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‘Star Wars: The Bad Batch’ Review: A Tense, Thrilling New Star Wars Story

The Bad Batch
Photo Credit: Disney Plus/LucasFilm Ltd.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch had a lot going against it heading into its May the 4th premiere.

The Bad Batch is a spin-off from Star Wars: The Clone Wars; a long-running animated series that was overseen by Mandalorian guru Dave Filoni. While the show did have seven seasons and a movie – including a finale last year on Disney Plus (after a six-year layoff) – it’s not a stretch to say the series does not have the same massive, ardent fan base that the Skywalker saga has.

So, the idea of heading into a spin-off series without having watched 130+ episodes of a series and a feature-length film might have potential viewers throwing their hands up in “I’m going to be so behind” disgust.

The second bantha-sized obstacle for new viewers is the 70 minute run-time for the premiere episode. Not one singular episode of The Mandalorian comes close to this run time, nor do any of the big-budget Marvel series you can find on Disney Plus. Asking a fanbase, a large percentage of which have probably not seen the source material, to sit through a near feature-length premiere is a very big ask.

Yet, despite all of this, this reviewer is here to tell you this – none of this – matters at all.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is a wonderfully engrossing exploration of an immediate post-Clone Wars universe, running parallel to the events of Revenge of the Sith. If you haven’t seen The Clone Wars series it’s not a problem. All the gaps are filled in seamlessly with sensible dialogue that never feels like ham-fisted exposition dumps. The pacing runs briskly and is fueled by a slow-burning tension that is fed throughout the episode.

In short, The Bad Batch’s surface issues should not deter you from diving into a well-written, tense and thrilling premiere.

The debut episode entitled, ‘Aftermath’ introduces our heroes – Hunter, Wrecker, Crosshair, Echo, and Tech (all voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, The Mandalorian) – and then Order 66 is instantaneously invoked. The Jedi are hunted down and slaughtered at the behest of the newly minted Empire, headed up by Emperor Palpatine.  This order immediately throws The Bad Batch (aka Clone Force 99) into a state of conflict and distrust as they cannot fathom why the Jedi – their friends and allies – need to be destroyed. This conflict is only exacerbated when the group’s leader, Hunter,  allows a Padawan named Caleb (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr., Star Wars Rebels) to escape extermination…much to the surprise vexation of Crosshair.

The majority of the premiere episode revolves around Clone Force 99 seeing everything they had come to know and believe in as soldiers become infected by the poisonous ideology and swift, violent hand of The Empire. While we, the audience, know what will happen next, it’s wildly commendable that the series executes such an incredible build of tension – solely based on our heroes being completely in the dark of what’s going on (but fearing the worst). This not only speaks to the script and its spot-on dialogue but also to the depth of the characters we’ve just been introduced to. Even if you didn’t watch their introduction in Clone Wars, you’re still immediately hooked by them. They feel like Star Wars characters, albeit completely different from the majority of the ones we’ve come to know and love (or loath) in the live-action films.

A lot of the credit for this has to fall on the shoulders of veteran voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, who voices all of The Bad Batch heroes. He’s able to imbue distinct, yet highly familiar and easily digestible emotion, history, and characteristics into each of the crew. Hunter is the gruff yet conflicted leader, Tech is the brains, Wrecker is the lovable yet impetuous bruiser, Crosshair is the acerbic sharpshooter, and Echo is the tenacious yet troubled cyborg. They’re all versions of characters we’ve seen in war films, heists, superhero films, and fantasy epics before, but Baker gives them their own little nuances to make them so engrossing and fun to watch.

Yet, the most impressive character in the series is Omega (Michelle Ang, Fear the Walking Dead) – a young girl who is a big fan of our heroes as well as a character hiding something. Star Wars can be hit-or-miss when it comes to precocious child characters. Do we need to revisit young Anakin in The Phantom Menace? Even in this episode itself, Caleb the padawan is a bit of a stereotypical, overly eager kid, and his dialogue is a bit cringe at times. However, Omega is way more interesting because you know there’s something more to her than being this plucky child who has an affinity for the guys. Her character’s payoff at the episode’s end is well-worth it and absolutely earned – something young characters often don’t get.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is an ambitious series that puts all of its focus on a band of misfit side characters that most of the Star Wars fan base had hardly any knowledge of heading into the premiere. Yet, by episode’s end, you’d be hard-pressed not to find yourself completely hooked and waiting for the next chapter of this series (which airs Friday). The Bad Batch, like The Mandalorian before it, proves that there are many interesting and emotionally satisfying stories to be told in the Star Wars universe that do not tie directly to the Skywalker family. This should give hope to fans for all of the new series and films Disney has in the pipeline for the next few years. But for now, rejoice in The Bad Batch, your new favorite Star Wars series.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is Now Streaming on Disney Plus. New Episodes Air Fridays.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.
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