Well, it’s about time.
Star Wars Rebels has been having a questionable season, hasn’t it? After an ambitious, promising start, the second season has fluctuated between “barely serviceable” and “kind of awful.” (The Seventh Sister and the Fifth Brother are freaking laughable at this point.) I don’t think Rebels ever really needed a long-term story arc, but it’s episodic stories were mostly unfocused, gimmicky, and/or just unnecessary. This show has so much potential with its characters and its world, but so far, it never gave its narratives the kind of weight they needed (whether those narratives were comedic or dramatic), so the show just felt like it was coasting. And I thought that maybe a story arc would force the writers out of their malaise.
“The Protector of Concord Dawn” made me eat my words (although I reserve the right to spit them back up). It’s a tense, startling episode, but it also manages a strong, thematic framework within the story–provided you just accept the characters as they’re presented here. I mean, Kanan hasn’t really advocated a “no killing” policy before (I’m pretty sure people have died at least indirectly by his hands), and Sabine never seemed all that connected to Mandalorian’s warrior culture and philosophy before (in fact, didn’t she admit she was trying to escape that back in “Out of Darkness”?). Here, though, using Hera’s near-death as a test of sorts between the two different approaches in going after Fenn Rau works because it brings out the characters’ most intriguing aspects to the forefront, creating a real conflict without being overbearing.
Speaking of which, though: how freaking great is it to see an awesome Sabine for once? She always had potential to run away with an episode but for some reason, the writers never embraced her full potential until now. Henry Gilroy and Kevin Hopps, who shared writing duties on this episode, delve into her history with Mandalorian society, which is a trillion times more interesting than her crappy street art or whatever. Sabine’s reaction to an injured Hera (a visual that, in itself, was shocking and disturbing to see) is to essentially tap into that Mandalorian past, establishing a kind of raw anger that drives her unlike anything we’ve really seen before. Watching her sneak around the Mandalorian base planting bombs, you get the sense that she’s tapping into something “primordial,” as she was driven by some learned instincts that she kept at bay for a while now.
On the other side is Kanan, who feels a bit more “Jedi” here than in episodes past. There’s something to his steadfast commitment to following Hera’s example and attempt to make peace despite their attack that hurt her (and killed three other soldiers, let’s be clear). His relationship with Hera is a bit ambiguous at this point–sometime they act like lovers, sometimes just co-leaders–and I don’t think it necessarily needs clarity, but the two are close enough that you’d think it would be Kanan who would be struggling with this dilemma a little more. Yet watching Kanan subtly but clearly tamp down his feelings in order to try and reason with Fenn Rau was a great piece of nuance that the show can do when it wants to.
The question of whether to resort to classic, brutal violence, or maintain a diplomatic front for some sort of accord is the best part of the episode. It’s not a particularly clean example of the theme, but it gives both Kanan and Sabine clear motives, motives that aren’t set in stone. Once Sabine is caught and invokes the code, things look as if they’re going to go bad, with Kanan and Sabine verbally arguing their stances and their reasons. And yes, things do go bad, but manageably so–violence erupts but no one is killed (which… I’m skeptical about). Sabine maintains her cool while engaging her warrior instincts, Kanan manages to get Fenn to allow them safe hyperdrive passage while being forced to fight, and we get a great action sequence in the process–much better handled than last week’s nonsensical end sequence. That’s the rebellion in a nutshell though: hoping for the best, preparing for the worse, and having to settle for something in between. It’s messy, but it’s a worthwhile, meaningful mess.
- Fenn Rau isn’t a stand out villain but he’s notable all the same, and makes a great foil to both Sabine and Kanan. At the end of the episode he’s a prisoner, but it would be great to re-visit him again.
- Sabine’s “House Vizsla” speech and subsequent revelation that she’s technically was a member of the Death Watch was the best thing from her in months. (Add to the fact that the Death Watch was a vocally aggressive sect of Mandalorians that opposed any attempts at peace and this episode showcases even more layers).
- I’m starting to think that Chopper and his “wacky” behavior is a comic mandate by Disney. After his requisite, jerk antics at the beginning, he’s hardly mentioned in the episode again.
- Furthermore, I’m starting to think that Disney is rather clueless on what, exactly, people really like about Star Wars. Rumors are the delays in the next Star Wars film is due to script re-writes, primarily to emphasize Rey, Finn, and Poe. They were completely blindsided by their popularity; they expected Kylo Ren to be the favorite. Which is so baffling that, if true, renders me speechless.