Note: this is a mostly spoiler-free review of the Season 7 premiere of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. All plot spoilers are confined to a marked section at the end.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars has proven surprisingly resilient for a series that was technically canceled in 2013. A number of in-progress episodes were completed and released as a shorter sixth season dubbed Clone Wars: The Lost Missions, while other abandoned stories were told in new forms, like the comic book Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir and the novel Star Wars: Dark Disciple. And even if the animated series itself never quite gave us closure for characters like Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, and Darth Maul, the followup series Star Wars Rebels was only too happy to oblige.
It’s much easier nowadays to be at peace with the show’s untimely cancellation – and thankfully, it’s no longer even an issue. The Clone Wars is back for a seventh and final season, and the series immediately finds its groove despite being off the air for the better part of a decade.
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“The Bad Batch” immediately sets the tone for the final season. Even as the war draws closer to its dramatic conclusion, the Republic’s clone army is feeling the strain of mounting losses and an enemy that seems to predict its every move. Many of the series’ best story arcs have hinged on these clone heroes battling against overwhelming odds, so “The Bad Batch” feels like a great way to welcome the series back and further explore the toll of the war on those who were literally born to fight.
While it’s enough to see fan-favorite clones like Captain Rex and Commander Cody back in action, this episode stands out by introducing a very different roster of clone heroes: the titular Bad Batch – a group of clones far more independent and genetically diverse than normal. While on one hand the Star Wars geek in me can’t help but wish the series had simply dusted off the Republic Commandos for this particular storyline, this episode pretty quickly establishes why Clone Force 99 is the better option. With the premiere being so overwhelmingly clone-focused, it really helps to have characters with such distinct personalities. We need the comic relief provided by clones like Wrecker and Crosshair. The subtle rivalry and unease between Rex and his new comrades add another interesting layer to what might otherwise be a straightforward clones vs. droids mission.
Plus, the addition of the Bad Batch allows voice actor Dee Bradley Baker to cut loose. Baker practically carries this whole episode on his shoulders given how many of the characters are voiced by him. The series has always been surprisingly deft about differentiating the many clone characters even though they all look and sound pretty much the same. But in the case of these genetic abnormalities, they don’t look the same. Their personalities are much more extreme and over-the-top. Even in scenes with half a dozen or more clones sharing the same space, it never feels like one voice actor is talking to himself.
It’s also easy to see how much the series’ animation quality has improved in the six years since the Lost Missions. Fans may already be familiar with the Bad Batch arc, given that these four episodes were screened in rough animatic form at Star Wars Celebration 2015 and later released online. But it’s quite another thing to see this story play out in completed form with full visual effects. This still looks very much like the Clone Wars of old, but with a greater sense of detail and more dramatic camera angles. The upgrades are most apparent with Anakin, who suddenly looks a lot more like his Episode III self.
The upgrades are a welcome reminder that The Clone Wars still serves as the gold standard for Star Wars animation. While a worthy sequel in many ways, Rebels always suffered because of its comparatively stiff characters and barren, sterile environments. There’s much more detail and energy in this Clone Wars episode, which bodes well as we slowly march toward the long-awaited Siege of Mandalore arc.
Warning: the remainder of this review contains spoilers for Season 7, Episode 1!
Aside from the introduction of Clone Force 99, the biggest hook with “The Bad Batch” is definitely the reveal that fallen Clonetrooper Echo may still be alive and in Separatist custody. Here, too, this twist gives the storyline a bit of extra weight and differentiates it from similar clone vs. droid skirmishes. The series sometimes struggles to justify these longer story arcs, a problem that may come back into play with Season 7 being divided solely into a trio of four-episode arcs. But for now, “Bad Batch” starts things off on an eventful note.
It’s also a fitting twist with which to kick off the final season. The saga of Domino Squad has been one of the most important throughlines of the whole series, with that story seeming to come to an end when Fives was killed back in Season 6’s “Orders.” It seems only fitting that Season 7 finds a way to continue that story and potentially even find redemption for the one surviving Domino Squad member. We’ll see over the next few weeks whether the show can make good on that potential.
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