There’s a moment in this week’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars where Mace Windu dramatically leaps into a facility packed with battle droids. His lightsaber raised, he offers an ultimatum: He has destroyed thousands of their ilk, so they can stand down and be reprogrammed by the Republic or join those thousands. They immediately open fire.
It’s a moment in “Unfinished Business” that’s played as a joke. As Obi-Wan Kenobi falls into action beside Mace when the shootout begins, he drolly quips that it was worth trying diplomacy before joining his fellow Jedi and a legion of Clone Troopers in batting blaster bolts away and cutting down droid after droid. The battle looks like many have before it on Clone Wars.
It’s not that this inevitable battle is predictable, or that it’s a tiresome thing to have conflict on a show literally called The Clone Wars. It’s in the name, it’s in the franchise. We are, arguably, here for it! But this jokey moment suddenly becomes much more interesting in the context of all the other micro-character moments going on, that continue to paint the picture of a theme that has run throughout the “Bad Batch” arc—which comes to a close in this fourth episode. It’s one that is clearer than ever, and a fascinating way for what is going to be the final season of this series to really engage with the fact that it has been going for seven seasons (give or take a hiatus): All these people are so clearly very, very tired of conflict, and while some of them can crack jokes about it, or even made peace with it, for others, the cracks are beginning to show.
Although it should probably also be said that the other recurring theme “Unfinished Business” shares with the rest of this season so far is that said conflict continues to look fantastic, delivering a visual fidelity and sense of scope that, even four weeks into this new season, continues to be impressive for the show. We can feel bad about the explosions. But the explosions? They’re very pretty.
Anyway! Picking up out of the back of last week’s also explosion-laden episode, this latest sees a newly-recovered Echo attempt to prove his loyalty to the Republic in the wake of his cybernetic indoctrination as the Techno Union’s living battle computer. By leading a daring mission with Rex and Anakin to Admiral Trench’s command ship—while Mace, Obi-Wan, and the rest of the Republic forces stage a last-gasp assault against the Separatist-occupied manufacturing yards on Anaxes—Echo hopes he can use the tools forced upon him by the Separatists to instead turn the tide in the Republic’s favour, feeding bad strategies into the system that can buy Mace, Obi-Wan, and their dwindling battalions time.
It’s a risky manoeuvre, if only because our heroes have spent the past three weeks repeatedly acknowledging just how stretched thin their forces are—it’s why the Bad Batch was brought in in the first place, and it’s why Rex’s personal mission to liberate Echo from his revealed captivity was so risky. The dire situation leads to an unspoken question hanging thick in the air: How can the Jedi be so sure to trust a Clone who’s just spent years, forcibly or otherwise, helping their opponents defeat them? How can Echo trust the parts of himself given back to him by Separatist cybernetics?
That question becomes spoken when the Bad Batch is brought on board to Echo’s plan. Throughout the mission to Trench’s ship, pretty much everyone in the squad repeatedly needles Echo and Rex with questions about the former’s true allegiances—and what the latter would do if their doubts are proved right. It’s almost weird in its aggressiveness, but the matter-of-factness with how the Batch express their concerns over Echo’s loyalty is simply because they’ve accepted their own lot as tools bred for war (albeit ones bred a little accidentally, to theirs and the Republic’s benefit). Echo’s just another cog in the machine of this seemingly endless conflict they were all made for, removed from one slot in the Separatist’s wheel and put back in the Republic’s. What’s to say the reverse couldn’t happen?
It’s not a question that ultimately needs answering in “Unfinished Business.” The mission goes off without a hitch (mostly, we’ll get to that shortly), and Echo’s daring, momentary re-integration into Separatist systems leads to victory for the Republic, and ultimately even with Echo choosing to part ways with Rex and join the Bad Batch full time. Despite it hanging in the air throughout the episode, Echo’s allegiance was never truly in doubt, even as the episode trained us as an audience to harbour similar suspicions as our heroes. But the fact that it was brought up over and over anyway speaks to that lingering tiredness that hangs on the shoulders of all these characters. The longer the war goes on, the more these cynical questions emerge, even in victory, about who’s about to break.
But maybe the episode shouldn’t have even been asking us that in Echo’s case.. Because it gives us a moment of realisation that there was someone else among our heroes where the cracks are starting to become much more readily visible.
A certain Jedi Knight.
Remember how I said the Bad Batch’s escape from Trench’s ship went off mostly without a hitch? Well, that hitch—the discovery of Echo’s subterfuge alerting Trench and his forces, leading the Admiral to prime a series of bombs that would rip the Anaxes factories and the Republic army that just secured them to shreds—leads Anakin into a direct confrontation with the Admiral. Unlike his fellow Jedi on the surface below, Anakin no longer has the time or the patience to deal with Trench’s games of obfuscation over the codes to disarm the explosives. With anger in his voice and etched across his face, his brutal torture of Trench—and eventually his swift execution of him once Mace has received the final digits to disarm the bombs—is a chilling reminder of the conversation Anakin shared with Padmé back in “A Distant Echo,” his frustration at being unable to just stop the war with a wave of his hand…or, at least with Trench, his lightsaber.
In a moment of fury, Anakin gets the satisfying taste of exploring that potential. What if he could save the day with a simple wave of that lightsaber? What if stopping the war is less about daring heroics, and simply striking the Republic’s enemies down? Just as conflict on The Clone Wars is inevitable, the dark path Anakin Skywalker is heading ever further down is likewise an inevitability. And now, as Clone Wars continues towards its conclusion, that darkness is only going to begin to get clearer and clearer.