Minor spoilers for the first episode of The Bad Batch ahead.
Years ago, I asked this question on Facebook after watching the first episode of Rebels: Can you do a Star Wars story without Jedi? I was annoyed at the time that a show that was supposed to be about the Rebel Alliance ended up shoehorning in a Jedi character, making him the Master of our new main Force-sensitive character, Ezra Bridger. I got an array of responses that said, “no, the Jedi are an integral part of the franchise, it’s not Star Wars without Jedi.” However, in the years since, we’ve seen Rogue One and Solo, and now the new animated show, The Bad Batch, yet another test for the premise of a Jedi-less Star Wars.
So there’s a bit of a technicality here: The show opens with the instigation of Order 66, where newly appointed Emperor Palpatine commands the Republic’s clone army to exterminate every Jedi they see. This was originally depicted in Revenge of the Sith, but gained new gravity when the Clone Wars cartoon debuted, as the clones were showcased more and given distinct personalities. They became people instead of background props; humans who felt emotions and cared about things… including the Jedi.
This ended up being one of the strengths of the Clone Wars show, in that the cartoon fleshed out things that barely got any time on the silver screen, like Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship. That character development plus that of the clones lent new horror to Revenge of the Sith, which hurts even more if you know the backstory. (Without that it remains a decidedly mediocre movie, though I am fond of it.)
But we never saw the perspective of the clones after Order 66. They bonded with the Jedi over the course of the Separatist War, and now their internal programming tells them to murder these comrades in arms. While Rebels did show us some former clone troopers, they had been “deactivated” and were thus unaffected by the command. The Bad Batch is the story of five “defective clones” who were on the ground at the time, watched their Jedi comrades get murdered… and were then very confused in the aftermath.
Past the initial opening circumstances the episode is a look into the lives of the troopers, as Clone Force 99 returns to Kamino and now has to deal with the consequences of Palpatine’s disbanding of the Republic. If you ever wondered how things actually went down then, this is a pretty decent look at the turnover from Republic to Empire, and how ordinary citizens felt about it. But, even though it actually examines a pivotal point in Star Wars history, there are no Jedi to be seen past the opening sequence. So what makes it a Star Wars story?
While the Jedi are certainly a distinctive and immediately recognizable feature of the universe, and the saga movies revolved around a Jedi family, one of the other distinguishing things about the Star Wars universe has always been its intensely detailed world-building. That random bounty hunter in the bar, or that haughty dignitary in the senate? They have names and backstories. These backstories have been filled out not just on screen, but in the shows, novels and comics.
Yes, it is true that the reason for this level of detail was merchandising: it’s easier to sell an action figure if the character has a name. But it was baked into the franchise almost from the very beginning, so I’d argue it’s just as much of Star Wars’ DNA as the Jedi. There are so many interesting fantasy ideas spread throughout the universe, and so much of Star Wars media has focused on trying to show you as much as possible. Even Bad Batch dips into the lore, with a few fan-favorite characters making appearances and references to some of the events portrayed in Clone Wars. The show even begins with the same old-timey newsreel voice recapping the events of the last season of Clone Wars and parts of Revenge of the Sith for us.
So far, it’s probably fair to say that Bad Batch really is just another season of Clone Wars, one which takes the brave step of moving past the Jedi and exploring other aspects of the universe. The main character of The Mandalorian may not be a Jedi, but in the end the show is still about the Jedi. In naming the show The Bad Batch, it seems that the focus will remain firmly on the clones. It will still have lots of blasters and starfighters and crazy aliens. And, most notably, it will tell us what was happening during the period when the Jedi were in decline. That last bit still makes it an integral part of the Star Wars universe, regardless of whether or not someone’s wielding a lightsaber.