By Kieran Burt.
Cloneforce 99 has returned to Disney+ once again with a two episode premiere that delivers a good opening. A self-contained heist that helps set up the rest of the season. Straightaway it addresses a criticism of the first season, and is tying its criminal aspects into the larger occurrences across the galaxy.
To recap, we find the Bad Beach on a beach planet, stealing a crate presumably filled with treasure. Unfortunately, this isn’t Niamos, and the beach is heavily populated with crab creatures very angry at having their peace disturbed. The Bad Batch are quickly rescued, a light and inconsequential opener.
Returning to Cid after their mission, she introduces them to her friend Phee, who then leaves. The Bad Batch’s next mission will be Serenno, to recover Count Dooku’s war chest, but it’s now under Imperial occupation. This idea is great, as it allows for some closure to the late Count’s home, hopefully something that will be continued across the season.
It also ties the heist aspects of the series with the Imperial expansion. Season one shined the most whenever the Empire was involved, and became boring when it was simple mercenary activities. Tying them both together allows for the more fun and jokey mercenary life to still be a part of the show, but not become too distant from wider galactic affairs, which are often heavier in tone.
It’s here where Echo also gets some more screen time. In a conversation with Hunter, he expresses a desire to stand up against the Empire, something that’s echoed throughout these two episodes. This is setting up a conflict within the Bad Batch, those that want to fight, and those that want to stay hidden. Echo didn’t get enough screen time in season one, so hopefully this is a trend that continues.
On Serenno, Echo, Wrecker, Tech and Omega go after the war chest, though in typical fashion are spotted by the clone garrison. The cargo ship takes off with only Wrecker getting off, leaving the rest trapped. Unluckily for Hunter and Wrecker though, the garrison on the ground nearly traps them in Count Dooku’s office. Tech, Omega, and Echo find themselves trapped on the cargo ship, with Omega suggesting they release the cargo and use the booster engines on the hold to descend safely. Unfortunately for them, this cargo hold is faulty, so they seemingly plummet to their death.
This is where episode one leaves off, marking a surprising cliffhanger. While it has shock value for a first time viewing, the threats of death or capture are nothing more than that. But it does lead nicely onto the second episode. Some episodes of season one had pairs, but for the most part were self-contained, and largely ignores the arc structure of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to its detriment. Hopefully season two continues the arc trend.
Episode two opens with the boosters activating but the freighter landing on a cliff edge and Tech breaking his fema, and Hunter and Wrecker escaping into the ruins of a city after the Empire orbitally bombarded it. They escape using a Separatist tank cannon, a hint of the very much alive Separatist remnants to come in later episodes.
Tech, Omega and Echo meet a Serenian called Romar, who imparts important lessons to both Omega and Tech. He tells Omega that the treasure isn’t worth it, that happiness is a far greater reward. This is a familiar Star Wars lesson, very similar to what Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace. Romar opens Tech’s eyes to the fact that the Separatists are not the evil enemy he thinks, but instead made up of a people, very much a continuation of the story set on Raxus in the first season. These two lessons are what separates the Batch from the Empire, for they seek to gain power and wealth at the expense of everything else, and are very quick to cast an us-versus-them narrative.
A very minor but important character is Captain Wilco. He leads the garrison on Serenno, and the hunt for Wrecker and Hunter. He seems genuinely moved by the deaths of clones, hinting at his individuality, and later refuses to falsify a report for Vice-Admiral Rampart. Rampart then shoots Wilco off a cliff.
This sets up that the clones aren’t willing to get fully onboard with shady Imperial activities, which is set to be a recurring beat in the show. It will be the most important story thread going forward, and one that could have a huge impact on the memory of the clones but Rampart’s legacy.
Overall, these two episodes are a fun introduction to season two with a mix of introspection and action. It improves on some of the aspects that didn’t work in season one, whilst still keeping the flawlessly beautiful animation and music. Some may complain that these are filler episodes, but they provide more than a hint to where season two might be headed in the future.