Last week’s episode of Star Wars: The Bad Batch concluded with Clone Force 99 finding some common ground with a former Separatist. Omega also proved that she’s a valuable member of the team, but we already knew that.
This week, the Bad Batch play a surprisingly small role (for now) in a story featuring the early days of one of Star Wars’ most important/beloved recent characters.
As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers along with some brief explorations of Star Wars lore…and there’s a lot of lore to cover this time, so strap yourself in.
A New Era
The episode opens on the planet of Ryloth in the capital city of Lessu. As Twi’lek citizens gather near the central government building, Admiral Rampart expresses his disappointment to Rylothian Senator Orn Free Taa at how wary they seem about the Empire’s presence. After Crosshair radios in a sighting of some resistance fighters in the crowd (led by Gobi Glie), the corrupt/cowardly politician assures Rampart that his people will welcome the peace and prosperity the Empire will surely bring to the planet.
Free Taa turns and asks Eleni Syndulla for her agreement on his position, which she halfway grants by declaring herself to be in favor of whatever is best for Ryloth. Rampart then asks Eleni’s husband, General Cham Syndulla (who was speaking with Clone Captain Howzer), if he also welcomes the Empire being there.
*Side Note: While you don’t need to know all the characters’ backstories to enjoy this episode, there is A LOT of Star Wars history on screen within the first few minutes of this episode.
- Ryloth was a planet that featured prominently in the Clone Wars. During the early days of the conflict, Cham Syndulla and Gobi Glie led a Twi’lek Resistance against the occupying Separatist forces — a major (and awesome) engagement known as the Battle of Ryloth.
- Cham Syndulla was initially wary of accepting aid from the Republic, which he worried would simply become another occupying military force after they drove out Count Dooku‘s forces. He changed his mind once the Separatists began bombing Twi’lek villages.
- Cham is also the father of Hera Syndulla, who most of you no doubt are familiar with from ‘Star Wars: Rebels’. If haven’t watched ‘Rebels’ (for shame!), then all you need to know is that she grows up to be an extraordinarily badass pilot who’s instrumental in organizing the Rebel Alliance against the Empire.
- Imagine the most sniveling, corrupt, and self-serving politician you can think of. Now make them even worse. That’s basically Orn Free Taa in a nutshell. The Rylothian senator is living proof of the political rot that infected the Republic and helped lead to its downfall.
- We’ve never seen Eleni Syndulla before, but we know she’ll be killed by the Imperial forces occupying Ryloth in the near future. As you might imagine, this ends up having a huge effect on her husband and daughter going forward.
- Although he’s listed as Captain Howzer in the credits (and even referred to by that name later in the episode), the clone we see was originally named Captain Ballast. While most of the clones look exactly the same (obviously), this one is identical to the Captain Ballast figure that was recently released as part of a Bad Batch action figure boxset — right down to the scarring on his face and the coloring/weathering of his armor. The name change was likely done after the toy was announced/revealed.
Now that we’re all caught up, let’s get back to the episode.
Despite his reputation as a fighter, Cham cautiously declares his acceptance of the Empire’s presence on Ryloth. As far he’s concerned, working with them is the best chance his people have to obtain the peace they spent the last several years fighting and dying for.
Before heading to the balcony to address the gathering crowd, Cham admits to Captain Howzer that he’s concerned his people won’t accept Imperial occupation. Howzer assures him that he’s doing the right thing and that Ryloth is finally safe.
*Side Note: I love that we’re seeing a “chipped” clone trooper show some humanity. It makes what they’ve become since Order 66 even more heartbreaking.
Orn Free Taa is the first to address the restless citizens gathered around the capital building. As expected, his request to lay down their weapons, accept Imperial occupation, and enjoy the peace it will allegedly bring is met with derision. The crowd then begins to chant for Cham to speak. He obliges, assuring them that he trusts the clone troopers who fought and died alongside them during the Clone Wars. Now they will help protect Ryloth as it enters a new era of peace and prosperity under the new Galactic Empire.
Cham’s request for cooperation is met with applause and agreement by the people. Despite this being exactly what Orn Free Taa wanted, he instead becomes irritated that the people listened to someone other than him.
*Side Note: Orn Free Taa is the worst.
As the crowd continues to cheer (and a disappointed Gobie Glie & Co. depart), Rampart tells Eleni what a shame it is that her daughter wasn’t there to witness such a historic moment. Eleni replies that Hera has “other interests.” She also gives Rampart an icy glare when he walks away, which is exactly what you should do when a creepy fascist asks about your kid.
Ensnared by the Past
Turns out that Hera’s “other interests” include doing covert recon on a new Imperial-run refinery for her Uncle Gobi. She’s assisted in the endeavor by everyone’s favorite murderous astromech, Chopper.
*Side Note: Once again, those of you who watched ‘Rebels’ already know who Chopper is. The little guy is good at heart, but his personality can be generously described as mischievous, defiant, and downright cranky. He also has no qualms about killing bad guys and/or other astromechs that he doesn’t like.
Dave Filoni (who also voices the character) gave a perfect description of the droid when he said “If Artoo [R2-D2] is the family dog, Chopper is the cat.”
