Welcome to The Bad Batch Explained, our new weekly column dedicated to those rough and tumble Clone Wars leftovers and their march through a bold, new galaxy far, far away. In this entry, we’re charging into Star Wars: The Bad Batch episode 3 (“Replacements”) and examing the darkest era in the franchise’s history. And that’s saying something.
The war is over. Long live the new war. The Empire, desperate to cut costs while also tightening its grip on the galaxy, struggles to find new ways to use old soldiers. They’ve halted clone production, and that makes the Kaminoans nervous. If manufacturing is over, then their economy will collapse. So, the two business partners secretly scramble to bilk the other of their goods.
From their backroom dealings, an elite squad is formed. Death Troopers made their first appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. They’re those nasty-looking Stormtroopers dressed head-to-toe in black, whose voices are garbled by a modulator. They often serve as bodyguards to high-ranking Imperial officers like Grand Moff Tarkin and Ben Mendelsohn’s sniveling Orson Krennic. Death Troopers are known for their stealth and carnage. These are the guys the Empire sends in when they want to salt the earth and leave no stories of their misdeeds behind.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Episode 3, entitled “Replacements,” appears to introduce these Imperial beasts. While not named so in the episode, we meet four non-clone soldiers handpicked from across the galaxy. These replacements have sworn allegiance and are eager to prove their value to Palpatine. A value that will cost the Empire a whole helluva lot less than Jango Fett’s children.
The new Disney+ series plunges the franchise into its darkest depths. Here is a time and place where hope feels impossible, and Princess Leia’s rebellion is merely a flicker in fandom’s eye. The Emperor has tasked Tarkin with squashing resistance, and the Moff will do so with extreme prejudice and without remorse. You thought you were watching a kid’s show, a cartoon, but prepare yourself to witness a half dozen murders this week.
While our heroic Clone Force 99 enjoys alien animal hijinks on a dark, desolate moon, the other half of the episode tracks their fallen comrade Crosshair as he trains their conscripted replacements. Tarkin’s new lackey, Admiral Rampart, believes the Empire will succeed by pairing skilled clones with fresh meat. He admires the skill bred into creatures like Crosshair and Hunter, but he craves the loyalty of those who willingly enlist.
These replacement volunteers believe the war is over. That there is no one left to fight. One soldier comments that the Empire is willing to put food in his belly and a roof over his head. Something the Republic failed to do. As such, they can do with his body as they wish. Go where they tell him to go. Kill who they tell him to kill. Uh…actually.
The hungry soldier does have his limits. When Rampart sends Crosshair’s squad to finish the job Hunter failed to do on Onderon, the one soldier refuses to execute Saw Gerrera’s unarmed rebels. Crosshair explains that orders are orders, and the reason Tarkin placed him in charge is that he’s willing to follow through. The clone fires his blaster into his trooper’s chest. The remaining soldiers complete Crosshair’s command, and while we don’t see the flame thrower fire upon the helpless, we sure as hell do hear it as the camera plants its view on Crosshair’s unblinking visor. Good soldiers finish the mission.
The Bad Batch Episode 3 is an uneasy and uncomfortable watch. While we’re following Omega and her adventures hunting down a capacitor stolen from an energy-sucking beastie, we’re experiencing a rollicking good time. But, while we’re hanging out with Crosshair and his cold calculations, we’re sinking into dread. For most of The Clone Wars, we were watching a charade. Jedis and clone soldiers fighting the good fight against an evil separatist droid army. The war was a sham concocted by Palpatine, moving pieces on a chessboard so that he could get to this moment, this Empire.
Yes, The Clone Wars offered plenty of dread. The audience understood the sham at play. For all their good intentions and swashbuckling heroics, the Jedi were doomed to fail. They’d fall on their face by the series end, but while the series persisted, action and adventure was possible.
Swashbuckling in The Bad Batch is much, much harder to achieve. It’s difficult to enjoy Wrecker making space in his ship for Omega’s new bedroom when Crosshair is out there slaughtering innocents. His elite squad has yet to be named Death Troopers, but they’ve got the black uniform, and they’ve compromised the right ethics. They’re killers, and they’re the first of many more to come.
Since their introduction in Rogue One, Death Troopers have appeared all over the place. They became a constant fixture in Star Wars: Rebels as well as the various video games, novels, and comics. Stormtroopers are cannon fodder, and they can’t shoot worth a damn. When they’re on screen, all you have to worry about is how long they’ll stall our heroes from getting to their destination. They’re gnats, pests.
When Death Troopers are on screen, people are going to die. Crosshair is turning his squad into killers, and you can bet they’ll earn the Death Trooper name before The Bad Batch is over. Tarkin sure does love their results. Sure, one perished on the mission, but soldiers perishing is an inevitability, and there can always be another one of those found. And you don’t even have to grow them in a lab. People are hungry, and if you keep them that way, then they’ll sign up for scraps.
But we can’t forget about the Kaminoans. Their desires rest in the Bad Batch, apparently. The mystery of Omega remains. She was designed for something special. As Nola Se explains to her Prime Minister, Jango Fett’s genetic material is degrading. If they want to construct a superior clone, they’ll need a direct source. That source could be Omega or one of the Bad Batch. They’re Kimonan property, and they belong under their scalpel.
Three episodes into The Bad Batch and Star Wars is looking as grim as it ever did. You have one Clone Force 99 soldier establishing murder as the Imperial way, and the rest fleeing from the shackles of their birth. It’s hell out there. We need to meet some rebels soon. A Star Wars without resistance feels suffocating. The light side must always appear as the brightest side. The spotlight belongs with them, right?