Nearly a year after Star Wars: The Clone Wars concluded in dramatic style, Disney marked 2021’s May the Fourth celebrations with the premiere of The Bad Batch, the latest in their line of animated Star Wars output. Retaining much of the same creative team as The Clone Wars — with the slight change of Dave Filoni’s role to series creator — it’s a confident opening episode, that sets up a detailed exploration of a point in the saga we’ve rarely seen.
This bumper opening episode clocks in at 75 minutes, and charts the escapades of Clone Force 99, affectionately termed The Bad Batch, at the end of the Clone Wars. As seen in Revenge of the Sith, the newly-crowned Emperor Palpatine declares for Order 66 – the systematic execution of the Jedi. While we saw this in the final few episodes of The Clone Wars last year, The Bad Batch shows us these events from the perspective of Hunter, Wrecker, et al. – and it’s a captivating way to start the show. This transition between Republic to Empire hasn’t really been touched by mainline Star Wars output, with the 2019 game Jedi: Fallen Order perhaps doing it best so far. The Bad Batch certainly wants to change this, though, taking a more boots-on-the-ground approach, with barely a lightsaber in sight.
It’s an opening episode that does its best to appeal to new viewers as well as fans of the previous material, but if you aren’t well-versed in Star Wars lore, you might miss some of the nuance. There’s nods here and there to previous Clone Wars arcs, and appearances of characters who take on huge resonance in the Imperial era, but the fundamentals of each of the Bad Batch’s personalities are communicated well enough that, if you don’t know your Clones from your Stormtroopers, you can still have a good time.
But rather than just following the A-Team route of giving viewers a rag-tag group of rogues, there’s more nuance at play here to each character. Hunter, the de facto leader, clearly wrangles between following orders or doing what he seems to be right, while the brambly and cold Crosshair prefers keeping his head down and doing what he’s told. It leads to some tense exchanges in this opening episode that sets up quite the adventure for the next fifteen episodes. Credit has to go to Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all five of the Bad Batch, and the bevy of Clone troopers now under Palpatine’s control. The range of his performance, from Wrecker’s brashness to Tech’s methodical planning, gives nuance to characters who easily could’ve fallen into stereotypical solider roles.
And the slow transition of the Bad Batch from Republic fighters to soon-to-be freedom fighters is such an enticing concept. The series benefits from not having to set up the world and characters — that was done in a Clone Wars season 7 arc — and the length of this pilot gives us time to engage with the newly-changing galaxy, and the tribulations the Bad Batch will face. This episode ends with a thrilling teaser of a new ally we’re due to meet soon, and as the camera pans out from Clone Force 99 gawking into space, it encapsulates the possibilities this show has to explore such an untapped era of Star Wars. The Clone Wars are over, and that’s a shame, but this new era of animated Star Wars is brimming with possibilities.