o celebrate Star Wars Day, the special 70 minute premiere of a new animated series, “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” was released on May 4. Helmed by executive producer Dave Filoni, creator of the previous animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the premiere follows the story of the Bad Batch, a squad of clones with desirable genetic mutations, as they struggle to find their place in a newly formed tyrannical Galactic Empire immediately after Order 66, the galaxy-wide execution of Jedi — galactic peacekeepers — by their own programmed clone army. Team leader Hunter, brains Tech, hacker Echo, muscle Wrecker and sharpshooter Crosshair (all voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) meet compelling new characters like adolescent female clone Omega (voiced by Michelle Ang) and familiar Star Wars characters, like ruthless Imperial Admiral Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and confident Jedi Padawan Caleb Dume (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.), in their search for identity.
“Star Wars: the Bad Batch” could have been rebranded as an unofficial eighth season of previous series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” The events, design, animation, characters and cast in the premiere confirmed this, but instead of continuing its predecessor’s themes and characters, it brings a fresh lens to depict the storyline through its titular personalities. The underlying post-war theme of uncertain identity and fate of soldiers returning from war makes up the core of the show, particularly fueling the main characters as they return from the Clone Wars.
The story also wastes no time jumping into unknown territory, shedding light on the future of the clone army in relation to the Empire, an area previously unexplored in other Star Wars media. Compelling new storylines are set up to pertain to this unrevealed time period, while previously covered events like Order 66 are given a new look through the eyes of the Bad Batch.
While “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” brings a new story to the Star Wars universe, it’s surprising how similar “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” is to its predecessor. The premiere episode utilizes the same unbelievably lifelike, yet hyperstylized animation and narration by Tom Kane and musical themes by composer Kevin Kiner, but still revamps all of the familiar and nostalgic aspects to bring a unique flair and avoid seeming like a direct sequel.
The visual settings and action are stunning, with simple scenes like snowflakes drifting down a pine forest or the foam of waterfalls flowing into a chasm being drawn and animated with immense detail. Never is any aspect of violent conflicts neglected, with explosions, debris, armies and laser fire all animated to precision. Scenes from the 2003 live action movie, “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” are also portrayed faithfully, providing a clear bridge between the events of the movie and the show.
Besides the visuals and animation, the vocal talent behind these characters especially stands out. Veteran voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, known for his performance as the clone troopers in the original franchise, voices all five members of the Bad Batch as well as the other clones.
Each Bad Batch member Baker voices has a distinctive identity, with a different personality that carves out their presence in the story. For example, Baker voices Wrecker with a lively and loud inflection, while making his tone slightly deeper to befit the character’s energetic personality and his position as the muscle. The team’s sniper Crosshair is given a higher-pitched and flat modulation with a sardonic undertone to emphasize his usual deadpan cynicism in the story. Baker’s skill particularly shines in the contrast between his portrayal of the almost emotionless programmed clones and the lively Bad Batch.
Subtle underlying musical themes also add a nostalgic and emotional layer to the characters and events concurrent with “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.” A chilling motif of “Anakin’s Betrayal” is played to great effect during the events of Order 66, providing a clear connection to the systemic elimination of Jedi depicted in the movie. A triumphant performance of “The Imperial March” is utilized during the Bad Batch witnessing the declaration of the newly formed Galactic Empire to emphasize the implications of the dictatorial regime.
Throughout the premiere, the Bad Batch’s emotional conflict as they attempt to adjust to the newly christened Galactic Empire takes center stage, with the characters given more depth in contrast to the niches they embodied from their introductions in the seventh season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” The uncertain future of all clones post-Order 66 creates a focal conflict within the tightly knit squad as it attempts to survive within war-torn times.
Omega, who the Bad Batch encounters early on in their journey back for answers, particularly shines as a delightful addition that significantly shifts their dynamic as a team and for individual members like Hunter. It’s a testament to the writers and Ang how Omega manages to appear as a genuinely innocent and curious child who fits into the group rather than being an unnecessary annoyance to the story.
Despite the compelling visuals and acting, it never feels like “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” needs the full 70 minutes in order to reintroduce the Bad Batch and set up compelling storylines. Multiple detours to unnecessary locations are made during the premiere, taking away from the pacing of the plot and dragging out the wait toward much more major points in the story. Instances of character banter paired with juvenile humor come off as clunky and jarring compared to the noticeably darker and uncertain post-war atmosphere of the premiere.
Besides taking more time than necessary to reach critical plot points, “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” is a bold initiative which takes viewers down a new and exciting direction in the “Star Wars” universe with high-quality animation and stellar acting. Creating a new perspective and premise for what could have been the eighth season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the premiere is sure to please longtime fans of the animated corner of Star Wars and draw new viewers in with its setup of compelling characters and captivating plotlines.