After over a decade and seven seasons, last year brought us the end of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But it also introduced us to its spiritual successor in the form of the unlikely clone heroes of the Bad Batch. Now, they’re in their own Disney+ animated series, and in leaving the Clone War behind, the group are trading moral murkiness for an altogether different kind of conflict.
Over the entirety of Clone Wars, Star Wars fans got to see an ever-maturing take on the titular conflict. It became more than Jedi and Clone heroes against “tinnies” and “clankers;” their traumas endured through the conflict, dug deep into the human beings behind those simplistic titles of Good and Bad. It is this matured lens on the war in which we open The Bad Batch’s extra-large premiere, “Aftermath.” It knows that the final moments of the Clone War are upon it, as do you — and by setting itself in that stage, and in that contextual history, we’re once again invited to contemplate the moral core of this conflict and the people who fight in it. Primarily, of course, those people are the titular “Bad Batch,” aka Clone Force 99 — Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, and Crosshair, joined by recent recruit Echo (all voiced by the returning Clone Wars stalwart Dee Bradley Baker).
Briefly introduced in the opening of Clone Wars’ seventh season as an elite squad of rare “enhanced defects,” the season one premiere does little to really establish much beyond the character archetypes we were introduced to there. Hunter is the classic leader in the mould of clones like Captain Rex before him; Wrecker is the big, fun-loving brute; Tech is the nerdy introvert big on facts and not much else; Crosshair is the cool, collected, ever-so-serious assassin. Echo — a recovered prisoner of war, and previously an ARC Trooper in Clone Wars — remains the least broadly painted of the unit, a grounding figure of Clone “normality” to contrast the heightened personas of the squadmates around him.
That means when the infamous, explosive moment of Order 66 comes — and at this point in the Star Wars saga, we’ve seen it enough times, through enough lenses, that it’s not really a spoiler to say that it does — “Aftermath” has its heroes respond in the ways you’d sort of expect them to. There are a few surprises along the way in those moments, ones that will no doubt delight Star Wars fans seeking connections to the wider canon of this climactic moment in the prequel saga. But for the most part, the complexity of Order 66 for our heroes doesn’t quite have the same emotional resonance as it did in, say, The Clone Wars’ final arc. Part of that is we just don’t know the characters as well as we did the stars of that show, and that’s OK. But it’s also because The Bad Batch is not The Clone Wars, and Order 66 is not its endgame but merely the catalyst for a new beginning.
The Bad Batch has an altogether different conflict to hang itself on: the transformation of the Republic into the Galactic Empire. It is this that “Aftermath” is predominantly focused on. But in Star Wars, conflict with the Empire’s existence is much clearer cut — you’re either with the fascistic totalitarian regime (by force or otherwise) or you’re against it.
So when that transition from Republic to Empire happens, and our individual heroes have to make that choice, there’s not as much room for the nuance that Clone Wars explored in its own views of the prequel’s grand war as it matured over the years. Choices are made, people become agents of the Empire or dissidents to its tyrannical grip, and we’re off to the races with a few blaster battles and daring escapades along the way.
It’s all done in the gorgeous style we’ve come to expect of the Clone Wars’ latter seasons, albeit not as dramatically interesting, perhaps. But that breakdown of sides in the fight for and against the Empire is clear cut in a way that works, as The Bad Batch establishes what it wants to be about in this transitional “Rise of the Empire” period — a time in Star Wars already heavily covered in books, comics, and animation at this point in Disney’s stewardship of the franchise.
Where “Aftermath” does find a way to stand apart from the other stories in its orbit, even with that moral simplicity, is in its strongest and most interesting not-so-secret weapon: Omega. Glimpsed in trailers in the run-up to the series, Omega and their connection to the Bad Batch quickly becomes the driving heart of what the series is going for as our heroes make their decision on where they stand in regards to the Empire.
There’s an argument to be made that there’s a little bit of The Mandalorian’s Grogu in them — an almost by-design-adorable youngster who imprints upon some unlikely and, at times unwilling, parental figures. But appropriately the vibe between Omega and the Batch from the get-go feels more in line with the relationship between Captain Rex and Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, a familial banter that is both earnest and light and a refreshing contrast to the grimness of the world around them. After all, what is Star Wars if not a tale of unlikely heroes and the unlikelier families they find along the way in their struggle?
Throwing Omega into the mix of personalities of the squad immediately offers a jolt of surprise to the otherwise familiar archetypes and stage-setting of the premiere, and provides a brief look at what The Bad Batch as a series will bring to the table. That is, really, what “Aftermath” is all about as the name implies: the clearing of one stage, as we look towards another. The stage The Bad Batch is heading towards may be well-trodden in Star Wars already, but the series quickly shows us it knows this, and in Omega, it brings enough intriguing hooks that we’re ready to once again see the Empire’s rise through new eyes.
How refreshed those eyes remain as the series progresses remains to be seen, but for now, there’s plenty of promise to be found here.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch’s premiere episode is now streaming on Disney+.