I was pretty excited for this episode of Star Wars Rebels. After the previous two, both of which were quite good, I was really looking forward to this mid-season two-parter. It would be forty (or so) minutes and it would bring in a younger Saw Gerrera, who would be voiced by Forest Whitaker, who plays him in Rogue One. The episode would take place on Geonosis, which was the setting of my favorite arc from The Clone Wars, and held some disturbing mysteries hinted at in last year’s “The Honorable One.” (And on that point about The Clone Wars: there’s a whole Onderon arc involving an even younger Gerrera–an arc that holds a wealth of dramatic potential to tangentially return to). Basically, “Ghosts Of Geonosis” had the potential to be truly strong. Even if you have only a passing understanding of Star Wars’ canon, Star Wars Rebels’ hour-long episodes tend to really up their game.
The thing is, though: “Ghost Of Geonosis” is just… fine.
There’s nothing wrong with a “just fine” episode of Star Wars Rebels. It’s good for the show to put together a solid, tense episode where there are plenty of stakes, threats, and obstacles to adequately challenge the cast. But this is an episode that also had a lot going for it–not only because of everything that has been developed so far this season, but of all the things that “Ghost Of Geonosis” references or calls back to. The episode brings in Rex and Gerrera, and it mentions the histories and tragedies that befell them both. And yet with even the extra time, the episode never feels like things escalates the way it should–or the way it probably thinks it does. The writers involved, which includes Dave Filoni, Steven Melching, and Matthew Michnovetz, tell a pretty rote story, with only the image of heightened tension. There’s one sole moment of genuine character drama, and there’s one solid, badass action sequence, but in all honesty, there’s no real reason “Ghost Of Geonosis” should have been two parts.
The episode starts in a weird place, if you think about it. We already know about the Empire’s mass genocide of the Geonosians from back in “The Honorable Ones,” which seemed like an example of, you know, basic Imperial evilness. Yet it’s only now that we return to this overt act of war criminality, with the Ghost crew being sent to investigate what happened to the original rebel crew sent to investigate Geonosis. (An aside: sci-fi seems to always focus on secondary investigative teams, never primary ones.) I can’t say for sure how long it’s been since the rebellion learned of what happened on Geonosis and this episode, but it sure seems like a long time. So coming back to this planet now comes off like a narrative cop-out, especially since by the end of the episode we still don’t know why the Empire wiped out the species and what they’re using the planet for. (We do learn how–poison gas–but it’s a moot point with an army that has a planet-destroying satellite. This also leads to a confusing issue*, which I’ll get into in the Stray Observations).
Regardless, the Ghost crew lands on Geonosis and begin to investigate. And, look, there’s nothing wrong in watching characters methodically work through a mystery. It’s quite delightful to see Rex, Kanan, and Ezra discuss their situation and democratically decide to venture deeper into those tunnels. No one makes any ill-advised or flat out idiotic choices. As mentioned, Rebels often does a good job with visual creepiness, with the bland brown/gold color palette of the maze of caves used here effectively to disorient characters and viewers alike. Shots of empty helmets and blasters littering the path add to the tension. Should they go deeper? Should they report back? Should they split up? All these choices are valid and reasonable, which increases the stakes automatically.
Then we get to the reveal, and it’s just… battle droids. Okay. There’s a specific thing about Geonosis that The Clone Wars used to great effect**, and I’ll readily admit I had different expectations. That the deaths of the previous team were at the hands of old Clone War robots is deflating, especially since Rex and the Jedi make quick work of them. Assistance also arrives in the form of Gerrera himself, alive and well. He notes that those clankers were the ones who killed his team. Whitaker does a passable job voicing his animated counterpart, but he never really gets an opportunity grow into role. That’s partly because the script never provides him one. Things get a little more interesting when they find the figure behind the clankers–the “last” Geonosian they dub Klik-Klak***–but really, there’s only the impression of increased danger and hostility from Gerrara. He never actually becomes a threat.
