“The Bad Batch” Episode 12 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE BAD BATCH AHEAD!

Thanks to Black Widow and WitcherCon, I missed my chance to review last week’s episode of The Bad Batch – which would have been annoying regardless of how good the episode was, simply because it messed up my plan to review The Bad Batch‘s final episodes after taking a long break from reviewing the show. But it’s especially frustrating that I, as a hardcore Star Wars: Rebels fan, didn’t get to review the episode that brought back not one but two members of the Rebels crew in animation…well, “brought back” is slightly misleading because The Bad Batch is set before Rebels, so this is technically their debut, chronologically…it’s complicated, you know?

The Bad Batch
Hera Syndulla with The Bad Batch | starwars.com

But thankfully, last week’s episode only kicked off an epic two-parter – so I still get to rave about Rebels! But before we get into a discussion about today’s episode, let me preface this with a few stray thoughts on last week’s episode, since I feel bad about not reviewing it. Hearing Vanessa Marshall return to the voice-role of Hera Syndulla was delightful, and the fact that she still has her strong French accent because this is a young Hera who hasn’t yet grown estranged from her parents and planet…yeah, loved that. Hera is one of my favorite characters in the vast Star Wars legendarium, so seeing her take her first steps towards becoming the fearless, confident, high-flying heroine we knew from Rebels was something very personal to me…and I imagine Dave Filoni, the creator of both Rebels and The Bad Batch, felt the same; seeing as he centered last week’s episode around Hera’s POV, with our clone protagonists only popping up as cameos, basically.

This week, with Hera’s parents Cham Syndulla (Robin Atkin Downes) and Eleni Syndulla (Ferelith Young) captured by the Imperial occupation forces subjugating the planet of Ryloth and its Twi’lek population, the clones of The Bad Batch take center stage once again as Hera calls upon them to rescue her family before the Empire executes them for treason. Hunter (voiced, like almost all of the clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) is initially reluctant to answer Hera’s plea for help, wary of getting entangled in more Imperial power struggles – and the episode cleverly finds ways to use this as a source of conflict between Hunter and Omega (Michelle Ang), whose altruistic opinion on the matter is that as soldiers, the Bad Batch are duty-bound to help those in need rather than skulking around the galaxy as mercenaries.

Honestly, I agree with Omega. I know that mercenaries and bounty-hunters are all the rage in Star Wars, and morally-gray characters are always a lot of fun, but my biggest gripe with The Bad Batch is that the protagonists lack a driving purpose. Are they simply trying to keep Omega safe from the malevolent forces trying to mine her for genetic material from which to build new clone armies, and if so, then for how long? Are they trying to break their fellow clones free from the Empire’s brainwashing tactics, starting with their own former teammate, the sharpshooter Crosshair? Are they just trying to survive on their own in a galaxy that no longer has a place for clones? Helping those in need, and planting the seeds of Rebellion against the Empire, gives them a direction.

The Bad Batch
Omega and Hera Syndulla | denofgeek.com

And after today’s episode, the Bad Batch might as well help to form and organize the Rebellion – because between blowing up an Imperial refinery on Ryloth, hijacking Imperial ships, and breaking Twi’lek freedom fighters out of jail, their days of flying under the radar are over. Crosshair receives the order to hunt them down at the end of the episode, promising that there will be consequences for their bold and decisive actions. I can’t imagine that the Bad Batch won’t try to remove his Imperial-designed inhibitor chip, but by this point we’ve had so little time to know Crosshair as a good guy before his “turn” to the dark side that I don’t really care if they’re successful.

And also…just look at a clone like Howzer, who’s been assigned by the Empire to help maintain an uneasy peace on Ryloth by any means necessary. Howzer’s an ordinary clone; he was almost certainly affected by the inhibitor chip when it activated, just like Crosshair. But he still has a moral compass. He comes to the conclusion that the Empire is a reprehensible and unjust system entirely on his own, and in the end he chooses to stand with the freedom fighters, even though his act of defiance leads to him being promptly arrested by the Empire. Watching that act of courage transpire, I realized two things: first of all, with the purpose of the inhibitor chips fulfilled, the clones – and crucially, even clones who are apparently still chipped – are free to regain agency over themselves; second of all, does that mean Crosshair is entirely the victim of brainwashing, or is there a part of him that really is just sadistic?

