‘Aftermath’, the feature-length pilot of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, is without a doubt the strangest and most earnestly geeky addition to Star Wars television since Disney bought Lucasfilm. Not since the days of multiple overlapping Star Trek series and feature films in the 1990s has there been a science-fiction franchise so willing to delve as deep (and have the potential to be as unwelcoming) as a sequel to a seven-season space opera show, starring characters who starred in about ten of those episodes at most, all taking place during-and-after another film from 2005.
Like Star Trek Voyager was to The Next Generation, The Bad Batch might as well be The Clone Wars Season Eight: Spinoff Edition based on the trailers. The story begins mere minutes before “Execute Order 66” and continues in the horror and confusion following the standard (“Reg”) clones’ betrayal of their Jedi generals.
Viewers who don’t already have a working memory of Revenge of the Sith are more likely to be in confusion themselves. Conversely, followers of creator Dave Filoni’s oeuvre will be slightly ahead of even Clone Force 99, whose status as defective clones might interfere with the all-important command structure of the new Galactic Empire.
As deep within the canon as The Bad Batch establishes itself, though, it is also clear from minute one that this story is not concerned with boring minutiae and the unexciting filling-in of backstory. For Star Wars fans who want more boundless adventure and rich character drama as opposed to fanservice, the story is refreshingly focused in the way that season 1 of The Mandalorian was on Din and Grogu’s journey.
Clone Force 99 is a trope squad: made up of their face, Hunter, the cold lancer Crosshair, apparent genius Tech, meathead muscle Wrecker, and cyborg newcomer Echo, who has been with the franchise since season 1 of The Clone Wars back in 2008. Their personality traits may not be original, but their struggle to adapt to the end of war and rise of the Empire provides a relatable engine to an otherwise exciting but dense walk through the events immediately after the end of Revenge of the Sith.
It’s a brand new angle on a time period that up until now has been chiefly concerned with powerful characters such as Darth Vader and Admiral Thrawn. The way that ‘Aftermath’ sets up the rest of the season promises something more akin to Battlestar Galactica than Heir to the Empire or the Jedi Knight games.
The Bad Batch‘s willingness to go deep and also branch out from simply delivering fanservice extends to its presentation. Much like the majority of The Clone Wars‘ lengthy run, the show is animated with the kind of flair and detail reserved for big-budget movies, and creator Dave Filoni would rather steal from the best than yet again regurgitate the original trilogy.
The 47 Ronin, Tom Clancy, Alfred Hitchcock and—of course—The A-Team are all present in ways small and big. I particularly appreciated the “it kind of means something, it’s kind of meaningless” visual evocativeness of Onderon, another planet deep in the Star Wars lore that was spoiled in the trailer but I won’t go into any further here.
The pilot feature is also a feast for fans who loved clone-focused media from back in the day such as Republic Commando, invoking the most interesting elements of visual design on the cloning planet Kamino. Even Omega, a brand new character in canon, provides some interesting commentary on both the culture of the clones and as the grounding point for the Bad Batch’s emotional arc.
It’s actually decent science fiction, despite the broad characterisation and a bit of the “yadda yadda” that comes with telling a story in a vague science-fantasy setting without any of the technology being particularly well understood. Fans of anime and the worlds of Gerry Anderson over the years who enjoyed The Clone Wars itself, the Starship Troopers show Roughnecks, New Captain Scarlet, or Dreamworks’s recent version of Voltron will be right at home. Like those shows, The Bad Batch is rather dark, shot through with the occasional joke but not the sort of full-blown whimsy of say, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Lucasfilm possibly thought that such a light-hearted tone was not suitable for a story about ex-soldiers on the run; but it does mean that some animated Star Wars fans may feel less served by The Bad Batch than say, Rebels or Resistance. That said, I think vastly more people are likely to watch this show than The Simpsons‘ Maggie-based tie-in short—even if they haven’t caught up with The Clone Wars.
The show probably deserves exactly the audience that it draws, no more, no less. The Clone Wars lovers will appreciate its looks, the vibes, and the exploration of The Dark Times under the Empire, but the show is so very comfortable in its own skin (with no anxiety to please the skeptical lay-fan) that its very strengths could be commercial liabilities.
On the other hand, this is no longer the 1990s, and the Star Wars franchise is not solely an uncool domain of sci-fi nerds, gamers, and film buffs. In a world where the Marvel Cinematic Universe can expect people to see upwards of a dozen films to understand each new Avengers blockbuster, maybe The Bad Batch is poised to succeed anyway.
I will watch the series’ progress with great interest.