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Star Wars: The Bad Batch is following a promising pattern

The first episode of the 2020 revival of Star Wars: The Clone Wars introduced Clone Force 99, a squad of elite clone commandos with experimental mutations that made them stand out among the clone warriors created to defend the Galactic Republic from the Confederacy of Independent Systems. While The Clone Wars wrapped up its plotlines and its titular conflict between the Jedi and the Separatists led by Count Dooku and General Grievous in its final season, the unit nicknamed The Bad Batch provided an opportunity to continue The Clone Wars’ focus on the lives of soldiers in a galaxy gripped by seemingly endless war.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch, which premieres on Disney Plus on May 4 (aka “Star Wars Day,” because “May the 4th be with you”), picks up almost exactly where The Clone Wars ended, with the execution of Order 66 activating control-chip implants that force the clone troopers to turn on their Jedi leaders. The members of the Bad Batch are largely unaffected, due to their unique natures, leaving them to question whether the destruction of the Jedi Order is justified. As the new Galactic Empire begins solidifying its control, the squad begins challenging orders and bucking Imperial leadership.

The show could potentially make a lot of highly relevant commentary about soldiers fighting in unjust wars for an increasingly authoritarian state, but the first two episodes of The Bad Batch are mostly focused on trying to make a show about a group of grim, heavily armed veterans feel kid-friendly. The pilot introduces Omega (Michelle Ang), a mysterious, precocious young girl raised in the cloning facility on the planet Kamino. Omega quickly forms a bond with the Bad Batch’s leader Hunter (voiced, like all of the clone soldiers by the wildly talented Dee Bradley Baker) and winds up running off with the squad to effectively serve as his adopted daughter and sidekick.

Hopefully, this is just the latest manifestation of a pattern that’s stretched across the Star Wars animated shows helmed by Dave Filoni. While The Clone Wars became a sophisticated series that delivered war-movie action, introduced beloved new characters, and provided strong development for the prequels’ heroes and villains, it started out with a much more juvenile tone, just like Bad Batch.

Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Anakin Skywalker’s padawan Ahsoka Tano begins The Clone Wars as a 14-year-old who’s just been sent out into the field, and she acts as a relatable stand-in for the audience, letting them learn about the nature of the galactic conflict from the same perspective as younger viewers. Many of the first-season episodes involve pretty cutesy plots, like Anakin trying to find R2-D2, or Jar Jar Binks being mistaken for a Jedi. The series didn’t really hit its stride until season 2, when the team began delivering standout episodes like the epic action of “Landing at Point Rain,” or the deeply personal drama of “The Deserter.”

Star Wars Rebels, which Filoni co-created with Simon Kinberg and Carrie Beck, went through a similar progression. In the first season, the cast of primarily teen characters mostly engage in silly hijinks and conflicts with one-note villains. But by season 2, Rebels began drawing on some of The Clone Wars’ best characters, while also significantly developing its main cast. It went on to tell complicated stories about sacrifice, the burdens of leadership, and found family, while providing the first onscreen appearance of one of the most significant villains in Star Wars canon.

Omega’s presence is understandable in that Filoni and head writer Jennifer Corbett might have had a hard time selling a show in 2021 without a single female protagonist. They also might have thought a cute sidekick would work well given the popularity of Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, in The Mandalorian.

But a non-verbal alien serves a very different role than a human tween. Grogu’s hijinks are alternately cute and horrifying, and he periodically uses his Force powers to change the course of a fight, but he doesn’t actively demand the spotlight in the same way Omega does at the beginning of The Bad Batch. She’s also likely a Force user who will serve as a series McGuffin, possibly pushing Hunter and the rest of the Bad Batch to protect her just as violently as Din Djarin fights for his young charge on The Mandalorian. But Corbett seems to be bending over backward in the first two episodes to ensure Omega isn’t just adopted by the squad, but accepted as a useful member of the team. Her moments to shine come at the expense of the existing characters, who have to make dumb mistakes so she can bail them out.

It’s particularly frustrating that Corbett and Filoni felt the need to jam Omega into the show given how inaccessible the rest of the show is to kids, or even casual Star Wars fans. While the heroes of the Bad Batch largely fall into broad Five-Man Band archetypes, the show is deeply invested in the lore of the previous animated series. It’s filled with callbacks, references, and cameos that receive almost no explanation. It’s really hard to imagine new, young viewers being quickly wooed by a series that seems to assume that anyone tuning in has already watched 11 seasons of The Clone Wars and Rebels.

But the lore and characters established in The Clone Wars are also featured in The Mandalorian, and they’ll get additional life in Filoni’s Ahsoka Tano series. Perhaps those shows, and not The Bad Batch, will be the true successors to The Clone Wars. Yet if the trajectory of past series can predict anything, it’s likely too early to write The Bad Batch off. Omega will grow up, and the show will likely grow with her.

Episodes of Star Wars: The Bad Batch will be released weekly on Fridays on Disney Plus, starting May 7.

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