'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' Unveils a Tragic and Appropriate Twist in "Return to Kamino"
“When did you start caring about them [the reg clones]?”
I’ve been clocking that parts of the Star Wars fanbase asked this question with frustration through this season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Once Clone Force 99 (Dee Bradley Baker), sans Crosshair when he settles into his pro-Empire antagonist position, and Omega (Michelle Ang) were on the run from the Empire’s control of Kamino, reg clone soldiers were barely in their thoughts, functioning as blaster or stun targets across episodic missions. The few individualized regs they allied with were either a friend already escaped from the institution (Cut Lawquane), an incidental encounter (Howzer in the Ryloth arc), or a rescue prompted by Rex (Gregor, mentioned to be stashed back with Cid). Anonymous reg clones are neither in Crosshair’s conscience much, but his snarky quote doesn’t just indict his brothers. He mockingly implies the Batchers value regs more than him and it bruises his ego. From a meta standpoint, the quote incriminates the Batchers for not considering that the reg soldiers were also their brothers and worth thinking about. The treatment of regs is not a central conflict but it is among a list of (mis)deeds.
At 24 minutes long, “Finale I: Return to Kamino” (directed by Nathaniel Villanueva, written by Matt Michnovetz) spends the most time building up to the rescue of Hunter, a confrontation with Crosshair, and the pile-up of disquieting truths on the stormy Tipoca City above Kamino waters. En route, little time is given to the psychological effect of Omega returning to her Kamino birthplace as she sneaks the Batchers through Nala Se’s secret lab facility stashed underwater. We learn Clone Force 99 soldiers (sans Echo) were bred by Nala Se in the same secret lab as Omega was, adding some explanation as to why Omega was acquainted with their names in the premiere, while adding more questions. But the implications that the Bad Batch were purposefully bred with their “defects” are less important than Omega becoming saddened over traumatic experiences that are so far nebulous. The episode slots in her backstory while it moves forward toward Hunter and Crosshair, although her brothers — literally blood brothers, but blood is arbitrary as usual — make sure to acknowledge her pain.
Something is also disconcertingly wrong on the stormy Kamino, as foreshadowed by the departure of clone soldiers in last week’s “War-Mantle.” Data has been cleared. Reinforcements are leaving. It’s being decommissioned.
Leaving Omega safely below deck, the Batchers have their long-awaited confrontation with Crosshair and his stormtroopers on their old training grounds. Crosshair’s incrimination feels like a package of anticipated complaints, meta and internal, regarding the season: the Batchers wandering without purpose, being fugitives raising and endangering a child, and, last but not least, leaving Crosshair behind.
This is truly a Crosshair episode that dissects his motivation and his state of mind. In the series’ peak chilling writing, Crosshair gives them an ultimatum, one born out of perceived mercy and resentment: join the Empire or be executed. He’s outraged at the abandonment. Crosshair notes that he didn’t have a choice when shooting his brothers in the premiere, acknowledging that the brainchip did drive some of his actions. It precludes the revelation, a twist both tragic and sensible: he removed his chip, if the ravaged cranium scar is to be believed, and his deference to the Empire is of his own volition.
Freed of the chip but not his servitude to the Empire, he uses his agency to reach out to his brothers in a twisted way (much to the chagrin of his stormtrooper force whose exchanged glances let us know this was not in the Admiral’s orders). Crosshair longs for two worlds that cannot co-exist: a purpose in the Empire and a reunion with his brothers who are cognizant of the Empire oppression. Except, as Hunter points out, the Empire doesn’t care about Crosshair’s existence like any other clone. Expendability is a huge theme and Crosshair thinks he can outwit and out-exist it, and that other clones deserve to be cast aside.
“We’re superior,” Crosshair smugly tells Hunter. Loyalty to him isn’t simply “survival of the fittest” but “the fittest deserves to thrive more than others.” He fits right in the Empire line of thinking. He doesn’t believe for one second that the Empire will abandon him like the other clones. He has faith that his abilities, loyalty, and breeding are what make him special and indispensable enough that he will be spared. He believes this as much as — or more than — he believes that the Empire is a protector of the galaxy.
When Omega summons training droids as a distraction, the Bad Batchers undergo a final throwback to their former lives. Then they have to run before the Star Destroyers shoot down the facility. True to Hunter’s perception, the Empire leaves Crosshair to be executed with his brothers.
Cutaways to vacant spaces are meditative shots not typically utilized in Star Wars animation: the Bad Batch’s former quarters, the cafeteria, and empty tube wombs that once bore clone fetuses. The shots are weaponized with a vengeance: it reminds the audience of the tragically brief lifespans and the existences of clone soldiers bred for war. It builds to the final sequence of the Empire’s orbital bombardment, with Star Destroyers showering the Kamino domes with laser fire to efficiently demolish Kamino and the Batchers, who are heaving an unconscious Crosshair with them. Other than epic cliffhanger imagery, it is an unceremonial farewell and cleansing of a bygone era, one Crosshair tried to cling onto as much as surrender it.
With the confirmation of a season renewal for The Bad Batch for 2022 on Disney+, “Return to Kamino” and its second parter is loaded with potential. How will they contend with Crosshair’s behavior? Will Crosshair acknowledge the atrocities committed under (or not under) the brain chip? Will the Bad Batch shake up the floating-adrift formula that Crosshair appeared to criticize as well?
- At least the Bad Batcher took medical droid AZI-3 (Ben Diskin) with them!
- I have a hunch we will see ES-02 (Tina Huang), the surviving stormtrooper, again.
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