The Horror of Losing Your Identity
Last year on The Star Wars Show, Dave Collins discussed The Clone Wars with George Lucas and Dave Filoni. On the topic of the clones themselves, Collins noted that they “took uniform, faceless, nameless, numbered clones, and you gave them a real sense of individualism and personality.” When reflecting on that theme, Lucas responded that “clones are people. Everyone starts out the same, but in time, as they grow up, they change.”
Even though Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka were the headliners for the show, one could argue that the heart of the series was the clones. During the Clone Wars, the clone troopers have dealt with their identities as soldiers and changing attitudes towards the war. Captain Rex even confides in Ahsoka that the clones have mixed feelings about the war that led to their existence.
The clones were created to fight and engineered to be the best soldiers. In the films, we only see the clones’ introduction and a few battles before they ultimately betray the Jedi (there is no mention of an inhibitor chip). Throughout the series, we met individual clones and got to know each of their personalities. Clones like CT-555 (Fives) and CT-7567 (Rex) had major arcs, and in the case of Captain Rex, major growth. Perhaps the biggest challenge to their identity pre-Order 66 came when a corrupt Jedi General Pong Krell sabotaged their missions, treated them as exposable, and consistently called them by their designation numbers versus the names they chose for themselves. That dehumanization was a turning point for many clones blindly following orders…until Order 66 forced their compliance.
If The Clone Wars reflected the development of the individual clones’ personalities, then The Bad Batch reflects the horrors of losing that identity. The Bad Batch is dealing with the aftermath and figuring out how, if at all, they fit into an Empire (and galaxy) that no longer wants or needs them. When Palpatine issues directive Order 66 to all clones, it only works on Crosshair initially. Then the team refuses to carry out orders eliminating Saw Gerrera’s faction on Onderon. From that point, they become enemies of the Empire and leave behind Crosshair, who has had his inhibitor chip enhanced.
The rest of the season is a battle of ideology within the team and, ultimately, with Crosshair. Hunter is wary of playing “do-gooder” to protect Omega and the rest of the team. The others, specifically Omega and Echo, pressure Hunter to help various people they encounter throughout the season. In “Rescue on Ryloth,” Omega helps Hera convince the guys to help free her parents from Imperial prison and pushes them to help Cid in “Infested.” Meanwhile, Echo in “War-Mantle” is the one to get Hunter captured by the Empire by insisting that they go into a heavily armed Imperial base to rescue a clone (who we later learn is Gregor). By separating themselves from the Empire, they have separated themselves from a singular identity and, therefore, have to decide what they are moving forward. Are they just mercenaries, helping when it pays, or something more?
In addition to Crosshair executing Order 66, we get an even more pronounced idea of what could have been for the Bad Batch in “Battle Scars” with Wrecker. From the moment he bumps his head on a crash landing in “Replacements,” we get hints that Wrecker’s inhibitor chip is slowly and surely activating. Each head injury in the following episodes brings tension until the moment happens on Bracca, when the clones seek an old medical bay ship from the Clone Wars to remove their chips. Wrecker’s chip activates before Tech can remove it, and he attacks his brothers and Omega. Nothing matters to him anymore except that they are “in violation of Order 66.” Not even Wrecker’s close relationship with his sister, Omega, overrides the chip. And the whole scene plays out like a horror scene in a film, with dark corners to hide and tense music and sinister peaks around corners. After they detain Wrecker and remove his inhibitor chip, he apologizes to Omega, saying he tried to fight it. Fortunately, this does not affect their close relationship as Omega forgives Wrecker (though how interesting would it be if it did!). But the most memorable thing about “Battle Scars” is the production matching so perfectly with the theme to create a horror setting for a horrific situation.
The Power of Choice in Asserting Identity
After the execution of Order 66, all the individuality that existed for the regular clones in The Clone Wars disappears. Their armor, usually different colors to designate their regiment (and tie to a Jedi General) becomes white and grey. And you stop seeing their faces because it no longer matters. They are just tools of the Empire. Crosshair also keeps his helmet on more than his teammates after Order 66. It becomes easy to forget that they all look the same until one recognizes Cut Lawquane’s face in “Cut and Run.”
