This Star Wars: The Clone Wars review contains spoilers.
The Clone Wars Season 7 Episode 2 Review
The second episode in the Bad Batch arc digs deeper into characterization and world-building, especially that dramatic irony The Clone Wars overflows with. Executive producer Dave Filoni and his writing team have an ear for dramatic irony, and the Prequels are a rich field for it. Most people with even a casual understanding of Star Wars know that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, so the Anakin in The Clone Wars is always operating under that shadow. His dialogue isn’t always much better than the stiff proclamations in the Prequels (and is perhaps, intentionally, meant to evoke them and the classic sci-fi serials George Lucas based his epic on). It’s also mostly effective. This Anakin is mercurial and charming, warm to his friends and ruthless to his enemies. He’s a Jedi who knows he’s a hero.
Anakin’s pitch-perfect dynamic with his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi gives “A Distant Echo” a strong opening. The Jedi and the Bad Batch are on their way to Skako Minor, the planet clone trooper Echo’s signal might be coming from. Rex and the Bad Batch hope to rescue Echo from the droid army’s clutches, even if everyone on the team isn’t even sure Echo is still alive. But beforehand, Anakin needs to take a quick phone call.
At this point in the timeline, he’s married to Padmé Amidala, who is doing her own kind of fighting in the Galactic Senate. Their secret call provides some nice visual language: the two are separated by the ladder up to a bunk, as if in reference to the way the war itself is keeping them apart. When Obi-Wan nearly catches them, we’re treated to tension that works on both a character level and a galactic level.
Anakin and Obi-Wan squabble, and the audience know they’ll one day fight in the battle that leaves Anakin “more machine now than man.” But for now, the conflict between them is almost playful. Anakin is clearly a smooth liar, his casual deception far more effective and charming than Rex’s. And Obi-Wan, while playing the role of the teacher catching a student where he shouldn’t be, isn’t clueless. He knows, through the Force or common sense, that Anakin is talking to Padmé, and he’s comfortable enough in his own judgment and authority to joke about it. Basically, the dynamic between the two Jedi is great.
Padmé also gets some fun, if brief characterization here, chiding Anakin for perhaps surprising but fitting naiveté. He expected a siege to be over sooner, while she knows everything in war and politics ends up more complicated than it might have appeared at first.
The group’s arrival on Skako Minor segues the episode into a classic Star Wars monster scene, and it’s a beautiful one. Fluting aliens and space dragons are both just so much fun to watch, space fantasy taken at its most literal in the joyous creativity of the Star Wars galaxy. It’s a pet peeve of mine when fantasy creatures don’t look like they could hold up their own weight. These dragons’ wings pass the test; both the sound design and the animation make them sound heavy, and the proportions are a nice mix of hawk and lizard.
The droid designs in this episode are also visually interesting and intimidating if sometimes bordering on the edge of being too busy. Battle droids are basically cannon fodder, so pitting the Bad Batch against a greater variety of droids and more heavy-hitting models like the Super Battle Droids keeps the action scenes varied.
The Bad Batch continue to strictly adhere to their rather goofy roles. Hunter, their leader, is the only one who hints at having simmering opinions he hasn’t yet shared. Especially compared to Anakin and Obi-Wan, it’s hard to get a sense for these clones as allies and friends rather than just a group thrown together by their circumstances. Surely their interpersonal dynamic is more complicated than simply completing missions, but that’s not really displayed convincingly. The dialogue doesn’t do these clones any favors, either. The Bad Batch clones themselves are the least interesting thing about the Bad Batch arc.
Perhaps the second most interesting conversation in the episode is between Anakin and Rex. Anakin is forced to be the peacekeeper between the clones and ends up talking to Rex about what Echo’s potential survival means to him. Rex is willing to fight the Bad Batch on Echo’s behalf. Anakin talks him down. Meanwhile, the whole conversation seems like a commentary on ones Anakin and Obi-Wan will have later. After all, Rex is turning against his own allies for a chance to save a person he cares about, just as Anakin will later turn against Obi-Wan in an attempt to save Padmé.
Overall, this was a solid episode. Echo’s story is compelling, doubly so because Rex is clearly so invested in it, and the Rex-Anakin dynamic contains a lot to unpack in a relatively brisk format. The presence of the camera isn’t as artful in “A Distant Echo” as it was in “The Bad Batch,” but overall the direction is so unobtrusively good that it doesn’t matter.
In total, the return of The Clone Wars has been a pleasant surprise. Even knowing what’s coming, the reveal of Echo’s fate is suspenseful. I just wish the Bad Batch themselves weren’t so goofy.