It began with a stop at Burger King. In 1980, Brad Rau was five years old and his mother decided to take him and his brother to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Brad had never seen Star Wars, but that didn’t seem to matter. Like most kids, he loved movies, and a trip to the Home of the Whopper made the outing even more of an event.
“I got some chicken tenders, the barbecue sauce, and the Empire Strikes Back glass. I had no idea who any of these characters were, but we each had our glass and we went to see the movie,” Rau tells StarWars.com. “I’m not overstating it when I say it just changed our lives. It changed our lives! Everything after that was Star Wars.” That experience made him a fan, but also set his life on a very specific course. “From there, watching behind-the-scenes videos of the process at ILM, I didn’t even know what it meant. It was just, ‘I have to do that. I have to find a way to work on Star Wars.”
Five-year-old Brad would be happy to know that he did. Rau is the supervising director and an executive producer of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Lucasfilm’s new animated series arriving May the 4th on Disney+. Rau was tapped for the job by series creator and fellow executive producer Dave Filoni, longtime shepherd of Lucasfilm Animation and one of the creative leads of The Mandalorian, following directorial stints on Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Forces of Destiny, and Star Wars Resistance. “It’s a dream come true,” he says. “I love it.”
The Bad Batch spins out of the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which introduced Clone Force 99: an elite squad of clone troopers with genetic mutations, hence the nickname “the Bad Batch.” There’s Hunter, the team leader with heightened sentences and a rad facial tattoo; Crosshair, the ace sniper with an attitude; Wrecker, whose name basically says it all; Tech, the computer whiz; and Echo, a clone-turned-cyborg who feels more at home with this motley crew. The series begins at the very end of the Clone War and the decimation of the Jedi Order, finding the Bad Batch on the run from the newly-formed Empire — and maybe more significantly, their brothers in the clone army. In a way, the Bad Batch are in the same position as fans who came to love the clones through The Clone Wars: they have to face a new reality in which these former heroes are now villains.
“It’s something that we deal with all the time when we’re talking about the overall arc of the show and individual episodes. This team, how they view their brothers is a really interesting thing. Dave Filoni had this great idea to go in and start taking out colors from the clone troopers’ armor,” Rau says. “As the Empire has started to rise and exert its will, he thought it would be cool if it becomes less colorful, less individual, less unique.”
While the series ties in deeply with the events of the Star Wars prequels and The Clone Wars, The Bad Batch isn’t only for superfans. On the contrary, its story of a team of renegades is designed to have broader appeal. “We want it to be something that anybody can enjoy and watch,” Rau says. “I think it’s really smart, going back to when Dave and Jen [Corbett, head writer,] were conceiving of the show, right from the get-go. Even though these are characters we’ve seen, the Bad Batch, they are pretty new characters. So if you’re someone who’s like, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen Clone Wars,” we feel like you could start with our show and not feel left out at all.”
When StarWars.com brings up The A-Team as a possible touchpoint for the series, Rau concurs. “A-Team is a great analog. I love A-Team, as well. The fact that you have this team that is on the run, the Bad Batch, from the Empire, it gives us an opportunity to follow these cool guys. But they’re being hunted by all of the Empire. So where do they go? What do they do? As an elite special forces unit that do their jobs so well within the confines of the army, like the A-Team, what happens when they’re outside of that?”
From the sounds of it, they’re in for a dose of reality. “How do they deal with buying food when they’ve never had to? What do they do when their armor breaks down and they can’t take it down to the armory to get it kitted up? Or what about when there’s no fuel for their ship? That’s something we get into right away on the show, and that’s really interesting to us as creators,” Rau says. “It’s kind of flipping these special forces guys around, where they have to deal with things they never have before. And then, on top of that, they also blow things up and use their individual skills to tactically get out of situations.”
While all members of the Bad Batch have their unique gifts and moments to shine, Hunter stands out — and not just because of the aforementioned tattoo and Rambo-esque headband. “He really is the conscience of the team,” Rau says. “He is not only the leader of this squad, but he takes on a father-figure role to a lot of them. Everything I was saying about how they deal with non-military life, he’s really the focal point for how we get into that, and then all of our other characters augment that, as well.”
One thing the Bad Batch will have to deal with is, of course, each other. Just because they’re a team doesn’t mean they always get along. “They’re truly this misfit team that has to figure out how to live with each other. And they do it not because they’re forced to, but because they want to,” Rau says. “As the series goes along, we get into that a little bit more and, really, I think that’s the heart of the story.”
At the time of StarWars.com’s interview with Rau, the premiere of The Bad Batch is just two weeks away. It will be the culmination of a journey for Rau that started on that fateful day in 1980. And though the Burger King glass did not survive past 1981, Rau’s love of Star Wars goes on. “It’s so exciting,” he says. “As a big Star Wars fan — this is going to sound weird because I’ve seen these episodes so many times — I’m just so excited to watch it with my family on TV. It’s a real blast. As one of the creators, I’m just honored to be part of it. And I hope the fans like it as much as we do. I think that everyone’s going to find something to enjoy in it. We’re thrilled, that’s for sure.”
Dan Brooks is a writer and the editor of StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks.
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