watching the show as well as people’s reactions to it on social media. At the time of writing this, the 8th Episode of the series has just been released, marking the halfway point for the series so far. For that reason, it feels appropiate to write about the show.

The Introduction of the Bad Batch

The opening arc of Clone Wars Season 7 gave viewers the literally explosive introduction of the Bad Batch, but moreso than that it carried on the much loved tradition of Clone-Centric arcs. From ‘Rookies’ in Season 1 all the way through to ‘Conspiracy’ in Season 6, some of the best episodes of the Clone Wars focused directly and exclusively on the ordinary soldiers that populated the show. These 4 episodes at the beginning of Season 7 are the logical next step in this tradition. In opposition to the standard clone dynamic we’ve seen before, we are introduced to a squad who are entirely at odds with the uniformity and structure that we’ve grown used to. They look, behave, sound and even fight different to the ‘regs’. Previous Clone arcs were defined by concepts like brotherhood and unity between our favourite brown eyed soldiers. The Bad Batch completely subverts this idea, they display little to none of the unity we’ve seen between clones, throughout the arc they are constantly at odds with the regular clones even going as far as to openly antagonise them. It’s the perfect way to set up them up for their own show.

The plot centralised around finding Echo, while providing much needed emotional gravity around what otherwise would have been purely action episodes, it also led nicely into one of the primary themes the wayward squad represent: alienation. How do a group of genetic freaks fit into the standardised army? What do the regular clones think of them? What will Echo do after his ordeal? These are some of the questions that are raised and partially answered in the opening arc of the Clone Wars. As we’ve seen in the standalone show too, these questions are expanded upon and that same uniformity we once admired in the Clone Army becomes the metaphorical antagonist to the Bad Batch’s individuality.

The ‘Season 8’ Sentiment- Revealing the shows differences and strengths

While hearing and seeing people discuss the show so far, you may have come across this sentiment being echoed (ha) that the show is ‘basically just Season 8 of the Clone Wars’. Now aside from the obvious, that being the show deliberately tells you in the first episode the war (the one with the clones) is over, there’s also various stylistic differences in the production, themes, and medium of TBB that may not be immediately noticeable. While yes, the series does indeed use the same marionette style models, recurring characters, and time period there are remarkable differences in both how the narratives play out, and the tone in which they play out in. For one, Clone Wars was an anthological show where each series brought us wildly different arcs and characters; Bad Batch focuses solely on our lone squad surviving, day in day out. In Clone Wars we saw character development take place over arcs within various series where we were rarely with a character for more than 4 episodes at a time. The development of the Bad Batch is happening much more quickly, episode to episode. Another fundamental difference is the scale. Clone Wars was a huge show spanning large time frames and even larger space, we spent series after series hopping from planet to planet, character to character seeing the galaxy in tremendous, grand scale. The Bad Batch takes a much more narrow, focused, and detailed approach; everything from the plot to the environments is smaller in scale.

This smaller scale shouldn’t be mistaken for a drop in quality or ambition though, in fact it’s quite the opposite. In what is most certainly a directorial decision, The Bad Batch doesn’t feature so many of the huge open environments we are used to from Clone Wars; where we once saw open warfare we now see street skirmishes. Even the shot composition is different; we see very few grand shots of our heroes in space, nearly none of the sweeping landscapes. In fact nearly everything in The Bad Batch feels more dense. Grounded camera angles and more closeups further propagate this feeling. More often than not, the sets for the show feel cramped and claustrophobic (especially compared to Clone Wars), this serves as both a visual metaphor for our squad’s now lost freedom but also demonstrates one of the shows strengths as an animation. Everything in this show feels detailed and looks fantastic, through smaller scale the show achieves a stunning look, whether that be lighting or textures. My overall sense when watching was that this show’s animation and look was an improvement from the already brilliant Season 7 aesthetic.

The aforementioned claustrophobia and smaller environments are also crucial vehicles in conveying the show’s overall tone. Our squad are on the run from the newly formed Empire, thus the cramped shuttle and the smaller environments we see them in contribute towards the feeling of paranoia we experience on their behalf. The crowded urban environments and underworld of the galaxy further bring this to light, we’re watching a group scurrying away into the shadows- worst of all with a child to look after. This brings me onto another key difference between Clone Wars and Bad Batch; the dark tone. While Clone Wars by it’s later seasons was dealing with increasingly dark stories, perhaps only the Umbara or Maul arcs can match the tone of Bad Batch. In fact, were it not for much needed comedic relief from the boys in black and red, this show would be extremely dark. Kidnapping attempts, civilian executions and authoritarian regimes are just a few of the terrible things we’ve seen so far. That’s not to say it’s unfamiliar territory for Star Wars, but we normally have a much clearer picture.