After deciding that there’s nothing suspicious to report, Hera decides to lay down and daydream about flying. Unfortunately, she and Chopper are quickly spotted and surrounded by clone troopers.
Back in Lessu, Gobi and Eleni watch as Cham oversees resistance fighters handing over their weaponry to the Empire. Gobi doesn’t like the idea of Ryloth not being in charge of its own security, but Eleni reminds him that the people are tired of fighting. Gobi counters by saying that the people should still be able to defend themselves, something he plans to make happen by purchasing illegal firearms/explosives.
Before things can devolve into a Fox News vs. MSNBC Second Amendment debate, the pair are interrupted by the sight of Hera and Chopper being led into town by Captain Howzer and a squad of clone troopers. Howzer apologetically tells Cham that they found his daughter trespassing in a restricted zone. He promises not to report anything to Rampart this time, but insists that it can’t happen again.
After Howzer and his troops leave, Cham demands to know what Hera was doing. Before she’s forced to answer, Gobi walks over and admits that he was the one who sent her on the recon mission. Eleni responds by demanding that her daughter and Chopper come inside with her. As they’re walking away, she asks what the pair were doing at the refinery. When Hera points out that she never specifically said she was at the refinery, Eleni gives a wry smile before imploring her daughter to relay everything she saw.
In the meantime, Cham begins chewing out Gobi for putting his daughter in danger. Gobi counters that what she was doing wouldn’t be an issue if the Empire wasn’t trying to hide something. He also points out that the clone troopers were supposed to leave after the war, but now their numbers continue to increase.
Cham tries to persuade his old friend that the peace the Empire will bring is exactly what they were fighting for. Gobi disagrees, stating that he thinks the Empire is up to something and that Cham is blind to whatever it is.
Meanwhile, Rampart and Crosshair (who is looking rough after almost getting cooked alive back in Episode 8) take a meeting with Free Taa. Rampart notes that despite the senator’s warnings, Cham Syndulla has been extremely cooperative. Free Taa responds that the positive reception Cham received from the citizens proves he’s a potential threat to Ryloth’s security.
Crosshair (who realizes that Free Taa is completely full of it) states the Gobi is the one they should be worried about, but the senator refuses to hear it, instead insisting that Syndulla and all those who were under his command should be dealt with.
Rampart cryptically responds that they “all have their parts to play” before he and Crosshair depart.
Soaring Against the Wind
Later that day, Cham notices his daughter daydreaming about flying again. He tells her his dream is for a free Ryloth where the people can live in peace — something they finally can have now that the war is over.
When Herra says that some people aren’t very happy about their new situation, Cham points out that many of them have only known war and desperation for the past several years. Peace will take some getting used to.
Unfortunately for Cham, his daughter has been hearing the other side of the issue from her Uncle Gobi, who thinks things are getting worse. He also trusts her to help in his efforts to monitor (and potentially fight) the Empire, making it that much harder for Cham to get through to his headstrong daughter.
Later, Admiral Rampart takes Cham and Eleni on a tour of the Empire’s new refinery. Eleni is perturbed by the large number of troops and armaments there despite Imperial assurances they wouldn’t used it as a military installation. Rampart explains the contradiction away as a necessary part of keeping Ryloth safe. He then casually leaves the pair to attend to other matters.
Once Rampart is gone, Eleni suggests that perhaps the Empire’s idea of “peace” won’t be the best thing for their people. Despite clear evidence the the Imperials haven’t been honest about everything, Cham insists they should continue to work with them for the sake of peace.
That evening, Hera and Chopper go to meet Gobi, who is prepping with another Twi’lek resistance fighter (Serin) to meet some weapon dealers. When Hera tells him that she can’t come after getting busted for trespassing, Gobi says an illegal gun sale should be totally fine since her father only forbade entering restricted areas.
*Side Note: No matter what side of the issue you’re on, Gobi is way out of line here.
When Hera stands firm on honoring her father’s orders, Gobi tells her she can fly the ship. This turns out to be an offer she can’t refuse, although Chopper wisely decides not to tag along. As the ship takes off, Crosshair snipes it with a tracking beacon and reports what he saw to Rampart.
Hera flies the ship to a remote moon (although Gobi does not let her land) to meet up with the sellers, who turn out to be the Bad Batch doing a delivery for Cid. After expressing awe at the Havoc Marauder and the advanced clone troopers, Omega invites her to tour their ship.
While the pair explore and bond, Hunter warns Gobi and Serin that building the type of arsenal they’re amassing is bound to draw attention. Gobi replies that they have no choice before summoning Hera to depart.
*Side Note: There’s a lot of cute/funny dialogue here that would unnecessarily pad the recap, but is definitely worth watching.
On their way back to Ryloth, Crosshair targets their ship — this time with a live round — and shoots out the engine. After making a crash landing, the ship is immediately surrounded by clone troopers.
When Rampart and Free Taa arrive, the senator see Hera and immediately cites her as evidence that Cham is fomenting a rebellion. Hera vehemently denies this while Rampart points out that even if that were true (which it’s not), he’s too popular with the people to pin such a flimsy accusation on him.
