This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 14
The Bad Batch finally has something to say about the clones as a changing class in a beautifully animated adventure.
Rex has a mission for the squad. An old friend of his, CC-5576 “Gregor,” has attempted to escape from an Imperial training facility and failed. The Batch reluctantly agrees to break him out. War-Mantle (a code name mentioned both earlier this season and in Rogue One) turns out to be a stormtrooper training facility sunk into a Cheyenne Mountain-lookalike. The group fights their way out, encountering both stormtroopers and clone commandos. They all surprise each other a bit: Gregor expects the Bad Batch to be “defective” but realizes that “it’s the ones who want to stay here that are really defective,” while the Batch realize that conscripted soldiers really are all of the clones’ replacements. By the end of the episode, Hunter has inadvertently switched places with Gregor and finds himself behind bars in the facility, primed for an encounter with Crosshair that will surely lead the narrative into the finale.
The episode was a joy to watch, in terms of the animation and colors. Every episode of The Bad Batch seems to out-do the last, progress behind-the-scenes being made at a much more rapid pace than it was on The Clone Wars (in part because The Clone Wars laid the groundwork). This week, we get a beautiful, Spielbergian opening with diffuse light and painterly landscapes as Gregor goes on the run. The textures, lighting, and the way the characters interact with the environment (I’m no artist, but this does seem like the show’s second instance of impressive and significant dirt) are all a joy.
On the other hand, some elements of this plot are already tired. The structure feels redundant: the squad encounters a problem; Hunter is reluctant to get involved until Omega convinces him; the squad goes on an adventure; Omega and another one of the clones save the day. Like Rogue One, it’s a story meant to set something else up: in this case, how the clone trooper program transitioned into the stormtrooper corps. The episode also brings back Gregor, a character who had a pretty satisfying death in The Clone Wars before later appearing on Rebels as one of Rex’s aging squad mates.
That said, the explanations for what exactly is going on between the clones and stormtroopers are nicely woven into the action. Some fanon or old Expanded Universe ideas that were hinted at before are now confirmed: many stormtroopers were trained by clones, clone commandos in particular. (Lots more about this in this week’s easter egg guide.) The show reminds us that the Bad Batch have decent reasons for seeing themselves apart from “regs,” and that regs will make assumptions about them being “defective.” I’m glad these questions are being answered, even if it seems strange that the show would wait until almost the finale to confirm them. I guess the Bad Batch were out of the loop for a while.
Even the Kaminoans get a little bit more characterization, with the Empire officially cancelling the cloning contract. I guess the Batch running off certainly didn’t prove the efficacy of the program to the Empire. Both Nala Se and Lama Su come off as cold business people trying to grab more credits…even as Nala Se also adopts a creepy-cute maternalism toward the children she’s helped create for war. Her conversation with preteen clones is incredibly ominous but also heartwarming in a twisted way. As she reassures a young clone that he’ll grow up to be a soldier, I wonder whether he will ever grow up at all, and how dark it is that Nala Se truly seems to believe that indoctrinating more clones into the war is the best thing for them. I’m worried about what the Empire will do with these kids. While I do enjoy the fantasy of the clones as noble soldiers, I can also see Palpatine’s fingerprints on them, as the Sith manipulated the Republic into thinking about the ease — not the ethics — of purpose-built, living war machines. I was truly surprised to see Nala Se as the one left standing at the end, which tells us a bit about what Vice Admiral Rampart thinks as well.
Echo’s unique perspective seems to matter more in this episode than it has in the past, too. Finally, he outright states that his loyalty to Rex and his experience being a captive of the Separatists motivate him to be more determined to rescue Gregor than he might have otherwise. (Unfortunately, Wrecker gets nothing interesting to do; he’s back to being a joke, agreeing with whoever talked last.)
In The Clone Wars, Gregor lost his memory for a while before triumphantly returning to his trooper roots. He appeared to have a heroic death, but here he is, jovial and confident. I can easily imagine him as a good teacher, and his appearance is a treat for The Clone Wars fans while not getting in the way of the larger story The Bad Batch is trying to tell.
That tension between fun connections for the fans and what the Bad Batch think is going on is my central question about this episode. Hunter and co. certainly have skin in the game of whether clones will continue to be considered good soldiers, but I still think of War-Mantle in part as a fun reference to Rogue One, just a code name. Actually seeing it makes sense for this story, but might come across as yet another instance of “small universe” syndrome. What do the clones want in the long run? Peace? To go back to the wartime status quo where they had both independence and backing from the Republic? Not having a good answer for that is part of why I’m torn on this episode.
A fun adventure that rewards letting yourself go along for the ride, “War-Mantle” effectively set The Bad Batch up for an explosive finale in two weeks. I just wish some of this lore had come earlier.