And now for something completely different.
Just last week we Bad Batch faithful were wondering when this hardscrabble Star Wars prequel series would finally get around to addressing how the Empire solidified its stranglehold over the entire galaxy following Emperor Palpatine’s destructive Order 66. What would an episode like that look like? Would it take place from the perspective of Crosshair, seething into his toothpick from behind his commanding officer, Admiral Rampart? Would Crosshair be ordered to participate in an especially heinous war crime during this episode, pitting what remains of his own free will against his Imperial-installed inhibitor chip, possibly sending him careening on a shaky path towards his redemption? Or would this episode more closely resemble Star Wars: The Clone Wars (During Peacetime), an arm’s-length episode populated by a bigger cast, where “peacetime” means “Peacetime—As The Empire Sees It”?
This week’s episode provides an answer, and it turns out to be the latter. Only Star Wars: The Bad Batch has something else in store for its audience who have patiently waited to see how Crosshair has prospered (or not) under his new Imperial bosses or has fared with his new kill squad command. (How does Crosshair get on with his malevolent underlings?) Instead of diving into those character-driven particulars, this Empire-saturated eleventh episode of The Bad Batch, titled “Devil’s Deal”, offers up something I don’t think anybody was expecting to see, at least on this series: a Hera Syndulla origin story?
Yes, “Devil’s Deal,” directed by Steward Lee and written by Tamara Becher-Wilkinson, takes place almost entirely on the Twi’lek homeworld of Ryloth, where the Empire has set itself up quite nicely plundering the planet’s precious doonium mines. (Doonium, we’re told by Rampart, will help rebuild parts of the galaxy that have been hit especially hard during the wars, but I’m willing to bet it’s going to be used for more destructive purposes.) They’re going to strip the world bare of its resources and enforce Imperial rule with the full support of its resident Palpatine-booster, Senator Orn Free Taa. At least, that’s the plan; with names like Cham and Hera flying around, as Star Wars: Rebels fans can tell you, rebellion is but one provocation away.
Crosshair does appear in this episode, smoldering underneath his intimidating gun-metal gray helmet, eyeballing the citizens of Ryloth and just itching to aim his trusty sniper rifle at the first sign of resistance. Later, he takes a couple well-aimed shots only to then be swallowed whole by the episode. But it does appear he’s fully recovered from that explosive reunion with his former Bad Batch brothers, Hunter, Tech, Wrecker, and Echo, his head completely shaved and a new scar or two to show for it. No worse for wear. Makes you wonder if we’ll ever get to see how that compromised brain of his ticks, or if he feels anything other than sheer comic hatred for all things happy and good.
Instead The Bad Batch zeroes in on the young Hera, seen here actively seeking adventure and excitement as a scout of sorts for the Twi’lek soldier, Gobi Glie, alongside her plucky astromech droid, Chopper. But to be able to fly off Ryloth, to live on a starship among the stars, that’s her dream, and it’s here where The Bad Batch indulges Hera’s big “twin suns” moment: laying on the ground outside of a clone trooper-laden refinery, Hera’s hand traces the birds that soar across the clear blue Rylothian skies, yearning for a chance to explore that great beyond. And then, quite unsubtly, the Empire casts its intimidating shadow over Hera’s future.
It makes for a lovely and thoughtfully-considered sequence (it’s also the second first-person shot for The Bad Batch), which is great for Hera fans and mystifying for everyone else. For the Rebels devoted who have a faint idea of how Hera became a rebel hero and how her family became embroiled in the rebellion, “Devil’s Deal” offers details instead of surprises, which is, again, great for those intrepid folks who like to compile trivia for Wookiepedia but it might leave casual Bad Batch audiences cold. So what’s the purpose of this episode, if our beloved Batch isn’t a crucial part of the proceedings? If the actions of “Devil’s Deal” end up initiating a second part next week, which is likely, The Bad Batch might have answers as to what specifically happened to Hera’s dearly departed mother, Eleni. (Yay?) It could also set the stage for the final stretch of The Bad Batch, where Hunter & Co. finally answer their calling as rebels against the Empire and finally, finally, reach some catharsis concerning their fallen brother, Crosshair. (It could just as easily do none of those things; you just never can tell with The Bad Batch.)
It’s a typical practice of the Dave Filoni era of Star Wars, especially for these animated prequel series: yank the rug out from under viewers during an especially dramatic moment for the show, set up a new uncharted storyline, pay it off by making it relevant to the wider arc of the capital-S Saga and vital to the motivations of the series’ lead characters. This practice can be effective, but it can also be frustrating.
