Is Star Wars becoming less welcoming to newcomers or casual fans? Both The Mandalorian and The Rise of Skywalker chose to tie themselves up in complicated lore taken from the comparatively niche animated shows, from holocrons (sorry, “wayfinders”) to the legendary Darksaber. While this has been a delight for die-hard followers of the franchise, one has to wonder how it plays with people less familiar with a galaxy far, far away.
It’s a similar story with Star Wars: The Bad Batch as the latest animated series from Lucasfilm is very much a sequel to The Clone Wars, so much so that the latter’s title card briefly appears at the start of the first episode. Those looking to dive straight into this new series without any prior homework should be able to muddle through, but it would be worth brushing up on a few select episodes beforehand (particularly, the first arc of season six and the first arc of season seven).
But while its mainstream appeal is up for debate, The Bad Batch is likely to go down well with existing fans of the animated Star Wars universe. This 70-minute premiere kicks off just prior to the fateful Order 66 that brought a decisive end to the Republic and gave rise to the first galactic Empire. It’s a perfect place to start the story, reuniting us with Clone Force 99 just days after their introduction in The Clone Wars and offering an opportunity to examine one of the darkest moments in Star Wars canon from a fresh perspective.
As the episode continues, we get our best exploration yet of the immediate aftermath of the Jedi purge, a period that has previously been brushed over in the mediums of film and television. As a fan of this universe, it’s interesting to get an inside look at how the Republic of the prequels swiftly transitions to the Empire of the original trilogy. The Bad Batch addresses why clones have no place in the future of the new regime and details some of the specific ways in which it oppresses its citizens – a matter which has sometimes felt a little vague.
Of course, there is a danger that this valuable world-building is more interesting than the title characters themselves. While Dee Bradley Baker does a good job voicing The Bad Batch cast, making each performance distinct while still believable as clones, there’s no escaping the fact that this squad is comprised of some very broad archetypes. With so much plot to cover, it’s easy to overlook this lack of depth in the first episode, but it could become a greater issue as the series progresses unless the writers can find a compelling way to develop such basic characters.
Perhaps new addition Omega (Michelle Ang) will be instrumental in this regard, as accommodating a child on their missions is a challenge that The Bad Batch has never faced before. It’s very easy for mischievous kids to become annoying in a show like this, as it’s inevitable they will cause unnecessary trouble for the other characters. It’s a relief to report that Omega doesn’t wear out her welcome in this first episode, although admittedly there are a few moments where she’s right on the cusp.
Of course, while The Bad Batch can be enjoyed by fans of all ages, the primary demographic for this series in Disney’s mind is likely to be children around her age, so Omega is a totally understandable inclusion. She also adds some much-needed female representation to this otherwise male dominated cast of characters, although it’s unclear as of yet whether Michelle Ang was the best choice for the role. Having made no discernible attempt to alter her usual speaking voice, it’s a little jarring at times to see a small child talking like a woman in her late thirties.
It’s not unusual for a sci-fi series to have a few teething problems in its early days and, importantly, there are no hurdles in The Bad Batch that are impossible for it to overcome. The story and setting show a lot of promise, so if the writers can strengthen their core characters over the next few episodes, then this series could well hold its own with the best from Lucasfilm Animation. That said, if you never quite got on board with The Clone Wars or Rebels, there probably isn’t much here to win you over.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch arrives exclusively on Disney Plus on Tuesday 4th May. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.99 a year.