Spoilers for Star Wars: The Bad Batch follow.
Making spin-off TV shows is an unpredictable business. Joey was a high-profile vehicle for one of the leads from sitcom phenomenon Friends, yet lasted just two seasons. Seattle-based Cheers follow-up Frasier, on the other hand, turned a supporting barfly into a superstar as the show went on to run for 11 years (a comeback is also in the offing), and hoover up every award going.
That’s the trouble with spin-offs – you’re never quite sure which way they’re going to go – and ten episodes into Star Wars: The Bad Batch, the jury’s still out…
Compared to the unconventional soldiers of Clone Force 99, even a Cheers-era Frasier Crane was a household name. Before The Bad Batch launched in May, Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, Crosshair and Echo had appeared in just one four-episode arc in The Clone Wars’ final season. As special guest stars go they were memorable enough, but they were more supporting players than leading men.
Where The Clone Wars thrived on the fact it was built around small, 3- or 4-episode story arcs, often giving obscure heroes, villains and worlds a moment in the spotlight, The Bad Batch proves that carrying an entire show brings very different challenges. While the latest TV series from that galaxy far, far away undeniably shares DNA with The Mandalorian – guys in cool armor become unlikely guardians to a kid with a secret (in this case, young clone Omega) – this ensemble is yet to catch the imagination in the way Din Djarin and Grogu did from day one.
Part of the reason may be that these characters have only ever existed in heavily stylized animation, and don’t quite feel human – despite the admirable efforts of voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, who instils each Clone with his own unique personality. More importantly, however, they’re such an effective, capable unit of soldiers that they seem almost invulnerable, with moments of genuine peril conspicuous by their absence.
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On the run
That’s not entirely Clone Force 99’s fault, because The Bad Batch is yet to establish a threat or villain worthy of their talents. Former Bad Batcher-turned-Empire stooge Crosshair is currently the show’s principal antagonist, yet his presence so far has been minimal, his attempts to apprehend the rogue Clones too easily thwarted.
One of the key themes of the show is that Hunter, Wrecker, Tech and Echo are on the run, but with Imperial Forces doing a mediocre job of tracking them, so far it’s hardly been The Fugitive(s). In fact, they’ve spent half the season hanging out in Cid’s Parlor, an establishment with all the hallmarks of a wretched hive of scum and villainy, so it feels implausible that none of the clientele have shopped them into the Empire.
The Empire itself is also an issue. With the Clone Wars only just over, these are early days for Palpatine’s totalitarian regime, with the reinvention of the Old Republic only just beginning. The presence of (future Grand Moff) Tarkin teases what’s to come –particularly when he lays the foundations for Clones being replaced by conscripted Stormtroopers – but we’re yet to understand how this loss of freedom is perceived across the galaxy. Has liberty died with “thunderous applause” as Padmé Amidala suggested in Revenge of the Sith? Or will we see a major fightback from star systems who’ve had their freedom forcibly removed?
Perhaps the era itself is the problem. While the early days of the Empire are an untouched period in the Star Wars canon, ripe with storytelling potential, The Bad Batch may have inadvertently tapped into the reason you don’t see many World War 2 movies set in 1946.
As politically interesting as this post-Clone Wars time period could be, the immediate danger has evaporated. In other words, it’s currently lacking the kind of all-powerful force of evil that traditionally makes Star Wars tick – Resistances and Rebellions don’t get the chance to produce memorable heroes until they’ve got something huge to resist or rebel against.
The Bad Batch is set nearly two decades before the destruction of the first Death Star in A New Hope, and we know from Star Wars Rebels that the Rebel Alliance doesn’t coalesce into anything meaningful until a few years before that. That’s a long time to wait for the first sizeable victory against the Empire, so what is The Bad Batch going to do in the meantime?
It’s hard to believe the show can fill multiple seasons with the gang doing odd jobs for Cid, and forming an unlikely family – My Four Dads? – with Omega.
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Story (arc) troopers
That means the show needs to find a bigger story arc, and there have been several hints at what that could be. The Martez sisters (carried over from the final season of The Clone Wars), for example, have been in contact with a mysterious figure we believe to be Bail Organa, Princess Leia’s adoptive father and a pivotal figure in the formation of the Alliance.
The return of Captain Rex – another Clone who survived the Emperor’s Jedi-exterminating Order 66 with his personality intact – also suggests the Batch will have a role to play in kickstarting the fight back against the Empire.
Omega, meanwhile, isn’t just some ordinary kid. She’s valuable enough to attract the interest of bounty hunters Cad Bane and Fennec Shand, and also has major connections with Boba Fett – where he’s the male ‘Alpha’ clone of Jango Fett, she’s the female ‘Omega’ model. Given Shand’s subsequent association with Boba Fett in The Mandalorian, it seems safe to assume that both she and Fett have a further part to play in The Bad Batch.
Particularly as Dave Filoni, the former Clone Wars and Rebels overlord who’s now Lucasfilm’s Executive Creative Director, is the creator of Lucasfilm’s latest animated offering. It’s impossible to believe that Filoni, a guy completely steeped in Star Wars lore, would dive into a new show without knowing exactly where it’s going – and how it will tie into the movies, as well as upcoming TV shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett.
Will The Bad Batch be a Joey or a Frasier? It’s too early to know for sure, and there’s no question the show desperately needs to lock down what it wants to be. But with Filoni involved, the smart money would definitely be on the latter.
New episodes of Star Wars: The Bad Batch debut on Disney Plus every Friday.