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A wildly entertaining Star Wars Rebels clarifies the stakes before the season finale

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Wow. Just… wow.

Star Wars Rebels has been doing some stellar work in the last few episodes by exclusively focusing on individual characters and their current progress in the broad scheme of the rebellion (except for one dud, which I’ll get into more in the Stray Observations). “The Mystery of Chopper Base” pulls in a lot of those key character developments in brilliant, subtle ways, while also providing, hands down, the most exciting and tense action sequence to date. It’s an episode that is just firing on all cylinders, and everyone feels useful and necessary in what is essentially a survival story.

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Survival is the key theme to the episode. Kanan says as much, when he tells Ezra that the way to win a battle is not to kill the other opponent, but to survive. Survival is more than simply “not dying,” though–it’s finding a way to move on, in accepting certain truths and realities about a current situation. Survival can be just about “living,” such as the scene of Zeb relaxing by himself, chilling with the radio and chatting with Ezra when he walks by (a scene I love so, so much, and something that the show should definitely do more of). Survival can also mean how to cope with an inevitable truth, as in Hera’s struggle to accept that both Kanan and Ezra will be gone soon, and that they may not return. The relationship between Kanan and Hera has always been unclear and confusing, so it’s something of a miracle that the dramatic stakes of this beat works so well, primarily because of Hera’s mature but melancholic reactions to it all.

And then there’s the survival of a change in the nature of a relationship. Obviously the Hera/Kanan tension represents this, but I find the growing conflict between Kanan and Ezra the more fascinating one. It’s a very “blink and you’ll miss it” dilemma, but the opening training session is fraught with simmering anger (mostly in Ezra, but it’s there in Kanan as well) that’s notable. Later in the episode, when Ezra fails to emotionally connect to one of those weird spider creatures, Kanan chastises him fairly harshly; Ezra shoots back. At the end of the episode, Ezra makes one final attempt to Force-befriend the creature only to fail again. Is the creature truly immune to Ezra’s abilities, or is his simmering anger bringing him closer to the Dark Side and blocking his actions? The episode ends on an ominous tone: confusing music strings and a purposely perplexing shot of a flying animal of some sort that seems both friendly and hostile at the same time.

That’s really what the “Mystery” is that the title of the episode alludes to. There’s nothing about the actual plot of the episode that’s particularly mysterious, really, since everyone figures out pretty early on what happens to Deiser (and soon after, Rex). Rex and Sabine (who make a great action pair) fight off the beasts up until Rex is captured, and, after retrieving the rest of the crew, they all go into those creepy caves to find him–which they do–and then they escape. The whole episode is pretty straight forward, but Ng directs it with some sharp, engaging and tense visuals that keep the tension high. Plus, every character pulls their weight in the battle: Sabine figures out their weak point and their aversion to the motion sensors; Ezra and Kanan use their Jedi skills as usual; Hera handles the flight at the end; Rex fights off that one creature breaching the bay doors; Zeb overcomes his fear of four-legged creatures (a fear that comes out of nowhere and wasn’t on display in “The Honorable Ones”) and kicks some butt. Even Chopper closes some doors.

Yet it’s the quiet conflicts and budding tension between characters that really makes this episode work as well as it does. Hera’s frustrated demand to search the caves separate from the Jedi contrasts nicely with the much-needed hug Kanan gives her at the end, allowing her some semblance of peace (this may be the first time we’ve seen a deeply vulnerable Hera, ever). Ezra speaks with Ahsoka at the end, connecting with someone who has had her own struggles with dealing with the Force and emotionally-suspect Jedi masters (and showing more of the disconnect between Kanan and Ezra). The characters reflect the very status of the new rebel base: theoretically safe, protected only by an invisible barrier. Trouble is brewing on the outside and on the inside, and surviving is the only thing they may be able to do.

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Stray observations

  • Wow, so I see there are a lot of Chopper fans! Full disclosure: yes, I’m not a fan of him in general, but I more or less accept the kind of characterization the show gives him. An episode dedicated to him would never be my cup of tea, but I was really trying to be as partial as possible (in a subjective review, natch). In the end it was really the poor direction and mediocre storytelling that lost me beyond the generic batch of Chopper antics, which was particularly notable in a show that has sharpened its narrative/visual acumen.
  • Speaking of which: looks like Chopper and AP-5 are the show’s version of R2-D2 and C3P-O. Okay.
  • So… yikes. How quickly did the Ghost crew forget about Deiser? They didn’t even try to find her, or even inadvertently discover her body. They kind of talked about her towards the end but there wasn’t a definitive answer to what happened to her.
  • I liked the idea that the creatures had enough smarts to recognize the Ghost ship as the crew’s means of escape, but it’s never established they can make webbing of any sort.
  • Ezra and Kanan tossing Sabine over to the motion detector was just a great move. The Ghost team really can gel when the show wants them to.
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