Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone, or Children's Day, if you're in Japan like me. It's more like The Children's Hour in film and television these days and last night brought the premiere of The Bad Batch, another new Disney Star Wars series seemingly designed to privilege the temperament of three or four year old viewers. It's a sad irony that the series it follows directly on from, The Clone Wars, was excellent for most of its run for featuring storytelling complex and mature enough to please viewers of any age--the irony deepens when you consider The Bad Batch is supposed to be about a military unit. The showrunner for The Bad Batch is Jennifer Corbett who, despite having a few credits to her name, has no Wikipedia entry. Probably because her most distinguished credit so far is Star Wars: Resistance and among the four or five fans of that series it's likely none is a Wikipedia editor. It might not make sense to you or me for Disney to hire anyone from Resistance for another Star Wars series, but I would argue that the infantilisation that has dragged down so much Star Wars media under Disney has more to do with rigid studio policy regarding story content than it does with the talent they hire. There's a reason so many of the great directors and screenwriters to-day refuse to work with Disney--not to mention their increasingly publicised petty dramas with the directors, actors, and writers who are willing to work with them. Just imagine all the things we don't hear about.
But the first episode of The Bad Batch isn't all bad. For one thing, they clearly had a better budget for visuals than Rebels or Resistance.
The show opens on some pretty gorgeous snowy forest. We meet some clone troopers and a Jedi General, Depa Billaba (voiced by the lovely Archie Panjabi), fighting one of the last skirmishes of the Clone Wars. The general's padawan runs up, a bright eyed boy of eleven or twelve whose voice sounds like he's 45. That's because he's voiced by Freddie Prinzzz11!!@ Jr. and he's supposed to be a young Kanan, one of the dullest characters from Rebels.
The episode has three credited directors--Steward Lee, Saul Ruiz, and Nathaniel Villanueva. Whichever one directed this first segment has no instinct for action sequences. Once Kanan (called Caleb at this age) jumps in the fox hole with Depa and some troopers (Dee Bradley Baker) the camera switches to boring head shots in which the tension of a battle sequence is totally absent from sound effects or the actors' performances.
They all sound like they're in a cool, quiet, recording studio.
The Bad Batch shows up to save the day and they've had an addition to their group since we last saw them on Clone Wars--the regular clone, Echo, who's now part man and mostly droid. The episode even quotes from Return of the Jedi when one character calls him "More machine now than man." I was happy to see him because I thought his story was one of the creepiest, most fascinating parts of Clone Wars, and certainly a bright spot in that final season. And I do like the concept of the Bad Batch itself, the idea of these genetic misfits having specialities beyond the scope of their regular kin.
This episode introduces another one, a girl called Omega (Michelle Ang). I kind of like her--when I saw her in trailers, I thought, "Oh, no, not another whiny kid," though I'm actually kind of an advocate for whiny kid characters. Luke was one, so was Ahsoka, and starting them off as petulant little dweebs is nice if you're going to watch them mature. Of course, when they go the route of Ezra Bridger and just leave him a whiny kid for the entire run of a series, it can be really frustrating. But two dimensional characters usually are, if they're supposed to be leads, which I'll come back to in a minute.
It's kind of refreshing that Omega just seems to be a sweetheart, though. And I like the idea of the Kaminoans making a female version of the Jango Fett clone. It takes way too long for the other characters to figure out what she is, though. When Tech, the brains of the Bad Batch, finally points it out and says he "thought it was obvious"--I mean, it really was. Excruciatingly.
The main character conflict is between Hunter and Crosshair, the leader and the sniper of the group, respectively. Crosshair is the only one for whom Order 66 registered in his programming and sadly it makes him a boring, flat, villain character, so obviously and consistently doing dastardly things the other members of the Batch look like idiots for not questioning it.
Tarkin (Stephen Stanton) shows up to be another disappointing example of Disney thinking the way to write villains is to make them all like Boris and Natasha. Tarkin tests the Bad Batch and is impressed with their abilities but instead of strategising about ways to utilise them he sends them off to a distant planet to kill a bunch of kids. It might have been more reasonable for Tarkin to have instructed them to kill Saw Gerrera (Andrew Kishino) who is among the refugees with the kids.
Saw is made to look a bit like a blend between his Clone Wars appearance and his appearance as Forest Whitaker in Rogue One. That's kind of nice but I wish the Batch and Gerrera didn't so quickly end up talking peacefully. But all of this makes Tarkin's argument that the clones should be replaced by conscripted, normal citizens even less sensible. If you don't want troops that are going to be susceptible independent thought, it seems logical you would stick with the programmable army you already have. Tarkin cites budgetary issues, but the risks of defecting units seems a bigger liability, not to mention the whole reason the clones were created in the first place, that the Republic didn't have the means to raise an army. The Empire might create a new military infrastructure from the ground up but it would take time and money.
I was actually more interested in the question of why the clones were replaced by stormtroopers than I was by the Bad Batch themselves. It would be nice if the show ends up having a more interesting final answer. The biggest problem, though, is this show needs more graphic violence.
The Bad Batch is available on Disney+.
Twitter Sonnet #1449
Distracted ghosts descend on painted stones.
The oil burned before the clock could strike.
The scratching sound denotes the moving bones.
Despoiled gates were crowned with spear and pike.
The loyal eyes discovered mists and pearls.
A clutching vine disrupts the tile path.
A marble face's hid behind its curls.
A written song was left describing wrath.
The voices never hidden march at dusk.
Amidst the ev'ning shrugs were quiet eyes.
The stone was watching wheels disrupt the dust.
A banner flew beneath the cloudy skies.
The waiting fae became a quiet rock.
Yet answered she the long awaited knock.