This search for identity is nothing new in Star Wars. Han Solo’s whole arc in the Original Trilogy was figuring out his identity and whether he was a smuggler or all-in for the Rebellion. Finn has to go on a similar journey in the Sequel Trilogy when he deserts the First Order and reluctantly joins the Resistance.
However, having this dynamic play out with a small team pre-Rebellion is new. The Bad Batch is navigating the rules of the new galactic power structure without the truth of why the Jedi were killed by the clones. And they do not readily believe Emperor Palpatine’s explanation in his galactic speech. There is no love lost between the team and the “regs” as they call the regular clone troopers, yet even the regs struggle with their new reality. Captain Rex, after his experience in The Clone Wars season seven, has chosen to fight and helps the team remove their inhibitor chips.
“We came here to free Ryloth from Separatist control, and we succeeded. But look around you. We’re now being ordered to target the very people we swore to protect. And I will not be a part of it any longer.”– Captain Howzer, Rescue on Ryloth
Captain Howzer, stationed on Ryloth, struggles with his role in the Empire and his relationship with the Syndulla family. Ultimately, he chooses to do the right thing and help the Syndullas escape prison. But he does not stop there: he chooses to stay and not abandon his men, whom he believes are good men. Howzer is correct in his faith, and he convinces many of them to lay down their weapons, refusing to fight for the Empire. It is still unclear how the inhibitor chips factor post-Order 66, but this likely contributes to the replacement of the clone troopers.
Crosshair reasserts his identity, after removing his inhibitor chip, by siding with the Empire. Instead of being horrified at what he has enabled, like Captain Rex and, to a lesser extent Captain Howzer, Crosshair chooses to stay with the Empire. It is almost contradictory that he finds himself through loyalty with an entity that admonishes individuality. But, Crosshair’s personality fits in more with the Empire, and the inhibitor chip might have helped him realize that he does not fit in with the Bad Batch.
Even Omega, whose existence as a female clone ostracizes her from the rest, is still tied to Kamino. She spent all her life in a lab and is naïve about the dangers of the galaxy. In “Cut and Run” when Hunter reprimands her for almost getting killed by a nexu, she removes her Kaminoan amulet as a first step towards choosing to identify with the Bad Batch. With each episode/adventure she gains a little more confidence (though still makes questionable decisions) and, in the finale, is acting leader as the team navigates their way to safety.
As for the Bad Batch, the team collectively decides to part ways with the Empire, and later run missions undermining it. They have individuality accepted that responsibility, but there is an opening if one wants to go their separate ways. Echo expresses his thoughts when the team comes across Captain Rex that they should be helping him. He also routinely states his displeasure in running missions that involve past adversaries, like rescuing Separatists and retrieving a captive of slaveholders. It is possible at some point that Echo will choose to leave the team and join Rex. And, if that happens, he will be free to make that choice. In the finale, Crosshair has also made a choice: despite the Empire leaving him to die on Kamino, despite all evidence that they do not value him above the other clones for his skills, he is staying with the Empire.
And what of the other clones? Howzer and his men who defied Imperial orders are locked away in prison. Also, there is still the question of what the Empire will do with the clones that remain. The conscripted soldiers are not going anywhere, and, at some point, the clones will be retired. There are subtle hints that more clones might deviate from the Empire. Gregor, who first appeared in The Clone Wars and again in Rebels, would never have fit in with Empire. The clone that delivers the news to Admiral Rampart that Tipoca City has been destroyed sounds saddened. There might be other Captain Howzers before the clones are retired.
This theme of identity and choice seems like it is engrained in the show’s DNA and will likely play out through the rest of the series as both sides have drawn a line on where they stand. However, some questions remain: Crosshair returns to the Empire, but will he still consider his former teammates his enemies? The Bad Batch is inching toward taking a definitive stand against the Empire, which could unfold and lead them towards the seeds of a rebellion in season two.