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‘The Bad Batch’ Finds a Small Home in the ‘Star Wars’ Universe

The animated series, which wrapped its first season on Friday, isn’t as flashy as ‘The Mandalorian,’ but finds ways to reward the people most invested in its story

Disney+/Ringer illustration

You’d think it would be hard for clone commandos to get homesick. Kamino, the homeworld of countless clones who shared the genes of Jango Fett, is where the future fighters were decanted, but not delivered; trained, but not raised; valued, but not loved; tested, but rarely rewarded. It’s an artificial, antiseptic place without a solid surface—a soldier assembly line. Also, the climate sorta stinks.

It’s understandable, then, that Omega, the enhanced clone created as a pure replication of Fett, would want to leave Kamino in the premiere of Star Wars: The Bad Batch. It’s also apparent why she would make Hunter, her brother and the leader of Clone Force 99, promise not to bring her back. Less obvious, perhaps, is why she would mourn Kamino’s capital’s destruction. When the city, bombarded by the Empire, sinks beneath the waves in Friday’s first-season finale, it takes Omega and her brothers with it, nearly dragging them down to their deaths. Yet in the episode’s penultimate scene, Omega’s eyes are full of loss and sadness as she stares at the smoke spiraling from the spot where Tipoca City once stood.

Even an inhospitable planet like Kamino can seem special if it’s the only home you have. Or, at least, the only home you had. As the story of the clone army makes clear, we don’t get to choose where we come from. But we do get to choose where we go, what we do, and whom we love. The Bad Batch is about its protagonists’ struggle to make their own home in a galaxy where they’ve seemingly been rendered redundant, and where the institution they once served has turned twisted and evil. Over the course of its first season, they find a way forward without the Republic that gave purpose to their lives—and, in their case, gave them lives in the first place. For Omega, who turns her back on Kamino after that last lingering gaze, home is where her brothers are. As Hunter tells Crosshair in Part 1 of the finale, “We’re loyal to each other, not some Empire.” By then, it’s become clear to all the clones except Crosshair that the Empire isn’t loyal to them.

“Kamino Lost,” the 16th episode of the animated series (which was recently renewed), brought an end to a season that was mostly satisfying for its target audience, if a lot less sensational than The Mandalorian—or, in all likelihood, the live-action series in the franchise’s future. Unlike the series finale of The Clone Wars or the season-ending episodes of The Mandalorian—a trio of tough acts to follow—“Kamino Lost” featured no combat, no cameos, and no massive surprises that could be spoiled for fans who didn’t watch right away. Instead, it centered on its core characters’ efforts to escape the sunken, disintegrating city—and, in the process, escape the lives they were intended to lead. Even if Luke Skywalker weren’t weeks or months old when The Bad Batch takes place, this wouldn’t be the sort of series in which a Jedi from a famous family waltzes in to turn the tide. In contrast to most Star Wars movies and shows, The Bad Batch is barely concerned with saving a far-gone galaxy. It’s tough enough for its titular ex-soldiers to save themselves, or each other.

Unlike What If…?, Marvel’s first foray into animation on Disney+, The Bad Batch isn’t easily accessible to anyone who has a passing familiarity with the major movies of the franchise. Whereas What If…? remixes and reassembles some of the MCU’s tallest tentpoles into a congeries of one-off hypotheticals, The Bad Batch is a serialized spinoff tailored toward fans of the Filoniverse, particularly The Clone Wars and Rebels. Although the animated and live-action realms of Star Wars are intermingling more and more—see the second season of The Mandalorian and the upcoming Ahsoka—there’s still a schism of sorts within the fan base between those who have and haven’t explored the 11 combined seasons and more than 200 combined episodes of Dave Filoni’s former shows. The Bad Batch isn’t impenetrable to film-only fans—the blasters shoot energy bolts, the Empire is evil, and a young(er) Wilhuff Tarkin says “You may fire when ready,” just like in the movies—but it’s best enjoyed by those whose heartstrings are primed to be plucked by their previous small-screen experiences with the likes of The Clone Wars Captain Rex and Rebels Hera Syndulla.

