Well, it looks like the Sith has finally hit the fan.
Sorry for the pun, but as implied last week, Star Wars Rebels is finally starting to gain some serious momentum. The stakes have risen, the threats feel more dangerous, and the characters are in a more precarious position, leaving them less cock-sure than usual. Will this arc be sustainable until the end of the season, or will it run its course by the end of the next episode? It’s hard to say: personally I’d prefer the former, but cartoon producers don’t take too kindly to long term story arcs.
Rebels doesn’t have the loose, multi-character, multi-story structure that was utilized in Clone Wars. Clone Wars used its openness to tell broad “mini-movies” within various genres–storylines that felt more like tall tales, legends, and/or epics about the events that took place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (a decision that was ultimately hit or miss). Rebels, by narrowing its focus to a few characters, has to work much harder to make its cast stand out–to make the audience really feel their individual and collective struggle through subsequent episodes. That requires some real character development and more palpable stakes, and this episode really nails the latter.
Not so much the former, as Sabine and Zeb (and to certain extent, Hera) still feel undercooked, which sort of holds this episode back a bit. Still, what we do get, with Ezra and Kanan, and the arrival of Grand Moff Tarkin, suggests some kind of forward progression, something that goes beyond basic videogame-esque missions, wacky situations, or awkward training scenarios. For one thing, Tarkin raises the stakes on the Empire side, grilling Commandant Aresko and Taskmaster Grint right before having The Inquisitor decapitate them. It’s a chilling moment, mainly because nothing quite as consequential has occurred up until that moment. To be clear, Tarkin’s overall plan isn’t more or less aggressive than The Inquisitor’s or Kallus’ previous schemes, but the general brought consequences, and killing off those two bumbling henchmen can only mean the show is starting to get serious.
Ironically, the episode is about sacrifice. The Empire uses sacrifice to set a vicious example; Ezra and Kanan, on the other hand, explore it as an potential element in their on-going crusade. Trayvis’ betrayal created a sense of despair across the rebellious factions of the universe (this is implied, mainly through Hera, although it would be nice to at least witness the reactions of some other intergalactic revolutionaries), so the Ghost crew decide to infiltrate a communications tower and broadcast their own positive, hope-affirming message. Before, the crew was satisfied with being a general nuisance towards the Empire, but now, it feels like they have a purpose–a collective purpose, at least. The question of whether this purpose is worth sacrificing oneself for still remains, though.
Ezra’s issue is personal–he doesn’t want to lose his new-found family for this quest, just like he lost his parents. It’s Kanan’s stake that’s a lot more significant, as he realizes his personal journey to re-establishing himself as a genuine Jedi goes way beyond teaching a Padawan. This is essentially a story about a fallen hero finding his own sense of sacrificial redemption, notably by fighting like a Jedi to hold off the encroaching Empire faction so his team can escape. He’s eventually subdued and captured, and upon re-watch it’s clear that he was intending himself to be captured all along.
The episode’s strongest moment by far is its final sequence. As Ezra nervously speaks out against the Empire via the communications tower’s signal, it intercuts with Kanan’s captors, the powerful broadcast cut short by missiles exploding against the base of that very tower, destroying it instantly. The Empire’s biggest fear is that figures like Kanan become heroes–symbols of hope–and the sequence, hell, the entire episode, symbolizes the extent to which the Empire will literally demolish that spirit.
- Ending the episode on silence save for that uncomfortable static? Gold.
- THIS WEEK IN EMPIRE EVILNESS: Nothing tops Aresko’s and Grint’s cold-blooded execution. Nothing.
- I know accepting the Stormtroopers piss-poor military prowess is a given, but the moronic way they just sit there while Sabine casually tosses an explosive onto their ship–while those troopers have them literally in their gun sights–is laughable.
- Coincidentally, I just finished The Clone Wars’s season five Onderon arc, which in some ways parallels this episode. It was fairly decent, although it missed a lot of potentially rich conflicts, and it muddled the role of the Republic/Separatists war (not sure why it implied the Republic’s role in helping the Onderon rebels was akin to terrorism, especially since the Republic has helped Confederacy rebels before). Really, I just mentioned this because I thought it was weird the king never ordered the destruction of the various Onderon holographic messages, when here Tarkin destroyed ostensibly an expensive Empire tower like it was nothing.
- I accept my Star Wars nerd cred with pride.