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What’s in the mind of a Clone Trooper? That’s the subject of the second episode of The Clone Wars season seven, “A Distant Echo,” directed by Steward Lee. Continuing the Bad Batch arc from last week’s episode, Captain Rex and the Bad Batch, a group of mutated Clone Troopers, alongside Anakin Skywalker, travel to Skako Minor to follow up on clues that suggest Clone Commander Echo, seemingly killed during the third season, might still be alive. This episode is heavy on plot points relating back to earlier seasons, but in this case, at least for those concerned about the broader narrative implications of the series, there are larger questions raised about the Clone Troopers and how their minds work, evolve and can be utilized.
Early in the episode, Anakin, talking to Padme, shares his concern that Captain Rex is being driven by his emotions, and acting impulsively in his efforts to prove the Clone Trooper, Echo, whom he failed to save, is still alive. Padmé, good-naturedly asks Anakin where he could have picked up on such behavior. This isn’t exactly a revelatory moment, but it does further complicate the matters of the Troopers identities. Throughout the series we’ve seen the Troopers make various cosmetic changes to their features, haircuts and facial tattoos, to distinguish themselves from their host form, Jango Fett. And we’ve seen them develop different personalities as well, the series going to great lengths to make them more than the faceless bodies they were in the prequels. But picking up the traits of their Jedi generals seems new, or at least made more concrete in this episode. It makes sense of course, given Rex’s heroic deeds as part of the Rebellion in Star Wars: Rebels, but the kind of symptomatic personalities that the clones developed during The Clone Wars is an interesting one, and no doubt contributed to the trauma many of the Clones experienced after Order 66, and the loyalty to the Vader, experienced by others and highlighted in the Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli comic series Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, which takes place immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith (2005).
Another interesting wrinkle when it comes to the minds of the Clone Troopers is the state of Echo. When Rex finds him, he’s not really in a state that one would consider living. He’s being kept in a stasis chamber, hooked up to tubes, and most of his limbs have been replaced by prosthetics. The Separatists have invaded his mind for intel, using him as a machine and forcing the Clone Troopers to change their tactics. This idea of the Clones’ hackable minds is new as well, and further complicates their state of existence as individuals and tools of war. We already knew that the Clones had been programmed to obey Order 66, an order that some Clones, like Rex, were able to resist, but it would seem that Palpatine also made sure that the Troopers minds were easy to penetrate and pull data from. This comes as a shock to Rex, the Bad Batch and Anakin, but for audiences already in the know about the outcome of the Republic, it goes to show just how extensive Palpatine’s plans were.
If the Separatists could invade the mind of one Trooper, and discover the Republic’s plans, it’s likely that that they could do it to another. But what’s more alarming is the possibility that they already have. For seven seasons we’ve watched the Clone Wars play out, all in an effort for Palpatine to ascend to Emperor and destroy the Republic. We know the Jedi are destined to lose, but with this new information, it becomes clear just how early their cause may have been lost. If the Separatists were privy to certain plans of the Republic earlier in the war, thanks to invading the minds of Clone Troopers, then every victory and loss within this war can be called into question. Was it heroism, fate or merely strategy that positioned the Jedi on the cusp of victory? And what’s more is that Palpatine’s decision to end cloning on Kamino shortly into the rise of the Empire also takes on new relevance. If the Clones minds are so easily hacked into, then keeping them on as Storm Troopers would have given the Rebellion an early advantage. Even at this end stage of The Clone Wars, the legacy of the Clone Troopers has become all the more prescient in understanding the fall of the Republic and the age of the Empire.
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