The force may not able be with Disney this May the Fourth holiday, as its flagship holiday release, “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” faces an uphill struggle to find success in a live-action dominated sci-fi world.
Originally an online fan-created punny holiday based on the famous “Star Wars” greeting “May the force be with you,” “May the Fourth” has evolved into an officially unofficial kickoff Lucasfilm marketing since Disney bought the company in 2012; it’s become shockingly successful in helping toy rollouts and selling theme park tickets since the new films started coming out in 2015.
But now, Disney is using it to pump up its streaming empire on Disney+: It is releasing “Star Wars Vehicle Flythroughs” and “Star Wars Biomes,” virtual tours of fictional planets and ships; “The Simpsons” (which is Disney-owned) has a Pixar-esque short entitled “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Force Awakens From Its Nap,’” which is itself a reference to an online meme; and it is premiering “Bad Batch,” its spinoff from Lucasfilm’s long running animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
Disney+ is now dealing with all the same issues other networks had with “Clone Wars” when it comes to “Bad Batch.”
Disney+ has had to work hard to launch this series, the latest — and perhaps futile — attempt to make the wider fandom get into its animated Star Wars offerings.
Part of the issue is that animation has always struggled not to be seen as “kids stuff.” There are the successes — think the aforementioned “The Simpsons,” “South Park,” “Family Guy” or “Archer,” which all found success by adding raunchy humor to the format and subverting the kiddie visuals with naughty jokes. Unfortunately, for all that “The Bad Batch” is designed to appeal to the traditional “Star Wars” fandom of older white dudes, it’s still a show on Disney+… so anything remotely raunchy is not on the menu.
Worse yet, the source material for “Bad Batch”— the series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” — was initially conceived as a show for children. The series was kicked off by a movie (also called “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”) in August 2008, which introduced a 14-year-old Jedi, Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein). She was the series’ focal point when it premiered on Cartoon Network that October. As the first series to center a female Jedi character, “The Clone Wars” was popular within its own sphere and for kids — but as a show for adults, it was slow. The episodes were not presented in linear order, and it required the kind of archaic knowledge of “Star Wars” lore that only a truly nerd child can easily absorb.
For all that “The Bad Batch” is designed to appeal to the traditional “Star Wars” fandom of older white dudes, it’s still a show on Disney+.
Netflix discovered as much when it paid for the rights to air the first five seasons in 2013 after the show was canceled on Cartoon Network; Lucasfilm aired a truncated version of a planned sixth season on Netflix in 2014, which made Ahsoka an older teen and reduced her role, introducing more mature stories and giving more screen time to the adult-male-oriented characters. But it didn’t help; eventually the series gave way to the entirely kid-oriented “Star Wars: Rebels” series that aired on the DisneyXD cable channel from 2014 to 2018.
Disney+ is now dealing with all the same issues when it comes to “Bad Batch.”
It revived the adult-leaning “Clone Wars” for a final, seventh season in 2020, where it introduced a fully adult Ahsoka, whose adventure formed a bridge to a live-action appearance of the character in “The Mandalorian.” The obvious hope of the seventh season was that, by tying the animated series to a more popular live action one, the popularity of the latter might carry over to the former; it has yet to do so. Disney+ is also additionally trying to tap into the original, now-adult fans of the first “Clone Wars” series with a live-action series named for Ahsoka starring Rosario Dawson.
“The Bad Batch” attempts to solve many of its predecessors’ issues: The animation is still reminiscent of an animated video game scene between play, but it’s more modern-looking than early “Clone Wars” seasons were. The story is blessedly linear. And though the series does not yet have an obvious tie-in to “The Mandalorian” or the upcoming “The Book of Boba Fett” series, it’s a good guess that it will by the end of the season.
The series (which kicks off with a feature length installment) is based a small squadron of slightly-defective clones whose imperfections were used to enhance their fighting skills, and begins just as Emperor Palpatine takes control of the galaxy by committing genocide against the Jedi. Since their imperfections keep the Batch from the receiving orders via the implanted hive mind, they are confused when they see Jedi generals executed by their fellow clones, and suddenly discover they work for an empire instead of a republic. They are quick to start rebelling and, by the time first episode is over, the bulk of them have gone on the run after a firefight against their own kind.
“The Bad Batch” isn’t bad, in much the same way “The Clone Wars” wasn’t bad. But so far, both have failed to capture the wider adult imagination. And though hardcore fans of “Star Wars” will almost certainly tune in en masse to Disney+ for a day of at-home celebration on this May the Fourth, Disney+ will probably not feel the power of the Force shining on “Bad Batch” as a result.