In that sense, The Bad Batch functions as fan service—not the predictable, pandering type of fan service that sometimes substitutes for inspired storytelling, but heartfelt fan service that rewards deep investment in selected stories and characters. The Bad Batch is niche by nature, at least by Star Wars standards. It’s the rare on-screen Star Wars story with next to no Jedi or Force powers: Even Rogue One, which largely relegated the Jedi to an off-screen role, had one legendary lightsaber scene. The Bad Batch stubbornly sticks to a smaller-scale story, one in which war has subsided, the fate of the galaxy isn’t up in the air, and our heroes aren’t hiding high midi-chlorian counts. Right up until the last episode, speculation persisted that Omega—whom some fans had previously suspected of being a Palpatine clone—might be Force-sensitive, but no such surprise was in store for the finale. Omega, like Boba, is a perfect clone copy, which makes her a sought-after source of OG Jango DNA. But it doesn’t give her the skills of, say, Ahsoka or Grogu, who serve similar roles in the narratives of The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian.

One of the challenges facing The Bad Batch was evident from the start: The series is set during a time period without hope of a happy ending for the galaxy at large. The Rebel Alliance isn’t officially formed until two years before the events of Episode IV, and Rebels—which begins 14 years after the first season of The Bad Batch—already explored the Alliance’s origins. The Bad Batch is left to gesture at the origins of those origins, as freedom fighter Cham Syndulla turns on Ryloth’s Imperial occupiers and Rex appears to start laying the groundwork for an organized resistance. Maybe the Bad Batch will join his fledgling network next season, though they’d be old men by the time the Empire falls (assuming they lived that long). For much of Season 1, though, they’re freelancers and fugitives, flirting with a higher calling but focused on keeping each other alive.

Compared to The Clone Wars’ less lifelike aesthetic, The Bad Batch always looks and sounds good, from the cinematic sweep of Kamino to the sparing but stirring John Williams cues. Like The Clone Wars and Rebels—especially when they were still finding their footing in somewhat hit-or-miss first seasons—it strays from the spine of its story from week to week. Relative to its predecessor, The Bad Batch has few POV characters to call on, and without the backdrop of a galaxy-spanning conflict, the stakes sometimes seem low. A few of the season’s stand-alone episodes—most notably “Infested”—fall flat, failing to flesh out the leads or deliver memorable missions. Some of these installments follow a formula in which Omega wants to save everyone and the Bad Batch begrudgingly go along with her plan, provided she stays somewhere safe—which, inevitably, she doesn’t do. (Is it asking too much to make her a matching suit of armor, at least?)

The series—which is executive produced by Filoni but directed and written almost entirely by alums of his earlier shows—also borrows The Mandalorian’s go-to trick of separating the vulnerable-looking “child” from the adults, though Omega is more than capable of rescuing herself, and sometimes bails out the Bad Batch. (In another nod to Mando and Grogu’s spin on Lone Wolf and Cub, the “cub” in The Bad Batch is older than the wolves, despite looking a lot younger.) The Bad Batch’s plot armor is stronger than Beskar, so even when a death could add emotional weight to a sequence—such as AZI’s almost-sacrifice in the finale—everyone who matters makes it out alive.

Along the way, The Bad Batch answers some questions that were on only a small subset of Star Wars fans’ minds: Whatever happened to Cut Lawquane, the clone deserter from Season 2 of The Clone Wars? How did Gregor, the clone commando who debuts in Season 5 of The Clone Wars and reappears in Rebels, escape the Empire and join Rex? What fate befell Trace and Rafa Martez, the Coruscanti sisters introduced in Season 7 of The Clone Wars? Where do Jabba’s rancors come from? The season also sheds light on more momentous subjects, such as how the galaxy greeted the transition from Republic to Empire, how the Empire altered the Kaminoans’ contract, and why the Empire transitioned from clones to conscripts (mostly cost and scale, it seems, though the series also unconvincingly suggests that mind-controlled clones are less loyal and obedient). Like The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch hints at Kamino’s contributions to Palpatine’s cloning project and seems to reference Snoke. (The scientist at the facility in the last scene sports the same emblem as The Mandalorian’s Dr. Pershing.) Even these, though, are areas in which the series adds detail and context to events whose broad strokes were established before. They aren’t jaw-droppers that drastically reframe fans’ perceptions of the saga.