Also also, I just find it infuriating that for a character who’s supposed to have literally mutated to become a better sharpshooter than humanly capable, Crosshair has yet to back that claim up with much hard proof. I know this is a nitpick, but there have been moments in the show where some of the other clones can hit moving targets with a precision I found extraordinary, but Crosshair fails to even land a single shot on the senatorial spacecraft which the Bad Batch uses to escape Ryloth in this episode.

A far more entertaining action sequence takes place at the aforementioned refinery, where it’s Hera who steals and pilots an Imperial ship with a little help from Omega and her trusty astromech droid Chopper. It’s the character’s first flight – a turbulent, dizzying first flight, mind you, but that only helps to make her journey to becoming one of the Galaxy’s greatest pilots more relatable. Hera’s strength comes from the confidence that allows her to think clearly and logically in situations where others might falter, not from her bloodline or any Force-related abilities, and that’s part of why I love her. I would still like to see her lead the live-action Rangers Of The New Republic series in place of Cara Dune, by the way. I know that show is currently “not in active development”, but come on, Lucasfilm. We deserve live-action Hera, with Vanessa Marshall playing the character!

The Bad Batch
Chopper | starwarsnewsnet.com

But even getting to spend a little more time with her in animation is a joy, and I hope The Bad Batch has more cool surprises like this one still in store for us as we come to the final handful of episodes in season one. I want to promise that I’ll review each new episode on Fridays when they drop, but after how well that went last time I made that promise…let’s, uh, let’s just play it by ear.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“The Bad Batch” Episode 10 Muses On Morality

SPOILERS FOR THE BAD BATCH AHEAD!

It’s been almost two months since The Bad Batch premiered on Disney+, and you may have noticed that in all that time I haven’t been reviewing episodes weekly. Make no mistake, I’ve kept up with the show, and now that it’s nearing the end of its first season I’m back with what I hope will prove to be consistent weekly reviews for the final seven episodes, but the slow-burn episodic nature of the story made it difficult for me to commit to a weekly format with my reviews. I don’t regret that decision, but I will say this: in the time that I haven’t been reviewing it, The Bad Batch has gotten progressively better and better.

The Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | denofgeek.com

Just as I had hoped, the series doesn’t shy away from exploring complicated and surprisingly mature topics – take, for example, today’s episode, which starts getting to the heart of the extraordinarily messy political situation left in the wake of the Clone Wars between the Old Republic and the recently defeated Confederacy of Independent Systems (or Separatists, as they were colloquially known during the Clone Wars). The Separatists were portrayed as the “bad guys” throughout the war, and with their armies of faceless droids and Sith Lord leadership, it wasn’t exactly hard to see why.

But only a handful of people in the Star Wars universe are aware at this time that Sheev Palpatine, whose Galactic Empire swiftly usurped the Old Republic after the defeat of the Separatists and the Jedi Purge, had not only engineered the conflict, but had been secretly puppeteering both sides – so only the audience gets to fully appreciate the irony of the Separatists remaining devoted to their cause after the war’s end and by default becoming “good guys”, leading to a brutal crackdown from the Emperor whose ascent to power is attributable to hijacking their cause in the first place…or the fact that Separatist tactics were later adopted by the Rebels who would go on to fight in the name of restoring the Old Republic.

