It’s been a whopping six years since the last episode of Dave Filoni’s animated show Star Wars: The Clone Wars aired. Allow me to put that into perspective for you: Since then, we’ve gotten a brand-new Star Wars trilogy, two other Star Wars spin-off films, the first live-action Star Wars TV series, an entire Star Wars theme park, a plethora of canon Star Wars tie-in media and two other Dave Filoni Star Wars animated shows.
Whew, Disney sure has been busy, huh?
But as of today, the Force is strong with all of us, because the seventh and final 12-episode season of The Clone Wars we’ve been looking for has finally premiered on Disney Plus. We were more excited than a Wookiee in battle to watch, so here are our thoughts (translated from Shyriiwook) about the fantastic first episode.
Note: Mild plot details from season seven, episode one of The Clone Wars discussed below.
Same Clone Wars, different clones
When last we left The Clone Wars, Darth Maul had wielded the Darksaber during an intense standoff with Obi-Wan, Ahsoka Tano had chosen to leave the Jedi Order and Yoda had met Darth Sidious for the first time on the ancient Sith planet Moraband.
The show, thought to be canceled for good, left a lot to be desired in terms of resolutions to these characters’ stories, but now that it’s back, we’re sure to get some more clarity, right? Well, good news/bad news. Good news: The latest Clone Wars season seven trailer (below) definitely confirms the reappearances of Maul and Ahsoka, including teasing an epic lightsaber duel between the two characters. Bad news: You’re going to have to wait a little while longer to see them again, as neither appears in the first episode (and likely won’t appear until after the initial, probably four-episode, Bad Batch story arc).
The good-er news, though? If you’ve seen The Clone Wars before, you know some of the best episodes focus solely on the clones of the 501st Legion and 212th Attack Battalion (season one’s “Rookies,” anyone?), and the show manages to pull off another such episode with this premiere, “The Bad Batch.” It’s a testament to the writers as well as the voice talents of Dee Bradley Baker, who voices every clone in the show and manages to imbue each with their own quirks and personality, that the first new episode after a six-year hiatus can get away with a nearly Jediless plot and all but ignore the show’s biggest cliffhangers, and still be one of the most engaging entries to date.
As if Baker hadn’t already proven himself to be a master voice actor, he’s now added four new characters to his ever-growing list by voicing the titular Bad Batch (née Clone Force 99, a name heartbreakingly derived from the late “defective” clone named 99 whom fans will remember from the show’s third season premiere). The four members of the Bad Batch were perceived as failed Kaminoan experiments with “defects” of their own, but their 100% success rate out in the field proves otherwise. Unlike Rex, Cody or the other clones, whom they call “regs,” the Bad Batch runs into battle guns blazing, proudly showing off their seemingly limitless power. The Batch’s leader, the Rambo-esque Hunter, isn’t much for talking or strategizing but somehow keeps the crew together. The brutish Wrecker just wants to fight anything in his path, while Tech is the resident nerd who uses his intelligence and, aptly, tech-savviness to assist the team. And Crosshair never misses a carefully aimed shot.
Commander Cody dispatches the crew to assist with a mission on the planet Anaxes, which comes with a handful of surprises we don’t want to ruin for those who haven’t watched the episode yet, but the dynamic between the two very different groups of clones with their respective battle plans is incredibly fun to watch. I didn’t miss Jedi or lightsabers for a single second, and every few minutes I was in shock all over again when I remembered the majority of the episode I was watching was voiced by just one man.
Style meets substance
If any of the above plot points sound familiar to you, it might be because this Bad Batch story arc was actually planned a long time ago. Unfinished versions of the episodes premiered at Celebration Anaheim in April 2015 and were later posted on StarWars.com, back when the show was thought to be canceled for good and the galaxy was a much sadder place. But while some of the story beats may not be entirely new to you, I’m happy to report that the final product is the best The Clone Wars has ever looked, a far cry from the rough Celebration edits, and even from the show’s first season.
Don’t worry: The show’s signature look and art style is intact. But the attention to detail in character expressions, setting and movement blew me away. The fight choreography in particular deserves a shout-out for proving that despite the countless Star Wars battles we’ve seen over the years, there are surprising and inventive fights still to behold. The smooth-as-butter animation is careful to make sure you always know who’s doing what to whom, even in larger-scale brawls, which makes me giddy to see what’s in store for us in the show’s sure to be epic climax.
The impeccable style of this episode, in addition to being a visual treat, serves to further enhance the story, as the two work in tandem to accomplish the difficult task of establishing a whole new group of clones so late in the series — and in just 20-odd minutes at that. But after watching the season seven premiere, the Bad Batch clones already rank among my favorite Clone Wars characters, and Star Wars characters in general. (Yeah, I’ll say it: The Knights of Ren ain’t got nothin’ on Clone Force 99, baby.)
Amid all the action, I was relieved to see that the show also hadn’t lost its trademark humor — and as the Bad Batch, Cody, Rex and Co. continue to work together, I expect even more fun gags to arise amid the tension. But the show is at its best when it’s anchored in heart, and in this episode’s celebration of individuality and camaraderie, it thankfully has it in spades.
The beginning of the end
One episode down, only 11 left to go. This final batch of episodes has a lot to accomplish — tying up numerous loose plot threads, revealing the events leading up to the execution of Order 66 and giving fan-favorite character Ahsoka Tano a fitting pre-Rebels curtain call, all while delivering a satisfying ending that dovetails into the already well-known story of Revenge of the Sith — but instead of pulling a Wrecker and charging full speed ahead, the Clone Wars writers have smartly decided to take their time in continuing to tell very individual, human stories. Some fans might interpret that as the show wasting valuable minutes by not getting right to the juicy arcs we’ve been most hungry for, but the show’s confidence in its ability to tell smaller stories like this one makes it as compelling as it’s ever been.
Without getting too spoilery, the surprise reemergence of characters we thought we’d seen the last of works well to propel the series toward an emotional climax, and I hope there’ll be more callbacks to earlier seasons in upcoming episodes.
Regardless of how everything goes down, though, I’m simply thankful that this show is back in our lives at all. Thankful we’ll get more closure than season six afforded us. And thankful knowing that although we’ll soon have to say goodbye to these characters who have meant so much to us, “no one’s ever really gone.” Even without this final season, they would have lived on in our hearts and minds for a long time to come, but at least now, as this premiere seems to intimate, they might do so a little more comfortably.