By the time the series comes full circle, summoning the Bad Batch back to the now-deserted barracks and training course where we saw them early on, the mercenaries have slightly evolved. The bond between the Batch and Omega makes up for some of the series’ shortcomings, although that template is already present in the premiere. In subsequent episodes, Omega gradually grows more capable and confident, and Hunter and Wrecker, especially, come to care for her more. In general, though, the clones stay in their lanes as “the strong one,” “the smart one,” and so on, and some squad members get short shrift in the character-development department. (What have we learned about Echo or found out about Tech?) Rhea Perlman’s Cid and clone captain Howzer are the best of a thin crop of fresh faces; the villainous Vice Admiral Rampart is a cookie-cutter true believer in the Empire’s order, and if he harbors any doubts about its methods (like Rebels defector Alexsandr Kallus), they haven’t surfaced so far. The clones’ ship, the Havoc Marauder, is a less distinctive mobile base than the Falcon, the Ghost, the Razor Crest, or Slave I, but Omega’s Bad Batch–decorated cabin makes for one of the series’ most touching scenes.

The Bad Batch’s biggest reveals—like Omega’s age and genetic makeup—are reserved for its clone characters. If the members of the Bad Batch are young enough for Omega to remember their births, they’re probably not even 10. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for backstory, but I’d love to learn more about the hazards of accelerated aging, whether the clones fear their forthcoming mortality, and whether they feel manipulated by Palpatine. Season 2 could also examine what made the somewhat simplistic Omega so altruistic, optimistic, and loyal despite her upbringing on Kamino. (The unusually affectionate connection between Omega and Kaminoan scientist Nala Se—now a captive of the Empire—seems ripe for further exploration.) And then there’s Crosshair, the loner to Omega’s people person, who could have used more screen time in the back half of the season to explain his rift with the TK troopers and his partial change of heart. The bad Bad Batcher’s motivations remain murky, which drains some of the weight from his decisions: Although he claims to have had his inhibitor chip removed “a long time ago,” his headaches in the finale suggest that the Empire that discarded him may still be pulling his strings. Here’s hoping he doesn’t die alone on the landing platform while waiting for a ride.

Some of the legacy figures who move in and out of the frame fit seamlessly as supporting characters: The likes of Caleb Dume (the future Kanan Jarrus), Cad Bane, Tarkin, and Rex all have good reasons to cross paths with the Bad Batch, and their encounters with the clones set up some of the season’s coolest conflicts or expose certain aspects of the commandos’ characters. (Bane’s arrival in “Reunion” results in the series’ midseason high point.) Other drop-ins steal the spotlight from the ostensible stars: A two-part, Hera/Chopper-centric detour to Ryloth relegates the Batch to the sideline, including one episode (“Devil’s Deal”) in which they don’t take off their helmets. At times, The Bad Batch doubles as a teaser for the franchise’s coming attractions, such as Fennec Shand’s star turn in The Book of Boba Fett—all the more intriguing now that we know she once hunted Fett’s sister—Saw Gerrera’s scenes in Andor, or a potential live-action crossover by Hera.

That The Bad Batch didn’t break the internet with weekly twists and revelations may strike some fans as a letdown during an overstuffed year for Marvel and an off year for The Mandalorian. Since The Mandalorian’s spectacular climax last December, the Clone Wars spinoff has had to take on the mantle as the franchise’s flagship show, a role it’s not quite equipped to play. Next year, The Bad Batch will be one of at least four Star Wars series to grace Disney’s streaming service, which may lower its profile further but could also lessen the pressure to match the hype surrounding the live-action shows. With the streaming onslaught kick-started by The Mandalorian almost fully operational, Rogue Squadron scheduled to return the franchise to theaters in 2023, and Electronic Arts’ exclusive Star Wars video game deal set to expire the same year, there won’t be another lull like the first half of this year’s for the foreseeable future.

The Bad Batch’s season finale closes the book on a chapter of Star Wars that started with Obi-Wan Kenobi stumbling across Kamino in Attack of the Clones. Like the best of Filoni before it (the subpar Resistance aside), The Bad Batch is a gift for a certain type of fan. It’s a series that exists to illuminate nooks and crannies, to tie up loose ends, and to add emotional heft to characters that could be cannon fodder as far as the films are concerned. Despite its flaws, it’s arguably off to a better start than the classics that preceded it, which leveled up later in their runs. However, it hasn’t sketched out a second-season arc. Maybe the series will take a time jump, or find room for Boba, Grogu, or Maul. “You still can’t see the bigger picture,” Crosshair tells Hunter in “Return to Kamino.” “But you will.” If The Bad Batch has a bigger picture, perhaps it will take shape in 2022. If not, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Some small pictures are worth contemplating too.