Oh boy oh boy after working it over for a good while I think I’ve cracked the Domino Squad arc. I’m interested in your thoughts.
I considered splitting it into two parts but there’s no natural break other than after Clone Cadets, which leaves it paced weirdly. I also considered making Clone Cadets the cold open, but there’s too much volume that it didn’t feel right. So I was just looking over it looking for trims and assuming I’d release it almost in full, when I hit on what I think is the solution.
So to summarise the episodes right now on face value:
1. Clone Cadets
This episode’s storyline is that Domino Squad fail training, then come together, then succeed training. Importantly, note that that is a strong and straightforward three act journey in and of itself. Adversity is faced and overcome within the episode. Highlights are 99 and his relationship with Hevy. And the important bits of continuity beyond this arc are Echo and Fives.
But the issue I have with it is that the ‘coming together’ is quite clumsy. Ultimately Echo and Fives want to leave but are told not to by Shaak Ti, Cutup gets assaulted, and Hevy wants to leave but is told not to by 99 - and then they decide to stick together, and win because their differences make them creative thinkers? That really doesn’t feel like the victory is earned or that they’re suddenly more cohesive. And it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve seen them earn Shaak Ti’s description of “possibly the finest clones I’ve ever seen”.
This episode’s storyline is that Domino Squad are on the Rishi moon listening post, get overrun by commando droids, then when Rex and Cody are there to inspect it they end up all teaming up to take back the listening post in time to warn the Republic of an imminent assault on Kamino. It’s pretty good all round. There’s a couple of redundant scenes and it needs a bit of polish tightening but it’s a cool plot that’s mostly well done. At the end, Echo and Fives join the 501st.
The problem is that in this context it kind of undoes and is undone by Clone Cadets. The whole point of Clone Cadets was to see this team coming together, but here we see them immediately fall apart. Obviously, that happens in war and it’s a decent story. But it feels like the full 20 minutes of establishing them as a group wasn’t worth the investment. Also, if the team are the ‘best ever’, why are they now on a shitty listening post (even an important one)? Also, Clone Cadets has just given us a three act story about Domino Squad, but they remain our focus, and so it turns out that the surviving characters have a second second act although it’s basically them just continuing to be great and continuing to be rewarded for it. I think this makes the whole arc pace awkwardly.
3. ARC Troopers
This episode begins with the attack on Kamino led by Grievous and Ventress, and features Rex, Cody, Fives, Echo, Anakin, and Obi-Wan defending Kamino successfully. Highlights are 99 again, and Echo and Fives really helping out, and becoming ARC Troopers. It’s great end-to-end. I trimmed about three minutes but other than that it’s going to be mostly untouched as the finale to our arc.
(The main trims I made are: We don’t need to see Obi-Wan fighting the droids underwater in an already action-heavy episode after he gives Anakin the plot relevant information. And we don’t need to see Obi-Wan fighting Grievous outside after he’s already beaten him inside, especially since Grievous sets up a kind of suprise attack that he then doesn’t utilise at all. And removing both of those scenes lets us get rid of the flying whale thing which just pulls me out of it a bit. I also cut Grievous and Ventress discussing that their master has ideas for the clone DNA, because denying it to the Republic is enough, and we don’t need to imply that Sidious is into cloning when Palpatine has full access to cloning tech.)
This episode is easy to trim into the immediate follow-up to Rookies.
I finally realised that this isn’t the story of Domino Squad. That’s not the heart, nor does it leave us with a good focus for the rest of the show. It’s the story of Echo and Fives joining the 501st.
And here’s the main solution to focus it, fix the early pacing issues, and fix the unsatisfying Clone Cadets/Rookies collision: Domino Squad fail their training, and the Rishi moon outpost is their punishment. (I know I have to sully the legacy of the popular Domino Squad to do this, but I think it leaves us with a far stronger story.)
Now, we get a proper three-act story. We establish in the crawl that the Republic is rushing new batches through the training as quickly as possible in order to field troops, but that some batches still don’t complete the training, and are given lesser jobs like maintenance or manning listening posts. We get the start of Clone Cadets, introducing Echo and Fives within Domino Squad but having them fail (probably using all of the mistakes from the first and second attempts, so they’re sloppy but it’s the ‘leaving a man behind’ that gives them the fail.) We see the emotional fallout of that and establish the relationship with 99 - only now, they’re failiures too, just like him, and he’s the only one who thinks all clones can be heroes. We don’t invest in Cutup, Droidbait, or Hevy.
Then we ‘two weeks later’-it straight into Rookies. Now, their boredom matches that this is punishment, and Echo longing to be on the front lines and Rex thinking the moon’s run sloppily will have more value later. That episode plays out, with the other clones dying off as Rex and Cody learn that these two ‘lesser clones’ are competent when the shit hits the fan. We end the episode with them leaving the moon with Rex and Cody but they don’t get to join the 501st yet - they’ve merely been rescued.
We wipe transition right into Kamino for the battle, where it plays out as before. (Echo and Fives have been given slightly nicer armour or taken the time to paint theirs up in thanks while on the flight over, we assume, if we notice.) But now, their plot parallels 99, as they’ve been discarded as failiures but when thrust into battle they stepped up and helped win the day. And finally, we close the episode on Rex and Cody naming them “ARC Troopers… in the 501st”. They’ve earned both rewards at the same time - but this time, they’ve been earned by these individuals overcoming multiple trials, rather than by Domino Squad deciding to become the best clone team ever overnight.
The biggest loss here is Hevy’s relationship with 99, as with no win there’s no medal to give to 99. Though we still maintain 99 and all of his main emotional beats. We establish that he believes in all clones, he wishes for his own chance, he finally gets his chance, and he dies a soldier.
One other thing I might play with to make this hit a bit better and to cement Fives and Echo as the focal characters is to have their desertion come BEFORE we see Domino Squad fail. So right at the start of the episode two (implicitly) perfectly fine clones are talked out of leaving a poorly performing squad, but then punished for that squad’s failings, eventually earning the recognition they deserve. This might work a bit better since devoid of the original episode’s context they’re complaining about a squad which is legitimately not that good. I’ll see how this works.
This episode then, of course, is no longer called ‘Domino Squad’. Instead, it is called ‘The 501st’ - the heart of the episode being Echo and Fives’ path to that prize, and ultimately the legion the audience will continue to follow throughout the wars. And at the end of the episode, we have our clear clone focus - the 501st, Rex, Fives, and Echo.