Star Wars: The Bad Batch

3 out of 5

Created by: Dave Filoni

covers season 1

It’s fun.

I suspect I’ll end up saying that about a lot of the Disney+ era franchise TV entries. We’ve seen it in the perfected Marvel movie formula, at least for much of “Phase 3:” relatively bigger swings with outlier character produced flicks that had a substantial amount of character, and helped established faith in the brand, which could then assist in guiding subsequent flicks toward tonal homogeny. I’m not necessarily against this, especially for a shared cinematic universe based on comics that try to effect a similar trick; if you like that tone, it’s pretty comforting. And I do like it, although I’ll admit it’s definitely distilled my need to see this stuff right away.

Making the jump to the small screen, Marvel’s (Disney’s) approach has very much been the same, experimenting a bit with the first couple of entries but then landing on something that felt very streamlined. The Mandalorian – a half-step to the Star Wars franchise – was definitely in the same register, and perhaps served as a course correction for the film series that couldn’t quite seem to nail what fandom wanted. The Bad Batch shouldn’t necessarily be following this trend, since it’s a spin off of The Clone Wars, which predated the Disney / Marvel merger and established itself long before the Star Wars sequel trilogy or before the MCU had gotten very far, and it’s definitely in the same vibe as The Clone Wars, for sure, but… it’s on Disney+. So: It’s fun.

That is the template of these things – to keep them pretty harmless, and to play in a PG / light-PG-13 territory that can work for several age ranges. Which isn’t to suggest that Clone Wars was especially gritty or intelligent, but it did feel more insular – it felt like it’s own show, and that helped it to grow within its own confines over the course of its run. Bad Batch, on the other hand, is wholly general, still very Filoni-esque with its fandom nods and in-house references for the longtime viewers, but also without much identity; it feels like you could lay it atop Mandalorian and switch out names and be watching a mish-mash of both series without much disruption.

Around the edges, there are some more promising elements. When all the clones are triggered to go jedi-hunting for The Empire thanks to some brain-tweaking, our titular Batch remain loyal, thanks to ‘defects’ which made them more unique fighters in the first place. They pick up another clone – the young Omega (voiced by Michelle Ang) – and start flitting around trying to find a purpose and dodging the Empire. This main thread of loyalty and the “business” of making clones offers some good character potential, and gives the show a good on-the-run momentum. But the reality is a lot of bottle episodes during which the Batch – five clones, all voiced by Dee Bradley Baker – decide to pause to help someone, or take up a random job for money. These are all entertaining – they’re all fun – but they also serve to distract from the fact that the show leaves behind that ‘on-the-run’ vibe most of the time, along with any larger motivations. It’s just adventures with The Bad Batch, featuring Omega.

There are some good laughs, and the voice cast is solid all around, with Baker’s amazing versatility and Ang doing a great job at making Omega enjoyable to be around, and not just the tagalong kid. The animation is also stellar (I’m watching Clone Wars at the same time, and the difference – understanding that it’s separated by years, and also likely a lot of dollars – is staggering), and the episodes make sure to move us to varied locales with plenty of eye candy along the 16-episode way. I do wish it didn’t feel so stamped by that big ol’ Disney seal of approval, but I also can’t deny that I return to be willfully distracted each week, so it’s working.