Star Wars: The Bad Batch was too much like The Clone Wars to be truly great


One of the biggest problems with the first season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch is that it feels a lot like The Clone Wars’ latest one. Bad Batch, the first new Disney Plus Star Wars animated series, stands on its own well enough, given how it takes advantage of a much smaller cast of characters and a dramatic status-quo shift to give it a fresh start and tell a single story newcomers can follow. It’s just that most of what made that story resonate was tied up in the show that came before it.

This may ultimately be the point: One of the reasons Disney keeps making new Star Wars content is to steer audiences toward its old Star Wars content. This way, new Bad Batch fans might become Clone Wars fans, and maybe even Rebels fans, and so on. On its face, The Bad Batch’s first season was an occasionally dark but mostly light adventure about a gang of misfits thrust into the Galaxy’s seedier side. Shrewdly interwoven throughout that adventure were elaborations on big ideas from other Star Wars stories, but there were few ideas that The Bad Batch could call its own. In its first year, the series was about narrative transition.

That isn’t necessarily a flaw. Star Wars: The Bad Batch ended its first season by literally blowing up the story’s last significant landmark from the Prequel Trilogy, and fully plunging its clone-trooper protagonists into the dark era immediately preceding the Original Trilogy. In the two-part season finale, “Return to Kamino” and “Kamino Lost,” the eponymous Bad Batch return to the facility on the stormy planet of Kamino, where clone troopers are made and trained. The daring rescue mission they’d planned goes awry, as Vice Admiral Rampart blows the facility to bits from a Star Destroyer in orbit, and the newly formed Galactic Empire tightens its grip on what was formerly known as The Republic.

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In staging a finale that is decidedly about violent and sudden transition, the dual purposes of The Bad Batch intersect neatly. Its primary story is about its Clone misfits — the bruiser Wrecker, the leader Hunter, the geek Tech, the cipher Echo — trying to confront and save their wayward brother, the turncoat sniper Crosshair, who willingly joined the Empire, even though he’s free of the inhibitor chip that’s compelled most Clones to fall in line. Meanwhile, in the background, a more meta story unfolds that extends what came before in The Clone Wars: It illustrates how the Empire wasn’t an overnight creation, but a gradual decay, the consequence of a long war where many people forgot their reason for fighting.

The meta-story is where The Bad Batch’s most interesting potential lies, but it’s also season 1’s greatest possible pitfall, thanks to its eventual reveals about the Batch’s kid-sidekick Omega. Omega is revealed to be, like Boba Fett, an unmodified clone of Jango Fett, allowed to grow up at a more regular pace than the usual force-aged troopers, and not bred for combat. Through Omega, The Bad Batch can potentially grow in maturity and present a new angle on The Clone Wars’ fascination with nature, nurture, and personhood in this dark era for the galaxy. She’s especially intended as a contrast to how Boba Fett turns out, as the “son” of Jango Fett, the source material for the clones’ DNA. As a singular work, The Bad Batch going in that direction is exciting, but one of many Star Wars projects, it’s dispiriting to consider that in keeping with the series’ usual obsessions with making a big galaxy as small as possible, every current and upcoming Star Wars TV show is connected to Boba Fett in some way.

At its worst, the new era of Star Wars canon can feel like a game of incrementalism, where entire projects are confined to narrow periods and locales in the canon. This can work out, and has: The Clone Wars, after all, spun more than a hundred episodes out of a conflict the movies barely saw fit to depict. At other times, however, the limitations make Star Wars feel smaller, rather than larger — much like how The Bad Batch seems to commit to the same overarching ideas as The Clone Wars, only with a warmer found-family story added on.

At the same time, the animated side of Star Wars does tend to start series frivolously and let them grow in maturity as they go along, until they become well-considered examinations of the franchise subtext in gestalt. There’s no reason to not expect the same from future episodes of The Bad Batch. After all, the line between one era’s ending and another’s beginning isn’t as clear as we might like it to be, but blowing one up with a Star Destroyer makes for a pretty good letter of intent.

Season 1 of The Bad Batch is streaming in its entirety on Disney Plus.


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