One of the finest aspects of The Clone Wars was its complex and nuanced approach to war: who wages it, who resists it, why people do the things they do to endure dark times. The reasons are multitudinous and answers are rarely cut-and-dry. The moral lines of “Devil’s Deal”, however, are as clear as Ryloth sunshine. Senator Taa supports the Empire and bristles at his people’s love for Cham Syndulla, who freed their planet from the Separatists during the wars. Cham, while he does have his reservations about the Empire, will support it for the good of the planet so long as nobody messes with his family. With his fellow soldier Gobi angling for a fight against these occupationists and his young daughter Hera yearning to fly a ship of her own, it doesn’t take long for these characters to team up and cause all sorts of trouble for the Empire. Naturally, Cham’s allegiances turn on a dime and Taa gets his comeuppance before the credits roll.
As for the Batch, this week they play second fiddle on their own show. The Bad Batch has an opportunity to explore this war-ravaged galaxy from a more unique and intimate perspective than The Clone Wars and, for the most part, it has attempted to do precisely that. “Devil’s Deal” is a throwback to the haywire politics of The Clone Wars, with the scale that comes with it. It may be an opportunity for Dee Bradley Baker to give his vocal chords a bit of a break (no doubt he’s earned it), but shuffling the starring characters of this show to the periphery for a midseason excursion into unabashed fan service is vexing, especially with how this series has been reluctant about fleshing out its own characters. This week Hera met Omega. Hera enjoyed a tour of the Havoc Marauder. “Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-wan Kenobi.” What did we learn about any of these characters in this episode that we don’t know already?
Other questions: if the show is about Clone Force 99 and how they survive a post-wars reality with Kamino’s final clone in their care, a brilliant and tantalizing premise if there ever was, then why is its focus so scattershot? Why aren’t we learning more about this Bad Batch? We know about Echo’s Techno Union rebirth, courtesy of another show. But how is he doing right now? And what about Tech, or Wrecker? We are too deep into this series to be shifting focus away from Hunter and his found family now. “Devil’s Deal” might aim to fortify the lore, but it’s showing the cracks in the foundation of The Bad Batch.
At the midpoint of the episode we’re treated to a gorgeous moon-based view of Ryloth. Hera’s been on this moon before (I assume), so this tremendous perspective of her homeworld doesn’t catch her eye—the Marauder does. When Omega shows Hera its cockpit, Hera is inundated with the specifications of the ship. “Tech won’t let me train [to fly] until I can recite all the ship’s specifications from memory,” Omega says. Hera takes this moment to drop some youthful philosophy on the clone: specs are only half of the experience of flying. “It’s about a feeling,” Hera tells us. “The instruments help guide you but you plot your course. You’re free.”
That sums up Star Wars as an ever-widening, never-ending saga. It’s not burdened with technical details or even by characters wrestling with their own personal consequences. Star Wars is a feeling. And that’s fine, when there’s a Williams score to fill in the emotional gaps or a comic book tie-in to color the saga’s myriad personal histories. But we’ll never be able feel for the characters of The Bad Batch, not really, if we’re never allowed to get close.
- The Rex-ian clone captain, Howzer, first appeared as an action figure in the Star Wars Vintage Collection. This week, Howzer made his first onscreen appearance and finally got his name.
- This is the first (and hopefully last) episode where the Bad Batch don’t take their helmets off. Feh!
- Howzer is a nice nod to the warmth and humanity of Captain Rex. Even as he’s compromised by his inhibitor chip, Howzer still has a close relationship with Cham. “Ryloth is safe, Cham. This is what you fought for,” the clone says reassuringly. Cham, ruefully: “Yes, it is.”
- Eleni takes Hera inside after she’s snatched up by the Empire and brought back home, and reveals that she already knew Hera was scouting the refinery. “I have my ways, too.” More Eleni/Hera moments, please, if the inevitable should play out in the rest of this season.
- Another good exchange with Eleni, this time with her husband, Cham: “Don’t lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve.” Eleni: “I am questioning the cost to achieve it.” Good stuff.
- Hera shows up to a hangar to meet Gobi for a supply run, but Hera doesn’t want to disobey her father again. Gobi uses her personal interests to get her on board: “I was going to let you fly this time.” Is he gonna get an earful from Cham next week? You would think, right?
- I’ve never watched Star Wars: Rebels, but I’ve heard conflicting things about Chopper. Is Chopper bad, actually?
- Omega: “Are you a pilot?” Hera: “No. *all but turning to face the camera* BUT ONE DAY.”
- So how did “Devil’s Deal” pan out for you, group? Are we on track for a Ryloth insurgency plotline? Is Crosshair working his new bald look? Is Chopper no good or just misunderstood? Fire away in the comments below