This Star Wars: The Bad Batch review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 3
In Star Wars, as in most other media, the main character may not be the most creative figure but does need to be the one who grows and changes. Luke Skywalker went from farm boy to full-fledged Jedi Knight between A New Hope and Return of the Jedi; Anakin Skywalker became literally unrecognizable over the course of two trilogies. For now, the characters of The Bad Batch remind me of Luke at the end of A New Hope: their triumphs and foes are compelling, but they haven’t really gestured toward a path to dramatic change yet. A grim episode that introduces a handful of new characters, “Replacements” follows beats right on the line between classic and tired. The creature and new villains are fun, but I’m still not sure the Batch themselves are the right hook for this story.
“Replacements” finds the crew crash landing on a desolate moon. They install the new part they need to fly out, but a four-legged, frilled monster called an Ordo Moon Dragon steals it. Meanwhile, Tarkin slots easily into his Imperial role as he names Crosshair the leader of a new batch of human elite recruits. They’re sent to Onderon, the planet where the Bad Batch rebelled instead of executing human insurgents. This time, the Empire finishes the job.
Let’s put aside for a moment Star Wars travel duration or the idea that these two stories actually take place at the same time. Creatives behind the franchise have said multiple times that hyperspace journeys take place at the “speed of plot.” The two stories really are a good pair, contrasting the Batch’s gentleness toward Omega with Crosshair’s callousness and the new Imperial elite troopers’ cruelty. Especially at the very end of the episode the contrast gets creative, showing the human troopers set up in the Batch’s old quarters, Crosshair the only one in his own bed. I like the contrast between returning to that unchanged home with different occupants versus the janky ship with the old occupants. In a direct parallel, Wrecker makes Omega a bunk, with a curtain and everything, out of an old gun turret.
Noshir Dalal produces a truly slimy, posh voice for Imperial Vice Admiral Rampart, who also made a brief appearance last week. Kudos to the design team behind these Imperials (and the ones in Star Wars: Squadrons) for making every one of them look eminently punchable. (In fact, Dalal also played Varko Grey, the Imperial squad leader in Squadrons.) But Rampart isn’t really a character yet, and it seems a pity that there’s no mention of how he, who presumably did most of his service in the Republic, emerged cut from such Imperial cloth overnight. One of the new troopers does make a comment about the Empire providing him food and shelter in the way the Republic never did; at least that’s a reason.
Another thing I very much enjoyed about this episode was the classic Star Wars creature encounter. The Ordo Moon Dragon is the perfect mix of graceful, cute, and just a bit too ugly to not be scary. I love a good Prequel creature, and more so when the encounter with it reveals more about how it lives instead of just being cannon fodder. Along with some other genuinely frightening moments I’ll talk about later, the claustrophobic tunnels and the threat of Hunter almost suffocating are both effective. It’s also clever that they don’t come from the creature; instead, the world itself is the threat, and the dragon is just a natural part of it. The animation continues to shine, although sometimes the backgrounds and textures look jarringly more realistic than the stylized faces.
It’s odd how similar “Replacements” is to a season two episode of The Mandalorian. In “The Passenger,” Din, Grogu, and their passenger Frog Lady crash on a planet punctuated with tunnels just like the desolate moon. They try to repair the ship and get attacked by a creature. Sure, it isn’t good criticism to say “these two things are similar” and end there; the two episodes have plenty of differences, too. But it’s so early in the season, and too soon after Mando season 2, for such a similar plotline.
The similarity also galls because such an adventure-heavy plot doesn’t allow much time for the character development of even Hunter, the Batch’s leader. He’s still mostly just the guy with near-supernatural tracking powers, although he does get a nice moment where he tells Omega that she reminds him of himself. It’s cute, but not deep. Perhaps, right now, there are simply too many members in this Batch. Echo is the newest member outside of Omega, but you wouldn’t know it by how little he gets to do and how seamlessly he fits into the group. By the end of the episode, Omega has a new room, but that isn’t character development, either.
Instead, the major changes come from the new human troopers. Their green-eyed armor kits are reminiscent of the death troopers that will come later, so we can surmise this project somehow ends with finding a balance between regular humans and clones: surgically enhanced humans. Their willingness to kill civilians is scary, but even more so is Crosshair’s. Some surprisingly brutal moments reminded me of The Clone Wars at its darkest — which I generally consider a good thing, although I’m not sure how some of the point-blank murders in this episode will play with kids who are already well-versed in Star Wars‘ bloodless violence.
We also see a brief glimpse of other clone troopers, still eating in the mess hall like nothing’s changed for them. I’m curious to see where more “regs” end up, but am not sure the show is interested. Instead, it leans too much on main ensemble characters who still feel one-dimensional. Maybe there’s more to come in regards to the way they treat Crosshair, with different members of the Batch believing his heel turn wasn’t his fault. Even that conversation is muted and brief.
Like most Disney products nowadays, The Bad Batch is well-crafted and makes good use of its budget. But Hunter and Omega, both of whom have been pretty static so far outside of their material circumstances, don’t feel fully fleshed out yet. I don’t plan to compare this to The Mandalorian every week, but can’t help but wonder whether Din’s disinterest in the wider events of the Star Wars saga and his independence made his decision to adopt Grogu more of a dramatic choice than the Batch’s adoption of Omega. With so much other lore going on around them, the Batch struggles to be the most compelling point of view characters for the story of the Empire’s rise.