Star Wars: The Clone Wars began its life on Cartoon Network and returned on Netflix and, returning for its seventh and final season, now gets to tell its ultimate chapter on the Disney+ streaming service. The Clone Wars was always meant to bridge the gap between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, with this final installment taking place on the eve of Order 66 and Anakin Skywalker's fall to the Dark Side. Based on the premiere, it seems poised to be a perfect depiction of the Republic's descent into the "dark times" of the Empire.
Throughout its existence, The Clone Wars has leveraged its ensemble cast to tell a variety of stories. Season Seven's first episode, "The Bad Batch," is part of a clone story focusing on Captain Rex serving under Anakin Skywalker. As with many of the clone-centric episodes before them, this episode focuses on the clones as individuals. But now, years into the war, the series can also take stock of how much the war has cost its soldiers.
"The Bad Batch" refers to a squadron of clones with "desirable mutations" created by an experimental cloning process. The Separatist forces have been thwarting Republic efforts with ease of late. Anakin decides to enlist the Bad Batch to go behind enemy lines and figure out how the Separatists are doing it. Rex has his own theory, that one of his fallen comrades may have survived and is being held as a prisoner, but — in a dose of thematic irony — Anakin thinks Rex could be letting his emotions get the better of him.
The Bad Batch members are clone action-movie heroes. As a group, they come off as a clone version of The Expendables. Their leader wears a Rambo-like red bandana, another fits the grizzled sharpshoot mold, one is a hulking bruiser, while the fourth member is the "techie" of the group. Where Rex and his kind value discipline and order, the Bad Batch's unique talents allow for bolder actions. The episode pays off the potential therein to its fullest. The animation in general looks better than ever, exceeding that in The Clone Wars' successor, Star Wars Rebels. But the teams behind the episodes take it further, creating long action scenes shot from over the clone's shoulder. The score is also restrained, letting the sound effects of blasters and other weapons inform the action. In a series and franchise where soaring scores and countless blaster noises all going off at once is the norm, the careful use of sound here is powerful. It all comes together to create the fullest realization of clone stories as war stories that we've seen.
While the contrast between Rex and the Bad Batch is at the forefront, there's also a b-plot involving Anakin's secret marriage to Padme Amidala. The way the episode refers to the Citadel arc of Clone Wars helps tie their themes together. That's the arc where Anakin first meets Captain Tarkin, future head of the Death Star project. The two bonded over their shared feeling that the Jedi's code was holding the Republic back from achieving victory. Here we see Anakin chafing against the confines of the code again, even as his mentor turns a blind eye. The clones pushing the limits of their freedom, mourning the loss of their comrades ahead of Order 66, and Anakin pushes the limits of Obi-Wan Kenobi's leniency. It all helps ramp up the tension, foreshadowing the tragedy that fans know is coming.
The color palette of the episode — and the season, if the marketing materials are anything to go by — makes heavy use of the color red. It's easy to see this as an overture to the similarly-colored Revenge of the Sith. The season seems set to do an excellent job of setting the stage for the events of that film. Revisiting earlier episodes of The Clone Wars ahead of these, the contrast in tone is striking. It parallels the change of tone between the adventurousness of Attack of the Clones and the darker, almost baleful Revenge of the Sith.
But this is more than interstitial filler. Clone Wars has and continues to fulfill George Lucas's original idea for Star Wars — a story like an old sci-fi serial — better than most of the films. What's more, some of the best character writing in the franchise appears in The Clone Wars, and this final season looks to carry that through to the end.
If you're already a fan of The Clone Wars, this initial return suggests a finale that fulfills the promise of everything that's come before. It's beautiful, action-packed, and rich in themes and emotion. If you're new to the series, give these episodes a shot. They're a fine taste of what you've been missing.1comments
Rating: 5 out of 5
The season premiere of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is available now on Disney+.