As George Lucas celebrates his 77th birthday today, the universe he created is still alive and well, with new stories continuing to enthrall viewers and connect the expansive galaxy – most recently with The Bad Batch!
The third episode of the animated series dropped today, entitled “Replacements,” and it goes some dark places. We get the return of Crosshair, the beginning of a brand new (and very significant) Imperial project, and the rest of Clone Force 99 trying to survive and move on.
It’s another really great episode in what has been a tremendously strong start for this show, and as we dive into the review, remember that full spoilers are ahead!
[The events of this episode are interspersed, cutting back and forth between Crosshair and the rest of Clone Force 99. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, I have opted to summarize the events separately here rather than jumping back and forth.]
With their ship damaged in the escape from Seleucami, the Bad Batch crash lands on a remote moon. The moon’s storms prevent them from sending any communications, while the ship’s power cell must be replaced before they can take off. Tech and Echo head outside to examine the damage and replace the cell using their only spare, but Echo discovers claw marks on the ship that weren’t there before. Soon after they re-board the ship, a creature snatches the power cell and runs off. Tech surmises that it’s an ordo moon dragon, which feeds on the energy, and Hunter decides to go after it. Omega demands that he take her, since she’s a part of the crew now, and he agrees. Together they track the dragon, but as Hunter attempts to retrieve the cell he loses his breathing mask and loses consciousness. Omega places the mask on him and decides to go after the dragon herself. Taking Hunter’s blaster and flashlight, she finds the dragon’s cave – and realizes that it’s not after them, but simply hungry. She gives it the flashlight instead and takes the cell. They return to the ship and take off. Meanwhile, Wrecker – who injured his head in the crash-landing – had created a bunk for Omega so that she could have her own room. The rest of the Bad Batch surrounds her and says that she’s one of them, part of the crew.
While those events are going on, the lost member of the crew, Crosshair, is still on Kamino. An Imperial officer named Rampart approaches Tarkin about Project War Mantle, the beginning of conscripted recruits for the Empire. He presents the first four of them, and the humans will be trained by Crosshair into an elite squadron – much to the chagrin of Lama Su, who tries to persuade them against replacing the clones. In order to test their loyalty and effectiveness, Tarkin sends the new sqaud to Onderon to eliminate Saw Gerrera and his band of rebels – the same mission that Clone Force 99 had previously declined to follow through with. As they arrive, one of the recruits openly questions Crosshair and wonders why he’s the leader – and insists he won’t be for long. We quickly realize that this encounter will be different from the previous one on Onderon, as the squad comes in hot, firing on the rebels and killing many of them. Crosshair executes one of the survivors almost immediately upon realizing that they wouldn’t tell him anything, and he orders the refugees killed. The vocal recruit defies him and says that they won’t do it. Crosshair then reveals why he’s in charge – because he’ll follow through. He kills the recruit, telling the others that “Good soldiers follow orders.” He then orders them to kill the refugees, which they (reluctantly) do. Back on Kamino, Tarkin is impressed with the results and promotes Rampart to Admiral, appointing him overseer of the project.
Later, Lama Su realizes that it’s time to move onto the next phase of the cloning process. As he talks with Nala Se, he insists that if they can create a superior clone then they would be back in favor with the Empire. He instructs her to carry on her testing, and it seems they need just one member of Bad Batch 99 for this to happen.
This show took a very dark turn in this episode, and it’s honestly pretty amazing that they are able to in the same episode have such a dark moment (the execution of the refugees) and then a few minutes later have such a genuinely heartwarming moment (Wrecker showing Omega her new room). It’s a testament to these storytellers and the way it’s pulled off, and it’s a thoroughly compelling story that they’re telling as well. This was a great episode.
It was great to see Crosshair again, and I hope that we continue to see more of him. The way that he uttered the line, “good soldiers follow orders” after killing the rebellious recruit was chillingly great, and it goes to show the depravity and horrors of the Empire – already, almost immediately after it began. This doesn’t surprise those of us who are familiar with the Empire in Star Wars, as this won’t be the last time they commit war crimes – but it’s still so startling to actually see this show go there, and to see how loyal Crosshair is. Of course, we know that it’s the chip that is causing him to do this, and that makes it all the more heartbreaking. After returning to Kamino, Crosshair sits alone in his bunk, and it seems like he’s reflecting on – and seemingly almost haunted by – the events. If I’m reading that correctly, it adds yet another heartbreaking layer on top of this: basically Crosshair can’t help himself, but still is very much aware of the horrors he’s committing.