He can, however, arrest Cham’s daughter on criminal charges.
Captain Howzer tries to protest that she’s only a child, but still follows orders when Free Taa demands she be taken into custody along with Gobi and Serin.
*Side Note: Once again, I absolutely love the humanity being shown by one of the chipped clone troopers — which is totally believable since their behavior was primarily modified to be more aggressive toward the Jedi. While there’s definitely an argument to be made about the clones’ general demeanor changing after Order 66, it’s not surprising that some of the higher ranking (and more free thinking) ones might take issue with arresting a kid.
Crosshair alerts Rampart that some of Gobi’s fighters are watching them from a nearby ridge, but the admiral tells him to let them report back…and make sure he and his troops are in position.
As expected, the fighters contact Cham and Eleni, who are both horrified and furious that their daughter was caught smuggling weapons with Gobi. Things go from bad to worse when Chopper bursts in and reports that Hera has been charged with treason, which will surely mean a conviction as long as Senator Free Taa is pulling the levers behind the scenes.
Cham and Eleni meet Gobi’s fighters, who help him take out an Imperial speeder bike escort before attacking the Juggernaut tank holding Hera and the others. Feeling both vindicated and terrified, Free Taa tells Howzer to initiate a counter attack. The clone captain reluctantly orders one, but it’s still not enough to keep the Twi’leks from overtaking the Juggernaut and breaching the door.
*Side Note: My brief description doesn’t do justice to this beautifully choreographed action sequence.
Free Taa begs for Howzer to call for reinforcements, but Rampart stops him and insists they surrender. The senator is flabbergasted at the suggestion, but then Rampart tells him that it’s the best course of action if they want to stay alive.
Cham orders everyone off the tank as Chopper pulls up in a land speeder. Free Taa begins calling him a traitor, but is quickly silenced when Cham growls at him for threatening his daughter. He then points out what an awful and self-serving politician the senator is before pointing a blaster in his face.
Cham appears like he’s legitimately about to assassinate Free Taa, but Howzer and Eleni are able to talk him down. At this point, Rampart thanks the senator for “playing his part” and nods to Crosshair, who shoots Free Taa in the head (!) from a nearby ledge. Moments later, the area is surrounded by gunships. Eleni yells at Chopper to drive Hera away as she and the others are arrested by Rampart for the “attempted assassination” of Orn Free Taa.
*Side Note: This part is a little confusing. On the one hand, it certainly looks like Free Taa is dead. A shot to the head is pretty hard to come back from. But in addition to the “attempted assassination” line, we see Free Taa’s hand moving as he’s carried off on a stretcher. It’s also worth noting that Free Taa plays a major role in the canon novel Lords of the Sith, which takes place after this story…although as we’ve seen before, even officially canonized books and comics are no longer safe from being retconned.
As the gunships return to the air, Rampart orders Howzer to hunt down Hera.
First off, I know this seems like a weird thing to key in on, but I must once again praise the lighting on this series. It’s a crucial component of what makes Star Wars: The Bad Batch look so good and this episode’s incredible third act was no exception.
Speaking of the Bad Batch, it was weird for the title characters’ appearance to feel like a shoehorned cameo. Don’t get me wrong — I love getting to see more of Hera’s backstory. Also, there’s a good chance that Clone Force 99 will play a much bigger role as this story arc as it progresses. For now, however, the Bad Batch’s lack of screen time was a bit disappointing. I’ll probably catch some flack from my fellow Hera/Rebels fans for that, but it is what it is.
Thankfully, “Devil’s Deal” still works incredibly well as a Rebel‘s sequel or just a plain good story. Yes, there were some moments that were confusing (like the “attempted” assassination). And yes, some of the characters did things that either seemed off (Cham accepting Imperial occupation so easily) or were downright frustrating (Gobi putting poor little Hera in harm’s way).
All that being said, however, we still get a great look at post-Clone War reconstruction through a powerful narrative that refuses to deal in absolutes. The characters may reach that level of hubris, but none of them are ever shown to be 100% right or wrong
Heck, even Crosshair got a chance to be the voice of reason.
And then you have Captain Howzer, who offers perhaps the most interesting storyline for a major clone trooper fan like me. After Order 66, I always wondered if any of the them at least retained their humanity toward children and/or the people they befriended during the war.
If you watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars and saw how Waxer and Boil cared for Numa (a story that also took place on Ryloth), then you’ve likely wondered the same thing. This story arc might finally give us an answer…or at least an interesting idea about it.
It was a lot of fun watching Hera as a child and observing the traits that would eventually turn her into a revered pilot/general. One moment that really stuck with me was her interaction with Omega, which was cute, but also a bit jarring. It’s strange to see Hera seem so innocent/naive, but that’s how she would have been before things really started to go south on Ryloth.
Speaking of that, getting to meet Eleni was all types of heartbreaking. While it’s not a certainty that she’ll die in the coming weeks, we know it’s going to happen relatively soon. If the moment does happen next week, let’s hope it’s accompanied by her daughter showing us a preview of the badass warrior she’s destined to become.
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