Some thought this day would never arrive, but here we are: after years away, thinking it was gone for good, The Clone Wars has returned. And as far as it’s concerned, it’s like it never went away.
“The Bad Batch” is both a familiar and peculiar return to the beloved animated Star Wars show. Clone Wars has been off the air ever since Netflix delivered us the “Lost Missions” season in 2014, a group of episodes finished off after the then-recently-acquired Lucasfilm had canceled Clone Wars after its fifth season. In the years since, the cast and crew behind the show have given fans peeks behind the curtain, chances to see what could’ve been if the show had continued. Now it has, using those same ideas discussed at convention panels and interviews—and even, at some points, uploaded in unfinished, animatic form to the Star Wars website—finally brought to a complete life.
It creates this almost overwhelming sensation: There’s an inherent absurdity to the idea that Clone Wars just picks up storylines and character beats, sans significant levels of explanation, like there have not been six years since the show was regularly on the air. But there’s also a warmth to it, an almost innocent familiarity that embraces that its fans have been on this journey for so long and are so ardent, that the show is safe to pick those beats up and run with them. “Welcome back,” Clone Wars says to you. “You are among friends.”
It is this juxtaposition between the familiar and the new that drives much of the premiere. It’s the Clone Wars you know and love, same as always—right back into the Republic vs. Separatist conflict, and things aren’t looking too hot for our heroes on the planet Anaxes, where the Clone armies have been beaten back to the point of near-defeat.
There are fights to be had, and for Captain Rex, lingering doubts about the growing human cost of the conflict, as his beleaguered thoughts linger on friends lost along the way. Most notably for Rex, two losses eat away at him: Echo, who perished in the climax of the show’s third season, and Fives the ARC Trooper, who infamously nearly discovered the existence of Order 66 in the “Lost Missions” arc. For Rex, the familiarity of the war is all too real, especially on worlds like Anaxes where the Republic is fighting a losing battle.
“The Bad Batch” is full of such battles itself, an action packed reintroduction to the show which paradoxically feels right at home with the Clone Wars you know and love, and yet also displays two new and very exciting things brought to the table in this final season. First is the action itself: The series has never looked and sounded as it does in this episode, not just from a basic visual level of textural or animation quality—those too have been bumped up from even the heights of the series’ best work in the past, a continued evolution from the show’s rougher origins into one of the best looking 3D animated shows on television.
But from a direction and cinematographic view, Clone Wars has never felt this dynamic or intense either. The camera sweeps and pivots through multiple battle sequences here that almost feel fancy to the point of showing off; extended tracking shots make Rex and his fellow clone troopers feel almost John Wick-ian. If there is one immediate benefit to Clone Wars picking up six years later, it’s this: The show just repeatedly flexes on itself, it knows how great it looks, and it’s an almost constant delight to watch it do so.
The other new thing these battles bring to the table are its participants: the titular “Bad Batch”. Clone Force 99, as they’re officially designated, are an elite force of troopers who were genetic mutants of the Kaminoan cloning process. It’s an idea Clone Wars has tackled before—in fact, the squad takes their name from a defect Clone of the same number featured back in the show’s third season premiere. His physical abnormalities prevented him from being a frontline soldier, so he was left to do maintenance work while his fellow clones trained to be heroes. The Bad Batch, however, is the inverse; their abnormalities give each of them what are essentially superhuman abilities in the form of enhanced dexterity, intelligence, and strength, creating an accidental elite task force that can singlehandedly turn the tide of a conflict.
This is an intriguing concept, even if Clone Wars really only has space in its 22-minute runtime to explore it through the act of the Bad Batch repeatedly and consecutively kicking battle droid ass, decimating wave after wave with vivid and lethal precision. But the Batch’s drafting into the sieges on Anaxes also creates an interesting internal conflict for Rex, his feelings about losing so many good, rank-and-file men brushing up against having to deal with a group of clones who operate outside of that dynamic. Not just in their laissez-faire approach to authority but by the fact they are embodiments of some almost romantic ideals: clones, but hero clones, so good that they can seemingly overcome the impossible time and time again.
In a point in the Star Wars timeline where the Clone Wars have clearly dragged on for too long—pretty much approaching their end—the Bad Batch represents a complex sea of emotions for the good captain to contend with, a welcome depth for Rex to continue developing. They also represent a fascinating opportunity for Rex that creates a climax to this episode that the show will continue to dive into in this first story arc.
Squad 99's arrival on Anaxes allows Rex to finally push the advantage. Together, they uncover that the Separatist forces there have been able to counter Republic battle tactics with the help of a living command computer, seemingly operating on plans and maneuvers that only one clone Rex knows could be making: the previously assumed dead Echo. If he is indeed alive, Rex has the chance to save his friend, and reclaim some sense of justice and at least one casualty of this costly, ongoing war. But if he is, and the Separatists have really turned him into this living strategic battery, then Echo may be, just like Rex and the Bad Batch themselves, another kind of changed victim of the Clone War, a tool created for conflict whether he wants that purpose or not.
We’ll find out next week how it all goes down for, as always with Clone Wars, the battle is far from over yet. Returned, the Clone Wars have—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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