The Bad Batch, perhaps more than any other Star Wars prequel series, has a unique opportunity to explore how the Empire settles all the lingering disputes and various power vacuums that remain following that abruptly decisive end to the Clone Wars, up close and personal.
Consider the sharpshooter Crosshair—once a willing soldier of the Republic, now the leader of his own Imperial kill squad—who maintains his loyalty to Chancellor Palpatine as he secures his grip on the galaxy as a self-appointed emperor. Yes, there remains the pesky matter of his inhibitor chip and the concept of free will among clone troopers (“good soldiers follow orders,” etc.) but set that aside for now; Crosshair’s position within the newly-forged Empire offers Bad Batch viewers a cherry vantage point to see how this authoritarian regime operates during its formative days. And up until this week, chain code intrigues notwithstanding, Star Wars: The Bad Batch had yet to take full advantage.
To be fair, that’s not really its function. The Bad Batch is a found family tale after all, a small (but feisty) drama set amidst the wider canvas of the Star Wars saga. Hunter, Tech, Echo, Wrecker, and Omega, trying to make their way in the universe. Simple. But Crosshair was also a member of this crew, and while his absence has been a persistent and painful sticking point for his former brothers-in-arms Crosshair has primarily been utilized as a peripheral threat for the series: he shows up, the Batch goes on the defensive, they make it out the other side of the conflict and everybody’s hurting that much more. Again, simple.
But what about Crosshair’s new job as a bonafide fascist? Does Admiral Rampart send his squad out on other missions? Without a Death Star looming around you’d think selling a galaxy-wide dictatorship would be a tricky thing to pull off. Aren’t there dissenting voices that need to be, um… taken care of? Recall Senator Padme Amidala’s words towards the climax of Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, when she and Senator Bail Organa were seen scowling at the ascension of Emperor Palpatine: “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.” Despite its sycophantic standing ovation the Galactic Senate was at least one or two Senators short of being unanimous in its decision to kneel before Palpatine, so what about those other Republic loyalists out there? What about their traitorous Separatist counterparts?
“Common Ground”, directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Gursimran Sandhu, might set Crosshair back on the shelf (presumably to heal and also possibly to find a cool eye patch?), but it does finally tackle this tantalizing bit of Imperial worldbuilding—or at least a part of it. The episode takes us to Raxus, formerly the epicenter of the Separatist government, where the Empire rewards its Senator’s loyalty to Darth Sidious during the Clone Wars with martial law. “The Empire is not your enemy,” the Imperial captain Bragg declares to the citizens of the planet’s capital city Raxulon, as Senator Avi Singh wrings his hands and confesses his doubts to his protocol droid, GS-8. “I don’t know if I can go through with this,” he says. Too little, too late.
Whether or not Singh also remained seated alongside Senators Amidala and Organa during Palpatine’s ascent to unlimited power isn’t broached in this episode, but it’s clear from the jump that he’s finally having some doubts about this whole “democracy’s terrifying degradation into totalitarianism” thing. (What did he think Sidious’ endgame was going to look like?) While Bragg curtly states that the Empire intends to treat them fairly the Raxian crowd isn’t having it, and with his people’s expectant eyes on him Singh declares he’s had a change of heart. With this act of democratic defiance Singh is silenced by Bragg’s stormtroopers and AT-TEs stomp into the crowds below, which leaves GS-8 to send out a distress call to, of all people, Cid, the black market finder and fixer from Ord Mantell. That’s where we find Hunter and his Bad Batch, who have returned to the relative safety of Cid’s dank tavern, munching Mantell Mix like there’s no tomorrow.
If this is beginning to feel familiar, that’s probably because it’s supposed to. Imperial power-flexing aside, “Common Ground” is a return to formula for The Bad Batch; it’s a welcome downgrade of stakes following the emotional gauntlet of the last three episodes and, most importantly, it reinforces how essential Omega has become to Clone Force 99. (Even if this aspect of the episode gets stuffed in the b-plot, Hunter does reveal, in his wonderfully clumsy way, that his would-be daughter is ever at the forefront of his thinking.) As Hunter & Co. fly off to pull Senator Singh out of the Imperial hoosegow, Omega, who has a mind for strategy, casually enters into a game of holochess and later wins the Batch’s freedom from Cid.
