This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 4
The clones of the Bad Batch are low on food and fuel, but it’s a more exotic problem that meets them on the planet Pantora: a cool and competent bounty hunter. “Cornered,” an action-heavy episode directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Christian Taylor, brings more of the same to The Bad Batch. This might end up being a make-or-break episode for some folks; we’re really in the plot now, the threats and relationships established. The bond between the clones, or Hunter and Omega specifically, has to work at this point … and I’m so-so on whether it does. The rapid-fire pace means there isn’t a lot of time for all that to sink in, and a B-plot involving Echo being sold as if he’s a droid feels especially surface-level.
After they land on Pantora to stock up, the clones begin to see how poorly they’re suited for civilian life. (That’s Pantora from The Clone Wars, where we once upon a time met young senator Riyo Chuchi.) They don’t have anything to sell except an explosive, which naturally raises some red flags for the shopkeeper. Meanwhile, they’re also dealing with a corrupt docking official, who calls in bounty hunter Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) to capture Omega. In the back half of the episode, everything comes together in a neat but not revolutionary interlocking way as Fennec and Omega dash through the city.
Fennec was cool in The Mandalorian and she’s cool here. Wen gives her a mixture of intimidation and warmth that makes the character feel alive. I laughed at her delivery of “tuck and roll when you land, kid,” a deadpan but useful warning as Omega takes a long fall. Shand sets herself apart from other Star Wars bounty hunters well. She doesn’t have the grunginess of a Boba Fett or the slickness of Asajj Ventress, but instead exists somewhere in between. Almost as if a live action character was ported to animation, which, of course, she was! Despite that, her appearance isn’t jarring.
Maybe it’s just because she’s a female bounty hunter, or because Ventress voice actor Grey Griffin appears in a minor role as a prim protocol droid, but this episode did remind me a lot of Ventress’ appearances in The Clone Wars as an acrobatic bounty hunter who looks at home in a grungy city. This episode isn’t interested in the details of Shand’s life during this time period, however; we don’t know much more about her now than we did after The Mandalorian. Often that’s okay (after all, Ventress’ appearance as a mysterious Force-user was very cool back in the day) but Fennec doesn’t have quite enough personality in the script to keep her from feeling a bit like she’s floating on top of the rest of the story. Even assuming she’s working for the Kaminoans, trying to get the clones back to rejuvenate their supply of DNA, that doesn’t really answer the question of why she’s doing this job.
The action is classic fun, showcasing Omega’s mix of fear and resourcefulness. The fight travels really nicely, up and down through different levels and neighborhoods of the city. The city obviously has distinct zones: look at the difference between the flower-draped minarets, the middle-class shopping district and bars, and the dirty alleys and maintenance tunnels. With the exception of a brief knife fight, it’s all pretty typical cartoon jumping-from-rooftops stuff, which isn’t bad but didn’t get my heart rate going either. The lighting is gorgeous, almost edging over into realism.
Hunter and Omega remain the heart of the show. I wanted to approach this episode with less laser focus on dialogue than I usually have, since so much of the storytelling is visual. So what can we tell about their unspoken bond? “Cornered” shows how far Hunter is willing to go for Omega, and I really like the moment where Omega realizes she’s suddenly in the middle of a standoff between him and Fennec. While she previously trusted Fennec, she doesn’t hesitate for a second to take Hunter’s side. But the whole time, I found myself wondering why this doesn’t work as well as Din Djarin and Grogu. I know I said I wouldn’t compare the two shows excessively, but Fennec’s presence makes the connection more explicit. Omega being human means she’s more treacly than the carefully bizarre Grogu, less surprising. Sometimes, when it comes to the father-daughter archetype, less is more.
In a previous review, I asked to see more of what the show has planned for Echo, the formerly “reg” clone modified against his will by the Separatists. Oddly enough, Echo is actually the easiest one of the Batch to disguise on Pantora, his prosthetic arm making him a good fit for a droid “costume.” The bit is funny, with Hunter “selling” Echo to a merchant with the plan being for the clone to walk out as soon as the shop owner’s back is turned. But it also feels like a missed opportunity for characterization. Isn’t anyone slightly uncomfortable about the idea of selling a human? Star Wars always swerves just as it’s about to make a point about either slavery or whether droids are people: see L3-37 in Solo, or Anakin Skywalker. Here, it simply continues to do so.
Another quick-note on real world connections: io9’s Lucasfilm sources report they are aware of the social optics of the clones’ lightened skin tones, resulting in some adjusted lighting.
By the end of the episode, the team is pretty much back to status quo. I assume they must have picked up fuel in order to leave the planet, but the food situation still won’t be to Wrecker’s liking. The major thing that actually happened in this episode is the clones’ realization that it’s not only the official Empire that’s looking for them: Fennec is ready to scour the rest of the galaxy for them, too. As for the broader galaxy, there’s more here about how happy people are to hear the war is over. The celebrating Pantorans don’t know they’re cheering for an end to one war and the beginning of another endless one.