One of the major backbones of the Star Wars universe are the untold number of sentient beings that put their lives on the line for the Galactic Republic, the Empire and First Order, and the various Rebellions and Resistances. But not all ground troops are created equal. The Rebellion and the Resistance were made up of volunteers; people ready to fight back against tyranny and oppression on a galactic scale. The Empire conscripted people both voluntarily and against their will, as well as establishing family dynasties for officers and other important officials. The First Order kidnapped children and molded them into loyal soldiers. The difference between the two sides is morally stark.
But then there are the Clone Troopers. Created under mysterious circumstances on Kamino, each Clone Trooper who fought for the Galactic Republic against the Separatists was a copy of the bounty hunter Jango Fett. The Kamino geneticists tinkered with Fett’s genome to mass-produce an army that was loyal and docile on an accelerated timeline, with clones going from birth to battle-ready in approximately a decade. Unlike Battle Droids, clones were indisputably sentient, thinking men. Yet they were bred to fight and die without question. The Clone Wars cartoon has explored that dynamic for years, with fan favorites such as Captain Rex and Commander Cody. But with the return of Echo to the show in the show’s new season on Disney+, it’s worth looking back on Echo’s original teammates — Domino Squad — and how they represent the tangle of moral and ethical problems that arise when you utilize a disposable army of living, breathing men.
Introduced in the fifth episode ever of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, entitled “Rookies,” Domino Squad gave audiences a peek at how clones behaved fresh out of the training academy on Kamino. After spending time with veteran soldiers of war, Domino Squad reminded viewers that even Clone Troopers began as fresh-faced recruits oblivious to the toll of war. It also laid the groundwork for future storylines about the cascading divergence of clone behavior. Unlike the well-oiled discipline seen on the battlefield with troops under Anakin Skywalker’s command, the members of Domino Squad were… quirky. By putting the spotlight on Domino Squad in “Rookies” — as well as in the later flashback episode to their days on Kamino in “Clone Cadets” — The Clone Wars humanized the clones, giving audiences insight into their personalities, beliefs, fears, and friendships. An important reminder the show hammered home over and over again. Clones were people, not faceless fodder to the war machine.
Let’s take a look back at the men of Domino Squad, what fate had in store for them, and the important roles they often would play.
The only surviving member of Domino Squad, Echo received his nickname for his inability to keep himself from repeating instructions given out by his commanding officer, much to the annoyance of his fellow squad mates. He was compelled to repeat things, finding comfort in structure and repetition. He read regulation manuals to relax and enjoyed memorization. These behaviors are indicative of OCD, a divergence in Jango Fett’s genetic code. The Season 3 “Clone Cadets” episode confirmed all of Domino Squad was borderline defective in the eyes of the Kamino genetic engineers. Each member exhibited divergent behaviors and independent thinking. Kaminoan Prime Minister Lama Su lamented their quirks, chalking it up to having to stretch the deceased Jango Fett’s genome thin to meet the demand for new troops.
(Of note, somewhere between 3-6 years pass between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, where Jango Fett is killed by Jedi Master Mace Windu and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Coupling this timeline with Lama Su’s lament about Domino Squad’s genome indicates Kamino had significantly sped up the timeline from birth to battle-ready for clones. This could also explain why Clone Force 99, AKA the Bad Batch, were so different from standard Clone Troopers; without Jango Fett’s genome, the scientists may have resorted to splicing in other DNA to make the clones viable.)
Echo’s trajectory throughout The Clone Wars is a series of tragedies. After graduating from cadet to soldier, Echo joined the rest of Domino Squad on their first — and last — assignment. They were stationed on the barren moon which orbited the planet of Rishi in the Outer Rim. Far from the front lines, Echo and his teammates were tasked with guarding Rishi Station. The outpost continuously sent out an all-clear signal to the Galactic Republic and Kamino, letting them know the latter was safe from attack. Should the signal ever cease, it would indicate Kamino was under attack. However, the clones were not told how crucial their assignment was and they were caught flat-footed when Separatist forces attacked the station. If not for the timely intervention of Captain Rex and Commander Cody, the entirety of Domino Squad would have been wiped out. Instead, Echo lost several friends, received a medal, was inducted into the 501st Legion. As a clone, no one asked him if he was okay, though it was heavily indicated that Captain Rex felt personal responsibility towards the two members of Domino Squad who survived the ordeal. This would come into play again later.
