The main event of the “Bad Batch” arc of The Clone Wars was the return of trooper Echo, but producer Dave Filoni and writers Brent Friedman and Mike Michnovitz offered other tidbits after the airing of the four uncompleted episodes, including Filoni’s gentle answer to a fan regarding whether the episode was canon.
“I think of it as canon,” Filoni said, but emphasized that he doesn’t know any more than any one else when it comes to whether the partially-rendered episodes were part of the official Star Wars timeline. Last year, the similarly incomplete “Crystal Crisis on Utapau” arc was released as part of The Clone Wars Legacy, a loosely branded group of stories continuing where The Clone Wars left off. The Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comic series and the upcoming novel Dark Disciple are both part of this brand, and both of those stories are canon, but the status of the “Bad Batch” arc is still inconclusive.
However, Filoni emphasized that what matters most to him is how individual fans think of the story. If they think it’s canon, it effectively is. This doesn’t hold any water with Lucasfilm, but was still a refreshing, kind reaction from the man behind the much-loved series.
The “Bad Batch” arc itself was originally conceived by George Lucas, who called for a “very specific vision” of a unique group of clones. As often done in The Clone Wars, the group would pay homage to a classic film. In this case, the target was The Dirty Dozen.
Lucas also called for the arc to bring back the Separatist Admiral Trench. The battle between the Republic and Separatists also involves Fort Anaxes, a familiar setting for fans of Rebels.
When Lucas asked for “Bad Batch,” Filoni saw the opportunity to answer a longstanding question from fans – Is clone trooper Echo still alive?
In order to answer that question, the “Bad Batch” arc finds Captain Rex, Anakin Skywalker, and others trying to find the source of a Separatist algorithm that allows the droids to anticipate the Republic’s strategies. Echo was one of the few people with whom Rex shared the algorithm, and the team discovers that he is being held, alive, on an independent planet.
After an extraordinary season six, the “Bad Batch” was a return to average form for The Clone Wars. Fans will be thrilled to find out Echo’s fate, as well as to see an Anakin Skywalker stretched thin after the departure of his Padawan and a seemingly unending war.
The Bad Batch themselves are a rogue group of genetically differentiated stormtroopers, who named their group Clone Force 99 after the deceased trooper 99. If they take orders from anyone, they didn’t reveal it within the episode, and their scarred, war-painted faces and loud attitudes set them apart from the more traditional Rex and Cody. Even Anakin thinks their methods are a bit extreme.
Once on the world where Echo is being held, they have to fend off dragon-like beasts before breaking out Echo, defending the natives against the Separatists, and using the algorithm in his head to their own advantage in the battle for Anaxes.
The Bad Batch are organized pretty neatly into types. We meet loner leader Hunter, computer specialist Tech, sallow sniper Crosshair, and enthusiastic muscle Wrecker. There are some neat details that make them more than their types – the tech guns down just as many enemies as the rest of them, and the brute is afraid of heights. However, the writing doesn’t deepen them.
After an initial scene that shows exactly how loose they are with rules, one says, “We don’t always follow protocol.” With that fact already established many times over by both the Bad Batch and by Rex and Anakin’s reactions, the line is wasted. The Bad Batch have superhuman abilities, but if one clone can lift an entire troop ship, why haven’t the Kaminoans given that ability to all of them? Hunter’s ability to sense mechanical signals is never utilized. The Bad Batch were slated to appear in another partially-produced arc, one in which they would have accompanied Yoda to Kashyyyk, but for now, they aren’t used to their full potential.
Echo himself suffered a fate similar to that of the Rodian informant Tseebo from Rebels. Made into a “beautiful machine” by Banking Clan leader Wat Tambor, he exists in suspension, connected to the Separatist network by wires embedded in his body. It’s a brutal image, but he recovers quickly after the initial escape, with help from some plain but soulful dialogue from Rex.
A supremely loyal Rex is another standout character from the arc, as is the splendidly cocky Mace Windu. An action scene high in the sky on the trail of one of the dragon creatures was exciting, and I’m sure the arc would have been beautiful if the animation had been completed.
In the end, it felt like “Bad Batch” was a prime example of the collaboration between George Lucas and the writers of The Clone Warsat its most successful. Sometimes Lucas’ enthusiasm for his Dirty Dozen clones lead the writers to scramble to make something fit within the enormous Star Wars universe. The Clone Wars continues to almost succeed, to come so close to creating a polished whole. It will continue to have its chances. Filoni knows that fans are interested in seeing unfinished material in any form, and reminded people of the stories still to come in Dark Disciple.