Being a spin-off of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Bad Batch is not only a successor series for a variety of characters but also a thematic evolution too. We’ve spent seven seasons and a movie building up the clone troopers as individuals only to heartbreakingly see that individuality stripped from them as the galaxy transitions from Republic to Empire. Some of the few remaining free-thinking clones are the eponymous Bad Batch and it’s through their eyes we witness such tumultuous change on both a galactic and personal level. Yet I feel this interconnected storytelling has gone too far and The Bad Batch has failed to carve out its own identity and is instead caught between being a sequel and a prequel to other animated shows.
The Bad Batch has been described as ‘the cameo-of-the-week show’, and that isn’t an unfair assessment. However, this isn’t always a problem. Often, said cameos serve the story and the Batch themselves, simply being the catalyst to explore our main characters and offer them with a new point of view. Saw Gerrera, Trace and Rafa, Captain Rex: These characters appearing in the show makes perfect sense considering the time period and the plot, but also put difficult questions to the Bad Batch who grow and reveal new insights about themselves from their interactions. It’s like Luke’s appearance in The Mandalorian. That could have ruined the show but, despite it being a little self-indulgent, Luke served a valid role in the story of Din and Grogu, who remained at the core of the drama.
What makes the Bad Batch perfect characters for a show set at this point in the timeline is that they are going through a huge personal change regarding their own identity at the same time as the galaxy at large is changing. As the galaxy transitions from Republic to Empire, the Batch have to transition from Republic soldiers to something else, be it rebels, mercenaries or criminals. The two are intrinsically linked so, hypothetically, any story told in the galaxy at this time can also personally connect with these characters, literally and thematically, with relative ease. But The Bad Batch doesn’t always take advantage of this. Too often the Batch themselves feel like nothing but a plot device to tell other stories about other characters from other shows.
The episode Devil’s Deal was a turning point in the season for me, where true intentions became clear. It featured another cameo-of-the-week but this time it was the Bad Batch themselves cameoing in their own series. The Bad Batch gave up all pretence and became a Clone Wars sequel and Rebels prequel entirely, focusing on Cham and Hera Syndulla. This show isn’t the same as the anthology format of The Clone Wars and so shouldn’t just abandon its protagonists for an episode. While the Batch take on a bigger role in the second episode of the two-parter, they should have been more vital in the first. Cham and the fate of Ryloth make perfect sense to appear in the series and I’m curious about continuing that story, but the Bad Batch shouldn’t be lost in it. As Ryloth changes, so should the Batch as they connect their personal drama with that of the planet and its citizens. But the episode is instead treated like a prequel to Rebels, giving us indulgent screentime to Hera and Chopper (characters I love!) at the sake of damaging the series.
For as much as Dave Filoni is lauded for his work, which is good, and weird Internet people make memes about praying to his image in the sky like he’s God, he has the inability to let characters go. He’s carved out his own small universe in the middle of the wider Star Wars universe and his refusal to create new characters when he can polish off one of his old ones makes it seem even smaller. Ahsoka is a great character but Filoni is still obsessing over her. Rebels might be my favourite piece of Star Wars content but I don’t want other shows being overridden to become a prequel starring the kid versions of its characters. It makes sense that the Bad Batch could have bumped into Kanan or Hera on their adventures but both? Them playing a vital role in the backstory of both characters and it not being the reason why those characters are connected later just makes the huge galaxy feel too tightly woven. Instead of legacy characters and relying on fan favourites, the show needs to create some new characters who can become fan favourites in the future. I enjoy learning more about new characters like Omega and Cid and Rampart and… oh wait, that’s it.
Now this isn’t an attack about “filler” episodes. I hate that buzzword, which has become so warped in recent years it’s almost meaningless. In fact, the episodes described by people as filler have been some of my favourites of the season. I love the main serialised storyline surrounding Kamino, the fate of the clones, and the conflict with Crosshair, but the smaller episodes can create just as much of the identity of the series as the big. Despite the momentum built in the previous episode dropping, I actually enjoyed Infestation. It focuses on character dynamics and Cid’s role in the show and her relationship with the Bad Batch. It even offers some world building for Ord Mantell and the criminal underworld that the Batch are having to learn to navigate now that they are outlaws. It could have been better but I respected that the show was doing its own work rather than standing on the previous shows’ shoulders.
To highlight my point, my favourite episode of the season has been Common Ground, which nailed the balance between telling a galactic and a personal story. The Batch travels to Raxus, the capital of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, and have their ideology challenged when they have to rescue a separatist from the Empire. They always thought they would reach the planet with an invasion force but now they have to battle the clones and call a separatist an ally. It features new characters who could easily recur in the show and builds the relationship between Hunter and Omega. Even Cid too. It’s also a great look at galaxy and how the Empire treats the separatists, scratching a lore itch and continuing the story seen in The Clone Wars, while also having it personally connect with the new characters and their evolving perspective. Galactic change, personal growth, continued storytelling, and fresh insight all in perfect unison.
The Bad Batch are the perfect characters to be the entry point into exploring the early days of the Empire. They are our eyes on the great galactic change, shifting between different groups and perspectives, but they also need to be more than that. Characters in their own right who can hold down their own series. I think they can and there have been episodes to prove it. They may have started as pure character stereotypes like a Star Wars version of The A-Team but they are more nuanced than that now. I also don’t want to get rid of the cameos by legacy characters either. I want to see Maul and Dryden Voss and Hondo and maybe even Vader. They make sense. It’s just that the cameos can’t take over the show and strip it of its identity, which is barely formed at this point. Echo is a character ripe for further development but so far Hera, a character from a different show, has had more development in 2 episodes than he has had all season, and that’s the problem.
What are your thoughts on Star Wars: The Bad Batch? Do you think the series has an identity crisis? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.