Basically, the galaxy is in chaos. And when the Bad Batch are called in to rescue a former Separatist senator on the planet Raxus who has been arrested by Imperial forces, it starts an interesting conversation about who’s really “good” nowadays. Is anyone? Something I’ve always loved about Star Wars is the idea that Light and Dark co-exist in all of us, making it our responsibility to find balance in ourselves: because the Dark Side of the Force is not evil by nature, no more than the Light Side is inherently good – an important lesson that both Jedi and Sith failed to learn in their pride. It’s part of what makes the clear-cut “good triumphs over evil” ending of The Rise Of Skywalker so underwhelming in hindsight, because it reduces Light and Dark to being simply Good and Evil, without any nuance.

This episode of The Bad Batch begins to reverse some of the damage caused by The Rise Of Skywalker, highlighting both the humanity in characters our protagonists have always known as traitors and the moral gray zone in a character they’ve come to love – which is already a compelling enough concept as it is, but the real kicker is that the second character in question here is none other than sweet innocent Omega (voiced by Michelle Ang), who proves to be quite the shrewd businessperson and money-manager while racking up wins at dejarik (the hyper-aggressive holographic version of chess which has reappeared several times in Star Wars since its introduction). I mean, should we expect anything less of a character who was recently revealed to be Jango Fett’s exact genetic copy and the closest living relative of Boba Fett?

The Bad Batch
Hunter, Tech, GS-8, and Echo | starwars.com

As for the other character, our imprisoned Separatist senator Avi Singh (voiced by Alexander Siddig), he’s a humanist who stands up to the Empire, recognizing in their blatant suppression of free speech the same authoritarian qualities he condemned in the New Republic (very timely episode, this). It’s admirable that he chooses to stand up to the Empire during a ceremony in which he is being pressured (quite literally, with stormtrooper guns at his back) to declare the Separatist movement dead and hand control of Raxus over to Palpatine – but his action proves reckless, and ultimately requires the Bad Batch to save him and take him off-world to escape from the Empire’s vengeance.

Perhaps therein lies an interesting parallel between Omega and Singh. Omega uses her “darker” qualities for good, to help the Bad Batch pay off their debts to the criminal entrepreneur Cid (voiced by Rhea Perlman) and earn herself a full-time place on the team, where Hunter (voiced, like all the Clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) realizes that her uncanny strategizing skills can be put to good use. But Singh, an almost cartoonishly “good” character with no understanding of the decisive action required from him, lacks those very same skills and ends up blowing a chance to help his people on the ground where his help would matter most. Star Wars has a lot of characters like these in authority positions where they do about as much good as their equivalents in real life: the perpetually concerned moderate Republicans and the willfully ineffective moderate Democrats.

A character who does take bold action is Singh’s trusty assistant, an RA-7 protocol droid named GS-8 (voiced by Sian Clifford), who contacts the Bad Batch and helps to rescue the senator from the chamber where he’s being held captive, while taking efforts to protect his estate and belongings from wanton destruction. And when you put it that way, she sounds a lot like any of the incredibly brave staffers and interns who helped protect the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, rushing Senators and Representatives to hiding places while making sure classified information and electoral ballots didn’t fall into the hands of domestic terrorists. I doubt this parallel was intentional, if only because the timing probably wouldn’t line up, but it’s still worth noting.

The action scenes at the senator’s estate are very well-choreographed, making good use of the Bad Batch’s individual talents – although, interestingly, this is one of their first times fighting the Empire’s new legions of stormtroopers, and I noticed they had their guns set to stun for most of the battle. Clones are used to mowing down rows of droids, but aren’t quite as accustomed to turning on other sentient beings – with one notable exception. As the show quietly lays the groundwork for stormtroopers supplanting Clones (and continues to offer no valid explanation for why the Empire views this as a profitable exchange), I wonder if this will ever be touched on again.

