Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
Old Friends Not Forgotten
I’ve written a lot about Star Wars. You can read my write-ups on several of the movies here: Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace; Solo: A Star Wars Story; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; The Mandalorian S1; and The Mandalorian S2. I did not write an essay about Clone Wars: The Final Season, which was the best piece of Star Wars media in 2020. My mistake.
With The Mandalorian S2, I decided to approach each episode from an honest place. Besides my feelings about the plot developments, I also went into detail about my Star Wars collecting habits and what action figures, books or tie-in items I would purchase from the show if made available. My relationship to Star Wars is complex and multi-faceted. I share my collecting hobby with brothers, friends and even my wife. My son is named after it.
I’m going to continue that approach for the new animated series, The Bad Batch. In fact, I already purchased all three 6-inch Black Series figures available from the series before ever watching the first episode. Hunter (the leader), Crosshair (the sniper) and the Elite Troopers (black-armored Imperials yet to be seen as of the premiere episode) are all fine additions to my collection. So fine that I actually bought three Elite Troopers.
The Past Few Months
My last Star Wars essay for Serial Consumer featured a brief meltdown about the lousy finale to The Mandalorian S2, which I still think was a tremendous disappointment and a bellwether for bad things to come with Disney’s difficulty in balancing nostalgia with good storytelling. That episode made me burned out on Star Wars a little bit, which lasted … oh, say two weeks.
In the ensuing five or so months since the finale of The Mandalorian S2, I purchased roughly $610 of Star Wars merchandise. This number includes 18 6-inch Black Series figures and one Doctor Aphra Omnibus edition, which arrived in February and which I have yet to crack open. I received four more 6-inch figures as gifts from friends and family. On one evening in early April, once two weeks had passed since my first vaccine, I went figure-hunting and found a box of Vintage figures that I scored for my friend Greg.
During those five months, I read Rinzler’s impeccable The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, and watched the movie a dozen times due to my son’s newfound attachment to it.
Is … that it?
All this is to say that my continued attachment to Star Wars is just as ridiculous as it ever was, perhaps more so after the ongoing pandemic left me desperate for the comfort of something continuous and reassuring. I do read other books, watch plenty of non-Star Wars movies and generally do other things that aren’t Star Wars. But it will always be my most favorite fictional thing, even when it briefly disappoints me.
Animated Star Wars is Better
So getting to the subject at hand: The 70-minute premiere episode on Disney+ of The Bad Batch, the newest Star Wars animated series, is a masterclass in what makes the previous Lucasfilm animated shows, The Clone Wars and Rebels, pitch-perfect Star Wars storytelling, superior in many respects to most of the recent movies and even The Mandalorian. It pulls from the deepest elements of Star Wars lore and makes the Galaxy feel large, lived in and full of weird sci-fi ideas beyond just Jedi and the Force.
These aspects of the franchise don’t appeal to all generations of Star Wars fans because Star Wars is a generational story that has changed itself over the course of the past 40 years while still maintaining its core spirit. That’s the secret of its success in gaining new fans and maintaining old ones, but not every product is for every person.
I know many older than myself have never forgiven the prequel movies (which I loved at the right age and continue to love, despite their faults). I know many my age have never forgiven the sequels (which they should do because the sequels are pretty good) despite loving the prequels. There’s a subset of fans who love Clone Wars and Rebels but just as many who can’t engage with them.
The Clone Wars, in particular, is a pure expression of the vision George Lucas had for Star Wars from its inception (arguably more so than The Empire Strikes Back, the best movie of the original six and the only one he didn’t directly or indirectly direct). These are moral stories told for children, translations of the serial Westerns Lucas grew up on but found lacking in the culture of 1970s entertainment. The Clone Wars is about the essence of life in the way Lucas’s muddled prequels attempted to be: It’s a challenging, scary thing, and you can either help those in need or succumb to your own selfish ends. Along the way, characters learn about themselves, the world around them and others. It’s a great series capped off by a stellar final season.
Rebels was the original sequel to The Clone Wars and aired four seasons between 2014 and 2018. It picked up what The Clone Wars put down. Despite Lucas being uninvolved, the show was created and run by his predecessor, Dave Filoni, who has since made The Mandalorian with Jon Favreau. It’s a smaller and more traditional Jedi tale than The Clone Wars but great in its own right; the final-season episode Jedi Night is indescribably great.
OK, OK, So About That Bad Batch
The Bad Batch is a series for the fans who already love and understand the appeal of those previous series.
