Star Wars Rebels doesn’t do guest stars all that well. Usually they’re nothing but glorified cameos and/or superficial references–does any one remember when Princess Leia showed up? Or R2-D2 and C-3PO? (At least Lando was fun enough to be somewhat memorable). Mon Mothma’s appearance, on the other hand, is one of the show’s best cameos in ages. She works because there’s a small, personal story that’s told through her (via a conversation with Hera, mostly), and her ultimate decision in the end leads to an effective and emotionally sense of unity.
Star Wars Rebels has been doing a lot of things better, really. The dialogue is still clunky, but the thematic elements are more assured, the forced comic bits have been reduced, and the action scenes have been improved. Matt Michnovetz pens a script that is fairly by the numbers, but thrives with enough visceral tension within the space battle that makes it more exciting and usual, and director Bosco Ng infuses those scenes with the proper amount of visual emphasis. This isn’t a typical shoot-and-dodge space battle. Obstacles are added at a solid clip–escaping an exploding ship, maneuvering through a nebula, skirting the surface of a forming star–that keeps things, if you pardon the pun, hot. Star Wars Rebels feels like it’s starting to acknowledge its strengths, particularly in its action scenes; they feel obligatory now, instead of a distraction.
“Secret Cargo” also utilizes an interesting angle to the episode, an angle that hasn’t been explored in a while: the scattered, messy conglomerate of rebellion factions. Not only is the rebellion desperate for assistance and supplies, it also comprises multiple factions with different, disparate approaches to the war. We’ve known that since Rogue One (and even before that, if you’re that type of fan), but the nuanced argument that arises in this episode adds more flavor, more details to Rebels’ world in particular. The dirty, more aggressive tactics utilized by the Ghost crew run afoul of Mothma’s crew and their preferences for organization and discipline. This argument is way more substantial than past “arguments” over tactics (certainly more so than they were in “Ghosts of Geonosis,” which led nowhere), because the circumstances are more immediate and consequential. Should the Ghost crew have focused more on avoiding that droid? Should they have been alerted of Mothma’s existence? Of course, that dilemma will never be solved, but that’s what made Mothma’s speech at the end (and the arrival of the various rebel fleets) so inspiring, so powerful. They are in this together.
Getting to that moment was no easy feat though. Escaping the ship with Mon Mothma was one thing–a nicely executed scene for sure. But the crew is chased down by a shielded, experimental ship, the TIE prototype that was revealed in “An Inside Man”. It’s a dangerous machine for sure, which manages to take out the remaining rebels protecting Hera and Mothma. (They barely escape it by flying insanely close to a forming star, generating the episode’s most tense and visually exciting sequence.) It’s disappointing though that Chekov’s ion cannon quickly disposes of its shield. (I mean, what are the odds?) It’s down but not out, so we’ll see it again, but I do wish we could see it more in stalker mode–more as a genuine threat that isn’t so easily dispatched.
Mon Mothma herself isn’t so easily dispatched. An outspoken senator who slowly realizes that her words aren’t going to incite enough change against the Empire’s growing power, she instead uses her words to unity a fractious rebellion into one (semi) solid unit. Renouncing her senatorial role, she makes the case–via a cross-cutting montage–to stand up as one against the Empire, and it feels substantial. It’s been and up and down season for the Star Wars Rebels, but any episode that ends on a high note is worthwhile.
- Sorry for the lateness of this review! A thing came up kind of at the last minute.