The Bad Batch
Omega | cbr.com

Heading into next week, it’s pretty cool that Omega will finally get to join the Bad Batch on all their missions, although I’ll miss getting to check in with the endearingly practical Cid and her crew more regularly. Omega is this show’s true star and I appreciate that she’s easing into that role – not so abruptly that it feels like a heel-turn for her shy, reserved character, but not so slowly that it feels grating, either. Basically, Omega is doing in a single season of The Bad Batch what Baby Yoda still hasn’t done in two seasons of The Mandalorian, which is to become a reliable team-player. I’m gonna end this here before I start ranting about how Disney+ is exploiting Baby Yoda for cuteness without developing the character further, but you get the gist.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“Luca” Is The Trenette Al Pesto For The Soul We Need In 2021

Luca‘s greatest misfortune, I fear, will be its timing. Pixar’s critically-acclaimed, Academy Award-winning, almost universally beloved maybe masterpiece Soul was always going to be a tough act to follow, especially when audiences hold Pixar films to such a abnormally high standard that anything less than “perfect” is seen as an abject failure, and a Pixar entry’s worth is apparently based on how many tears it can force out of you. And preceding Disney Animation’s Encanto by a sizable distance into the race for Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars was always going to be difficult to justify, in a race where the strongest competitors enter nearer the finish line.

Luca
Luca | insider.com

Luca therefore finds itself in a situation much like last year’s Onward, and the similarities don’t end there. Luca too will suffer from a botched release that is sure to damage the film’s profitability and franchise potential – but whereas Onward enjoyed a few days in theaters before the entire world went into lockdown in March 2020, Luca is a Disney+ exclusive: and like Soul, it’s completely free for anyone with a subscription to the service. This has understandably caused some tension between Disney and Pixar, which is essentially being asked to survive on awards recognition for the time being – awards recognition that, as previously mentioned, they’re having to battle their own corporate overlords to achieve.

And unfortunately, Luca is excellent – but not in the way hardcore Pixar devotees consider the studio’s “best” films to be excellent. In other words, it’s not making enough people bawl their eyes out or reconsider their entire perception of the cosmos and their place therein, therefore it must be an unsightly blemish on the studio’s spotless reputation, which will be just fine, I promise you: Pixar survived The Good Dinosaur, and Cars 3, and Ratatouille (oops, did I say that out loud?). Instead, Luca is a summertime comfort film that is bigger at heart than in scope, with colorful landscapes more sweeping than its sweet message, likely to produce more laughter than tears – although I’m gonna be honest, you’re heartless if your eyes don’t at least well up a little bit at the final scene.

And there’d be no shame in full-on crying, because Luca is far more raw and emotional than most critics have cared to warn you. On the surface, sure, it’s just a story about two young sea monsters, named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), who leave the water and journey on land through the Italian Riviera, finding themselves in a cheerful seaside town named Portorosso – a town which just so happens to have a long and storied history of hunting and killing sea monsters. But the film uses its peculiar premise as an opportunity to explore some truly beautiful themes of friendship, specifically the importance of surrounding yourself with people who accept you for who you are, and who understand what isn’t within their rights to try and alter about you.

All of which is to say, the queer-coding is strong with this one. Director Enrico Casarosa has claimed that the film is necessarily set in a “pre-puberty world” and that no romance enters the equation as a result, but Luca and Alberto’s dynamic doesn’t have to be interpreted as romantic for a queer reading to be applicable. Luca’s journey on its own is already representative of many LGBTQIA+ experiences (minus the shapeshifting sea-monster part): from being found out by his overprotective, close-minded parents, who threaten to send him off with an even more conservative relative for some kind of moralistic reeducation, and running away from home as a result, to finding healing and validation with someone like Alberto, whose street-savvy makes him a kind of Mentor In Queerness archetype in this reading.

Luca
Italian Riviera | digitaltrends.com

I also appreciated that Luca‘s queer-coded sea monsters aren’t fearsome beasts. Using inhuman creatures of any kind as a stand-in for marginalized communities who are often met with accusations of being less than human is always a balancing act to some degree, but Luca is leaps and bounds above, say, Zootopia. Crucially, Luca‘s sea monsters aren’t innately dangerous (in fact, they’re downright pacifistic, based on the rural life they lead under the Mediterranean), and with their vibrant colors and wavy, luminous hair, they’re more entrancing than monstrous…well, except for Uncle Ugo (voiced by Sacha Baron-Cohen), an anglerfish/sea monster hybrid from the depths of the ocean, who doesn’t respond well to the pressure change near the surface.

