In time for the official Star Wars Day, May the 4th, The Bad Batch releases its’ premiere episode in the form of a mini-film introducing the main players and some potential threats. The dream team consists of the leader Hunter, Crosshair, Wrecker, Tech, and Echo, and the series picks up after their arc in The Clone Wars. The series was not my most anticipated, but it was an enjoyable premiere with some pleasant surprises that raise the stakes for these characters moving forward. Not to mention some next-level depth of field and animation (animated snow never looked so beautiful on an animated tree). Here are my overall thoughts on the first episode, The Bad Batch Aftermath:
In Canon, Everything Counts…but Stories are Subject to Change
Let’s get the big one out of the way. The episode starts off with a Clone Wars battle from the perspective of Jedi Master Depa Billaba and her Padawan Caleb Dume, who had been sent to bring back reinforcements to Kaller. Caleb brings the Bad Batch. If you have read Kanan: The Last Padawan comic series (and certain issues in that series have drastically increased in value because of the first appearances), then you know that Lucasfilm has already retconned Kanan’s Order 66 experience. In the comic, the Bad Batch is not present and Billaba and Caleb are attacked amid a campfire with their clone troopers. In the grand scheme of things, it is not a big change and does not affect the outcome: Caleb survives Order 66 and ends up changing his name to Kanan. But it has rubbed some canon fans the wrong way as there is a sense of devaluing the comics over a moment of fan service to put a familiar face (in this case voice with Freddie Prince Jr.) on screen with the Bad Batch. This quiet battle between creatives on these shows and canon junkies is an issue I brought up in my Mandalorian Publishing post, but this is not the first or last time something from comics or novels will be changed. The fight with Ahsoka and Maul was changed in season seven of The Clone Wars versus its’ description in the Ahsoka novel, Cobb Vanth’s acquisition of Boba Fett’s armor in The Mandalorian differs from Aftermath and now this event. It is just the nature of adapting the source material. But this brings us back to the original statement from Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm that “everything counts” in canon. And that might be true for the most part but, as Disney’s Star Wars gets older, there will be more instances of tweaks and changes to stories from the novels and comics. Therefore, these elements of canon are more inspiration for creatives as they look to bring more of those stories to film and streaming. And fans need to come to terms with that but there is also a chance that canon junkies might become less invested in spending money on comic series and novels if too many plot details are altered. It is the delicate dance of an interconnected universe with source material that one group of fans are more familiar with than the masses.
Friend to Foe
Knowing that this show was going to take place right after Order 66, there were two easy questions push to the forefront in terms of the Bad Batch: where were they during this time and did they execute Order 66? Both were answered in the first ten minutes as we learned quickly that they were on Kaller with Master Billaba and Caleb Dume. The answer to the second question is more fascinating and the possible main point of conflict for the show. No, most of the Bad Batch did not comply with Order 66 (and there is not a real concrete answer on why their inhibitor chips did not work) but the keyword is most. It is made clear when Crosshair takes a shot at Caleb to kill that the sharp shooter’s chip is working. Things get worse from there and tensions build between Crosshair and Hunter, culminating in Crosshair getting his inhibitor chip “effectiveness” increased under Tarkin’s orders and becoming a problem for the Bad Batch. A foe that is familiar with the Bad Batch’s fighting styles and tactics. Tarkin was shown in the trailers but it was not likely he would be the main villain in the series and making Crosshair that antagonist instantly raises the stakes in the show. Whether Crosshair remains an antagonist remains to be seen but it makes the journey more interesting as we could see his perspective from the Imperial side as he tracks down his former team members.
Star Wars is Holding on to the Force
The episode also introduced a female clone with genetic enhancements aptly named Omega. It is not completely clear what her enhancements are but it seems to be in the same family of force sensitivity. She can certainly sense the emotions and intentions of Crosshair so she could also be an enhanced empath. I am hoping for the latter but, whatever the abilities are, I also hope it is clarified within the next few episodes. The abilities are something that the Kaminoans felt the need to keep a secret from the Republic and now the Empire, and worth Nala Se helping the Bad Batch escape with Omega. So this is another case of a special child but Lucasfilm needs to be careful not to tread closely to The Mandalorian when it comes to reluctant father figures babysitting force-sensitive children. But when most Star Wars content involve Jedi and force-users, storylines and situations tend to repeat themselves. In the end, The Mandalorian made the right creative decision to remove Grogu from Mando’s character journey and I am going to give the writers and producers the benefit that they will keep this storyline fresh when it comes to Omega.
Echo Needs More Development
This is a small gripe but right now Echo is getting lost in the pack because his skillset seems too similar to Tech. Tech is incredibly intelligent and overly self-confident in his ability to understand and use technology but Echo seems to be able to communicate directly with systems. I am happy that there is an original member of the 501st in the Bad Batch but it seems like Echo and Tech could have been one character. But, with Echo being “more machine than man” per Tech’s evaluation, I am sure the show will start to make a clear distinction between the two team members.
Bridging the Gap Between New and Old Animated Series Fans
The producers and writers of The Bad Batch do three things immediately to ground this show in familiar territory for people who haven’t watched The Clone Wars and have only seen the films: a quick summary of the situation unfolding during Revenge of the Sith, in the beginning, starting with a battle before Order 66 is executed (with Tech calling out Obi-Wan engaging General Grievous on Utapau) and having the clones return to Kamino (a location where a good amount of time is spent in Attack of the Clones). The show needs to appeal to people who might not ever watch seven seasons of The Clone Wars but are more inclined to watch a new animated series from the beginning. This is likely why Freddie Prinze Jr. and not some random kid voiced Caleb Dume, and why when you do see Captain Rex (who appears in the trailer) that you can expect some sort of exposition on the popular Clone Wars character. This is not to say that there aren’t rewards for Clone Wars fans: Crosshair stating “Good soldiers follow orders” is a clear indicator that his inhibitor chip is functioning at some level given we have heard these words from the clone trooper Tup when his chip malfunctions and he ends up killing a Jedi Master. Fans who haven’t watched the series won’t necessarily get that right away though there are more obvious hints planted later. It’s a clever way to get everyone on board and, as someone who wants to see more animated series along with the live-action shows, I hope it works.
One thing I wanted to mention was how nice it was to hear Tom Kane’s narration at the beginning of the episode. Kane, who was the voice narrator on almost all of The Clone Wars episodes, unfortunately, suffered a stroke late last year and will likely not be returning to voice acting. I wasn’t sure if he would be returning for The Bad Batch (or if his narration will be in the rest of the season) but it was a great way to start the episode.
That’s all my thoughts for the premiere. I have not decided whether I will do a thoughts post for every episode or wait until an arc has finished but looking forward to what the rest of the season has to offer.