We may know who the bad guys are, the good guys however is a much murkier picture. Until the 7th Episode of the series we couldn’t even be sure the squad were one-hundred percent the good guys, since the writers have made a deliberate point of reminding us about the chips in their heads (through Wrecker’s recurring headaches). While the Kaminoans helped the Bad Batch and Omega in the first episode and seem to care for the clones as a whole, can they really be trusted? It’s only in the 7th episode that we meet someone we know we can trust for sure, and while Rex seems to set our squad right but their purpose and future path still seems unknown. This ambiguity to everything is set perfectly against the backdrop of a galaxy in flux, shifting regimes, and quickly changing morals. All these things combine to give the show an eeriness. The narrative is experienced nearly exclusively through Omega and the Boys, we’re as uncertain about what’s round the corner as they are and we’re as paranoid as they are about the Empire.

While the show is in some sense continuing on the legacy of Clone Wars, it’s managed to carve out it’s own identity very effectively through subtle changes in production and a different tone, which is why I think referring to this show as ‘Clone Wars Season 8’ simply doesn’t do it justice.

The Characters- Featuring some small criticisms of the show overall

In truth, I didn’t know what to expect from The Bad Batch at first. The introduction of the characters in Clone Wars while not lacking for cool factor certainly didn’t give us much in the way of in-depth character development, apart from Echo. In fact the Bad Batch were essentially a collection of quite one-dimensional characters: the sniper, the tech, the leader and the muscle. The squad’s obvious differences from regular clones however, was an interesting thread to draw upon potentially in the future, as was mentioned earlier. I suspect the writers realised this and so added the essential element of the show, Omega. From the moment of her introduction much like Tech says in the episode, it seemed obvious to me she was a clone: the same eye colour, facial features and a Kiwi accent to round it off. It’s a testament to Filoni’s desire to push boundaries that he throws what we know about clones out of the window in the first episode. Here’s a female clone, something that certainly makes sense logically, why would they not be able to make them? Yet it defies convention purely by nature of us having never seen it before. Omega is unique, thus she certainly seems to belong in the Bad Batch, the dynamic of her joining created two excellent problems that allowed our squad of relatively undeveloped characters a pathway to do so. She’s not only a child being forced into a situation far beyond her years, she’s also joining an elite military unit. The Squad’s balancing act of integrating her into their world and raising a child appropiately is fascinating.

These two problems and the resulting balancing act have created the dynamic that many on social media have dubbed ‘The Dad Batch’, it’s certainly accurate. This is made most clear in the show’s second episode ‘Cut and Run’, featuring a familiar face from Season 2 of The Clone Wars in the form of deserter Cut, a clone who understands fatherhood all too well. We see Cut challenge the Dad-ahem Bad Batch on their approach to teaching Omega, remarking that she isn’t a soldier like them. This interaction is pivotal and sets up the primary emotional driver of the series, that being the father-daughter relationship Omega develops with her squad and particularly Hunter. Omega’s introduction seems to have been met with positive reception across the board, I think partly due to her unassuming appearance and a charming Kiwi accent. The same can’t be said of young characters introduced in other animations, both Ezra and Ahsoka had mixed reactions on their debuts. While the abrasive parts of both their characters were deliberate and they did indeed both develop into fantastic characters, they didn’t get the warm reception Omega has had. Omega’s natural curiousity and naivety compliment the ‘Dad’ narrative well, creating dangers and lessons that I’m sure real parents are familiar with in their own lives. Each member of the squad gains some measure of development too with Omega’s presence; Wrecker takes on the role of a fun older brother, Echo a stern grumpy father, Tech a savant teacher and Hunter as the protective father. The lessons she learns, increasing responsibility and demonstrations of independence are both endearing and very realistic. The most poignant of which comes in Episode 3, in which after saving Hunter’s life, Omega completes the objective they set out to complete, all by herself.