But, perhaps in an effort to avoid comparisons to Finding Nemo, Luca spends significantly more time on land than underwater – and the film’s animators and artists, working mostly from their homes during the pandemic, clearly focused their efforts on enriching the tranquil environment of Portorosso, its people, and its culture. I have to admit, their efforts were not entirely successful: the Italian landscapes are beautiful, and I was left in awe of some of the most impressively realistic lighting I’ve ever seen in animation, but the setting feels like it was chosen for the lavish backdrops it could offer the simplistic story, rather than to enhance the story’s themes, and I never felt – as I did watching Coco – that the two intertwined as cohesively as they could have, or that we were allowed a glimpse of the Riviera’s cultural identity that amounted to anything more than a microcosm of Italy in general.

Also, as a Eurovision fan, I feel legally obligated to note that Pixar missed an opportunity to incorporate Italy’s Eurovision-winning band M√•neskin onto this film’s soundtrack somehow. I wish I was sorry about derailing an otherwise normal film review like that, but I’m not.

But leaving that aside (if I must), the film commits few errors glaring enough to warrant the criticism it’s received from some folks who expect every Pixar film to be a paradigm-altering piece of modern art. Comfort is important too, especially what with everything going on in the world: and Luca feels like it understands that, and is offering audiences in 2021 exactly what we all need – the “Trenette al Pesto for the soul” that I referenced in the title (and no, I didn’t just hop online and pick a random Italian pasta dish: they actually eat Trenette al Pesto in the movie, and it’s a dinner scene worthy of Studio Ghibli).

Luca
Giulia, Luca, and Alberto | polygon.com

So I genuinely hope Luca finds its audience on Disney+, and that it gets at least some of the recognition it deserves when awards season rolls around. But even if it doesn’t, it left me feeling warm and cozy and deeply satisfied, like good Italian food, and I’m thankful for that.

Rating: 9/10

It’s Only Been 2 Episodes, “Loki” – How Did You Already Destroy The Timeline?

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

Dear everyone who complained (sometimes with legitimate reason, to be fair) that it took forever for things to happen in the Marvel Disney+ shows, and that what did happen had no immediate effect on the movies – are you happy now? Because we’re only two episodes into Loki, and the entire duration of the Sacred Timeline, from its highly classified beginnings in the ancient past to its conclusion in the far-distant future, just got carpet-bombed into oblivion, causing gods only know how many new timelines to emerge at once, probably irrevocably altering the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You all kept asking for a Multiverse of Madness; well, I think you just got one.

Loki
Loki and Hunter B-15 | rollingstone.com

But I think the biggest testament to the strength of the writing and direction behind Loki (shoutout to Michael Waldron and Kate Herron, respectively) is that, in just two episodes, we already care enough about many of the characters in the Time Variance Authority that we can empathize with them as their entire life’s work, the preservation of the Sacred Timeline, comes crashing down around them. That empathy will never translate into sympathy for the institution itself, which is a mechanism designed with the sole intent and purpose of eradicating free will from the universe, but I feel for the people there: perhaps because I genuinely believe they are people, not beings called into existence by the Time-Keepers.

That said, I don’t doubt that there’s a good and probably sympathetic reason behind why the series’ current villain, a rogue Loki variant who for the purposes of simplification I will be referring to as Lady Loki (Sophia Di Martino), chose to obliterate the Sacred Timeline, rendering it no longer sacred nor singular. I can definitely appreciate the poetic irony in her using the TVA’s own technology to undo all of their work in an instant, dropping hundreds of volatile “reset charges” into an equivalent number of random points on the Timeline. And that’s what leads me to believe she’s doing what she does for a reason, something beyond an innate desire to see the world burn: because she seems to have purposefully singled out the TVA for her vengeance.

