With new episodes released Fridays on Disney+ (into August), Star Wars: The Bad Batch draws on the success of the franchise's other animated series --The Clone Wars and Rebels -- while continuing to build the Star Wars story beyond the Skywalker family’s galactic-wide drama into a complex, multifaceted universe.
It's designed to appeal to fans new and old, engaging some interesting questions about humanity and the world. As an animated show, it faces the implicit challenge of bridging the expectations that come with continuing a classic franchise -- branded on live-action epics -- with the idea that cartoons are for kids.
Both in terms of style and story, the Bad Batch explores what Star Wars made seem almost impossible: that the difference between good and evil (a.k.a bad) can be complicated.
Star Wars featured the evil Empire, with its endless faceless troops, which weren’t technically clones, but still felt identical and mindless. The Clone Wars challenged that paradigm, because the clones -- who were literally programmed -- developed dynamic, individual personalities.
The clones become victims of the Republic, which, in its freedom, invited tyranny into its midst. It became the Empire, destroying the human person, suppressing their personalities by the rule of fear and the promise of protection.
Thus, the original Star Wars ceases to be a war between the timeless, total evil and the under-resourced, righteous rebellion, and instead becomes the story of how real people are wounded by the machinations of evil, which sold itself through the temptation of security.
Bad Batch picks up this theme in a powerful way. The titular "bad batch," also known as Clone Force 99, is a group of experimental clones that embodies perfectly the trendy tagline: “built different.”
Because these clones were engineered to be stronger, faster and more accurate, basically more powerful weapons in the fight for freedom, the programming which affects all the other clones doesn’t work on them ... mostly.
Instead, these particular stormtroopers, who were designed to be a part of the Emperor Palpatine’s takeover, become a group of isolated friends trying to make sense of a world in which their purpose is no longer clear and where all that they know has changed or been destroyed.
They aren’t rebels; they are people trying to make sense of a world without trusted institutions or clear markers, all the while dealing with their wounded sense of the past. Sound familiar?
In our world today, there is a void. Culture and identity, especially for young people, feel like they are being fought over and determined by a mass of outside forces like media and advertising.
In this time, many children and young adults feel a deep sense of woundedness and mistrust, and they are trying almost desperately to figure out everything for themselves without the help of historically trusted institutions like government or religion.
So, the questions are present whether we want to ask them or not.
In The Batch Batch, our protagonists face off against an overwhelming flood of questions in a world of shifting values and broken relationships and have to make sense of who they are, how they want to live, and what they can do to help make a good life for the next generation.
More simply, they wonder: what is the right thing to do?
These “good soldiers” have to move beyond a sense of just following orders blindly to figuring out how to navigate the void and give meaning to their new lives.
They may be the Republic and the Empire’s “bad batch,” but they may be the heroes we need to explore as a family and think about how we judge the value of our actions and sense of personal identity, all while enjoying the thrill of a new Star Wars story.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch has plenty of military action, combat and thrills, so it might not be right for the youngest viewers, but it's fine for mature grade-schoolers and up.
Image: Disney+/© 2021 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved
Ryan Kerr, C.S.C. is a 3rd-year temporarily professed seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross and a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from Michigan, Ryan loves literature and is an avid NBA fan.