Star Wars: The Bad Batch Season 3 Review – Baker’s Half-Dozen

It’s ironic that Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy have a reputation in some quarters as being super pro-diversity when one of their main animated shows, The Bad Batch, features a white guy from the Midwest voicing all five Maori lead characters. Granted, Dee Bradley Baker is one of those go-to guys in voice-acting known for his versatility, and he was cast as the cartoon voice of every Star Wars Clone years before The Problem With Apu forced the studios to publicly recognize that animated brownwashing was a thing.

Lilt Lamentation

But this also speaks generally to executive producer Dave Filoni’s seeming accent-deafness overall. Phil LaMarr’s “Latino” voice as Bail Organa is its own special class of awkwardness. James Arnold Taylor constantly missing his “ah” sounds as Obi-Wan Kenobi might only annoy native British (my hand is half-raised), but Stephen Stanton’s Tarkin sounds like a high school senior attempting Shakespeare for the first time.

Baker’s attempt at Temuera Morrison’s New Zealand accent might sound more passable were he not cast opposite actual New Zealander Michelle Ang, as female Clone Omega. Last season’s finale introduced a second female Clone, Emerie, voiced by another Kiwi, Keisha Castle-Hughes. Along with Ang, she’s only the second person on the show to pronounce the word “Oh-mee-ga,” as an actual native speaker would. She, at least, has genuine Maori heritage.

Omega in a scene from “STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH”, season 3 exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

It speaks highly of season 3 of The Bad Batch, then, that for at least an hour of the eight episodes screened in advance, the story’s good enough that voice quibbles don’t factor in all that much. Perhaps inspired by Andor — though with animation’s long lead times, it may be a coincidence — the season’s initial arc is a prison escape story, as Omega analyzes her newfound confinement looking for weaknesses. She also attempts to make nice again with disgraced and discarded former Batch member Crosshair (Baker, doing Vincent Price-ish, mid-Atlantic creep voice in perhaps his best performance of the Batch). Having initially professed loyalty to the Empire, the team turncoat finds himself cast upon the ash heap of history, along with other Clones. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, always a joy) has been shipping them off for Nazi-esque experiment fodder and replaces them all with conscripted Stormtroopers.

Off to Join the Serkis?

The lab in which Omega and Crosshair find themselves is in Mount Tantiss, where a crucial experiment codenamed “Necromancer” is in progress. Though the show has not been specific in the first eight episodes, a savvy fan will presume this is the program to create the Snoke bodies for Palpatine in the sequel trilogy. This isn’t the only time viewers may know more than the onscreen characters — the experiment seeks DNA from prisoners with a “high M-count.” M is almost certainly for midichlorians, the Force-sensitive elements in the blood, and the fact that none of the main characters have any clue may help explain why the Jedi got forgotten so quickly. Universal truths they took for granted were, perhaps, not shared with the common folk.

Emperor Palpatine in a scene from “STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH”, season 3 exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Disposable Heroes

The Bad Batch began as a sort of A-Team in space; these developments make more evident its similarities to The Mandalorian. Instead of one helmeted, armored protector of a child with valuable DNA whom Imperials want for a cloning program, it’s four of them (now that Tech is dead), and in both cases, said child is often smarter and more efficient than they seem. The subtext differs the most — deep down, there’s a theme of how terribly we treat our veterans as the next crop of cannon fodder emerges. The Clones won their war, but for the most part, they’re barely even being consulted on the next one. The best soldiers in the galaxy, now separated from their obsolete super-monk leaders, are of more use to the war machine dead than alive.

That’s pretty dark for a kids’ cartoon, right? The visuals match. Aside from the idealized island planet of Pabu, where the heroes hope to retire and lay low, everywhere is night, raining, foggy, or some combination of all of them. One episode plays like a survival horror video game along the lines of The Last of Us, as the Batch encounters mutant plant creatures in an abandoned Imperial lab.

Omega Beams

Omega remains an eternally bubbly optimist, but it’s made abundantly clear that if she can’t escape her prison, a grisly fate awaits. Like the Halo series (for my money, a more successful “War is hell, but we super-soldiers need to keep fighting anyway” narrative), it’s about the importance of optimism even when there appears to be no empirical reason to have it. That’s kind of the era we all find ourselves in, at least at times.

Omega in a scene from “STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH”, season 2 exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

It’s probably no great spoiler to say Omega does not die in the first eight episodes, and likely won’t — Dave Filoni is no butcher of characters, on the whole, or Ahsoka would realistically have bought it long ago. But after the initial situation is resolved, the season gets less interesting. There’s one class of Clones who remain in the Empire’s good graces as super-snipers, allowing/forcing Baker to do even more voices, which is a mistake. As impressive as it is, awkward accents aside, that he plays all of the Bad Batch as distinctly different characters, sometimes you have an episode that’s mostly them and a whole bunch of other Clones. Then it becomes just Baker talking to himself as ten or so different people, and something’s gotta give. Even Phil Hendrie would be challenged by such a set-up.

Don’t Choke on Your Ambitions

On the one hand, it feels like The Bad Batch still wants to maintain an adventure-of-the-week cartoon style that lets the good guys score regular small victories (She-Ra versus the Evil Horde is an obvious template there). On the other, it wants to be a dark, mature, slow-burn story of how an Empire became great and terrible by erasing the past and, oh, by the way, filling in some of the inconvenient gaps in the narrative of the sequel trilogy as it goes. That’s a tremendous amount to take on, and even if the show falls short in some ways, one can laud the effort. While wishing they’d hired an actual Maori actor from New Zealand as the lead, of course.

Grade: 2.5/5

Star Wars: The Bad Batch Season 3 debuts with the first three episodes on Wednesday, Feb. 21, exclusively on Disney+.