Rex is, understandably, distraught after learning that Echo may be alive. It’s a pretty shocking reveal, and his emotional connection to that information leaves everyone around him worried that he may be too impassioned to make clear-eyed, focused decisions, especially considering this information may not be true. “A Distant Echo” mostly keeps the the question of whether Echo is alive or not vague, up until the conversation Admiral Trench has with Wat Tambor, and the one Wat has with the clones when they’re close to breaching his sanctum. (Both Trench and Wat were in previous episodes of The Clone Wars, which I can’t remember too much about so I’ll let all you commenters break that down). The episode could have kept things simple by focusing on the conflicted Rex, and how that butts up against the more no-nonsense, more skeptical members of the Bad Batch, but it also brings along Anakin for a more intimate and personal layer to how Rex handles all of this.
The Clone Wars has done admirable job of really humanizing and exploring Anakin. He’s the hotshot, unorthodox character he was in the prequel trilogy, but the show works to add layers to him, particularly with his relationships Rex, Ahsoka, and, my favorite ship, R2-D2. Here, they give him an honest moment with a pregnant Padme, and even though the Anakin and Padme relationship kind of feels like the weakest one (which is more the fault of the prequel trilogy than the show), there’s a direct honesty on display here that makes it worthwhile. Whatever you may say about it and how it develops, it’s clear that the two love and support each other and share a connection, with Padme encouraging Anakin to support and watch out for Rex, even if he doubts Echo’s still alive. What Rex needs more than confirmation of Echo’s survival is a comrade. The scene is plays well, but it’s also given a comedic kick with the presence of Obi-Wan, whose clumsy back-and-forth with Rex is amusing enough, only for the rug to be pulled right out from him and Anakin when Obi-Wan clearly knew his apprentice and Padme just spoke supposedly in secret. Humor has always be a tricky part of the show (and of the franchise in general), but that’s a solid gag.
Rex, Anakin, and the Bad Batch head off to Skako Minor, where the signal of Echo’s voice seem to have originated from. When they arrive, they have a run-in with the local natives, an example of one of The Clone Wars’s more glaring weaknesses. Some story arcs struggle to pad for “stuff” to fill its runtime, so some episodes often skirt into unnecessary, out-of-nowhere conflicts, and this is no exception. The native race is hostile until it isn’t, and we learn nothing about them or their purpose (it’s clear they’ll be useful later in the arc, but at this point they just feel like a superfluous obstacle). It does provide a chance for Hunter, the leader of this Bad Batch, to do some crazy stuff, hitching a ride on one of those winged beasts by dangling off a grappling hook while chasing down a captured Anakin. But Tech’s translation work just isn’t believable enough to convince the audience that this native populace would have such a quick change of heart.
There’s a lot of melodramatic tension over whether the signal voice is Echo or whether it’s just a trap. It’s all played well enough, with the requisite scuffle that occurs between Crosshair/Wrecker and Rex, and the more honest, down-to-earth conversation that occurs between Anakin and Rex. The vibe of the episode leans towards the fact that Echo is alive, so that tension never really grows into much unfortunately. Also, the dynamic camera movements, which worked really well in “The Bad Batch,” are more of a distraction here, mainly because there are clear and obvious moments that the Clankers are absolutely not firing at our protagonists for no reason. The action feels more video-game-y here, as if the droids were placed on easy mode or something. Yet even though Echo’s survival is predictable, the state of his body is horrifying: when Tech opens the stasis chamber, we see the clone with robot parts where his legs and right arm should be, his brain strapped to a bunch of wires, his eyes seizing out as this “machine” rips data straight from Echo’s brain. With the entire team pinned down outside, and Rex emotionally stunned in seeing his friend in such monstrous shape, the question remains: how in the galaxy can they escape this predicament?
- “The Techno-Union has corporate neutrality.” The Clone Wars does a decent job of complicating the layers and positions of the various factions that exist beyond the “Republic vs. separatist” conflict. More details like that would have gone a long way to salvage the Rose/Fin subplot in The Last Jedi. I personally was okay with it, but I spent a lot of time thinking this film had more television elements than filmic ones.
- Wrecker being scared of heights is the kind of goofy detail that provides this supposedly “Bad Batch” of clones a more humanizing, fun element.
- Wat Tambor’s lab/sanctum, with its sudden 1920's Art Deco look and design, was such a great visual switch-up, which allowed Echo’s reveal to be much more surreal and harrowing.
- Echo’s physical state is grotesque, but honestly I was expecting much worse. Like... I was just expecting to see his head. I love it when any aspect of Star Wars dabble in the iconography of other genres though.