Chronologically, audiences next saw Echo in the Season 3 episode “ARC Troopers” in which he and fellow Domino Squad survivor Fives were dispatched to Kamino to defend it against the Separatist invasion. The return was a reunion as well, with Echo and Fives reconnecting with 99, a “defective” clone whom all the cadets loved like a grandfather. In a sterile environment devoid of familial affection, 99 filled that void. Of course, their reunion was short-lived as Separatist droids overwhelmed the Kamino facility. While ultimately successful in defending Kamino, Echo was forced to watch as 99 was shot in the back as he attempted to rescue Clone Troopers who had been pinned down by enemy forces. Though still in mourning, Echo and Fives both accepted promotions to the rank of ARC Trooper for their bravery in battle.
For a long time, both audiences and characters within The Clone Wars believed Echo had died during a rescue mission on the Citadel. Accompanying Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Captain Rex, and Commander Cody behind enemy lines to rescue a captured Jedi, Echo appeared to give his life to save his friends and comrades. In a brave but stupid move, Echo attempted to singlehandedly distract and stop a droid commando from blowing up their escape craft. He failed. Caught in the resulting explosion, Echo was presumed dead as only his charred helmet could be seen. Captain Rex would carry the guilt of Echo’s “death” with him after that.
However, Echo was not truly dead. Instead, he had been captured by the Separatists and turned into a cybernetic living computer. It would take years before anyone realized this. Yet, when Captain Rex finally freed Echo from his prison, the former member of Domino Squad held no ill will towards his comrades. Despite his weakened state, Echo was immediately ready to get back in the fight. Hopefully, the Separatists removed his inhibitor chip and Echo will not be made to participate in Order 66. Surely he deserves a smidgen of respite from the unrelenting machine of war.
Until audiences learned that Echo did not die in the explosion on the Citadel, Fives was believed to be the longest surviving member of Domino Squad. From the outset, Fives was arguably the most empathetic clone on the show. He showed great emotional intelligence, leading to multiple confrontations with his superiors over the callous treatment of his fellow soldiers. It would be his unwavering loyalty to the clones that would ultimately lead to Fives’ tragic end.
Along with Echo, Fives was the only member of Domino Squad to get out of the Rishi Station ambush alive. His trajectory mirrored Echo’s with the two of them both being absorbed into the 501st Legion, both being assigned to protect Kamino from the Separatist invasion, both being promoted to ARC Trooper, and both traveling on the mission to the Citadel. However, while Echo’s story ended there for years, Fives continued to be an integral part of The Clone Wars, popping up in two critical storylines.
During the Umbara arc in Season 4, the shadowy hand of Darth Sidious could be seen manipulating the 501st Legion in an attempt to cut Anakin Skywalker off from troops who had become friends and a support system. Using Count Dooku as an intermediary, and recalling Skywalker from the battlefield on Umbara, Palpatine hoped to wipe out the likes of Captain Rex and Fives for good. Left under the command of the Jedi Master Pong Krell, Fives quickly had reservations about Krell’s leadership ability and motives. He would turn out to be correct in his fears as Krell had turned to the Dark Side and was attempting to undermine the war in order to impress Dooku.
Before this information was revealed, Fives “defective” nature was on full display. As Krell ordered soldiers into more and more dangerous situations with no concern for their lives or well-being, Fives balked. Even Captain Rex believed that while Fives was correct the Krell’s tactics were brutal, he believed in their training, that their job was to follow orders. Rex begged Fives to back off and show a united front for the men while the two of them tried to change Krell’s mind through reason, but Fives chose action. On an unauthorized mission with two fellow clones, Fives successfully broke the Separatist supply lines, turning the tide of the battle for good. For his efforts, Fives was court-martialed by Krell and sentenced to execution via firing squad. Instead, Fives gave a rousing speech to his fellow clones before the firing squad. He told them they were not droids but men, capable of feelings and critical thinking. That they should not blindly follow orders they knew to be wrong. This action would lead directly to the mutiny against Krell that would ultimately end with exposing him as a Dark Side user. The event would irreversibly shake Fives’ faith in the moral goodness of the Galactic Republic.
