This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 12
Look at that: it’s a two-parter after all. The Bad Batch take a bit more of a front role in their own show as they reluctantly help out in “Rescue on Ryloth,” directed by Nathaniel Villanueva and written by Jennifer Corbett. The show still feels too entwined with everything else in Star Wars to have mass appeal, but this episode in particular learned more from Rebels than from The Clone Wars in terms of giving characters the time to talk to one another and allowing beats to sink in between all the action.
I almost hoped last week’s episode was a one-off, just one story in an anthology, but am at the same time happy to see these characters back. It helps that everyone in this arc is just so charming. Twi’lek freedom fighters Cham and Eleni have been captured after the faked assassination of their senator. Their daughter Hera calls Omega, who convinces the Bad Batch to help despite Hunter’s disinterest. Meanwhile, Clone Captain Howzer continues to have doubts about the Empire, but can’t bring himself to act on them. There was a lot of conversation in the fandom over the last week about whether Howzer’s control chip was malfunctioning or whether his doubt came from his personality and/or his friendship with the Syndullas, and … more on that later.
I like that the entire Bad Batch gets time to talk through their plans and air their opinions in this episode, which was refreshing. At the same time, the naiveté of their position is grating. (“We can’t put our lives on the line every time someone in the galaxy is in trouble.” “Why not? Isn’t that what soldiers do?”) After all, these aren’t proto-rebels. Instead, they’re still shocked that the Empire would treat a citizen planet the way the Republic treated a Separatist one. I don’t mind the one-sided approach to soldiery per se, since it fits the characters’ perspectives. In addition, viewers are supposed to know the Batch aren’t entirely in the right here. After all, Hunter thinks the job is too hard and refuses to help the citizens, even when Hera wants to pay him double. Omega’s appeal to family is tested, and it’s only when she pushes that the Batch gets involved.
But the amount of work some conversations, or even gestures and postures, do in this episode was its major, unique strength. Even the rather generic Admiral Rampart looks tired and distracted at one point. There’s also time to develop a little bit of a dynamic between Howzer and Crosshair, who’s on Rampart’s bad side because his methods haven’t been effective. That was also a nice reminder of the larger stakes. Remember, Crosshair is the Kaminoans’ proof that investing in clones is worth the Empire’s money.
Last week, I was delighted to discover my Twitter feed giggling over the reluctant Captain Howzer, who, well, is a very handsome clone. His closeness with the Syndullas show he has a moral center, and one his control chip either doesn’t affect or for some reason can’t touch. Their conversation isn’t revolutionary, but there’s at least some stuff to unpack when it comes to the argument between Howzer, who uses the threat of rebellion to back up his own tentative moral objections, and Rampart, who believes “peace has a cost.” I have mixed feelings about the episode’s utter disinterest in whether Howzer’s choice to act on his doubts is purely from the heart or has something to do with his control chip. After all, the answer has implications for Crosshair, the ambivalence toward which you all know I believe has been a weak point of the show from the beginning.
To me, the movies seemed to say the clones’ control chips kicked in mostly when Palpatine invoked Order 66 in particular. But Howzer’s feelings seem to suggest a good portion of Crosshair’s loyalty to the Empire in the aftermath of the Clone Wars is actually of his own free will. Is Howzer’s decision all-natural? I’m still not really sure, but the questions and the dynamic between the three Imperials were fun.
The last 10 minutes of the episode feature a decent series of action scenes in true Star Wars finale fashion. They’re impressive for the way they intertwine, the tension around Howzer’s attempt to sway other clones against the Empire, and for a particularly heart-wrenching occasion, Hera’s first flight. I adore that she was clearly over-enthusiastic but competent.
However, this episode doesn’t quite balance its main characters with the Twi’lek plot as well. Since Hunter legitimately doesn’t have any skin in this game, his team’s job is less grounded in the plot and setting than Hera’s or Howzer’s.
There’s one major exception to the Batch mostly taking a back seat. Shoutout to Tech, who doesn’t have a ton of depth but does just happen to be the trope in the five-man band I enjoy. His lack of emotion and nerd interests are usually portrayed as useful but a bit off-putting, even to his brothers. He doesn’t have any less characterization or competence than, say, Echo, but usually sticks to a side role. So, it was especially satisfying to see him do some fancy flying in this episode, slaloming a ship around to nearly a dead stop so Wrecker could take the shot.
The other nice thing about this episode is that it doesn’t go for shock: it’s hopeful in the end, pulling some characters out of a fire while making the viewer tense against the burn. It’s already been established in canon that Hera’s mother doesn’t survive the early years of the Rebellion, but I’m glad not to have watched her die today.
While the show continues to feel inessential, the last two weeks have been very entertaining. It also managed to pack a lot of answers to the central question of the show: What happened to the clones after Order 66? It’s turning out to be a hard question to answer, and at best, like today, that feels realistic instead of inconclusive. The answer might end up being that a lot of different things happened and a lot of different people worked according to their interests. “Rescue on Ryloth” ends with Crosshair off the leash, further tying a mostly-standalone episode to the wider story.