In the last review, in the Stray Observations, I wrote about how little I cared for this season’s take on Ezra. He’s generally a screw-up, but for some reason he is also an arrogant, smarmy screw-up. You could excuse that in the first season because he was young, naive, and a complete novice to both being a Jedi and a rebel. Second season Ezra was fun–he was still naive, but he was brimming with a confident optimism and a desire to help people, all to a fault. Now, he’s not only unpleasant but it feels like everyone is excusing his jerkiness. That being said, ”Iron Squadron” feels like writer Matt Michnovetz’s attempt to address this? It presents another “proto-Ezra” character as if to compare the two. It wants to say, “See? Current Ezra is annoying, but look how much he has changed since the beginning!” by showing off Mart, another stubborn kid who also thinks he knows better than everyone, and also has dead parents. (If it isn’t clear, Zeb even calls out the Iron Squadron as a ship full of Ezras.) Here’s my question: why? What even is the point of this?
Once it became clear where the episode was going, I let out an audible groan. After a flawed but deeply interesting first couple of episodes, this season of Star Wars Rebels is quickly squandering its potential. It’s nervous about exploring its more intriguing aspects (Mandalorian culture, Darth Maul, the rebels’ limited resources, whatever happened to Ahsoka) and is coasting via weird, cliched, unearned lessons. Ezra “won” the Clone War? It took Fenn Rau all episode to be “turned” to the rebellion because of Sabine’s loyalty? And now, an awkward speech from Ezra about knowing when to fight versus what to fight for (followed by a hilariously sad attempt to take out a major Empire ship with cargo) is required for Mart to learn a hard lesson about humility and living to fight for another day. Or just to have a modicum of intelligence. I don’t really know.
The Ghost crew meet up with the Iron Squadron while evacuating a planet under attack from the Empire. They meet the three members on board their disheveled ship after their clever, if impractical, defense from the Empire, and they proceed to spend most of the episode trying to convince this crew to stop being morons. There’s a lot of various intriguing points in the background–Mart being Commander’s Sato’s nephew, for example. But this isn’t a Sato-episode, so we don’t learn anything about him, nor the exact nature of the relationship between him and his nephew. There’s some potential that this episode will be about Hera, who takes point on trying to convince Mart on the futility of his “mission”. Maybe this will be a reflection of Hera, an exploration of the thin line between dedication and hard-headedness? Nope. Hera basically fades into the background when they leave the Iron Squadron the first time. This episode is, I think, about Ezra’s attempt to connect to Mart in some way, but “Iron Squadron” does the bare minimum (if anything at all) to really place the two young “heroes” in comparative context. At no point do Ezra or Mart get personal or in-depth on the nature of their stubborn resolve for their need to protect people (on re-watch, I realized that Mart’s not even in the room when Ezra gives his whole “fight” speech), so the whole purpose of this episode is muddled.
And that’s all because Mart is such a poorly defined character. He’s cock-sure but also an idiot. Sato mentions that his father was killed in battle, but Mart never mentions this, so we never learn how he really feels. He rants about his need to protect the planet, his home, but not only is this too broad (this is clearest example of an entire planet as a substitute for a home being a liability) but it never quite focuses into any specific, personal reason. The running gag where Mart believes every Imperial ship is a he sees is a Star Destroyer is funny on paper, but frustrating to watch on screen because it only goes to showcase how dumb this kid is (I know he’s young but seriously, he’s never even seen a hologram of one?). Perhaps they could have redeemed him if they gave Mart a chance to realize how insanely out of his league he was: to contrast his zeal in the hit-and-run tactics to the sheer overwhelming force of the Empire. I expected Mart to look upon an actual Star Destroyer with overwhelming horror and dread before they escape. He instead looks upon it with as if he got a slightly lower grade than expected on a test. In this case though, “Iron Squadron” earns that C+.
- Sato and Thrawn have history, which I guess will be dealt with in the future, but right now it’s a half-assed tease. I like the concept of Thrawn so far but all he has done so far is make thought-filled-but-vague threats. He’s more of a danger to fellow Imperial guards than the rebels so far. I hope this leads somewhere (remember how laughable the Fifth Brother and Seven Sister were?).
- Gooti and Jonner are… there. They run through the requisite beats of being on Mart’s side, only to not be, right on cue.
- This is going to be a bit nit-picky, but hear me out a second. I’m pretty fascinated by filler scenes and quickie details in animated shows because they add bits of flavor and details that cost time/money, but are always appreciated when done well. That being said, I hated the bit where the Iron Squadron stop to eat. It’s such a garbage waste of details. First, Tooti yells out, “I’m starving!” and a plate of sliced Eggo Waffles are dropped on the table. Gooti doesn’t eat any! Jonner, before he eats, offers Hera some instead. She refuses. Jonner then proceeds not to eat any either. Mart grabs a slice, contemplatively, then tosses it aside. What? Watching the execution of this small bit of ephemera was a tedious representation of the episode as a whole.
- If the show is introducing this group for future episodes down the line, again, I have to ask why? You have Zare Leonis and Jai Kell way back in season one’s “Breaking Ranks” to do that job. Remember them?