The head writer of the new Star Wars animated series talks about finding the shows heart and taking Clone Force 99 on a journey to find their purpose after the Clone Wars.
Hunter and his brothers in Clone Force 99 have been transformed in the first half of Season 1 of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, now streaming on Disney+. First, they watched helplessly as the Republic was shattered by Order 66 and the Empire took control -- turning Crosshair against them in the premiere episode. Then the Bad Batch took on the care and protection of Omega while continuing to stick together as a squad and a found family.
“The interesting challenge was: How do you challenge a super soldier?” series head writer and executive producer Jennifer Corbett tells StarWars.com. “And what can you throw at them that’s something that they’re not equipped to deal with? That’s how the idea of Omega came to be. Soldiers can figure things out, but what they’ve never had to deal with is a young kid. And that completely changes how they relate to one another and changes their perspective on the galaxy….You drop them into a Separatist battlefront and they’re going to be fine no matter what. But having to be guardians and be responsible for the upbringing and rearing of a child is something totally different.”
Now, instead of deadly skirmishes, the elite clone troopers have had to figure out how to meet basic needs to survive in a galaxy that is becoming more regimented by the day. And we quickly learned that the Empire wasn’t their only problem, with bounty hunters on their tail and the ticking timebomb inhibitor chips in their heads just to name a few.
Recently, StarWars.com sat down with Corbett to talk about the way her background in the US Navy and writing for NCIS helped inform her approach to the Bad Batch’s story, how the series has differentiated itself from Star Wars: The Clone Wars while remaining true to its themes, and why it’s important to introduce familiar faces and touchpoints with resounding purpose.
Studying with Filoni
Corbett’s writing credits already included a foray into the galaxy far, far away before she was approached about leading the writers room for The Bad Batch. As a freelancer, she penned three episodes of Star Wars Resistance, including the Season 2 episode “Rendezvous Point” that introduced Venisa Doza, mother of Ace pilot Torra Doza and Resistance hero, as she was captured by the First Order.
It was one of the first times the writer benefitted from the wisdom of writer and executive producer Dave Filoni, with whom she would later collaborate to develop The Bad Batch. “The ending of that episode was supposed to be a little different. Venisa was supposed to be reunited with Torra and Captain Doza at the end of the episode,” Corbett recalls. “One of the notes from Filoni was while that’s a nice ending it doesn’t feel real, because it feels like then kids will think when something bad happens it’s going to be fixed immediately. But the story you want to teach them is that you have to have hope and if you hold onto hope anything can happen.”
It was a piece of constructive criticism that opened Corbett’s eyes to what could be possible in the realm of animation. “That’s really when it changed for me, to be honest,” she says, and got her excited for the possibilities of expanding the lore of the galaxy. “I can’t list all the great advice. You just try to soak it in. He’s always saying keep it to what George [Lucas] created Star Wars to be. If you don’t veer from that too much then it’s going to work.”
Corbett’s first introduction to Clone Force 99 came as it did for many fans -- through the animatics that were released for the then-unreleased arc of The Clone Wars. “I responded to it immediately because I just loved the dynamic between this weird, misfit group of clones. It just felt so different.” When the story was resurrected for the series’ final season, it opened the door for the possibility of joining the Bad Batch in the aftermath of Order 66.
“We wanted to grab the audience right away,” Corbett says of the series opener. “For it to not feel like The Clone Wars Season 8, we needed to end the Clone Wars and see it from the Batch’s perspective,” Corbett adds. The solution was to begin with the same Tom Kane newsreel narration that accompanied the previous series, then burn away what came before to reveal The Bad Batch logo just as the first scene plunged us into one of the last battles of the war with Order 66 was unleashed upon Jedi Master Depa Billaba and her Padawan Caleb Dume.
The setup establishes the series as its own entity while linking it to The Clone Wars, which Corbett says she got hooked on as an adult. “I had grown up with three older brothers who were obsessed with Star Wars,” she says, “so it was always playing in the background.” Her childhood home was littered with VHS sets, books, and action figures. “I was surrounded by it so much I almost rebelled against it a little bit,” she says with a laugh. “I loved it…but I had to be contrarian.” When Star Wars: The Force Awakens launched the next generation of live-action Star Wars storytelling, Corbett dove in, watching everything that came before it. “I loved Anakin’s story and how they paired him with Ahsoka,” she says. “It all comes down to those friendships and doing the right thing and fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. It’s why I loved Ahsoka’s journey. She made the difficult decision to leave and [we saw] how that affects her. And that’s something that we wanted to try to do with the Bad Batch.”
Corbett’s personal background also undoubtedly influenced her approach. Her time spent as a writer and producer for NCIS gave her a keen understanding of the banter between a squad of specialists from different backgrounds coming together for a shared purpose. “I’m drawn to those kinds of military stories because I was in the military,” she adds, “so I get the dynamic between NCIS agents and also this elite squad of misfits.” In our own post-9/11 world, Corbett served in the US Navy where she was one of two female officers on a ship of 400 sailors. That experience also helped inform how she finds the camaraderie between Hunter, Tech, Wrecker, Echo, and Omega. “What’s true is how fast you become brothers and sisters in arms,” Corbett says. “Within two weeks of being sent to the ship, I knew everybody. You spend so much time together that you work as a unit. You rely on the person next to you. You have to trust them with your life. And it happens so fast because you’re put in these high-stress situations and the only way out of it is as a team and as a squad.”
