The first lesson is that you should never trust a stranger. The second is that sometimes, all Star Wars needs to get by is the help of a face you know from somewhere else in the galaxy far, far away.
Disney+ and Lucasfilm’s “Cornered,” if not for its special guest star — The Mandalorian’s Ming-Na Wen reprising Fennec Shand — would otherwise be a pretty hum-drum episode of The Bad Batch. After running out of supplies and in need of scrambling their shuttle’s tracking identifier to avoid the Empire, our titular heroes find themselves stopping on the world of Pantora (an unseen but familiar world from the early days of The Clone Wars, mostly known as the homeworld of George Lucas’ blue-skinned Revenge of the Sith cameo, Baron Papanoida). While Tech and Wrecker stay behind to rewire the shuttle’s identifier, Hunter, Echo, and an eager Omega go out to explore the local markets in search of food in exchange for what little Imperial credits they can muster.
Unlike last week, which heavily contrasted the Batch with the long, ever-growing reach of Imperial hegemony through Crosshair’s new squad, the shadow of the Empire has little bearing in the fourth episode. The idea of the Empire’s steady stamp out of individuality through data lingers — not just in the idea of the crew’s shuttle being marked by its transponder code in the first place, but the reminder of chain codes and even currency changes underpinned by local Pantorans cheering on their white-armoured new oppressors — but not as a particular commentary. It, like the Empire, is just here now, and a part of the Batch and Omega’s new, weird life.
“Cornered” instead is much more interested in playing with a seedier side of the galaxy far, far away. It’s quickly revealed there’s a bounty on the Batch — turns out, 20-ish years before that infamous utterance, perhaps the Imperials do need their scum — and none other than Fennec Shand, the future ally of Boba Fett in The Mandalorian and the upcoming Book of Boba Fett has come calling. Fennec strikes quickly, leaping on an opportunity to exploit Omega’s childlike innocence when she walks away from Hunter and Echo’s haggling to explore the markets on her own, leading to an intense game of cat and mouse as the crew races to fix and resupply their shuttle on time and avoid the bounty hunter’s deadly ire.
What’s perhaps most interesting in the otherwise simple arc of the episode — Fennec nabs Omega, Hunter nabs her back, they flee to fight and run another day — is that Shand is set up less as a one-off threat to the Batch here, and more as a potential ongoing foe. On the one hand, it makes sense to give our heroes an antagonistic force that is less obliquely sinister as the Empire, and they can’t really be going up against Crosshair every week. While there’s an implication that it’s the Empire itself that has put out the bounty on Omega — it could be someone else, perhaps the Kaminoans interested in re-acquiring their most secret of clone assets — even without their direct presence. Fennec as a continued adversary to Omega and the crew sets up the chance for the show to steadily build out what the criminal underworld of Star Wars is really like at this moment of upheaval in the Empire’s rise.
It’s a layer of society it’s been clear Lucasfilm is keen to explore in an ongoing capacity, from Darth Maul’s Crimson Dawn in The Clone Wars and Solo, all the way up to The Mandalorian and now Book of Boba Fett. But the double-edged sword here is a problem that a lot of those other projects have also had to tackle: instead of bringing in a new hunter as a threat for the team, we’re faced with Fennec, a character we admittedly don’t know all that well but one we know, nonetheless. Of course, it makes sense, both textually — Fennec’s been a hunter for a very long time by our first encounter with her in The Mandalorian — and metatextually — Lucasfilm and Disney would like to remind you that she exists in the run up to her stepping up to a primary role in Book of Boba Fett later this year. But it doesn’t stop it from being somewhat frustrating that Star Wars so regularly goes to this well of familiarity, like cinching a net tighter and tighter around its supposedly-vast galaxy.
This is a problem Star Wars has faced pretty much since it began, long before it became an issue in this Disney-owned era of the franchise, rather than something particular to The Bad Batch. And of course, the show already did this itself, integrating the origins of Caleb Dume’s transition from Jedi Padawan on the run to Kanan Jarrus, Jedi hero of the early Rebellion into its premiere episode. But Fennec’s integration here, even as a potentially extended threat to our heroes, feels less like a natural use of her character and more like it’s Star Wars crossing over itself for the sake of it. We’re going to spend time with Fennec in that upcoming show. Why does she need to be here in The Bad Batch other than to say “Here’s a person you know from another show!”? We’ll have to wait and see just what becomes of her hunt for the bounty on Omega’s head going forward. But hopefully if exploring the criminal underworld’s approach to the rise of the Empire is something The Bad Batch is keen to explore, it’ll be able to do so with characters we’re less familiar with beyond her in the future.