This does however lead onto one of the minor gripes I’ve seen people posit as the episodes have been released. It is one I understand but am hesistant to say I share. Throughout episodes 3–6, I saw alot people saying that they felt the narrative was not really progressing in any major way or satisfying pace episode to episode. I can understand this position, these episodes are primarily our squad taking short de-tours, or taking odd jobs. The narrative pace of the show certainly slowed down especially after episode 3, it’s easy to see how people might feel this way. Still fresh in many fan’s minds the Mandalorian comparitively, had a much more consistent fast pace narrative. It was aided by a steady flow of supporting fan favourite characters like Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan, as well as a much longer runtime per episode. Furthermore, the premiere episode of The Bad Batch practically gave us a short feature film’s worth of narrative setup to digest. These things in combination certainly can make the following episodes feel like they are slow-burners. If this seems like a petty criticism or a trivial observation, perhaps that’s because it is. Particularly with the fresh 7th and 8th episodes, the narrative feels like it’s slow burn is igniting into something big. The stakes are getting higher and pathways seem to be converging for all characters involved. One such pathway concerns Clone Force 99’s Marksman-turned-villain.

A small criticism I do agree with is the lack of Crosshair in the show, his role as the primary antagonist of The Bad Batch was certainly hinted at in the initial Clone Wars arc. A cold, harsh demeanour and active aggression towards the ‘regs’ gave us plenty to dislike and he was established to be an interesting villain for the standalone show immediately. After his brutality in the 3rd episode and his subsequent contemplative scene, we’ve seen nothing of him, only re-surfacing in the 8th Episode. Perhaps due to awkwardness in the editing or inability to fit him in the right spot, we don’t see much of our primary antagonist and it does feel a bit odd.

Overall, when I consider the characters of this show, particularly our rag-tag squad of misfits, I really see their development not as individuals but as the unit that they are. My guess is that it’s the intended feeling the show wants to inspire, when it comes down to it this show was never going to be about the larger than life individuals we see in feature films, The Clone Wars, or to some degree shows like Rebels. It’s about a tightly-knit group of soldiers, an extension of those Clone-Centric arcs much loved by everyone in the Clone Wars. As such, I think the characters really fit the scale and narrative of the show so far, it’s been a real pleasure to watch them over the past eight episodes.

Less is more + predictions for the second half of the show.

If what I’ve written so far doesn’t read like a gushing love letter to the show, it’s worth stating that I really think The Bad Batch so far has been excellent. The most recent narrative twist in the 8th Episode has setup the second half of the series to be undoubtedly thrilling.

In order to summarise what I think makes The Bad Batch so great as it stands currently, the phrase “Less is More” comes to my mind immediately. Quite often in the Star Wars franchise the most loved creations in the space have been those that took a narrowed approach, reducing scale and the grandoise nature of it all to create smaller, grittier stories. The grounded nature of The Bad Batch, not only in it’s choice of characters, but production too has created a satisfying spin-off that has a real strong sense of it’s own identity. When you cut away the galaxy-spanning politics, all consuming war and grand narrative of The Clone Wars, choosing instead to focus on a group of soldiers. You get an extremely focused character-driven experience. There’s one comparison I think is especially useful to draw here, 2005’s Republic Commando. A much loved squad-based game that is great for many of the same reasons The Bad Batch is, a small scale story being told through the perspectives of a tight-knit group of soldiers.

At this halfway juncture, it certainly feels like the narrative is building towards an intense finale. My gut feeling is that as a spin-off series, it’s unlikely we will see a second series of the show. While I’d be happy to see more of The Bad Batch, a one-shot series seems more likely and assuming there’s a satisfying conclusion to it, that might well be for the better. As for specific predictions about the show, I’ll throw this out there: I suspect we’ll see Boba Fett in some capacity by the end; he’s a clone too and a younger Boba could have his fate tied up with Kamino in some way or another. The involvement of various bounty hunters throughout the show now also lends itself to this prediction. It seems likely also that we will see at least one member of Clone Force 99 die, whether that be Crosshair meeting his demise at the hands of one of our protagonists or a noble sacrifice by one of the other members. Beyond that, it’s hard to make any real solid predictions, the only predictable thing that has happened so far is Rex becoming involved.

Needless to say myself and many others are looking forward to the second half of The Bad Batch and hearing more of Bradley Dee Baker’s fantastic new squad.