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'The Bad Batch' proves 'Star Wars' animation still has a story to tell

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In "Star Wars" lore, Dee Bradley Baker has always been the voice of the clones. Now he's simply the voice of the show.

Over seven seasons and across multiple networks, before finding a permanent home at the now-and-forever one-stop-shop of "Star Wars" entertainment, Disney Plus, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" featured Baker voicing every cloned soldier, from Captain Rex to Commander Cody. The fan-favorite animated series created by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and "Star Wars" whisperer Dave Filoni began as a feature film in 2008 before moving to Cartoon Network that same year. The series is official canon and takes place between the second and third "Star Wars" prequel films.

Now, Baker is back, voicing the most eclectic group of clones to ever be born from "The Clone Wars": Clone Force 99, an elite squadron of imperfect clones otherwise known as the Bad Batch.

Spinning off directly from the end of "The Clone Wars," "The Bad Batch," available now on Disney Plus, features a renegade team of five standout clones, all voiced by Baker, who are trying to find their place in a newly formed empire.

Many "Star Wars" fans credit "The Clone Wars" with giving a new luster and relevance to the "Star Wars" prequels by adding to the heroic mythos of Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader. It originated one of "Star Wars"' most popular characters, Ahsoka Tano. And the story's continuation in "The Bad Batch" shows that even if "The Mandalorian" and all of its future spinoffs get more attention, animation is still a force in the "Star Wars" universe.

For Baker, voicing five main characters in a new "Star Wars" animated series is a notably different feeling than being a supporting voice to the Jedi of "The Clone Wars," not to mention the "creatures and monsters" he's voiced over the years.

"It's not how I normally think of myself or my capacities," Baker said. "It's been a real refreshing insight to me that as a voice actor, you've got more in you than you think you do. To stretch my wings in a way that I've never been asked to before and maybe never will again, it's such a unique project."

When the Bad Batch made their debut during "The Clone Wars," Baker worked with Filoni on perfecting how they would sound. Previous clones all had the same voice. The members of the Bad Batch looked different from those others — and each needed to have distinct personalities.

"They have unique skills, but they are of the same DNA," Baker said. "By the time we got to doing ('The Bad Batch'), I felt like I knew these guys really well and they were very sharp and defined in my mind."

"The Clone Wars" went from five seasons on Cartoon Network to one season at Netflix before its final season streamed on Disney Plus. Now, as Baker moves forward giving voice to Hunter (the leader), Crosshair (the hotheaded sharpshooter), Wrecker (the childlike muscle), Tech (the brains) and Echo (a Clone Wars castaway), he doesn't feel as if he has to look over his shoulder wondering if a new season is on the horizon.

"It feels like it's going to go for a long time," he said. "But that's not to say it'll keep doing the same thing ... It's always evolving, it's changing, it's growing. It's becoming new things. It's letting in new ideas. And that's very much what 'Star Wars' has become."

Brad Rau, a supervising director and executive producer on "The Bad Batch," said the new series will focus on the parts of "Star Wars" that the movies haven't completely touched while keeping the clones of the show at the center of the story.

"The rise of empire is something that hasn't been seen on film almost ever," Rau said. "It's kind of an untapped era that we can dig into. We can keep pushing the style of the Clone Wars to tell the story of these misfits that have to overcome their differences to survive in the world."

"The Bad Batch" depicts a world in which the evil empire is in control and tries to determine the worth of clones and whether they fit into the new galactic equation. Jennifer Corbett, the show's head writer and executive producer, said she always wanted to know what happened to all of the clones at the end of "The Clone Wars" and relishes the chance to continue their story.

"One of the things I latched onto with the Bad Batch is really exploring what their identity is post-fall of the Republic, because being a soldier is all that these clones know, and when you take that away from them, what does that mean for their well-being and for who they are," Corbett said. "We're staying true to who this squad is and finishing off their story and the clones' story in general."

Baker, a lifelong "Star Wars" devotee who vividly recalls dressing up as a Jawa as a child back in 1977, is happy for the fan base. He remembers a time when he thought "The Clone Wars" would not have a chance to finish its story. In his eyes, the galaxy is looking a lot brighter.

"I envy the 'Star Wars' fans of today. As well as those who have never seen ('The Clone Wars'). You can jump into 'The Bad Batch' and you don't have to familiarize yourself with the rest of 'Star Wars' if you don't know it," Baker said. "It's a fun ride. The characters are clear. It's a place you want to go."

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