After the well-received ‘Utapau’ arc in 2014, Lucasfilm showed a further four ‘Story Reels’ of The Clone Wars the following year at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. These consist of fully scripted and voice-recorded episodes, with the score and sound effects added but accompanied by unfinished animatics; a test-run before the animation is completed. Even in this form, in the eyes of the Lucasfilm Story Group these events remain canonical to the Star Wars continuity.
The Bad Batch (2015)
Story Reel, Episode 5. Written by Brent Friedman, directed by Kyle Dunlevy.
“The best defence is a strong offence.”
Separatist forces have captured Republic shipyards on Anaxes. While Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker lead the ground battle to reclaim several locations, they don’t have the resources for a prolonged attack. Commander Cody however, has another plan…
And so we end as we began, watching the Separatist Admiral Trench’s collection of prosthetic limbs grow along with his ego, a master strategist at work with the brute-force numbers to validate his plans. And it’s back to the troop-centric days of those early seasons too, as Cody’s plan is to call upon ‘Clone Force 99’. Named affectionately after an inspirational clone on Kamino, this ‘Bad Batch’ are a squad of clones with deliberately-bred defects, enabling them to specialise in key areas.
Led by the scout Hunter, troops Wrecker, Crosshair and Tech are masters in demolition, marksmanship and data-slicing respectively. The naming-conventions here may not be particularly subtle, but this is essentially Republic Commando’s Delta and Omega squads under another name.
The episode feels more game-like than many others in its class, with the smooth, continuous, eye-line camerawork making the viewer feel as if they’re there on the ground. And with specialised tactics comes greater individuality, as the Bad Batch excel in caustic banter and dry gallows humour that tests the more regimented ethos of Commander Cody and Captain Rex.
This is a strong start to a compelling arc.
A Distant Echo (2015)
Story Reel, Episode 6. Written by Brent Friedman, directed by Steward Lee.
“Wars are not won with superior weapons, but superior strategy.”
Rex calculates that Admiral Trench’s run of victories stems from a Republic tactical algorithm he developed, which the Separatists have somehow stolen placing them ahead at every turn. But when he tracks the command-signal to Skako Minor, homeworld of the Techno Union, Rex makes an even more alarming discovery…
‘A Distant Echo’ sees a return to more traditional, mission-based adventuring. The episode is more like a story being told than a game being played, although it’s still enormous fun. The title becomes as literal as the Bad Batch’s informal designations when Rex discovers Clonetrooper Echo, thought lost during the Citadel mission, captured and kept alive by the CIS, turned into a cyborg as they mine his memories for Republic battle plans.
But the most impressive thing once again is the range of Dee Bradley Baker, voicing all of the Clonetroopers. The audio for huge stretches of this arc is listening to one man have conversations with himself. Yet even without the finished visuals, Baker’s performance as several different interacting characters, all of whom have technically the same voice, is flawless.
On The Wings Of Keeradaks (2015)
Story Reel, Episode 7. Written by Brent Friedman, directed by Bosco Ng.
“In war there is no such thing as neutrality.”
While Captain Rex has found his fallen brother deep in the Techno Union’s stronghold, Anakin and the rest of Clone Squad 99 have to clear a path through the CIS Battle Droids if they’re to get off-planet…
As we begin in-situ on Skako Minor, ‘On The Wings Of Keeradaks’ is very much a tonal continuation in terms of pacing, but the presentation veers back toward gaming territory. With the planet’s indigenous Poletec species assisting the Republic forces in rising up against their unwelcome occupiers, there are also shades of The Phantom Menace‘s Battle Of Naboo in the final standoff.
The scenes featuring Separatist leader Wat Tambor (dial-twiddling man from Attack Of The Clones) are a fascinating reminder that other than Nute Gunray in the early seasons and the limelight-hogging Count Dooku, The Clone Wars seems to have largely wasted a raft of fantastic cinematically-established villains. Granted, Episode III shows us which of these are alive at the end of the war and so gives them narrative invincibility, but that hasn’t stoped Anakin and Dooku duelling in every third arc throughout the series…
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Unfinished Business (2015)
Story Reel, Episode 8. Written by Brent Friedman, directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell.
“Learn from the past, but live for the future.”
With Echo removed from Separatist clutches, the Republic make gains in re-taking Anaxes, not least because their ‘upgraded’ companion is able to access the CIS database from viable ports. Now the plan is to attack Admiral Trench’s most heavily defended command post and secure victory…
A stealth mission now, as Captain Rex sneaks Echo onto an orbiting dreadnaught. Gold Squadron’s Y-Wings lead an aerial assault which is reminiscent of the Death Star attack-run, intercutting with Anakin and Mace brandishing lightsabers on terra firma.
Although structurally this episode feels like a bolt-on, ‘Unfinished Business’ does what it says on the tin and wraps up the arc’s loose ends on a real action high. We leave Trench in pieces, but he’s recovered from worse in the past.
Best of all, ‘The Bad Batch arc’ is slated to be part of The Clone Wars Revival series airing on the Disney+ subscription service this autumn, so we’ll get to see the 99’ers in all their fully animated glory.
And that brings us to the end (for now) of The Clone Wars’ televisual run. But join us next time for a delve into other media which carries the branding, as well as the full canonical legitimacy…