Tomorrow, something Star Wars fans thought may never happen finally arrives: For one last season, The Clone Wars will make its explosive return. But although we can’t wait to see Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan again, the show is kicking off with its focus rightfully on the rank-and-file heroes of the Republic, the clones themselves—and we spoke to the man behind their many masks to see what’s in store.
Dee Bradley Baker has provided more voices in the galaxy far, far away than you could possibly imagine—but fans will know him best as the voice behind the legions of clone troopers in Clone Wars, from Rex and Cody, to heroes like Fives and Echo, to the rank-and-file clone troopers that make up the Grand Army of the Republic.
With Clone Wars’ return, Baker isn’t just back to lend his distinctive voice to the Republic forces, he’s also bringing life to a unique new group of clones we’ll meet in the premiere: Squad 99, a.k.a. the Bad Batch.
To learn more about what it’s been like returning to Clone Wars and what we can expect from this mysterious new squad, Gizmodo spoke to Baker over the phone to see what fans have to look forward to.
Gizmodo: What’s it been like finally being back in not just in this specific corner of the Star Wars universe, but finally being able to share this excitement with fans? Clone Wars is back again!
Dee Bradley Baker: Yeah, it’s exciting on so many levels to me. It was never something I thought we would be able to go back and finish. So I’m glad the world can finally see this whole realisation of George Lucas’s original idea of the Clone Wars. And this still has some of his hands-on fingerprints, actually, from the original days we recorded—at least the first four, the Bad Batch arc.
I’m really excited for the fans to see it in particular. They’re really going to be blown away. It’s exponentially more sophisticated in terms of the visuals and animation. And it’s just really great Star Wars! It’s a big, exciting finish to this grand story of the Clone Wars.
Gizmodo: Since Clone Wars has been away, you’ve provided voices for other Star Wars projects. Rex in Rebels, the Clone Army from the Battlefront games...was there a re-acclimatization process for you to come back to this specific period of Star Wars?
Baker: Well, you’d think. It’s been quite a number of years since we were in this specific storyline. But once we jumped into it, it felt quite natural and quite easy. We have done so much recording work on that for so many years, that jumping back in to finish this story, we had all hoped would get the finish it deserved...it was welcome and easy. Like putting on that old suit you used to wear that felt really good!
Gizmodo: The opening of the season starts with the storyline that’s very clone-centric. It’s essentially you having a conversation with yourself for 20 minutes. When you’re given these opportunities, what’s that recording process like?
Baker: Some days we get a script where I’m just talking to myself for the whole script! Because there’s all sorts of attention to detail I want to make sure I’m hitting, in order to make these guys all feel like they’re different, and we’re describing the specific action of the story.
With the Bad Batch arc, in particular, I’m not only separating the more straight-ahead clones, but I’ve also got this new batch of specially mutated clones. But with the good writing we have and the great directing under Dave [Filoni, Clone Wars’ executive prouder]’s watchful eye, I can keep it nice and specific. It’s easy enough to jump between the groups, because I can see it all mapped in my mind with the script I’m reading.
Gizmodo: Like you mentioned, these first episodes are introducing us to Clone Squad 99...when you first learned of the Bad Batch’s characters, where did you begin to find their distinct voices?
Baker: We originally recorded most of the Bad Batch [storyline] way back in the days of when we were still making the Clone Wars series. It was one of the episodes that was never completed, although they did one screening of it at a convention in animatics. It wasn’t completely blocked out, but it was still a fantastic story, a really great story just as a radio play. And so, as I remember coming into it [at first], it’s like “I really don’t know what to do with these voices, and I need guidance.” So, that starts with a good read of the script just to get a kind of reign of what the idea is that makes each of these guys...first of all, what their particular competency is.
Their own sort of super power. And that in and of itself is not a bad way to start flavoring the character of the voice. And because they’re not straight-ahead clones, but mutant clones, then I also have more leeway and executive to take them even further away from the straight ahead “cloney” voice—which you might say is Rex. So, I had freedom to crack these characters further away from that which, in a way, makes it easier to jump from one to the other. It seems like it would make it more difficult but it actually makes it easier.
I would essentially just take the character as I see in the script and also have Dave and the writers describe him to me. And then we just, right there, in the session, before we start, try to get a lock on our idea—which might be characterised by an adjective. Like, for instance, Tech could be described as “easy,” or “precise.” Crosshair gave me the image, at the core, of a snake—almost a Hannibal Lecter flavoring.
Hunter was like this covered, almost hidden image, he’s like a tracking man with this covered smokiness to his character. Wrecker has this kind of explosiveness to him. He’s almost like a big wrecking ball in a little boy! I sort of have an image that I fashion in my imagination that I attach to the characters. And then the more specific and clear picture I have of that, I just sort of hang my ring on that and jump from one to the other.
It’s kind of like jumping from rock to rock in a stream: the rocks are well defined they’re above the water flow, and so I can see them all and just jump back and forward between them.
Gizmodo: I’m glad you went through each of the Bad Batch clones there, because I wanted to ask—who was the most challenging to find a voice for? Who was the most fun to perform? I’ve got a feeling the most fun might have been Wrecker.
Baker: The most difficult to maintain distinctly would be Hunter— his voice is closest to a normal clone voice, but just with a kind of smoky cover to it. That actually takes a little bit more focus and effort to maintain, as opposed to a character that’s further out, like Wrecker. That’s easy as pie to jump into because he’s so big and far out. That’s no problem! Although, vocally, [Wrecker’s] the most straining of the group.
If Wrecker’s doing a bunch of fighting or something, I might have to leave that to the end of the recording session for some of those episodes, because there’s a yelliness and a loudness to voice that stretch the vocal gears fairly quickly. The others, not so much. They’re quieter and more contained.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns on Disney+ starting February 22. Stay tuned to Gizmodo for more from our chats with both Baker and Clone Wars producer Dave Filoni, as well as weekly recaps of the show’s final season.