[*semi-vague Rogue One spoilers*] It’s hard to not come into this episode without a grander expectation from Gerarra, especially after watching Rogue One. The whole idea behind him consisted of him being an extreme radical, someone whom the rebellion could no longer work with because of his extremism (I think the movie dropped the ball on that in a way but that’s neither here nor there.) [*end spoilers*] Characters argue with Gerarra and his growing aggression, push back against him abusing and torturing Klik-Klak, and mention his dangerous past behavior in vague terms. Admittedly, he is disturbing. Yet there’s also the idea of Gerarra’s behavior having some justification, or explanation (which Kanan brings up). Klik-Klak did wipe out his team. His sister was killed by a spacecraft that Geonosians had built. His home world, Onderon, has been through hell. But he never reaches a real tipping point. He comes close, as he forcefully comes close to commandeering the Ghost ship with Klik-Klak’s egg as hostage. For a brief, scary moment, we see that desperate, radical fire that threatens the team and the objective.
Then the Empire arrives, and it’s all swept under the rug.
I don’t know. Was it presumptuous of me to have expected something bigger? It’s clear that Disney prepped this episode to air soon after Rogue One’s release, so there was a guaranteed significant amount of hype. And it’s difficult to review this episode outside of everything that I, and more attentive fans, know about Gererra and Geonosis. But even coming into this episode without that knowledge, “Ghost Of Geonosis” simply does an okay job of basic storytelling. There’s a creepy investigation. There’s a disturbed ally you may or may not trust. There’s an antagonist that turns out to be simply scared and on the defensive. And then there’s the Empire that allows everyone to ultimately come together and fight against–and of course, they all win and all find common ground. We do get a pretty great sequence with everyone on top of the Ghost, descending into a pit, while battling a platoon of rocket-powered Stormtroopers (with Sabine owning the battle with her own jet-pack). Yet even with a movie connection, two full-length episodes, and a ton of Clone War history behind it, Star Wars Rebels’ mid-season episode is content to keep things low-key. I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.
- There’s a subplot in the first episode where Sabine and Zeb retrieve a core from a shield generator. Nothing happens here of any importance: they use the core to shield themselves from some dormant battle droids when they wake up and start blasting at them.
- Sabine: “Stupid sand. It gets everywhere.” Okay, I laughed here.
- * Hera: “Let’s load some of these [poison gas] canisters as proof for the Senate.” Correct me if I’m wrong but… what Senate? Wasn’t that essentially dissolved? I get the idea of Senators still running around and advocating resistance to the Empire but I don’t think there’s any central government body that the rebels can report to. If Hera said they needed the canisters so show reluctant planets proof of the Empire’s horrors, that would have made more sense.
- ** The Geonosis arc is my favorite mainly because each episode is basically “Star Wars, via a specific genre trope.” There a “war invasion” episode, a “stealth infiltration” episode, a “zombie” episode, and an “everyone’s getting infected” episode. The latter two showcase that the Geonosians are capable of truly creepy, controlling behavior, so it seemed like a lock they’d be somewhat related to the massacre of Gerrera’s team. I mean, they are, but not in the “The Walking Dead-hive-mind” way.
- At the very least, I thought Gerrara would be exposed as someone who lost it and killed his own team. This wasn’t the case as well. I think the writers were playing off our expectations in both regards, which would have been clever if they came up with something else. They did not.
- *** I put “last” in quotes because Klik-Klak isn’t actually the last Geonosian. He disappears deeper underground to, apparently, the remainder of his people. I like the idea of the species choosing (forcing?) one of their own on the surface to man defenses, but why keep a potential queen egg up there as well? Klik-Klak having a personal attachment to it could have been something to work with but the episode never provides clear motivation for him. Why did he keep it with him versus leaving it underground where it would be safer? Why did Klik-Klak stay on the surface, and why only him? We probably will come back to this, but it’s hard not to think of this as an undercooked plot point.
- (I rewatched the Geonosis arc from The Clone Wars [Season 2, starting with “Landing at Point Rain” and ending with “Brain Invaders”] and wow, I forgot how intense that show could be. And when you compare it to what “Ghosts of Geonosis” does, it makes the episode doubly disappointing.)
- Ezra: “Then you’re no better than the Empire.” Didn’t you set bombs in the middle of a parade back in season one? I found the moral/ethical/family arguments between Gerrera and the Ghost crew disingenuous because at no point does it honestly reflect on the rebellion’s, or the Ghost crew’s, more questionable acts. Ezra himself at the beginning of this season forced an AT-ST off the edge of a bridge, obviously killing everyone on board! He is the last person to be saying lines like that.