Star Wars animation has its rhythm: a boisterous premiere, scattershot one-off episodes, and three-episode arcs designed to fry our circuits. The rhythms of The Clone Wars are the rhythms of Rebels and now they are the rhythms of Star Wars: The Bad Batch. All that’s left for the latter is to knock out a finale that lays its audience flat on the ground. It might be a familiar tune, but dang if it doesn’t keep a good beat.
As we enter the final stretch in this debut season of The Bad Batch, its various reckonings come due. Kaminoan Prime Minister Lama Su found this out the hard way, as his covert maneuvering around the burgeoning Empire finally caught the notice of Vice Admiral Rampart. Su remained stoically deceitful to the bitter end when his co-conspirator Nala Se was brought before him as the proof Rampart needed to finally tie up his loose ends on Kamino; Su continued to trust his survival instincts (political and otherwise) far past the point of sense, denying any culpability for Se’s plot to remove scientific personnel from his cloning facility behind Rampart’s back. Naturally Rampart didn’t buy any of that, and this week Su’s Kaminoan rule came to a violent end. (Off-screen, of course; this isn’t Game Of Thrones.)
It’s the latest consequential death in The Bad Batch, and a huge one for Star Wars lore as a whole. Su’s untimely demise represents a sea change in the way the Empire flexes its authoritarian strength across the galaxy, cleaving off the few remaining vestiges of the Republic with a renewed murderous zeal and a brand new face for its endless armies. (The episode’s stormtroopers are seen sporting helmets that are a cross between what we’ve seen from the Original Trilogy and Ralph McQuarrie’s original concepts for the soldiers.) Rampart once said Kamino’s clone trooper program had worn out its usefulness and it seems this young Imperial meant every word: “War-Mantle” marks the moment when the Republic clone army is finally, officially, phased out of Palpatine’s ambitions; Hunter and his Bad Batch discover as much on the remote Imperial facility on Daro when they de-helmet a downed trooper to reveal a face that nobody, not even us, recognizes. The “TK” designations have arrived to Star Wars and, dodgy blaster aim notwithstanding, no clone trooper is safe.
Which brings us to this latest rescue mission for Clone Force 99. “War-Mantle”, directed by Steward Lee and written by Damani Johnson, reintroduces trooper CC-5576, otherwise known as Captain Gregor of Foxtrot Group. (He first appeared in The Clone Wars Season Five episode, “Missing in Action”, and is also a small but amusing fixture of Star Wars Rebels, hanging out on the planet Seelos with his war buddies, Captain Rex and Commander Wolfe.) Languishing on Daro as the Empire’s tactical instructor for this first wave of stormtroopers, Gregor kicks off the episode with a breathless escape attempt, Rampart’s forces hot on his heels. His loyalty to Palpatine, without a doubt, is gone.
Perhaps it never existed to begin with? Whether Gregor’s zest for freedom from the Empire is a result of a faulty inhibitor chip or Gregor’s squirrelly attitude superseding the chip’s effectiveness, the episode doesn’t make that clear. That aside, Gregor’s latest escape attempt catches the attention of Captain Rex (courtesy of a well-placed emergency beacon), who reaches out to the Bad Batch to rescue Gregor in his stead. (Rex appears to be busy with something else right now? I dunno. But at least he was wearing that cool poncho.)
“We’ve gone on missions before with not much intel,” Hunter, the series’ resident worrywort, muses to his squad. Adding to his reticence is the Batch’s latest job on behalf of shady tavern proprietor Cid: if they don’t get paid, they run out of food. (An aside: how does the Batch handle their money? They never seem to have any.) It’s Hunter’s latest flimsy excuse to avoid jumping directly in the line of blaster fire, and it’s dismissed by his Batch almost immediately. One hard stare, that’s all Echo has to give, and before you know it the Batch are trucking off to Daro.
Speaking of Echo, the show’s moral center actually got some time to shine this week. “Rex trusts [Gregor] and I trust Rex,” he says to Hunter, before reminding our bandana-sporting pessimist that throwing caution to the wind in the name of doing the right thing was precisely how Hunter, and Rex (and Anakin Skywalker) once rescued Echo on Skako Minor, and if there’s a fellow trooper out there who is being held against his will, then the Batch absolutely must do whatever they can to help. It’s the most impassioned Echo’s been on this series, something that shouldn’t feel revelatory but, considering how Echo all but disappears on this show sometimes, it does.
In fact, “War-Mantle” feels like it’s making up for lost time by doubling down on the series’ emotional stakes. Everybody got a moment to shine this week: Omega silently reveres Hunter’s slick knife moves by clumsily attempting to mimic them; Wrecker plays dominoes (or the Star Wars equivalent to dominoes) with Omega; Tech, in his very Tech-y sort of way, insists that he won’t desert Hunter with the bone-dry line, “Negative! The odds of escape are not in your favor”; and even Gonky, dear, dear Gonky, shows his great worth this week by bringing the Marauder’s defense systems back online during an especially hectic dogfight above the Daro facility. It’s all in service to the episode’s inevitable knife-twist, before The Bad Batch bucks expectations and throws Hunter, instead of Omega, to the Imperial wolves.
As the Marauder narrowly absconds with Gregor and the rest of the Bad Batch, Hunter misses his jump to safety. After taking an almost comical tumble down the Empire’s mountain headquarters, Hunter quickly realizes, as a huge contingent of stormtroopers begin to flank him, that the game is up. It’s the series’ craziest “all is lost” moment yet: the Marauder zooms away from Daro under relentless Imperial fire, the Batch minus their leader, Omega without her protector, her father, her friend. “Hunter, tell them to come back! Order them to come back!” Omega screams into the communicator. Hunter, sheathing the same knife Omega was admiring just hours before, apologizes: “Sorry, kid, I can’t do that.”
The Empire’s forces have grown. The clones are obsolete and on the run. Hunter is alive but taken by the enemy.
- Looks like Lucasfilm is celebrating the last stretch of The Bad Batch in style; there’s a bonafide Bad Batch hashtag emoji over on Twitter right now.
- Stormtrooper: “Quiet, traitor!” Gregor: “That’s Captain Traitor. Insubordinate pleb.”
- Gregor is yet another opportunity for Dee Bradley Baker to flex his vocal chops on The Bad Batch. The wily captain’s voice is a warbly thing; it cracks and gurgles and is decidedly a more broad performance, which helpfully distinguishes Gregor from Baker’s other clone turns.
- Omega and Wrecker get some downtime to play dominos. Omega: “It’s still your turn.” Wrecker: “I know. (points to head) I’m thinking.”
- Nala Se got a pardon from Rampart this week: “A scientist, I have use for. A politician, I do not.” Feel free to drop all your Palpatine/Snoke clone rumors in the comments below.
- Why do I get the feeling that Rampart’s “Operation War-Mantle” will reveal Daro as the prototype for what will become the First Order’s Starkiller Base?
- It’s like poetry, it rhymes: The Batch’s “all is lost” moment, zooming away from Dora without one of their own as TIE-class fighters barrell down on them, recalls the equally bleak finale to The Empire Strikes Back.
- So what did you think of “War-Mantle”, group? Do you think Rex (and Rex’s poncho) will make a heroic appearance next week? Will Gonky receive a medal for his bravery on Daro? Did you gasp as belligerently as I did when Crosshair visited Hunter in his cell? Let’s find ways to cope in the comments below.