By George Bate
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Episode 14: War-Mantle.
Jaw dropping animation and the return of an unexpected character mark the latest installment of Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Episode 14, titled War-Mantle, sees Clone Force 99 respond to a distress signal from Captain Rex asking them to rescue an old friend of his.
War-Mantle marks a stark improvement over the last several episodes of The Bad Batch and a return to form of the fantastic, emotional, and expansive episodes that characterized the first half of the season. The last few episodes, while entertaining, have felt a little more formulaic and less intimate with a lessened focus on the Bad Batch – something War-Mantle addresses head on. This episode packs in a wealth of exciting action sequences, tense character moments, interesting world building, and a cliffhanger ending to top it all off.
It’s difficult to review any episode of The Bad Batch, War-Mantle being no exception, without noting the incredible animation on display. From the beautiful and tense chase sequences in the woods that kicked the episode off, War-Mantle retains a cinematic quality to its environments, characters, lighting, and textures throughout. Some shots, including a particularly picturesque exposition shot of Imperial ships hovering over Kamino, would not be out of place in a feature film. And all of this really highlights how far Star Wars animation has come. 2008’s The Clone Wars film was met with mixed reception (at best), with much of the criticism targeted towards the film’s block-like and undetailed animation. 13 years down the line and no such criticism can be launched at The Bad Batch. War-Mantle is a visually stunning 28 minutes of Star Wars storytelling.
The animation was coupled with a compelling adventure of the week in episode 14. Rex’s friend Gregor (from The Clone Wars and Rebels) is trapped in an Imperial training facility and needs Clone Force 99 to break him out. It’s not a particularly novel plot, but one that intelligently places the Bad Batch at the heart of the story again. While Omega is given an uncharacteristically backseat role in this episode, more time is spent with Hunter, Echo, and Tech with great results. Their rescue mission heavily leans on A New Hope’s sequences on the Death Star, even to the inclusion of brilliant throwback musical cues brought in by the Kiner family.
But, while this mission is tense and captivating, it’s the opportunities for character and world building afforded by the plot that make this episode really excel. Gregor delivers one of the series’ most poignant lines yet, “It’s the ones who want to stay here that are really defective.” It’s interesting to see how conceptions like defection and individualism are perceived by clones like Gregor and Hunter in this quickly changing galaxy. Hunter and company were once the “defective” ones, but now they seem to be part of a select few with a sense of purpose and morality.
War-Mantle also offers some interesting answers to long-standing questions in the Star Wars universe. The transition from clone troopers to stormtroopers has been a topic of conversation dating back to Attack of the Clones that has since been explored incrementally in projects like The Clone Wars and Rebels. Here though, the writers intelligently incorporate important information regarding this transition into the episode. We see that the Empire, shortly after the events of Revenge of the Sith, took active steps to replace clones with stormtroopers. They used clones, in particular clone commandos, to train new waves of cheaper, more expendable, and more numerous recruits of the Imperial army. Scenes on Kamino in War-Mantle depict the logistics of this situation from a different angle. Lama Su recognizes that the Empire will soon find the Kamino cloning operation useless and eliminate those involved. His attempts at hatching an escape plan are thwarted by Admiral Rampart, who, unfortunately, continues to play a rather generic villainous role in the series. Nala Se continues to be an intriguing character, but it’s a shame she isn’t given more screen time over the duration of the series so far. Her ominous presence is strangely juxtaposed with somewhat touching maternal instincts, as evidenced by her brief conversation with young clones in this episode and her bond with Omega. We’re looking forward to seeing Nala Se in a more prominent role moving forward as the series continues to explore this transitional period in the galaxy
On the downside, War-Mantle repeats one too many beats from previous episodes. A prominent side character sets up the plot in the first few moments. Hunter is reluctant to help, but is convinced by his crew to do so. Omega is left behind, but eventually saves the day. All of this is fine and leads to some great moments of storytelling. It’s unfortunate though that the series isn’t willing to exercise a bit more flexibility in regards to its episode structure. Nonetheless, the cliffhanger of Hunter and Crosshair finally coming face to face again was a great closing moment heading into next week’s episode.
Brought to life by jaw dropping animation, War-Mantle excels in delivering a tense mission of the week packed full of interesting world building and reveals. While the episode is a bit formulaic at times, the rescue of Gregor and the elements of canon this plot affords an exploration of are captivating. Concluding with a terrific cliffhanger of the long awaited confrontation between Hunter and Crosshair, we can’t wait to see how events unfold in the season’s final two episodes.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm & Disney+