Belonging and The Bad Batch: Replacements.

Light and dark. Good and evil. Jedi and Sith. Duality and Dyads. The binary nature of life, and the spectrum of that binary, is about as Star Wars as one can get. The Bad Batch, which has become a story about belonging and identity, set up ideas in the first two episodes that fully birthed themselves in the third episode, “Replacements.”

Programming vs. Choice

The chips that propelled clones to execute Order 66, the same chips that were defective in The Bad Batch and manipulated in Crosshair, literally programs compliance within the clones. The Bad Batch, a bunch of “defective” clones, do not fall prey to this programming, instead making their own choices. The ever-present question of nature versus nurture rears its head once more. 

As the episode starts, Tech is testing these chips in order to understand the extent to which they influenced Crosshair’s choice to comply with the newly risen Empire. “It is worth noting that Crosshair’s actions were influenced by his inhibitor chip,” he tells the rest of the team. Then we see Crosshair once more laying in a medical chamber being programmed to comply. That is no certainty, and Tarkin is more than willing to put that to the test. By sending the future stormtroopers (or possibly death troopers) to take out Saw Gerrarea’s rebels, Tarkin challenges the dedication of both Crosshair and the new recruits. Crosshair proves that he will comply, and has no problem killing a recruit who does not make that same choice. 

Or is it a choice? Omega does not believe it is, and tells Hunter, “You shouldn’t be angry with [Crosshair]. He can’t help it.” Hunter tells his ward that he is not angry at Crosshair, but angry at himself for leaving Crosshair behind. Omega replies, “Then we’ll find a way to get him back. Somehow.” Hunter’s survival instinct, programmed in him as a being born to do nothing but fight, survive, rinse, wash, repeat, lead to him leaving behind someone he considered family. Omega is reminding him that he has a choice, that there is always a choice. She later proves this in not killing the Ordo Moon Dragon, but instead providing it light. Could she also provide that same hope for Crosshair?

Family vs. Institution

Although themes of family have long been a part of Star Wars, what makes The Bad Batch interesting is that the choice is not just who the character’s families will be. The choice is between family and institution, with Crosshair choosing the latter and Omega the former. 

From the moment she first met them Omega has longed to be a member of the outcast crew of clones.  She wants to be a part of their family. “I’m a part of this squad now too, right?” she begs of them. Papa Bear Hunter allows it, albeit more to include her than to actually declare its truth. After Omega takes up Hunter’s blaster and crawls into the cave to retrieve the capacitor, she officially becomes a member of the family. The cave provides her a chance to face her fears, literally manifest in the monster before her, and she has to defy what is expected, as Luke does in Return of the Jedi, and choose empathy. The team overall is becoming more empathetic, be it Hunter standing up for Omega’s needs or Wrecker building her her own room. This is what families do. By going into the cave, or “dying”, she is reborn as a part of the family. “You’re a part of this squad now, too,” Hunter tells her as she lays her head in the first place every truly made for her.   

In contrast, Crosshair stands for the institution. The institution, in this case the Empire, is efficient. It cares not for your feelings. It cares not for your life. “There are ways of producing loyal soldiers,” Rampart tells Tarkin. There is value, he explains to Tarkin, in those who willingly enlist. Where the family provides belonging, it doesn’t provide protection. It might make one feel safe, but it does not truly provide security.  “With the Empire I get paid, I get fed, and I have a roof over my head,” one of the recruits declares. To someone who hasn’t had these things, that can seem like security. It is not. When someone fails the institution, it will shoot you right through the chest. 

Past vs. Future

“Replacements” is an appropriate name for an episode centered on the new recruits of the Empire replacing the clones of the Republic. The devil on one shoulder is the past. The devil on the other is the future.  The past must always die, but it doesn’t always need to killed. 

As it regards the clones, Tarkin says they are a “relic of the past, but until the time is right [they] will continue to serve [their purpose].” As Phasma would do decades later for the kidnapped children enlisted to First Order service, Tarkin’s ominous promise takes advantage of the desperation of the galaxy’s youth. The generation that grew up during the conflict of the Clone War is bound to look at clones as beacons of strength, having helped win the war and put down the Jedi insurrection. Thus the clones can create a culture of compliance within these new recruits, which Rampart believes “will strengthen the future of the burgeoning Empire.”

The past will not go quietly into that good night, though. While the new Empire has plans for its future, another relic of the past, the Kaminoans that served as a foundation for the war of old, tries to evolve to fit this new narrative. It is literally in their DNA, or rather Jango Fett’s DNA, to do so. However, Jango’s DNA continues to degrade, making the Kaminoans desperate. 

To survive, the past must evolve to fit the future. Lama Su, ever the Darwinist, sees the rise of Elite Squad and knows that “it’s time for to begin the next phase.” As Saw Gerrera said in the first episode of the series, “You can either adapt and survive or die with the past.” For the Kaminoans this evolution likely hinges on Omega, the experiment that can “yield a superior clone” which will “secure our relationship with this Empire.”

But Omega has already left the past behind, symbolized in her removing the Kaminoan headband in the previous episode. This does not mean the past has put her behind, especially when its very existence is on the line. To take a line from another famous franchise, “Life…uh… finds a way.”

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