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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Force in Focus: The Clones Wars Season 7x01

"The Bad Batch"

The Moral of the Story
"Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole."

Facing mounting losses in their defense of the Republic shipyards on Anaxes, Clone commanders Rex & Cody approach generals Mace Windu & Anakin Skywalker with a theory: using analytics, the Separatist droid army has learned to counter Rex's various strategies. They propose a mission behind enemy lines to steal any info on the process from the Separatist Cyber Center. Privately, Rex confesses to Cody that he believes Echo may still be alive, as he and Rex devised many of the strategies currently being blunted. Shortly thereafter, Clone Force 99, the four-man "bad batch" of troopers, arrives on Anaxes for the mission. Alongside Rex & Cody, they travel behind enemy lines, but are shot down. Traveling on foot, the force comes across a Separatist outpost en route to the Cyber Center. Though it possess little strategic value, the clones capture it, hoping to keep the Separatists off guard. They then proceed to the Cyber Center, where they intercept a signal being broadcast from Skagos Minor by someone who identifies himself as CT-1409. In the wake of a mounting Separatist counter-attack, the clones escape from the center. Rex, brooding in the wake of the mission, is more certain than ever that Echo is alive: CT-1409 was his identification number.

Firsts and Other Notables
The Bad Batch debut in this episode. A group of clone troopers with inadvertent genetic mutations that grant some measure of super-human abilities, the Bad Batch consists of Hunter (enhanced senses), Tech (he', Crosshair (he can shoot well), and Wrecker (superhuman strength). They function something like Clone Trooper X-Men, and map fairly easily onto the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle types (leader, nerd, wild guy, and the surly/sarcastic one), though I have no idea if that's intentional or just what happens when any group of four shows up in genre fiction.

This episode also teases the return of Echo, one of the members of the Domino Squad who was seemingly killed in "Counterattack", the 19th episode of season three. Domino Squad was first introduced in the season one episode "Rookies" (one of the series' first "war is hell" installments focused on the clones) and became something of throughline for the series, with surviving members Echo and Fives eventually joining the Anakin-led 501st regiment (after Echo died in season three, Fives was killed in season six, trying to warn the Jedi about Order 66).

An unfinished version of this episode (and the next three) first debuted at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim (and later on in April of 2015, before being completed and released as part of the final season on Disney+.

The setting of this episode, Anaxes, previously appeared (later in the overall timeline) on Rebels, which established that some point after this episode a tragedy befell Anaxes which led to it being shattered into a small asteroid field (the Republic base seen here remained on one of the subsequent asteroids in Rebels). 

Casting Call
As usual, all the Clone trooper voices, including the individual members of the Bad Match (and Separatist Admiral Trench) are voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, who clearly got a workout in this episode.

A Work in Progress
Both Anakin & Mace Windu receive slightly updated designs, relative to their looks in the previous season, in order to bring them more in line with their appearances in Revenge of the Sith. Also, in general, all of the characters have smaller eyes now compared to earlier seasons of the show, more in line with the general design of characters in Rebels & Resistance.

The Bad Batch refer to the other clones as "Regs" or regular troopers, a play on how clones will refer to rookie troops as "Shinies" due to their relatively-clean armor. 

The official designation of the Bad Batch, Clone Force 99, is a reference to a genetically-deformed clone trooper with the designation 99 who served as a janitor on Kamino and died heroically during the battle on that world.

Did You See?
During the campfire scene, glowing eyes can be seen over the clones' shoulders. Those belong to Fyrnocks, the mynock-like creatures who will later appear when Rebels returns to Anaxes. 

Outside the Cyber Center, two Battle Droids have an exchange of dialogue which mimics that of two Stormtroopers in A New Hope: "Do you know what's going on? / Maybe it's another drill."

Austin's Analysis
Clone Wars is usually at its best when it goes big, or goes small (it's most middling episodes are when it gets bogged down in "battle of the week" plots that are dragged across three or four episodes). It excels at both high-level, lore-based explorations of the Star Wars mythos, and at zeroing in on small-scale order of battle-type stories, focusing on the ground level impact of the war on specific individuals, usually the clone troopers themselves. This episode, kicking off the show's somewhat improbable final season, does a little bit of both. Its focus remains firmly on the clones as it zeroes in on one particular mission within the context of a larger campaign in the war, and it deals with questions of how to most effectively fight a war and the impact of near-constant loss of life on the clones.

But with the introduction of the Bad Batch, a group of super-powered, mutant-like clones, it also expands the mythology of the series, introducing a new wrinkle to the cloning process (while showcasing some pretty exciting action in the process). And with the teasing of Echo's survival and the return of the Domino Squad saga, it also re-introduces one the series' larger narrative arcs just in time for its conclusion. All in all, that makes "Bad Batch" a strong, captivating start to the season, one which leans into the series' strengths.

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  1. For whatever reason, I’ve never been big on most of the clone-centric episodes. I like episodes about the Jedi, episodes about the bad guys, the senate, the Mandalorians, whatever — but the ones that focus completely on clones just don’t float my boat. So I didn’t love this one. It had its moments, but overall it felt like one of the episodes I would typically forget about a week after they had aired in the old days.

    I also question the idea of using up four of your final twelve episodes on a storyline that was essentially already released years ago — unless they make some major changes to it as it progresses. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

    1. I'm generally not a huge fan of the Clone-centric storylines, either. Some of the "war is hell" stuff is good, but I like it more when they tie into the larger arcs of the Star Wars universe (like the arc about Order 66). This mostly got by on the strength of the Bad Batch for me.

      I also question the idea of using up four of your final twelve episodes on a storyline that was essentially already released years ago

      I had totally forgot this story had been pseudo-released, and was a little bummed when I remembered that a third of the final season was, technically, a re-run. It'll be nice to see it with finished animation, but I do wish they were coming in addition to 12 new episodes, not as part of those final 12.


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