This shaken faith, empathy for the plight of clones, and inability to shut up about it would lead directly to Fives’ death. When the inhibitor chip in fellow Clone Trooper Tup malfunctioned, leading to him gunning down the Jedi Tiplar in cold blood during battle, Fives was immediately concerned and suspicious. This ratcheted up to flat-out paranoia when Separatists attempted to kidnap Tup on his way to Kamino for evaluations. Fearful for Tup’s safety and medical well-being, Fives opted to remain on Kamino to keep an eye on things. Almost immediately, he began to question the motives of the scientists and staged a distraction in order to get close to Tup and examine him, discovering a tumor in Tup’s brain. Despite removing it in a last-ditch effort to save his friend, Tup did not survive and Fives could not seem to impress on anyone in a position of authority that something untoward was going on. Instead, he was reassured Tup’s condition was a fluke in an attempt to calm Fives down long enough to wipe his memory and reassign him. Fives managed to escape and performed diagnostic testing on the tumor. What Fives found shattered his remaining faith in the Republic. It was the organic inhibitor chip that would later be responsible for Order 66. He immediately had his own chip removed via impromptu droid surgery that left him woozy and weak.
Of course, the Kamino government could not allow such sensitive, classified data to be revealed. Yet they also could not simply assassinate or disappear Fives as he had brought his findings to the attention of Jedi Master Shaak Ti. Instead, Kamino geneticist Nala Se injected Fives with a serum en route to Coruscant — where he was meant to present his findings — that clouded his mind. Unable to properly process his thoughts, much less present them in a coherent manner, Palpatine was able to dismiss Fives’ as unstable. Under the ruse of speaking to Fives alone, Palpatine instead revealed his true nature to the soldier, attacking him in a way that looked as if Fives had attempted to assassinate the Supreme Chancellor. From there, it was all downhill. Fives was hunted down by his former comrades. Though Anakin Skywalker and Captain Rex refused to believe Fives was dangerous, the Domino Squad member was shot down by Clone Troops when he refused to be taken prisoner. Though Fives ultimately sacrificed his life, sounding the warning about the inhibitor chip would convince Captain Rex and several others to secretly remove theirs as well.
HEVY (CT-782), CUTUP (CT-4040),AND DROIDBAIT (CT-00-2010)
Star Wars has not yet gone too deep into the lives and psyches of the other three members of Domino Squad. Hevy, Cutup, and Droidbait did not survive the attack on Rishi Station. But what little is shown of them solidifies the idea that something about their entire batch was a little bit different.
As the de facto leader of the group, Hevy consistently went off-book during training and missions. He chafed under the strict rules and guidelines that gave structure to the Galactic army, instead going rogue to get the job done. However, his tactics were reckless and just as likely to get his fellow soldiers killed as they were to complete the mission. Hevy resented their assignment to Rishi Station, wishing instead to be on the frontlines of the war. But his independent nature would also save lives. When the plan to remote detonate the station in order to cut the signal and warn Kamino failed, Hevy disobeyed orders. Instead, he stayed behind. Wading through battle droids, Hevy manually detonated the explosives in the command center while still inside. His sacrifice was instrumental in keeping Kamino safe.
Even less is known about Cutup and Droidbait, as they both died near the beginning of the “Rookies” episode and took a backseat to the storylines of Echo, Fives, and Hevy in their flashback episode. Droidbait, who constantly worried he was an anchor on the team after his failure during the squad’s final test on Kamino, was lost in the initial ambush. Despite his feelings of inadequacy, Droidbait rushed headlong into danger with fellow soldier Nub. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but their choice gave the rest of the soldiers stationed of Rishi moon time to raise the alarm.
Meanwhile, Cutup was taken out by a Rishi eel, a massive and dangerous predator native to the moon. Prior to his death, Cutup was the most openly insubordinate, sassing his superiors with thinly veiled contempt on Kamino. All while maintaining just enough of a veneer of respect to stay a court martial. Of all of Domino Squad, Cutup was perhaps the most obvious bellwether to the future actions of Echo and Fives. Both thrived under the command of General Skywalker due to his leadership style that encouraged free-thinking and a cavalier attitude towards the military hierarchy.
New Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes debut Fridays on Disney+.