If my Facebook feed is a small sample size, then the reception for the new Star Wars Disney+ series The Bad Batch has been mixed. Personally, I love it. The show takes place at a time in the Star Wars universe that’s not nearly given enough attention. While the Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith show us how fascism can take control, The Bad Batch shows us how fascism exerts that control to morph society into its vision. It’s actually kind of terrifying to watch. But that’s just one of the show’s many interesting themes. There’s another that was constantly in the background of Clone Wars but never confronted as much as it is in Bad Batch. It’s a uniquely sci-fi topic that actually has roots in Cartesian philosophy: are men nothing more than machines? We see this conflict play out literally during the Clone Wars as artificially created humans (clones) battle against scores of actually constructed machines. Although expendable soldiers, the clones are encouraged to develop unique identities and names. They insist they are people and not just products to be discarded for the sake of their owners. A little spoiler-filled backstory: in Clone Wars, it’s revealed that the clones were secretly built with an organic “chip” in their heads. It’s essentially a tumor that causes the clones to obey Order 66, the infamous command to wipe out the Jedi and become subservient to the Empire. The concept of “building” a human from scratch with a “chip” really does put the man/machine issue into context. If scientists are able to do that, then are we really that different from machines? An episode that tackles this question head-on was “Rescue on Ryloth.” In this episode, the Bad Batch is being hunted by a squadron of Empire-controlled clones. One clone, however, has had reservations about the situation. For one reason or another, he questions his orders and opts to assist the Bad Batch in their escape. He then goes on to give a speech to his fellow clones, pleading with them to look into their hearts and see that what they are doing is wrong. And it works! Not all but some of the clones throw down their weapons in protest. Good sci-fi takes simple questions and tries to explore them using complex stories. Star Wars isn’t particularly known for that, but the intricate situation the clones (and the growing Empire) find themselves in in the aftermath of the war allows us to explore these ideas. Are (or more important can) humans be coerced and manipulated like machines? As technology grows the answer might be scarier than we think, and The Bad Batch gives us one perspective on the matter.
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