This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 11
The Bad Batch take a back seat in their own show, and it turns out that’s a good thing in “Devil’s Deal,” which was directed by Steward Lee and written by Tamara Becher-Wilkinson. The clones’ brief appearance is full of quality character moments, but this story is really all about the Twi’leks. Once a rebel leader against Separatist invaders, guerrilla fighter Cham Syndulla is now mellowing out under the Empire … but that doesn’t last very long.
The Bad Batch continues to insist that it’s not only a visual successor to The Clone Wars but also part of the wider Star Wars animated universe, with its own stable of recurring characters. While readers know I’m usually resigned to the self-referential nature of Star Wars rather than overjoyed by it, “Devil’s Deal” does a good job of answering some truly interesting questions and reintroducing a few compelling characters, a puzzle piece making a wider story feel more complete.
The Empire has come to Ryloth. Wary of an all-out martial takeover of a people known for open rebellion, Vice Admiral Rampart chooses the subtle route. He’ll court both the corrupt senator and tired guerrilla leader. That leads us to the major cameos of the episode: Hera Syndulla — one of the lead characters of Rebels — as a young girl, and her mother, Eleni. And Chopper’s there, too!
The first third of the episode sets the scene. Then, Hera’s uncle Gobi invites her along on a job to buy a stockpile of weapons from the Bad Batch. But Crosshair has been tracking them, and all of the major players end up in an ambush. By the end of the episode, the balance of power on Ryloth has shifted dramatically. (It seems to be canon that Senator Orn Free Taa survived the laser bolt to the head, which looks unlikely on first viewing. We’ll see if the assassination attempt requires any canon reshuffling, especially since a lot of this episode hooks right into the canon novel Lords of the Sith, which features Taa as a supporting character and is set a few years after this episode.)
I can’t hide some bias here: I love Hera in Rebels and in the novels. Her steadfast sincerity and skills put her up there with Luke Skywalker in terms of good-hearted characters I love to root for. In this episode she does, in a way, become the Skywalker character: she’s the child’s perspective in lieu of Omega, fitting in that long-standing and beloved Star Wars tradition of a kid who just wants to fly away from her planet. But she’s certainly not trying to get to an Imperial academy. As much as she seems to love her planet and her parents, she’s still a kid in a contested zone, surrounded by fighters, with plenty of reason to want to both escape and fight for peace. While it’s clear Hera believes in the cause enough to spy for the freedom fighters, the episode is also subtle with how much she knows about what’s going on. Her parents both attempt to protect her from the subtle takeover and use the information Hera gathers in their own plans.
We know Hera will go on to be a leader in the Rebellion and the New Republic, a position that sees her out-living most of her best friends as well as the father of her child. Her gaze into the stars is full of a future of adventures but also sacrifices, and The Bad Batch allows for that to quietly sink in.
Her characterization on its own is fun, too. When she briefly meets Omega, I was skeptical the two would sound like real kids, with all the imaginative leaps and unrestrained curiosity that entails. Of course, these are also both kids who spend most of their time with adults, and Hera articulating how she feels emotion is an integral part of flying is a nice mix of enthusiasm and precision. I’m glad these two characters were given the chance to interact at all. But what really sold me on them was Omega’s takeaway: “She’s kinda strange. I like her.”
Overall, the episode shines in part by simply giving the Twi’lek’s story enough time to breathe. Everyone gets a bit of perspective at least sketched in, from Cham and his family to clone trooper Howzer. It felt very realistic, the older generation capitulating while the younger ones take the torch. It shows instead of tells how there’s tension between the groups but the Empire is also relatively confident, therefore giving the a Twi’leks long leash, such as when Rampart leaves the Syndullas alone in the refinery. (I’m also biased toward the environmental message that tends to come with the way the Empire is the one putting up smoke-spewing factories in the name of providing jobs.)
Fan favorite droid Chopper is the only one who feels a little out of place, the cuts to his nonsense dialogue too much of a cutesy callback to Rebels (and to the fact that he’s played by series executive producer Dave Filoni.) I’m also not entirely sure why Gobi took Hera along — did he really simply want to give her the chance to take a more active role in a cause they both believe in, or was he putting her in danger for a more selfish reason?
As for Crosshair, he’s just a subtle attack dog, but I’m more okay with that when the Bad Batch are off screen. His brainwashing makes him frightening, and although it means he’s one of the few characters who doesn’t make a conscious choice, sometimes it’s okay to just let a villain be ominous for a while.
Seeing the Syndullas was just a fannish joy, I can’t lie. I also appreciate that, while Eleni does canonically die fighting the Empire, it isn’t shown here. Instead, she gets a small but definable part, tactful and observant. Cham pretty much coasts on his characterization from The Clone Wars, but also gets some good moments. “Their lives, much like yours, have been surrounded by war far too long,” Cham tells Hera, and it’s pretty obvious it’s Cham himself who’s tired.
The lighting, textures, and music in this episode all stand out, too. Each note perfectly sets the scene. In particular, I was impressed by the lighting on Ryloth’s canyons and the detailed, natural-looking scar on Howzer’s face. For all that he’s also wearing styled armor and has a memorable face, Howzer looks less like a stock character than any of the Batch.
Maybe I can’t put my Hera bias aside, but that’s okay. “Devil’s Deal” benefits a lot from the canon around it, but it also skillfully sketches in the state of the war while providing entertaining action and truly moving character moments.