As we saw, the enlisted recruits were far more hesitant to commit these war crimes than Crosshair was, and the other three only did it after Crosshair killed the fourth for refusing. It’s actually rather ironic that Tarkin praises the squad for carrying out the mission, which is an important strike against the clones, all because one of the clones’ inhibitor chips is doing its job. (And on that note, why didn’t Tarkin send a probe to watch them like he did with the Bad Batch? I like to think that he actually did, but either way, he’s probably content with whatever narrative will serve his motives, which in this case seems to be leverage against the Kaminoan cloners.) I’m really excited that we’re getting to see the Empire begin using enlisted recruits, and it’s honestly happening earlier than I expected! It’s great to see them trained by Crosshair, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’re seeing the beginning of just stormtroopers, or also the more elite squads, like death troopers? Either way, this was something I really wanted to see from the show, and it looks like we’ll be diving full-on into the clones vs. recruits storyline.
So through all of this, I can’t help but think that we’re leading up to a clone uprising of sorts. Tarkin is very brazenly talking about moving on from the clones right in front of Lama Su, on Kamino, which is pretty audacious. And we see very clearly that Lama Su is not happy about these developments. He realizes that the Kaminoans’ entire business is in jeopardy, and so he keeps trying to talk the Empire out of transitioning away from clones. That’s not working, so he initiates the next phase – and that’s especially what interests me. We already knew that the genetic material from Jango Fett was deteriorating, and it’s not unreasonable to guess that is part of the reason why the experimental clone force 99 came about at all. In response, they need a new test subject, wanting to create a superior clone – thinking that will regain their favor with the Empire. And it seems that in order for Nala Se to continue her tests, she needs one of the genetically modified clones of the Bad Batch, since she mentions that, “the clones required will not return willingly.” Lama Su counters that they are Kaminoan property, but that regardless, they only need one – and the implication there is that they already have one in Crosshair.
This is all where the intrigue and mystery of this episode – and really this season so far – really kicks in. The Kaminoans clearly have some tests going that they’re not disclosing yet – and the conversation between Lama Su and Nala Se strongly implies to me that the test they’re referring to is already underway, not in reaction to these latest events. And both of the last two episodes take care to point out that these genetically modified clones have a purpose behind it. Last week, it was Cut asking Hunter what Omega’s was. This week, it’s Hunter telling Omega about the enhanced abilities of the four of them – but not Omega. Hers is still a mystery (I’m sticking with my guess that she’s somewhat Force sensitive, but we’ll see). And if I had to guess, I think that she’ll prove to be a whole lot more significant to these Kaminoan efforts than we realize. In many ways, I wonder if she’s the key to all of this, the answer to the mystery that we don’t understand yet.
So anyway, speaking of Omega, it was great to see that she’s truly being treated like one of the crew. At first Hunter wants to protect her, but he realizes very quickly that Omega is right: if she’s actually part of the team, they’ve got to treat her like it. So it seems that they’re going to be teaching her and including her just as much as they’re protecting her. She again proves her skills by retrieving the power cell, and in the process displaying her bravery, her sensitivity and perceptiveness regarding the dragon, and her continuing aspiration to be just like Hunter – including here with his tracking abilities.
But while the Bad Batch was stranded on this moon the entire episode, it did give them some time to deal with the fallout from Crosshair’s betrayal. Wrecker admits that he kinda misses him, and Hunter doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. And Omega, again very perceptively, is able to draw out why: Hunter feels that he failed by leaving Crosshair behind. Omega continues to insist that it wasn’t Crosshair’s fault, as the inhibitor chip made him do it – but tells Hunter that, if he’s worried about having left Crosshair behind, then they’ll get him back. I appreciated getting to see the team deal with that fallout, if even for just a few brief moments. And Omega, as the new fifth member of the squad, is helping them do so.
One last thought to bring up from this episode is pertaining the inhibitor chips. Am I the only one that, as Wrecker continued to complain about his head, continued to grow more and more nervous? After all, this episode continued to deal with the chips, as we see that Tech is even working on a device that will be able to detect the status of their own inhibitor chips. And as they crash-land, Wrecker hits his head – and spends much of the rest of the episode complaining about how his head hurts, holding his head. I do wonder whether the crash-landing may have jolted something with his chip, and if that’s the case, we may have to see the team deal with that before long. It’s something worth paying attention to…
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic episode. Getting to see both Crosshair and the Empire, as well as Omega and the Bad Batch, was great, and it paved the way for some really interesting, dark, heartwarming, and mysterious developments – all packed into one episode. This show continues to look fantastic, and the storytelling is living up to the same level.
My grade: 9.4/10