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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns with the bad boys of clones

Illustration for article titled Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns with the bad boys of clones

Star Wars seems to be in a bit of a holding pattern. The Force Awakens was generally liked but not well-loved; The Last Jedi proved to be quite divisive; The Rise of Skywalker was generally disliked but not loathed. The Mandalorian received mostly positive reviews, but if anyone here watched Star Wars Resistance, you’ll know that kind of reception was not quite the same (I actually did episodic reviews on another site, which was… a tough go). Star Wars Rebels had its issues but ended quite strongly. Now after a six-year long absence, Disney+ is going to try its hand again in the animated world with the return of The Clone Wars, a show practically defined by its tonal/random sensibility. Its seasons were split into various story arcs split across three to four episodes a piece, and each arc would be wildly different in tone and quality. You could get an entertaining arc like the Geonosis arc; an awful one like The Void arc, or a completely baffling, off-the-wall one like the the Mortis arc. Though those arcs have been of various quality, there has been some bright spots: Ahsoka Tano has been the most well known “fan favorite” addition to the Star Wars universe, and many others seem taken to Rex, the most out-spoken and driven leader of the clones.


So with that all in mind, Disney has graced us with one last go-round with The Clone Wars, a final season to wrap up this timeline of this universe, to finish up various teasers that were dropped on the Star Wars website way back in 2014. Everything is still intact–the faux-deep introductory quote in that blue laser font, the faux-filmreel summary of the events that guide viewers right into the action, even that musical fanfare when The Clone Wars logo pops on screen. It’s a nostalgic trip, and admittedly even with my slightly cynical opinion of the show at large, it was delightful to get drawn right back into this show’s rhythms. Here, we find our Republic “heroes” trying to hold off an assault on the planet of Anaxes by the separatists, but for some reason every tactic they use is immediately figured out and countered. Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker discuss options when Rex, along with Cody, enters the scene and offers a third idea. Hearing all those voices again, and its carefully, distinctly written dialogue, is meant to both appeal to the fans familiar with the original show, as well as introduce newcomers into this particular iteration of Star Wars.

That second point is specifically noticeable in Rex’s fear in how the separatists are so savvy against their defenses. The tactics are so familiar that they remind Rex of Echo, a clone with whom Rex drew up plans together, and who was “killed” in the battle of the Citadel. It’s a line that practically dangles an asterisk at the end, indicating to SEE EPISODE “THE CITADEL” FOR THE DETAILS OF THAT MAJOR EVENT. It’s a classic comic book tactic, but it also provides old and new viewers alike a chance to get see how close-knit these particular clones are. They’re not disposable living machines like the films make them out to be. They’re soldiers, brothers, comrades (there’s even a brief discussion about fallen brothers and survivor’s guilt)–and watching Rex wrestle with the far-fetched idea that one of his own may be still alive is engaging, the through-line that will most likely drive this specific arc for the time being.

But before we get there, we’re introduced to the Bad Batch–a group of “genetically enhanced” clones with specific abilities to improve their skill in combat. This... raises the question why more clones aren’t constructed with specific skillsets. The episode implies that this results in erratic, chaotic, undisciplined behavior, but while the Bad Batch is certainly more aloof than the other “regs,” they still more or less follow orders, if not specific commands, and get the job done. The bulk of this episode, after the requisite introductions to these bad boys, is watching the entire group fight their way into the separatist cyber center to retrieve whatever information/algorithm that is countering the clones’ tactics. It’s straight-forward, but it’s fun, watching this “mutated” group of clones absolutely annihilate those clankers in unique, clever, badass ways. Also, the floating camera action is back, allowing viewers to “flow” with the action, swiveling and looping around the soldiers as they do what they do best.

The clones battle their way to the main console of the cyber center, and when Tech pulls out the data, a familiar voice is heard: that of Echo. Impossible as it may seem, Rex believe his former fellow soldier is alive out there, and as the entire squad escapes the onslaught, the weight of this reveal is clearly visible on Rex’s face. While I’m not particularly sold on the Bad Batch being “truly” bad, or even all that complicated, they do provide an off-kilter dynamic that may lead to some interesting developments down the line. If you’re new to this, welcome to the first of episode of The Clone Wars and its unique, long-term storytelling.

Stray observations:

  • Absolute props to Dee Bradly Baker, who manages to voice not only every single “reg” clone with the same cadence yet manages to imbue them with specific personalities, but also to pushing his voice in different ways to voice the Bad Batch while still maintaining that core cadence. It’s incredible!
  • Crosshair is introduced as being “not much of a conversationalist” but he... he talks quite a bit.
  • I maintain that The Last Jedi was fine, even enjoyable, but it would have worked a lot better as a mini-series or television show, as a lot of its more outlier elements felt very much similar to some of The Clone Wars more far-reaching side-stories.
  • If you’re curious, I did write up reviews for all Star Wars: Resistance episodes here. It was a struggle to get through to be honest, its loftier first season ambitions all but squandered in its lackluster second season.
  • I’ll be reviewing all twelve episodes of this final run of The Clone Wars, and I look forward to everyone’s responses and commentary in the comments below!

Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.