When it comes to nitpicking in fandom, there are bad nitpicks and good ones. The bad ones, like “Why didn’t the Eagles take the One Ring to Mordor?”, often reveal more about the person asking the question than the work being questioned. The good nitpicks are simply the ones I happen to have, like why Star Wars doesn’t spend nearly enough time diving into Order 66, the secret Jedi-killing instructions implanted into the clones of the Grand Army of the Republic. I have questions about that. Fortunately, Star Wars: The Bad Batch is diving headlong into my personal bugbear, leaving me fulfilled and on a higher plane of existence than mere “Star Wars fan,” where everyone else resides.
To recap: In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine activates Order 66, and his clone troopers all turn on the Jedi they fought alongside during the entirety of the Clone Wars, and ruthlessly wipe them out. I perfectly understand the mechanics of how this happens — each clone trooper, we’re told in The Bad Batch and elsewhere, has a chip in his brain that conditions him to follow this order. But I’ve really wanted to know more about what that was like for the clones in the aftermath. Did they recoil in horror at their actions? Do they remember? Do they care? And how does that fit into the blurry transition between the clone troopers of the Republic and the stormtrooper army of the Empire?
Yes, there’s probably a book or comic that dives into this stuff. But while I do enjoy Star Wars books and comics, the print Star Wars canon seems pretty fungible. (The Bad Batch immediately retcons some of the comic book Star Wars: Kanan.) Besides, this is a problem I have with something I saw onscreen in a Star Wars story, and I would like to see it addressed onscreen — if not in a movie, then in one of the many new Star Wars TV shows coming our way. Luckily for me, The Bad Batch is tackling it.
[Ed. note: Mild spoilers for episode 3, “Replacements,” follow.]
The Bad Batch starts its story in the moments leading up to Order 66, specifically following an experimental unit of clone troopers who have been enhanced in ways that, in the movie-length premiere, also make them immune to the effects of the obedience chips. The premiere, however, ends with a rift in the group, as most of the cast resists Order 66, but one team member, the sniper Crosshair, succumbs to his programming and remains with the newly formed Empire as the rest of his squadmates desert.
As of episode 3, the show is taking a fascinating look at an army completing its slow slide into fascism in real time, while also giving viewers like myself insight into the muddy transition between Republic and Empire, which feels so abrupt in the films. In “Replacements,” we see that process begin to play out in detail.
In the episode, Admiral Tarkin begins to wonder aloud whether the clone troopers really are the best fit for the Empire’s plans of galactic domination, saying he’s more interested in “the loyalty of those willing to enlist.” In his view, clones, even those made to obey orders, can’t compete with the fervor of true believers who identify with the strongmen above them. This is borne out when a new squad of elite conscripts are sent to assault a rebel outpost, then ordered to execute the people they find. When the squad leader refuses, choosing instead to bring them in alive, he’s killed by a squadmate, who has no qualms with ditching morality in favor of the Empire’s wishes.
It’s a chilling moment that shows Tarkin’s endgame: a fascist regime where anything other than unquestioned loyalty is weeded out and punished. The Star Wars canon doesn’t allow for a lot of subtlety in this story. Giving an entire army brain implants that can rewrite their personalities simply because the plot demands it, without depicting any internal conflict acount the process, feels cheap and unearned. But with The Bad Batch, creators Dave Filoni et al craft a clever loophole. The group of misfits from The Clone Wars have become the perfect lens for expanding yet another glossed-over yet fascinating aspect of these endlessly picked-over films. The Bad Batch gives a terrible moment depicted in the fleeting final scenes of Revenge of the Sith the space to breathe and show itself as the slow, methodical horror it really is.
This is huge to me. It’s the sort of specific detail that balloons outward to encapsulate my problem with the prequels at large and Revenge of the Sith specifically. The transition is so sudden in the films. The clones turn on the Jedi just as quickly as Anakin pivots to the Dark Side to murder younglings. It’s all plot with no character details, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking the prequels had nothing to offer after that kind of disappointment.
But the prequels are just as full of rich potential as the original Star Wars trilogy, and The Bad Batch, like The Clone Wars before it, is set to do a lot of slow, careful work to tease out that potential. The show is still in the early going, but it’s stitching together a grand story with characters that are impacted by the mythic actions of the movies’ heroes. The Bad Batch is helping make Star Wars feel like one big tapestry — a saga, if you will.