Crosshair is beginning to get the picture: in Star Wars: The Bad Batch, family is the people that you can trust with your life.
The last minutes of this week’s episode, titled “Replacements’’ because a Dave Filoni show just isn’t a Dave Filoni show without a bit of gut-punching brio, brings this picture into tighter focus for Crosshair, for Omega, for every member of Clone Force 99. And in true Bad Batch fashion, the sentiments largely go unsaid. For right now, the simmering emotions behind this feisty found family can be found in the fleeting looks certain characters give us at crucial moments—and, especially, in the series’ astonishing visual contrasts. That last warmly-lit sequence, where Omega is given her own room onboard the Marauder (by Wrecker, who even gives her his stuffed gundark, Lula!), was undercut by the starkness of Crosshair’s final appearance in the episode, where he gives the Batch’s old room on Kamino to his new foisted-upon family unit: an Imperial elite squad who doesn’t trust him one single bit.
Omega and Crosshair, finding new homes and discovering completely different things about them. Warm and cold. Hope and despair. The parallels were striking, and, boy, did they sting.
Crosshair bristles at his new commanding role in Admiral Tarkin’s black-clad kill squad, a discomfort that highlights the transitional function of The Bad Batch in the wider lore of Star Wars. Before this show we could only make educated guesses as to how the Republic’s expansive Clone Army finally gave way to Emperor Palpatine’s endless stream of human Stormtroopers. In “Replacements,” directed by Nathaniel Villanueva and written by Matt Michnovetz, those Imperial growing pains take up a majority of the episode’s narrative thrust. We finally meet Rampart, a power-hungry Imperial who’s been making serious moves within the Empire. (Tarkin congratulates him on his implementation of the Empire’s new chain codes, featured prominently last week.) Rampart has brought our glowering Admiral (and the show) an update on the ominously-named “Project War Mantle” (first quietly hinted at during the data-heist sequence in Rogue One), as well as that aforementioned elite squadron, who are ready for orders—and not so ready for their new clone commander, we soon find out.
These slick-looking hard cases, given impersonal designations like AZI-3, ES-01, and ES-04 (compare that to the cute nicknames most of the Clone troopers gave each other) represent a literal changing of the guard within the Empire, where loyalty will be valued more than inherent military proficiency. (Sidebar: Is this a meta joke on how Stormtroopers can never seem to hit the broadside of a bantha?) Rampart maintains that the Empire can no longer be sustained “by clones alone,” a certain point of view shared by Tarkin in the series premiere. “There are other ways of producing loyal soldiers,” Rampart suggests, which doesn’t bode well for that sweet, sweet military contract Lama Su and Kamino secured with the Old Republic back in the day.
The growing obsolescence of the clone army pushes Lama and Nala Se deeper into a quandary that began for them with Order 66. “We must ensure our clones remain essential,” Lama frets, as Nala drops an alarming development on us: their original working genetic material, obtained from legendary bounty hunter Jango Fett, continues to degrade. What’s next for the Kaminoans (and their dwindling clone army) will be essential to their survival, obviously, but what is their bigger game? Are they covertly undermining this burgeoning Empire on behalf of the Republic? (That could explain why Nala let Omega run off with the Bad Batch during the premiere.) Or do they just like making clones, and like making crate-fulls of credits doing it even more?
Either way, a new phase will soon begin for the Kaminoans, one that will involve something called “a superior clone” who will be borne from a new, unnamed source. (Entrenched have these Palpatine-clone conspiracy theories become.)
While most of the episode’s tantalizing intrigue takes place in Crosshair’s neck of the woods, the rest of our Batch (Hunter, Echo, Tech, Wrecker, and Omega) cool their heels on a desolate moon where more poignant revelations began to take shape. After a glitch-out yanked the Marauder out of hyperspace and results in a crash landing, Tech and Echo lose the ship’s only remaining capacitor to an “ordo moon dragon”, a wriggly lizard-beast who feasts on (presumably) tasty electric charges. This triggers a fine wheel-spinning subplot for the Batch that reveals a truly great character moment for Hunter and Omega. But the show still appears to be shuffling Tech and Wrecker (not to mention poor Echo) into the periphery as it solidifies its emotional core provided by Hunter and Omega. (Is The Bad Batch saving the interesting Echo stuff for Rex’s inevitable appearance? Probably.)
