This Star Wars article contains spoilers for The Bad Batch.
Believe it or not, clones and the concept of clone armies have existed in the Star Wars universe since the very beginning, going all the way back to when old Ben Kenobi made a reference to the legendary Clone Wars in 1977. Back then, this line delivered by Sir Alec Guinness was just a bit of classic George Lucas worldbuilding, an insinuation that the galaxy far, far away was much bigger and had way more history than what you were watching on screen. There was so much more happening out there beyond the deserts of Tatooine.
It wouldn’t be until 2002 that Lucas finally brought in the clones in question (although Leigh Brackett’s original draft of the script for “Star Wars II” introduced Lando as one of the last of these mysterious clones back in the late ’70s). The suitably titled Attack of the Clones, the second chapter of the Prequel Trilogy, reveals the nefarious origins of the Clone Wars as well as the soldiers genetically engineered to fight for the Republic. And in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, we watch as Palpatine turns them into weapons against the Jedi, exterminating the enemy of the Sith in one fell swoop.
But what happened to the clones after that?
By the end of the Prequel Trilogy, the once-peaceful Republic has been reorganized into the tyrannical Galactic Empire, and the Dark Lord of the Sith is now in complete control of the galaxy. The Jedi Order has been destroyed and the trilogy’s greatest heroes are all dead or in hiding or have been transformed into evil cybernetic monsters. As for the clones? Well, Lucas doesn’t really explore what happened to them at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and back in 2005, fans were basically just supposed to assume that eventually the clone army transitioned into the Imperial stormtroopers we first met in A New Hope. At some point, there must have been a changing of the guard.
In this writer’s opinion, that was well and fine, not everything in a fictional universe needs to be explained, and one of Star Wars‘ greatest strengths back in the early Lucas era was the air of mystery that defined so much of its lore. Things like the Force and the Clone Wars were left open to interpretation so that viewers could fill in the gaps using their own imaginations. But by the time Lucas set to work on the Prequel Trilogy, he’d clearly changed his mind.
So, while the end of the Prequel Trilogy didn’t explore the fate of the clones beyond Order 66, Lucas and his creative team did expand on clone lore further in The Clone Wars animated series, even revealing the clone army only turned on the Jedi because of an inhibitor chip secretly implanted into their heads at birth. In other words, Palpatine used bio-tech to control them like they were disposable battle droids. Lucas loves a bit of allegory.
Even after Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the House of Mouse has continued to delve deeper into the story of the clones and what happened to them between the Prequel and Original Trilogies. In fact, the latest episodes of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, “The Clone Conspiracy” and “Truth and Consequences,” have finally answered one of the biggest questions about the fate of the clone army, solving a mystery left behind by the Prequels but that was really first set up by A New Hope in 1977.
How were clone troopers ultimately replaced by Imperial stormtroopers? It turns out that it happened on the Imperial Senate floor. This week’s two-part story in part follows the sinister Imperial Vice Admiral Rampart as he tries to manipulate the Senate into voting for the Defense Recruitment Bill, which would allow the Empire to begin recruiting new troops in order to finally decommission the aging clone army once and for all. Seeing the clones as relics of the past, many senators agree with Rampart, but there are holdouts who first want to make sure clone war veterans are financially taken care of and integrated into society after they’re relieved of duty. These holdouts include Bail Organa, Senator Riyo Chuchi (from The Clone Wars), and Tynnra Pamlo (whom we first met in Rogue One).
While Chuchi, Captain Rex, and the Bad Batch work to dig up proof that Rampart led an Imperial attack on the clone labs on Kamino in order to halt production of new clone troopers (an act so inhumane it would certainly halt the bill in its tracks), the Vice Admiral works with Palpatine stooge Mas Amedda (another returner from the Prequel Trilogy) to eliminate opposition to the bill. Rampart even taps a clone assassin to assassinate fellow clone troopers who might reveal the truth about what happened on Kamino.
The good guys eventually infiltrate Rampart’s ship and steal the records of the attack on Kamino (the Empire lied and said a massive storm had ravaged the planet’s capital), taking it all the way to the Senator floor, where Senator Chuchi presents the footage of Imperial ships bombing the planet to her colleagues. But right when it seems like the Bad Batch and friends have won this battle, the Emperor himself ascends in dramatic fashion into the Senate chamber, twisting the footage to his advantage, declaring this as conclusive evidence that the clone army can no longer be trusted to protect the Empire. Just look at what they did to their own on Kamino!
With the Emperor delivering the final word on the matter, the bill is passed, sealing the fate of the clone army once and for all. (Remember, the Imperial Senate is a joke when there’s an all-powerful Emperor in control of the government.) Since The Bad Batch takes place about 19 years before A New Hope, that would give the Empire more than enough time to replace the entire clone army with new recruits. And since clones were designed to grow and age faster than naturally born species, that timeline also provides an in-universe explanation for why there aren’t many of them still around in the Original Trilogy. Most of them have likely died by then, with no new generations to replace them after the destruction of Kamino’s cloning facilities.
It’s a tragic end for the clones of the Star Wars galaxy, and we even get a hint of just how desperate their lives have become after being relieved of duty. In The Bad Batch two-parter, many of the clones ask Senator Chuchi what exactly they’re supposed to do with their lives after being abandoned by the Empire. After all, they were created to be soldiers, war their only real purpose. What do they do when stripped of that life? The recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series confirms that some clones were never able to answer that question for themselves, forced to live out what time they had left as beggars on the streets, another casualty of a long ago war.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch season 2 is streaming now on Disney+.