In 19 BBY, a clone commando unit was sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from Tipoca City into the galaxy’s Outer Rim. Today, still wanted by the Empire, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, maybe you can find… the Bad Batch.
Wow, those first 70 minutes were great fun, and I can finally talk about it without having to stay spoiler free. From finally seeing the dramatisation of padawan Caleb Dume’s escape on Kaller, to Admiral Tarkin’s arrival on Kamino, the rescue of science-sister Omega, and betrayal by the mind-controlled Crosshair, Clone Force 99 went through about two Star Wars movies’ worth of dramatic reversals before their journey had even begun.
However, as Futurama once said, “the series has landed” with episode two, ‘Cut and Run’: a fine follow-up that well establishes the ragged, on-the-run episodic format, but still raises questions about how The Bad Batch intends to engage with the wider Star Wars universe.
Firstly, my biggest mistake from the last episode was not to call out composer Kevin Kiner for his continued work in the Filoniverse. From the early electronic experiments when The Clone Wars was staying away from John Williams’s movie scores, to the show’s apex with a gorgeous orchestral sweep, to the tonal reboot of Rebels, Kiner’s music has elevated the proceedings as much—maybe more—than Lucasfilm Animation’s beautiful oil-painting visuals have.
After showing off the musical motif for Clone Force 99 in their introductory episode, it became the main theme for Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Obviously, it resembles The A-Team a bit with its adventurous melody, but the theme also boasts some of the more stately orchestral colours one might find in 1960s war pictures such as The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare. As with Rogue One, the daring schemes and sneering fascist goons of World War II cinema fit right at home post-Jedi-Purge (NB: Dave Filoni said he and George Lucas based the Bad Batch off The Dirty Dozen, which makes a lot of sense with these references.)
As for the episode itself, we find our clone squad on the run from both the Empire at large and, presumably, Crosshair nipping at their heels. With nowhere else to go, they seek the help of an old friend on Saleucami, one of the other worlds that was part of the Outer Rim Sieges mentioned in Revenge of the Sith. Like I mentioned last episode, this is a kind of sequel to The Clone Wars—with mention of Saleucami, the double-entendre of ‘Cut and Run’ probably pricks the ear for long-time fans, but I will again refrain from spoiler specifics.
Here the show reveals both a strength and weakness to the universe of Star Wars television, best exemplified by the divisive reaction to The Mandalorian‘s second season. How much does self-referential storytelling shrink the world of the show? When do returning characters and the repeating “rhyming” structure of the saga cease aiding verisimilitude and begin standing out as fanservice, especially in what is supposed to be a vast galaxy? I would say that in this case, The Bad Batch catches a break, for now.
Returning to a single standalone episode, from a show that takes place within three years of the one we’re watching, is sensible. Maybe these connections are even necessary, welcome to demonstrate that the clones are not complete imbeciles who forgot everyone they met while fighting in the war. Still, last week we witnessed the escape of the padawan who would become Rebels‘ Kanan Jarrus (and Lucasfilm was squirming to tell us that Mando’s friend Fennec Shand will show up at some point), so we can only wait and see if upcoming episodes will feature some new planets and characters.
We can be thankful, then, that ‘Cut and Run’ breaks new thematic ground for the franchise. The show might have ditched The Clone Wars‘s fortune cookie morals, but considering hours ago Clone Force 99 was part of an elite galactic army and now they have a target on their backs, there is plenty to chew on. Our clone friends are, in fact, teenage rebels—the only thing separating them from Omega is their accelerated aging and military conditioning.
‘Cut and Run’ deals with this on two fronts: Omega encountering other children for the first time, and the rest facing their clone brothers as enemies. Saleucami, replacing Mimban in Solo: A Star Wars Story, is now our earliest on-screen example of the Empire invading and occupying a planet. Yesterday the troopers were fighting a war to stop the Separatists, today, ACAB: All Clones Are Bad.
Indeed, the pop-up military checkpoints and the Star Wars equivalent of requiring papers to travel off-world suggests that Sidious’s machinations behind the Clone War itself were not only to create the strife that near extinguished the Jedi, but to manufacture a reason to land millions of troops on Outer Rim worlds and hobble any resistance movement.
It sounds as far-fetched as any other villain’s scheme has been in the galaxy far far away, but in the years since the prequels, such broad commentary has never failed to be warranted. Along with Tarkin’s nigh-on McCarthyism toward Saw Gerrera’s rebels, this political dimension only helps cement some of those intense Battlestar Galactica 2003 vibes.
What undermines all of this healthy storytelling potential is that The Bad Batch is still at its heart a cartoon, and the same problems that cropped up occasionally during The Clone Wars do here, as well.
Rather than really reinforcing the dangers our clone friends are in, all of the action scenes play out in much the same way: they’re genetically superior soldiers, right? They meet opposition, they fight it, they make their way through. Definitely not the same exciting push and pull of The Empire Strikes Back or The Force Awakens when the heroes might catch a small break, only to be thrown back into even more danger.
Additionally, the series’ format is diverging from its predecessor (which is fine) with a more drawn-out serial story threading its episodes together, but ‘Cut and Run’ misses some of that old-school Star Wars flavour by focusing solely on the heroes for its entire runtime. We’ve established several great villains already; can’t we get a single scene of them brooding, or using some cool new droid to track down the heroes?
In the end, those are minor complaints. The Bad Batch is still riding the high from its engaging first episode, and now that the main cast has come together on a concise standalone adventure, they are ready to take on whatever challenges the Empire throws their way. At least, we should hope so.