The launch of Disney Plus in December 2019 has led to the animated back catalogue of Star Wars finding a much bigger audience than ever before, which is exactly what it deserved after The Clone Wars and Rebels filled in significant gaps in the mythology and told some of the best stories in the franchise’s history, with the episodic format allowing Dave Filoni’s small screen universe to unfold and thrive at its own pace.
To celebrate this year’s Star Wars Day, the Mouse House’s streaming service delivers the first installment of spinoff series The Bad Batch, which gets the opportunity to set out its stall with a bumper 72-minute episode. The good news is that fans of The Clone Wars will be thrilled to discover that it offers up more of the same, but it might not be able to sink its hooks quite as deeply into uninitiated viewers.
That becomes clear right from the opening, when The Clone Wars logo burns away to reveal The Bad Batch insignia, and the newsreel-style voiceover is still present and accounted for to set the stage. Of course, that’s to be expected when season 7’s Clone Force 99 are taking the spotlight, but right from the off the titular group are at least established as a gang of rogues with their own broad and distinctive personalities in the vein of the Magnificent Seven or the Dirty Dozen spliced with the A-Team or Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables, rather than a regimented unit, which is sound logic as Star Wars has always been viewed as a space Western populated by antiheroes.
Order 66 almost instantly becomes a pivotal plot point, tying it even closer to the live-action movies, but the focus soon narrows down from the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith to the role the clones play in the potential future of the galaxy. There are cameos from recognizable figures like Palpatine and Grand Moff Tarkin, but the majority of the premiere focuses on the title heroes and their uncertain place in an even more uncertain world.
You don’t have to be intricately familiar with the animated canon to enjoy The Bad Batch, but it certainly helps. There are names that’ll fly over the heads of folks unfamiliar with the expanded universe, but the show promises to get there in the end, so it’s hardly a deal breaker. The voice acting is also solid as you’d expect from the always-reliable Dee Bradley Baker, who does an impressive job when it comes to playing all six main characters that were born from the same DNA, while still managing to give them all a unique set of traits and foibles.
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The Bad Batch trailers promised plenty of action as well, and it certainly delivers on that front. From the first introduction that sets out Clone Force 99’s stall as intergalactic badasses to an extended shootout and a jailbreak via a training exercise opposite opponents using live rounds, the opening episode hardly skimps on the set pieces, while there’s always a rich vein of humor to be mined when Star Wars‘ animated clones are involved.
It’s got everything you’d want from the premiere of a brand new show in the franchise; action, intrigue, recognizable names, faces and iconography, fresh characters with interesting backstories, political machinations and more, but it’s basically season 8 of The Clone Wars by any other name. It’s a strong enough start, but if you’re not sold or invested in that particular section of the lore so far, then The Bad Batch isn’t likely to change that perception. At least, not yet.