This Star Wars article contains spoilers for The Bad Batch.
Clone Force 99 is back in action, and while we know season 2 of Dave Filoni’s Star Wars: The Bad Batch is building toward a unified adventure, the first crop of episodes has taken the anthology approach by splitting up our characters and sending them off on their own arcs. But on top of throwing new challenges at our heroes, The Bad Batch‘s latest episode, “Faster,” also improves on an idea originally used in George Lucas’ most divisive Star Wars prequel.
Out of all of Lucas’ Skywalker Saga films, it’s arguably 1999’s The Phantom Menace that’s faced the most flak. Although highlights include Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn, the epic Duel of the Fates, and the podracing scene on Mos Espa, this is all tarnished for some fans by Jar Jar Binks, an obvious Padmé reveal, and the young Anakin Skywalker storyline. The Bad Batch, which has not been shy about paying tribute to recognizable Prequel Trilogy moments and imagery, correctly chooses one of the former as its latest homage, upping the ante with a much more dangerous variation of podracing. All bets are off as the Bad Batch is thrown into the world of riot racing on the planet Safa Toma.
Riot Racing Is the New, Even More Lethal Podracing
With Hunter and Echo off delivering nerf nuggets, Cid recruits the rest of the team as her muscle to while making high-stakes bets against an old foe. Brilliantly played by Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson, Grini Millegi is a muscular Dowutin who effectively takes the place of the villainous Watto from The Phantom Menace. When Cid’s droid racer, TAY-0 (voiced by the hilarious Ben Schwartz), is defeated during one of these bets, the Trandoshan suddenly finds herself in serious debt to Millegi. Before things turn violent, Omega asks Millegi for 24 hours and offers a double-or-nothing deal to wipe Cid’s slate clean. Movie fans will recall that Qui-Gon made a similar bet to Omega’s, gambling with Watto for the freedom of Anakin Skywalker (played by Jake Lloyd in the first prequel).
But this isn’t your straightforward race to the finish line. The Bad Batch adds an interesting new twist to the competition. Back when Anakin was podracing in The Phantom Menace, attempting to sabotage the other racers was technically against the rules, however overlooked by Tatooine’s gangsters. But when it comes to the dangerous sport of riot racing, destroying your competitors’ vehicles is actively encouraged for a more high-octane form of racing. There’s not quite a Safa Toma version of Beggar’s Canyon with Tusken Raiders shooting at you, but instead, each speeder is equipped with an arsenal of weapons. Podracing had some fiery farewells, but when a riot race spectator is taken out by a stray laser bolt in one scene, it’s clear that even the audience is participating at their own risk.
While it’s hardly the first time the franchise has introduced an alternative to podracing – the time trials of Knights of the Old Republic‘s swoop racing levels come to mind – riot racing might be the very best we’ve seen so far. Armed competitors, a twisting course complete with trick tunnels and dead ends, and surprise obstacles popping out of the track when you least expect it give these sequences a Mad Max or Death Race 2000 sort of feel, making for an even more lethal take on Lucas’ idea for The Phantom Menace. Who knew all podracing was missing was even more ways to blow up?
So Many The Phantom Menace Easter Eggs
On top of introducing a more high stakes version of podracing for The Bad Batch, “Faster” also doesn’t skimp on The Phantom Menace easter eggs.
The episode features its very own version of a racing arch-rival akin to The Phantom Menace‘s Sebulba, with TAY-0 racing against a Nosaurian named Jet Venim. Nosaurians are another callback to Episode I – Clegg Holdfast, the first Nosaurian in Star Wars, was one of the competitors in the Boonta Eve Classic.
There’s an even more deep-cut reference to The Phantom Menace. During one of the racing sequences, you will spot an advertisement for a yellow version of the Seraph-class urban landspeeder that appeared in the movie. There are also the staple DUM-series pit droids that made their debut in Episode I and have more recently popped up as comedic side characters to Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto in The Mandalorian.
When TAY-0 is wiped out by a rogue racer, it looks like the Batch is doomed – forcing Tech to take the droid’s place. In fact, you’ll notice a lot of droid drivers here, including an old battle droid from the Clone Wars. TAY-0 explains that’s because droids have the response times needed to compete in riot races. This echoes a throwaway line in The Phantom Menace when Anakin says he’s the only human capable of podracing. While Qui-Gon guessed that Anakin’s superior racing reflexes were due to his Force-sensitivity, Tech doesn’t have supernatural abilities. But he is incredibly intelligent, so he uses his analytical mind to win the race.
Some of the sequences in “Faster” even play out the same as The Phantom Menace. Much like how Jabba the Hutt oversaw the race from his own tower, Millegi gleefully watches events unfold from his own on Safa Toma. And as Tech and Venim race to the finish line, things climax in a thrilling chase where we’re not sure who has won. Like Sebulba, Venim has an epic crash, and Tech wins in the end like Anakin.
Speaking of young Skywalker, he has sadly turned to the dark side by the time we get to the events of The Bad Batch. But if he weren’t the charred Lord Vader, we bet he’d be really into riot racing. Now THIS is podracing!
Star Wars: The Bad Batch season 2 is streaming now on Disney+.