Is she really Lady Loki, though? She only reveals herself in the episode’s final minutes, and is never named. When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) addresses her as a Loki, she flinches and says she doesn’t want to be called that – but at the same time, goes along with his assertion that she is him, and even remarks that it’s the other way around; he is her. But given the fact that Di Martino bears almost no discernible resemblance to Hiddleston, and that the hairstyling team chose to accentuate that by giving her short blond hair in contrast to his long black locks, the only visual clue she offers for why we should be calling her Lady Loki is her golden tiara, which sports a single, rather unimpressive, devil’s horn – the other having been rudely hewn off.

I know it sounds bizarre to nitpick what seems so obvious, and it’s very likely that Sophia Di Martino is playing Lady Loki, but this series keeps reminding us not to take anything at face value, so I feel I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t…well, question everything. A prime example of this is the matter of the Time-Keepers, the trio of mysterious alien deities who supposedly rule over the TVA. Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) admits in this episode that he’s never actually met them, and Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) once again coyly avoids a question about where they actually are and what they’re doing. Renslayer is conveniently the only person allowed to speak with the Time-Keepers, although she’d be a lot more convincing if she ever had anything to report from them except that they’re busy.

Loki
Lady Loki | hollywoodlife.com

Even Mobius is starting to ask questions – although he’s more interested in why Renslayer apparently has another analyst secretly working for her on the side, than in the identities of the space lizards whom he still believes created him. Remember what I said last week? Loki’s mere presence in the TVA, his unpredictable nature, his critical thinking skills, his knowledge of the outside world, all pose a threat to the organization’s ability to demand blind subservience from its workers by telling them they have no purpose outside protecting the Timeline. He’s rubbing off on his co-workers, instilling the flame of rebellion in the very heart of this violent system, and they don’t even realize it yet.

Whoever actually runs the TVA definitely realizes it, however, and that’s why Renslayer is so intent on shutting down Mobius and Loki’s operation. I think that’s even why Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) herself comes down to Loki’s office cubicle to keep an eye on the God of Mischief, prompting a hilarious scene in which Loki tries to swat the talking timepiece with one of Mobius’ magazines about jet-skiing in the early 1990’s. Someone at the top knows how dangerous Loki is, and wants him gone before he corrodes the foundations and brings the whole structure tumbling down. I know it’s you, Kang.

But in an awkward turn of events, it’s Loki who ultimately figures out that the Variant has been hiding in apocalyptic events and natural disasters throughout history as a way of masking their trace on the timeline (an absurdly clever reveal that gave me shades of Connie Willis’ Passage: brilliant novel, highly recommend), and it’s Loki who warns the TVA agents about duplication-casting, a power which Lady Loki later uses against the agents (not to be too much of an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. nerd, but Lady Loki’s ability to transfer her consciousness from one person to another, using human bodies like stepping-stones, reminded me of the S.H.I.E.L.D.¬†villain, Izel). My point is that Loki is actually a huge asset to the TVA.

And Loki knows it. So at the end of the episode, when he’s given the opportunity to stick around with the TVA or follow his own Variant into a time-portal, he chooses the latter – essentially removing himself from the board, rejecting the TVA’s attempts to turn him into a pawn. What he’ll do next depends on where and when he emerges from the portal, but that’s the beauty of it: even he doesn’t know that information! He’s just causing chaos because it’s what he does, because he’s a trickster god.

Loki
Loki and Mobius in Pompeii | flickeringmyth.com

There’s a scene in this week’s episode where Loki is reading through a case file on Ragnarok, which he helped bring about. As Natalie Holt’s excellent score shifts to a somber tone and brings in the sounds of Scandinavian instruments, the camera closes in on Loki’s intense blue eyes. What’s he thinking, as he reads about the thousands of Asgardian lives lost that day? Is there grief there? Vindication? A little bit of both? What makes it so chilling is that we don’t – and may never – really know.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10