It was a dynamic that resonated with her from the moment she met Clone Force 99. “I remember finishing the animatic and immediately [saying] ‘I love these guys. I get it. I get who they are. I get where they’re going because it is this family unit. They’re their own family.’” That especially rings true after the war ends. “They can go off and do whatever they want right now and they decide to stay together and stay a squad and figure things out as this team. It’s really that family dynamic and that dysfunctional family dynamic which appeals to me.”
“Who can really pose a threat?”
In the first half of the season, the members of the Bad Batch have been discovering who they are as individuals, as well. Although they were literally created and cloned for battle, they’re trying on new identities as mercenaries and protectors and finding their purpose.
Early on in the development, Corbett and the team knew Crosshair’s turn would have to happen right away. “We started feeling like the best villain for this team is someone that knows them really well. Who’s someone who can really pose a threat to them? And it’s Crosshair, because it’s not just that he’s sided with the Empire, he’s also their brother. And it’s not an easy villain to defeat because they don’t want to fight him. It just made it more heartbreaking having it happen immediately in the pilot episode.”
The element of helplessness in the execution of Order 66 was interesting to Corbett. “It’s exciting that I get to continue that story and tell a little bit more about what happens to the clones. That’s why I feel bad for Crosshair and all the clones. He didn’t have a choice. The chip was planted and none of them have a say in what they did. He’s an interesting character. I can’t wait for you to see where it goes.”
Another heartbreaker was Wrecker’s recent turn against his brothers and Omega as the inhibitor chip became activated in the Bad Batch bruiser’s head. “It would have been too easy for them to not have chips,” Corbett notes. “It also wouldn’t have made sense. Because if you have clones who are known to disobey orders, of course you want a chip to put in them. But also, it makes sense that the chips start to become defective because of their mutations.” As the writers tried to define “who’s the ticking timebomb?” it became clear that the biggest emotional impact would come from turning the muscular Wrecker against his family. “With Wrecker, he’s the guy that has the biggest heart and he connects with Omega the most because he’s her age, in a sense,” Corbett says. “He’s such a big kid! He’s the goofy big brother who will carry you on his shoulders. He’s the one that’s always going to be the first one to join in anything Omega does. He has a more childlike mentality to him.” But don’t let that fool you into thinking Wrecker isn’t as intelligent as his brothers. “He’s very smart, especially when it comes to things that he knows, like weapons,” Corbett says. “We saw some of that when he’s teaching Omega things. It’s fun getting him to be ‘Professor Wrecker.’” And of the elite soldiers, Wrecker has the highest emotional intelligence, Corbett says, as evidenced by the way he set up Omega’s room and gifted his beloved tooka doll, Lula, to her. “He realizes that she needs certain things that the others don’t even think about. Big brother Wrecker is clutch.”
The series allows Corbett and the team of creatives to really explore the different personalities at play among the squad. In one scene, Echo and Tech have wildly different reactions to the Empire’s creation of the chain code, a special number created to track the denizens of the galaxy. “I love that scene. Tech is impressed with that kind of thinking and planning, whereas Echo is like, ‘This is mortifying. We fought so hard to have names and now people are just signing up to be called numbers.’ And Tech’s like, ‘It’s genius!’”
The series also provides a fresh take exploring the evolution of clone troopers into the stormtroopers of the Empire. “The clones start losing all the color on their armor and they look a little bit more like just standard stormtroopers,” Corbett says. “They’re referred to by their numbers. And the chain code is the way to connect that to other people in the galaxy. Now people are also getting assigned a number [to show] the depersonalization of the Empire.”
While Tech can be obtuse in his literal outlook of the world around him, Corbett enjoys his dry delivery. “He’s just so matter of fact. There’s no malice to anything he says, or positivity or negativity. He’s just going to tell it to you straight. He won’t sugarcoat anything, even for Omega. That’s why it’s fun to watch him and Wrecker together.”
Echo might have the most in common with the Bad Batch’s newest member, Omega, in Corbett’s estimation. “Omega was kept on Kamino and had a very sort of solitary life and Echo was kept by the Separatists on Skako Minor. And while both those captivities were very different, I think the two of them struggle the most with their identity and finding what their purpose is. They feel like they were meant for something more.” They also provide the moral center of the group. “I love Echo so much because he’s our wounded warrior, who is so decent and wants to fight for everyone and help everyone. He and Omega see people in need and try to convince everybody else that this is the right thing to do. Not that the rest of the Batch don’t care, but the way they were raised they go from mission to mission and don’t take unnecessary risks. Sometimes you need to take those risks.”
And of course the group is led by Hunter, who took on a more paternal role once Omega joined in on the adventure. “He takes on the responsibility of not only leading this team in trying to survive, but also this child,” Corbett says. “The connection that the two of them has helped develop who he is.” Which was all the more heartbreaking when he was blasted by Cad Bane last week and, it seemed, had failed on his mission to keep Omega safe.