This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, episode 7.01, “The Bad Batch.”
There’s been an inherent tragedy in the DNA of Star Wars: The Clone Wars from the very beginning. In the same way that you read Macbeth knowing that things won’t be ending well for the Scotsman, our knowledge of the fallout of Order 66 from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has us continuously preparing for the worst for these characters we’ve come to know and love. This feeling of unease is paramount in the storylines centered on the clones themselves, which is where the spotlight shines in the season 7 opener, “The Bad Batch.”
After a six-year hiatus following the finale of season 6, this final season kicks off with an arc that builds upon troopers Tup and Fives beginning to discover the horrifying reality of the clones’ true purpose. Those questions of free will, individuality, and what it truly means to be human are front and center here, as Commander Cody and Captain Rex relay the news that the tide of battle on the planet Anaxes has begun to shift out of their favor.
It turns out the droid army is transmitting a program filled with information that somehow predicts how the clones will think and react in battle. The search into Separatist territory for the source of this signal leads to the pair being tethered to Clone Force 99 — named in honor after the malformed clone 99 who bravely sacrificed himself during a battle on Kamino earlier in the series. But Clone Force 99 is better known as the titular Bad Batch, a group of “defective clones with desirable mutations.”
Ever since George Lucas so heavily displayed his inspiration from works like Akira Kurasawa’s Hidden Fortress and John Ford’s The Searchers back in 1977 with A New Hope, the Star Wars series as a whole has never been shy about where its roots lie. This is no exception with “The Bad Batch,” as the ragtag nature of a team of imperfect soldiers pulled together by the gravity of larger circumstance and forced to go on a dangerous mission is reminiscent of movies like The Dirty Dozen, and even comics like Suicide Squad. The Bad Batch itself even follows in the same alliterative footsteps as those other crews of outcasts. The inspiration doesn’t end there, as the moment when the unique members of the Bad Batch introduce themselves — from the silent sharpshooter Crosshair to the hulking brute Wrecker — feels like describing a handful of G.I. Joe toys you just pulled from a box in the back of your childhood closet.
It’s immediately apparent that the standout performance of the episode is Dee Bradley Baker, who’s been providing the voice of Commander Cody, Captain Rex, and the rest of the clones throughout the entirety of the series. The vast majority of the dialogue in this episode consists of interplay among Rex, Cody, and the members of the Bad Batch that we’re introduced to, each of whom have unique personalities and nuanced speech patterns. For Dee Bradley Baker to be able to draw out humor, tension, and camaraderie in conversations that are literally with himself is truly an impressive feat.
The distinction between the Bad Batch and the standard clones isn’t just in how they talk, but in how they act as well. We’ve become used to the well-trained movements of Rex and Cody that highlight the rigid training of a seasoned soldier. But these new “defects” each tackle situations in unique, messy, and improvisational ways. Wrecker pulls off a chunk of a downed ship and presses forward using it as a shield before eventually smashing battle droids with it. Crosshair’s silent-but-deadly tactics feel more akin to any of the bounty hunters we’ve been introduced to than a clone trooper. And Hunter, the team’s leader with a messy mane of hair and a red bandana that recalls images of John Rambo, is the glue that keeps them all together. Watching them go from butting heads due to ideological differences to working in tandem when the job needs to get done adds another great layer to the clone saga, and it leans heavily on this episode’s preface, “Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole.”
Characters aside, another impressive element of The Clone Wars has been how the visual and aesthetic quality of the series has grown with each passing season, and this new wave of Disney+ episodes represents a new high-water mark. From distinct facial tics on various members of the Bad Batch to the way a crystalline valley shatters when a gunship crash-lands on the surface of the planet Anaxes, the level of visual detail is so far beyond where the series began in 2008. There’s a density to each and every location that makes the whole thing feel like an extension of the universe that the films created, as opposed to a completely separate entity.
Likewise, the digital cinematography and camerawork has become impressive enough to stand on its own. The highlight of this first episode is an extended tracking shot that follows our soldiers as they go from approaching a compound, to infiltrating the front gate and taking out a handful of battle droids, to finally breaching the door to a control room and disabling a final wave of adversaries, all in a single take. Aside from just being a technically impressive bit of filmmaking, it showcases the unique traits and skills that differentiate each member of the Bad Batch.
Though the 23-minute runtime goes by in a flash, the ending reveal provides an impactful payoff. It turns out that the source of the signal isn’t a program, but rather a message from CT-1409, better known as Clone Trooper Echo. The hero was thought to be killed during a battle back in season 3, and news of his survival is sure to weigh heavily on Rex and Cody. This revelation provides a strong sense of forward momentum that really helps grow the anticipation for next week’s episode. I’ve been a big fan of the way the show tells individual stories over the course of a handful of episodes, and I’m looking forward to seeing this new arc unfold.
If you were hoping that this final season would kick off with updates on Darth Maul and Ahsoka Tano, you might be disappointed with their absence. In fact, aside from brief appearances in the opening scene by Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker (the latter now sporting shaggier hair and looking almost exactly as he did at the start of Revenge of the Sith), the episode is almost entirely removed from anything relating to the Jedi or Sith. But if you’ve enjoyed the clone-centric arcs that balance gritty battles and existential questions on the nature of individuality and free will, all the while barreling towards the tragedy of Order 66, then you’ll dig the fantastic way that “The Bad Batch” kicks off this final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.