This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 5
Over the weekend, I watched The Clone Wars with a friend. She likes the clones themselves a lot, so we jumped around a bit between episodes that focused on them. When I got to the Bad Batch arc, I warned her the humor was broad, the action goofy, the characters stock types. But she adored it.
This team is the team in every war movie, she said, and loved them for their distillation of these archetypes she had such fondness for, such genre expectations around. I’m trying to bring some of that fondness here. After all, I enjoyed it when The Mandalorian ripped off Kurosawa, and Star Wars as a whole always takes bits and pieces of the pop culture (and social culture) it remixes. So why not here?
It helps that “Rampage,” which was written by Tamara Becher-Wilkinson and directed by Steward Lee, is just a solid space adventure, with convincingly frightening antagonists, a couple of great twists, and a sense of assurance in its characters now that they’ve been on the screen for five episodes (or nine, counting TCW). The Bad Batch reach out to an underworld maven named Cid (voiced by TV royalty, Rhea Perlman). She tasks them with rescuing a child called Muchi, who has been captured by slavers. Meanwhile, Omega has become firmly part of the group. There are some really cute moments where she plays with her new com link, or high-fives Wrecker.
I was expecting the com link to become more of a plot point, and maybe it will later, but it’s actually nice that it doesn’t serve as an entire B-plot here. That allows more room for the actual spectacle. It also concretes the com link as an emotional center for the clones. The moment where they explain that it used to be Crosshair’s is poignant. Omega herself may not express much sadness over the fifth member of the crew, but she’s now firmly taken his place. She’s part of the Batch in every way that matters, but she also still acts like a kid. (In particular, I’m old enough to remember the novelty of toy walkie-talkies. That’s probably not still a thing in the age of cell phones, is it?)
It’s a busy episode, but that’s good. The first twist — that Cid is their contact, and isn’t a man — was tired but fine. The second — that Muchi the rancor is the kidnapped child — really took me by surprise and ushered in an entertaining second half. (Yes, this is a little bit a reversal of the same twist that ushered in Baby Yoda, but nevertheless.) Perlman’s performance as Cid is delightful, joining Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto as new Star Wars women who just want to do their sketchy jobs.
At first, I was worried about the re-appearance of the Zygerrian slavers as antagonists. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember enjoying the The Clone Wars arc where they kidnap Ahsoka: it seemed to gloss over the horrors of slavery in favor of giving Ahsoka a glamorous new outfit. Here, while they stray a little too far the other direction into “anonymous sci-fi villain horde,” they’re frightening mostly by implication, but effectively so. We see how they imprison both people and animals, and the prospect of them taking any of the clones, but especially Omega, was legitimately scary. We also see how they hook to the Empire, with the leader Raney claiming they’ll have more free rein under the new regime.
The combat scene that makes up most of the last half is a lot of fun by virtue of the variety. It travels, and has distinct beats even though it’s technically one long exchange. It tells a story in the action itself, like the climactic battles in Return of the Jedi or The Phantom Menace. First comes the setup, then a creature feature tussle between the slaver’s brezak and Muchi, and finally the clones trying to capture the rancor. I love a good creature fight, especially when you can see the strengths of both combatants: the rancor throws her weight around, while the flying lizard is fast and fragile.
The knife-versus-light-whip fight between Hunter and the Zygerrian reminds us of two things: Hunter is cool, and light whips are also cool. (I also enjoyed Cid calling Hunter the “dark and brooding” one, even if that doesn’t come out quite as strongly in his dialogue.) That fight is short, but it gives way to the funny spectacle of Wrecker going toe-to-toe with the teenage rancor and winning, albeit barely. It’s just so much fun to see how much effort both combatants are putting in; it’s hilarious that Wrecker tries to do wrestling moves on a rancor, but it’s also convincing, since we’ve already seen him flip a starship.
The final twist — that this rancor belongs to Jabba — is a bit goofy but fine. This isn’t the rancor from Return of the Jedi, thought. That one is canonically male and named Pateesa. While Muchi is probably also destined for a life of eating people who have disappointed Jabba, it’s nice to know she won’t be the one Luke takes out — and that this isn’t a case of absolutely every part of Star Wars being connected to another.
Overall, I wouldn’t mind more The Bad Batch episodes like this. Where the character connections aren’t convincing, there’s genuinely cool and inventive action to balance it out. And the character connections are getting better, especially when it comes to Omega’s integration into the crew.
Watching The Clone Wars also reminded me the extent to which Nala Se, Omega’s former caregiver and the chief medical officer of Kamino’s cloning facilities, is a villain. In one arc, where clone trooper Fives clashes with the Kaminoans, she’s ready and willing to kill an injured clone to cover up the existence of the secret inhibitor chips. Whatever fondness she might have for Omega, it’s going to be superseded by her job and the money the Kaminoans make on selling the clones. Maybe we haven’t seen the last of her.