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Star Wars Rebels’ approach to its surprise, well-known cameos is decidedly hit or miss. Some characters, like Darth Vader or Lando Calrissian, manage to bring enough menace or charm (respectively) to more or less claim the episode as their own. Others, like C-3PO, R2-D2, and Hondo, were cute but never quite figured out how to make them work in tandem with the cast or story at large. “A Princess on Lothal” is definitely a latter type of episode, but it’s less because of the appearance of a clever, yet misused, Princess Leia, and more because of the clumsy execution of the actual story being told–although, Leia herself doesn’t do much at all. It seems like Steven Melching, who wrote this episode, and Bosco Ng, who directed it, weren’t on the same page. There’s a lot of steps between the screenplay and the finished product that may have affected things (storyboards, rigging, scenic direction, etc.), but it feels like there’s some kind of disconnect, particularly in that final action sequence, where the actual, visual logistics are sloppily handled.

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The beginning is strong, though, as it continues right where “Legacy” left off. Ezra is deeply hurt about the truth of his parents, and the rebels struggle with the fallout of the attack on Garell. The tone is appropriately dour, and with the news of more ships on their way, this episode is shaping up to be a kind of “inspirational” episode, in which Princess Leia’s arrival will somehow kickstart a down-and-out rebel alliance back into action. It’s clear that’s what the episode is trying to go for, but nothing Leia says or does seems like it gives the rebels the impetus to spring back into action–or rather, nothing she says or does makes it feel like the Princess Leia cameo is even necessary.

Leia’s arrival, in fact, seems to bring out Ezra’s worse tendencies again, with his snide attitude and snark about being bossed around by a woman. Melching may have been trying to connect that attitude to Ezra’s current level of grief, but it never lands because the episode never makes it clear that his grief is something he’s actively working through. “A Princess” is just filled with too much busy work, just like “Legacy”–the broad setting up of the Empire’s “protection” of Leia’s ships, the reluctance of Ryder Azadi’s assistance, the explanation of Leia’s overall (now troubled) plan–and it never seems to be able to stick with one idea and follow it through. So Leia’s brief talk with Ezra, about fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, is poignant but too easily settled. If Ezra’s ability to get over his emotions quickly is the goal, that’s fine, but that’s not the impression I got from the scene. (A bit more on this in the Stray Observations.)

Likewise, when Leia demands ideas from the Ghost crew on how to handle the Empire’s security over her three ships, the impression is that she’s being stern and not taking failure as an option, but it just comes off flat. She doesn’t exactly say anything to truly inspire the crew, offering just to be a distraction for a bunch of ideas the Ghost crew probably would’ve came up with if she wasn’t there. Hell, at least Azadi offers real information about those gravity locks, which makes me think that this episode would’ve been better off focusing on his hesitation, then eventual acceptance, of returning to the rebellion (the dramatic beat the episode actually ended on).

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Then there’s the final action sequence, which might be the clunkiest action sequence I’ve seen in a while. There are some specific, baffling moments that even younger kids might be confused by. There the moment where the first transport ship is released and starts to lift off, but the lieutenant and his two (just two?) Stormtroopers don’t notice until Leia points it out (why did she do that?). There’s the really weird thing where the second AT-AT doesn’t do anything until well into the actual conflict (I re-watched this battle a few times to confirm, and there are moments where that AT-AT practically disappears). There’s the admittedly cool thing where Kanan slices the legs off one AT-AT but not the other, whenever it happens to appear. And there’s the odd thing where said AT-AT kind of sits there when Azadi uses the transport ship’s rockets to knock it over (not to mention other, minor complaints, like this more pedantic one about AT-AT’s extra-shielding, but that’s entering nerd territory).

Yes, being overly critical about the final sequence might come off being too picky. But it’s because I truly believe in the show, and it managed some pretty awesome action moments in the past, so for it to suddenly get a bit lazy is a disservice to the show at large. There’s a lot of potential in “A Princess on Lothal” but nothing really happens, and very little of it looks any good. Azadi looks to become a major player, though, and any character voiced by the great Clancy Brown is an automatic win.

Stray observations

  • So rumor is that Ezra will being going through some serious, Dark Side-esque struggles in the second half of the season, which might help to explain how… random Ezra’s emotional state seems so far. Particularly that moment where he leaps on a Stormtrooper and beats him down pretty brutally–Kanan and Leia give him a look but don’t say anything (a similar moment happens in “Legacy”). It would be quite something for the show to stealthily play the long game with Ezra–a slow, methodical decline into the Dark Side with Kanan none the wiser.
  • I find it hard to believe that the Stormtroopers never saw Hera and her ship coming when she arrived to rescue Azadi, Kanan, and Ezra. I’m not sure how much more of the “Stormtroopers don’t notice the obvious” trope I can take.
  • Holy hell, Zeb took too much glee in knocking out Kanan and Ezra. What was that about?
  • “Make it look good.” “Oh! We gotta make this look good.” Kids cartoon or not, that is legit the worst exchange of 2016.

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