It’s clear Omega was always going to be the person who got the Batch out of Cid’s pocket; that it happens in such a low-key way is a refreshing bit of subversion considering the overall bombastic nature of The Bad Batch. Besides, it’s not like “Common Ground” doesn’t have pyrotechnics to spare: The Batch’s stealth infiltration of hostile territory (alongside the startlingly hilarious GS-8) quickly escalates to an amusing commandeering of one of those clunky AT-TEs, inside which Hunter & Co. very gradually escape with the Senator in tow. Stun blasts, emp grenades, and hits to the head may keep this week’s body count low, but the cannon fire, slick storyboarding, and the Batch’s premiere-level teamwork make this one of the more exciting mid-stream episodes so far.
Yet The Bad Batch wouldn’t be The Bad Batch without a proper emotional epilogue featuring Hunter and Omega. Now unfettered by Cid’s debts, Hunter has an opportunity to take his family somewhere, anywhere, else. And while he wants to make sure Omega was safe (even if it means leaving her in the untrustworthy care of Cid), keeping a growing soldier from the action she craves ultimately doesn’t serve anybody but Hunter. It comes down to trust—who doesn’t deserve it, and who does. So an apology comes in a final game of dejarik between Hunter and Omega, its outcome already decided. “Are you ready for this?” Hunter asks.
Omega’s reply—pure, challenging, signifies the strengthening bond between these two characters, and reinforces the Batch for the peril yet to come—is almost poetic in her delivery: “Are you?”
- Gursimran Sandhu, a co-producer on The Bad Batch and the writer of this week’s episode, also worked on Game of Thrones; among other episodes, Sandhu worked on “The Wars To Come” and “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”, which featured Alexander Siddig, who voiced Senator Avi Singh.
- Siddig, who played Dr. Julian Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to charming effect, clearly has no horse in the Star Trek/Star Wars race. Good for him!
- We’ve been to Raxulon before: the Separatist city made its debut in Season Three, Episode 10 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, titled “Heroes on Both Sides”.
- Echo sniffs the Mantell Mix like it’s not completely delicious. (I’m totally guessing that it’s delicious—is there room in this universe for a Cracker Jacks tie-in, Disney?)
- It seems Cid’s dubious reputation has made it all the way to Raxon, which might raise some questions about her dealings with the Separatists during the Clone Wars.
- Trying to keep track of Cid’s nicknames for the Batch: Hunter is “Bandana”, Tech is “Goggles”, Omega is “Tiny”... I know I’m missing two.
- With Omega out of the picture Gonky sidles up to the Batch like it’s going on the mission, too. That’s Gonky!
- I like how the ithorian and the weequay can waste every waking hour of their lives inside Cid’s grungy bar playing the same game over and over again, but they absolutely know when Cid has stepped over the line with Omega. People are complex things.
- GS-8 rules: “Excuse me, guards, I appear to be lost! Can you direct me to the nearest egress?” (Sian Clifford rocked this episode.)
- Note that the Batch use the stun setting on their blasters when they’re up against their fellow clone troopers.
- I get how Wrecker can carry a grown adult down a zip line; he’s built like a tanker. But how does the relatively lithe Hunter carry GS-8? How much do droids weigh, anyway?
- Sian Clifford, GS-8, co-starred with Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, notable because Waller-Bridge also starred as L3-37, Lando Calrissian’s droid co-pilot from Solo: A Star Wars Story. But you knew that.
- “Common Ground” played a game of Chekhov’s ornate vase: GS-8 saves the vase from Hunter’s messy guard takedown; she happily returns it to her master; she then carries it through the extraction; then Singh takes the vase and smashes it over a stormtrooper’s noggin at the most crucial moment of the mission. Singh: “I never much cared for that vase.” Good stuff.
- So where are you at with “Common Ground”, group? Are you gonna miss GS-8 like me? Does The Bad Batch need more Crosshair or is his intermittent presence enough? Now that Cid can’t lord Hunter’s debt over his head, will she sell the Batch to the Empire? Sound off in the comments below.