I can only imagine that of Lucasfilm’s major challenges in making Star Wars: The Clone Wars a long-running animated television series was actually giving each clone trooper its own unique personality. How do you differentiate between beings who are all essentially the same? In the show’s original run from 2008 through 2014 (with five seasons airing on Cartoon Network and one streaming on Netflix) they managed that concept fairly well, with strongly defined characters like Commander Cody and Captain Rex each maintaining their own individual personas across more than 120 episodes.

Now that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is back, with a new seventh (and supposedly final) season debuting today on Disney+, producer Dave Filoni seems intent on breathing even more distinction into the clones– all voiced by actor Dee Bradley Baker– starting with the season premiere episode, “The Bad Batch.”

“The Bad Batch,” which was originally screened in an unfinished form back at Star Wars Celebration 2015 and was then for a time temporarily available to watch on StarWars.com, tells its viewers to “Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole” in the on-screen pre-episode moral, and then follows through on that premise by introducing a motley crew of new characters. We begin in medias res at the Battle for Anaxes, where the Republic is losing and the droid army of the Separatists is beginning to overrun its enemy’s fleet.

It seems the droid army is using analytics to predict the Republic’s strategies, so the clones have begun working out ways to vary their attacks. But Rex and Cody suspect something else may be at work and propose a plan to go behind enemy lines. Rex is still mourning the loss of his squadmates at the Citadel (see The Clone Wars season three), though he secretly thinks his friend Echo may still be alive and working with the Separatists.

At the outset of the mission, Cody brings in Clone Force 99, a ragtag group of defective clones with “desirable mutations,” unorthodox methods, and a 100% success rate. Members include the Rambo-looking Hunter (armed with uncanny tracking abilities), the goggles-sporting Tech (with a head full of useful info), the skilled sniper Crosshair, and a brutish heavy named Wrecker. Traveling toward their destination, the so-called Bad Batch and their “reg” (regular clone) companions are shot down in their transport. Commander Cody gets trapped in the debris after the crash, but Wrecker proves his strength and mettle by lifting the rubble off of him. A ground battle erupts between battle droids (voiced by Matthew Wood) and our clones, but the Bad Batch uses its combined talents to emerge victorious.

The droids report to Admiral Trench (Baker again) while there’s a bit of dissent in the clone ranks as to how to proceed. They decide to attack a nearby Separatist outpost head-on, using it to scout the more distant Cyber Center as their main target. The clones steal speeder bikes to flank the opposing army, but Separatist forces reach the outpost, with Trench communicating via hologram: “They must know about the algorithm.” All droids are on alert when the clones break into the Cyber Center bunker, but the clones easily take them all out anyway. A Separatist tank arrives at the scene just as the Bad Batch teams up with the regs to investigate the source of the irregularity.

Hacking into the computer, Tech finds no program working to decipher Republic strategies, instead discovering a live signal coming from another planet– it sounds like a human voice and identifies itself as CT-1409. The clones evacuate the Cyber Center and the droids chase them back to Republic lines, but not before Rex makes a shocking revelation: CT-1409 is indeed Echo. His friend is alive, and seemingly working for the Separatists.

I thought this episode was a very exciting way to kick off the highly anticipated seventh season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and I can see the Bad Batch becoming an extremely popular sub-faction within the larger Republic army– in fact, the group already has something of a cult following after Filoni’s story reels for this arc were shown at Star Wars Celebration nearly five years ago.

The Star Wars: The Clone Wars animation looks sharper and more polished here than ever before, with remarkably detailed location backgrounds and textures, not to mention much more fluid, lifelike character movements throughout. Speaking as someone who took his time getting into this series, having always been hesitant about prequel-era stories and characters, and also especially reluctant to embrace the clone troopers as compelling entities, I find myself surprisingly excited to discover what other delights await me through the remainder of its new season.

The first episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season seven is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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