It’s set between The Clone Wars and Rebels. In fact, it begins concurrent with Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith and the Siege of Mandalore arc of The Clone Wars. One of the great additions to the Star Wars Universe via The Clone Wars was the characterization of the Clones as more than mere order-following soldiers. Order 66 — when the Emperor takes control of them via implant to kill the Jedi and lose their ability to think for themselves — is a Sword of Damocles throughout the entire show. What would happen to the clones like Rex, Wolffe, Gregor, Fives and Echo when they were asked to do the unthinkable to their friends? It’s a loaded emotional story of which Filoni and company are getting great mileage.
The Bad Batch are a group of genetically defective clones, each with a special ability. The story opens with them right before Order 66. Some of them were defective in such a way that the chips in their brains don’t force them to follow the order — but at least one of them wasn’t so lucky. It’s an immediate, tense conflict as they’re asked to kill a recognizable fan-favorite face.
Tension mounts throughout the episode as the quintet faces the stark reality of the new Imperial Order. Grand Moff Tarkin, one of Palpatine’s highest lieutenants, does not like Clones and prefers Conscripted Citizens as the future of his Stormtrooper legions. Clones are expensive and take the weight off regular people; without the threat of forced service and a draft, how could the Empire keep regular folks in line? There are definite parallels to the Vietnam War, with the Bad Batch being sent by its evil empire to eradicate rebels who simply want a better life in their own land
Look: If you’re not already invested in the sort of bizarre nature of the animated Star Wars material, there’s not much in The Bad Batch to convince you to follow it. The nature via nurture stuff with the Clones, combined with the classic “warriors without a war to fight” stuff, is incredibly fascinating. It’s shaping up to be a sci-fi A-Team with a group of unnatural men (and one spunky kid sidekick with a Kiwi accent).
About the sidekick: Omega is introduced in the first episode, the sole female clone of Jango Fett and the last one made by the Kamino Cloners. She’s great so far. There are groups of Star Wars fans who decry the presence of children in what they falsely believe to be hard-edged stories about galactic war. The fact is that Omega, like Ahsoka in The Clone Wars and Anakin in The Phantom Menace, provides an integral perspective on the actions of the adult characters. These are children’s stories. I’m excited to see how she develops and whether she shows up in future stories.
That brings me to the best thing about The Bad Batch: None of the titular crew is guaranteed survival. Oh, sure, we can assume they won’t all die off because this is a perpetual moneymaking machine, and merchandise reigns. It’s also not a dour galaxy. But unlike Rebels or The Clone Wars, we don’t know that certain characters are going to inherently continue forward into the future of the franchise. It was a safe bet that Ezra, the novice Jedi, wouldn’t perish in his own show. It was also a safe bet Ahsoka wouldn’t perish at the end of The Clone Wars because Lucasfilm isn’t about that kid-killing life (aside from as an awkward shorthand for Anakin’s fall). But the main members of the batch — Hunter, Crosshair, Tech, Echo and Wrecker — are nothing but highly qualified soldiers. This is set 20 years prior to Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope and 50 years prior to the most recent sequel movies. They’re already adult men here. They’re old when the Original Trilogy starts, and even older when the sequels start.
Where will their adventures end? Disney has not announced whether this is a single series or a potential multi-season story. Will this jump through time periods to fill in gaps left by The Clone Wars and Rebels (particularly with the character of Darth Maul)? Will this be our hello and goodbye to this likable bunch?
It’s a lot of fun wondering, and the first episode is quite a lot of fun to watch.
Ouch, My Wallet:
Here is a list of every figure I purchased between The Mandalorian S2 and The Bad Batch:
- Dark Rey
- Tusken Raider (2)
- Shoretrooper (2)
- Imperial Tank Driver
- Moff Gideon
- Elite Trooper (3)
- Commander Cody
- Hoth Luke
- Asajj Ventress
- Deluxe Boba Fett
- Qui-Gon Jinn
- Jar Jar (3)
Here is a list I made while watching “Aftermath,” the first episode of The Bad Batch, regarding the figures I’d like to buy from this episode:
- Young Kanan — $20
- Depa Billaba — $20
- Bad Batch – Echo — $20
- Bad Batch – Wrecker — $30
- Omega + Droid — $20
- Saw Gerrera — $20
- Coruscant Guard Clone Trooper — $20
So this episode potentially cost me $150. Not bad!