One of the most surprising elements of 'The Bad Batch' is in how, in the two episodes we were shown, it manages to imbue full personalities into the animated characters while still leaving plenty of room for potential over the course of the season.
Originally borne out of 'The Clone Wars' series and brought to the screen by some of its writers and creators - including Dave Filoni, who most recently made his live-action debut with a key episode of 'The Mandalorian' - the weight of expectation is heavy on 'The Bad Batch', but when isn't there any on a 'Star Wars' property? The entire franchise has become so analysed and prodded by its fanbase that you almost begin to wonder if any of them actually like it in the first place.
Brushing all that aside, what jumps out from the opening scene of 'The Bad Batch' is that even though this is an animated series, it knows perfectly well that older audiences are just as likely to tune in as younger audiences. This doesn't mean necessarily that it has to be darker purely for the sake of it, but rather acknowledging that it's a part of the furniture in 'Star Wars'. After all, the very first movie saw Luke Skywalker lose both his adoptive parents in an inferno and his mentor as well. The second movie saw Luke's hand sliced off by his own father, while his best friend was frozen into a popsicle and shipped off to a gargantuan cartel boss.
'The Bad Batch' opens on Order 66, the key moment of 'Revenge of the Sith' where the clone armies of the Republic turned on the Jedi and slaughtered them en masse. The titular group of clones, however, not only refuse to comply with the order but can't actually understand how and why it's happening. The reason? Their name isn't just an acknowledgement of their unorthodox methods or their wildly different personalities - they're a group of "defective" clones whose personalities have been shaped by it and now embrace them as strengths. Hunter, who looks like a carbon copy of Rambo, has facial marks and heightened tracking senses, while Echo and Tech both have exceptional skills with robotics and overall intelligence. Wrecker, as you can probably guess, is an oversized hulk who likes to rip droids apart with his bare hands while Crosshair is the group's sniper.
As the Empire begin to take hold across the galaxy, the future becomes uncertain for the group when Admiral Tarkin - soon to become Grand Moff Tarkin - begins to question the effectiveness of clones and orders a deadly test of their abilities that soon sees them questioning their new leaders and their own role in it. It's not before long that they're on the run from the Empire and trying to survive. If any of this sounds vaguely like 'The A-Team', that's intentional. In fact, the opening scene's music and title cards is a slight nod to the classic '80s TV series. Like 'The A-Team', you've got a set of big characters on the run and trying to stay ahead by their cunning and strengths.
A back-door pilot for this series took place during 'The Clone Wars', the long-running animated series, and much of the art style and characters established there have carried over from that series to this. By linking 'The Bad Batch' to 'The Clone Wars', you get the sense that this isn't so much a spin-off as it is a sequel. Some of the best stuff to come out of the entire franchise has been when the main characters - that's the Skywalkers, Han Solo, Princess Leia, etc. - are kept out and others come to the fore. 'The Mandalorian', 'Rogue One', they've all explored new parts of the expanded galaxy and they've all largely worked because not only can they sustain people's interest, but the expanded galaxy has that space (no pun intended) to take them.
The action and the dialogue throughout the first two episodes are clear and crisp, with a real command and understanding of how to block and edit battles and the characters of the Bad Batch are so clearly and cleanly defined that you're never left in any doubt who's doing what or why. Wrecker, for example, is a big dumb softie underneath his terrifying visage. Hunter, meanwhile, is the hard-edged leader while Tech and Echo bounce off each other like brothers. Omega, the young girl who's carried along for the adventure, is almost like a little mascot for them while Crosshair serves as a formidable villain for them.
All in all, there's a lot to look forward to. Here's hoping it keeps up the pace.
'The Bad Batch' is available to stream on Disney+ from May 4th.