Speaking of Omega and her renegade quasi-dad, their growing fondness for each other snaps up this plot thread and flips the show’s heroics from Hunter to Omega, the latter of whom seems to have picked up some tracking pointers from the former by… merely observing them? (Add this turn of events to Omega’s sharp-shooting proficiency, seen during the show’s premiere.) One moon dragon scuffle and improvisational flashlight dinner later, and Hunter’s searching Omega for any wounds she might have sustained from obtaining the capacitor. And our hearts swelled as yet another protective layer of Hunter’s hard-boiled soldier’s façade slipped away. (This season’s finale is going to hurt, isn’t it?)
But Hunter isn’t the only member of the Batch who’s struggling with his newfound role. As commander of Rampart’s new elite squad (which desperately needs a name, by the way), Crosshair comes up against a bit of unit dysfunction, not to mention clone prejudice. “Sounds to me like there needs to be a change,” says the smugly human soldier, AZI-3. “Enjoy being commander for now.” Crosshair, who seethes even more ferociously than usual at that, realizes his new crew isn’t going to operate with the same kinetic gusto as Clone Force 99 and, if he’s going to command any respect at all from this squadron, well... Crosshair is going to have to assert himself.
And assert himself Crosshair does, back on the Onderon system as he hunts for rebel leader, Saw Gerrera. Luckily for Saw, he absconded with his own troops after the premiere, which leaves a few innocent civilians and one pesky elite trooper that needs taken care of. “You want to know why they put me in charge?” Crosshair asks the dude-ly AZI-3, presumably through his toothpick. (He was wearing his helmet at the time, but I bet he was gnawing on his toothpick.) It’s a rhetorical question, but Crosshair answers it anyway: “Because I’m willing to do what needs to be done.” One blast of his rifle sends AZI to the ground, and suddenly things in this new galactic order make a little more sense to the steely sniper. “Good soldiers follow orders,” Crosshair says, turning to the remains of his squad. They snap to attention, and the war crimes commence.
Are these atrocities being committed by Crosshair, or Crosshair’s inhibitor chip? Does it make a difference? Go back to that last shot of Crosshair, sulking to himself as this death squad gets cozy in his brothers’ former bunks. Is he plotting a way to further cement his cruel command? Or is Crosshair contemplating a new trajectory, one that will bring him home to his brothers?
There’s the gonk droid! Apparently his name is “Gonky”.
Uh-oh: Wrecker’s got a headache. Chip malfunction? Dehydration? Space fatigue — it’s probably chip malfunction, isn’t it.
Can somebody explain the grub in Star Wars? Are those cylindrical, apparently edible tubes supposed to be sausages, or what?
Wrecker: “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die! We’re gonna… (sees Omega) be fine! We’re gonna be fine.”
Another parallel in the episode: Omega unwittingly pulls out a crate of Crosshair’s weaponry, and Crosshair observes the Batch’s abandoned quarters on Kamino. Both moments elicit profound silence.
It’s like poetry, it rhymes: Tech and Echo repair the Marauder in a forbidding environment while a pesky creature lurks in the darkness, à la the mynock sequence in Empire Strikes Back.
Omega, to Hunter, who laments the loss of Crosshair: “It’s not his fault.” Let Crosshair’s redemption arc begin in earnest. (As for that pesky inhibitor chip, it looks like Tech’s on the case.)
Tarkin notes that the Clone Trooper program is a “relic of the past,” and we get a nice Cushing-esque roll of the ‘r’ by voice actor Stephen Stanton.
What say you, group? Is Crosshair regretting his inhibitor chip upgrade, or is he just missing his boys? What should we call this new Imperial elite squad? (“The Fierce Faction”?) What does the full scope of “Project War Mantle” mean for Kamino? Did Wrecker really string up lights for Omega, thus revealing a hidden home decorating talent? Sound off in the comments below.