Premieres: 4 May
Cast: Dee Bradley Baker, Ming-na Wen, Stephen Stanton, and Andrew Kishino.
4 out of 5 stars
It's difficult to tell an interesting tale in the Star Wars universe, especially if it's set between the movies (which are established canon). So it's rather amazing that Star Wars: The Bad Batch manages to surprise in its premiere episode, all while delivering the action that you'd expect.
The Bad Batch is a spin-off of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, shining the spotlight on Clone Force 99, a group of genetically modified Clone Troopers with enhanced abilities. It takes place before the Star Wars Original Trilogy, and follows the adventures of these clones as they attempt to find their place in a rapidly changing galaxy. The premiere episode was originally conceived of as four separate episodes that comprise one story arc. Subsequent episodes are likely to be between 20 to 30 minutes length.
The series gets off to a good start with the premiere episode, which feels like a feature-length movie (and would probably have made for a better theatrical release than 2007's Star Wars: The Clone Wars film, which also served as an introduction to that series). Notably, the cinematography is impressive, given that a good deal of the first episode takes place indoors yet the scenes are visually interesting (not counting the mise-en-scene). The first episode plays around with focus to create a shallow depth of field in many shots, lending weight and creating an epic feel for the series. It's not afraid to have backgrounds and locations (which may have been painstakingly rendered in detail) be out of focus to achieve this effect, which is relatively rarer for animated series.
But despite the cinematic feel, the story flows forward at a chipper pace (as can be expected for a half-hour animated series), with our protagonists seeing plenty of action at every turn. Gunfights pepper the first episode, whether it be training simulations, escape scenes, or mass battles against political enemies. Coupled with the cinematic direction, the action is exactly what you'd expect from a Star Wars series focusing on Clone Troopers.
The characters are also well-defined — they have to be, given that they're all clones (albeit differently mutated ones) — both in terms of visuals and character. While they may fall into the usual tropes for a group of heroes, their motivations and desires are immediately apparent, which allows for some fun interactions and conflicts between the characters. You have the leader (Hunter), tech guy (Tech), sniper (Crosshair), strong guy (Wrecker), and outsider (Echo), and while they work well together as a team, that's not to say everything's peachy between them. (All five of these clones were voiced by one actor, Dee Bradley Baker – read our interview with him here.)
And this characterisation plays into the twist in the tale, which sees the status quo being shaken up from the very first episode. It makes for a compelling story, because it feels like none of the characters are safe (no matter what you see on posters and promotional images). While the characters are recognisable and slightly predictable ones, the story is not, which is where the tension lies.
The dramatic tension also comes from the fact that most audiences know the broad strokes of the story, such as how the Galactic Empire will rise under the leadership of Emperor Palpatine, and the subsequent horrors... but the characters don't. They have no idea what to make of this, and at this point, they're in survival mode. The story makes use of what viewers already know to set up intriguing situations for the different characters, as we silently cheer or lament their choices.
The premiere episode of The Bad Batch is off to a good start as it establishes the premise quickly and depicts our characters with wonderful cinematography and exciting action set pieces. It might be familiar and recognisable, but it still manages to surprise. In the sprawling Star Wars universe, The Bad Batch manages to refine its two inches wide of ivory on which it works with so fine a brush, to tell its own tale amidst other stories much larger than it.
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