“Breaking Ranks” doesn’t do much to really push the overall direction of the Ghost crew forward, but it does do a bit with Ezra, emphasizing his innate heroism in a fairly decent, if unremarkable episode. There also seems to be some potential future developments, in regards to the three other named cadets in the episode, all of whom disappear in different directions at the end. Maybe they’ll return in different capacities when the Rebellion hits full swing?

I don’t want to speculate, but in all honestly, speculation is the best thing to take from this episode. I want to say that “Breaking Ranks” has some interesting ideas of loyalty and friendship, particularly when it comes to the stakes of a mission. There’s some gray area here, and there are a few moments that the episode plays around with that, but on the whole the episode makes it clear: friendship and loyalty trumps all, even when the very status of an important, life-or-death objective comes into question.

Ezra is sent to infiltrate a Stormtrooper training facility, working up the ranks so he can get into position to steal a decoder. The decoder is needed to track a Kyber crystal shipment, which apparently, in the hands of the Empire, would be devastating. In essence, the mission is to acquire a MacGuffin so they can find another MacGuffin. Cartoons seem to cut their teeth on MacGuffins—90 percent of Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness was based on some BS item being stolen/destroyed/threatened—but this episode really double-downed on random-yet-irrelevant items to push the plot along. Over-expository dialogue doesn’t really help, leaving Hera and Kanan to explain the overall story beats to get context and reason as to why our characters are in the situation that they’re in.

Cartoons are actually notorious for this: Episodes often start in the middle of the action, only to cutaway to stilted, awkward dialogue intended solely for the audience to catch-up. A little bit of this is fine, but Hera and Kanan are too important and too brimming with potential for them to sit in the Ghost and spout information at each other, information that they already know. Still, there’s some great character insight here: Kanan is embracing the paternal role, a lot more worried and concerned for Ezra’s well-being than Hera, who is clearly the more level-headed and self-assured person here. (It’s not that she doesn’t care about Ezra, it’s that she has way more confidence in him—she might be the only one on board who sees Ezra as adult, as everyone else refers to him as “kid,” “boy,” and “not ready.”) Seeing more of this interplay between the two would be a boon to that relationship, entertainment-wise, way beyond watching them bicker over crystals (leave that to Steven Universe).

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As mentioned, the meat of the episode is Ezra and the Stormtrooper training. It’s been weeks, apparently, and the top recruits are Ezra (fake name Dev Morgan), Jai Kell, Zare Leonis, and Oleg. Over the course of the episode, the dynamics of these course recruits alter and change, and it looks like the episode is about who Ezra should trust. It doesn’t quite work out that way, though. Ezra befriends Jai at first, but he’s caught sending signals to Chopper by Zare, but then finds common ground with him when he mentions his sister disappearing in the same facility years ago. He works with Zare to acquire the decoder, seemingly turning against Jai for that plan to work. The burgeoning, “gray area” tension this creates is rendered moot, as Ezra discovers the training ground is fodder for Inquisitor recruits, so he makes up with Jai and saves him. This ends up leaving Zare behind to the Inquisitor’s whims, but since this is Zare’s decision (as opposed to something like Ezra abandoning Zare to save Jai’s and his own hides), Ezra isn’t really given much of a choice here. For a brief moment he had to sacrifice a colleague for the greater good, but overall, everything “worked” out, which deflates the dramatic stakes a bit.

I like the idea that these kids are a solid mix of characters with different agendas. The recruits aren’t all mindless Empire patriots, but seem as reluctant and awkward as most young recruits tend to be. Oleg seems to be the only one who’s completely dedicated to the Emperor’s cause, which is why he’s sidelined and never takes off his helmet. Perhaps this is significant, like all the actions of the various kids. By the end of the episode, Jai is in hiding with his mother, Zare is under the Inquisitor’s wing, and Oleg is… somewhere, I guess. I’m assuming we’ll be seeing all of these characters in the future, which has a lot of promise for some future stories.

Overall this episode feels like table-setting, placing one potential ally on the outside (if in hiding) of the Empire and one on the inside. I can get behind the idea of young people being part of the spark that instigates the rebellion, even if “Breaking Ranks” does little to advance the main characters. Still, re-emphasizing Ezra’s nature to save others is a great, fun thing to witness. Also they get to pilot a walker!

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STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • THIS WEEK IN EMPIRE EVILNESS: The two commanders screeching about how victory is more important than friendships. By coming out of the mouths of Empire lackeys, any semblance of the dramatic tension of this dichotomy is completely tossed out the window.
  • Speaking of which, how utterly useless were they when the Academy was under attack? They just stood there and commented on the events.
  • So I’m assuming that while the original Stormtroopers are all clones, new recruits can be regular people?
  • I suppose we’re not supposed to ponder how many people were probably killed in that final assault between Hera/Kanan and the Imperial ships? Star Wars Rebels is a fairly brutal show. This doesn’t bother me too much, but I know a lot of people may have concerns with their kids watching that kind of material. Disney seems to pushing this show so it resembles the vibe of the original trilogy, which is great (how many people died when the Death Star exploded?), although I do wish the deaths were given a little more weight behind them.
  • So blowing up the ship with the crystals caused the shockwaves that destroyed everything else in the vicinity? I ask because, really, all they had to do was destroy one ship, and everything would have been wiped out.
  • If these Kyber crystals are the same as the ones mentioned here, it seems like they’d be more significant than just another thing that needed to be destroyed. Feels like the episode kinda wasted their potential.
  • I was getting a major Mega Man vibe with those moving platforms.

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