Star Wars Rebels is back! And so are the reviews! I’m excited to delve back into this show, which has had an extremely interesting first three episodes (which I’ll get more into in the Stray Observations). Between season two and season three (especially after the devastating season two finale), much has changed for the Ghost crew and the rebels in general. Mostly, it’s hairstyles. I’m not digging Ezra’s new cut but Sabine’s dye job is lovely. More seriously, there’s a renewed, but still tense, dynamic between Ezra and the now-blind Kanan, the Phantom is gone, and the rebels are, quite frankly, not in a great place. This season so far is emphasizing just how woefully unprepared and lacking the rebels are. Last year, Star Wars Rebels spent a bit too much time with characters going on fetch quests. Now? Those fetch quests feel both necessary and desperate, where successes are measured in the acquisition of five ships or two pilots. Swelling victory music can’t mask how hollow those wins feel.

Let’s back up a second. Gary Whitta, who wrote Book of Eli and After Earth (and has some writing credit on the upcoming Rogue One) pens his first Rebels first script. I don’t know if the show is going to be looking outside of its core creative group more often this season, but they should, if only to allow more, diverse voices to expand the characters and the universe. Whitta isn’t immune to basic cliches. There’s a typical scene in which the Sabine’s fake badge doesn’t scan at first, but then scans on the second attempt. Also, anyone who has watched anything ever would recognize in a second that she and Wedge are just inside a simulation when they’re shot down at the commercial break. The first act is clumsy and unoriginal, but in a way, it sets you up for the wholly different second and third one.

Sabine, who has been the show’s weakest link, has finally been given a chance to let her background and history shine through her actions beyond her vague artistic aspirations. Her Mandalorian heritage and her past with the Imperial Academy allows the audience to experience a basic breakout through a new and significant lens. During the simulation, for example, she questions the command to blow up a rebel ship, when normally Imperial troops would board it. It’s clear now the Empire has adopted a “take no prisoners” approach to dealing with the rebels, and while that was sort of established back in season two when Darth Vader arrived, it’s finally being shown. When the three pilots attempt to escape, their ships are not only disabled from afar, but one pilot is straight-up killed. It’s a brutal realization, but it raises the stakes all around. (Sabine isn’t the only who isn’t on board with this new approach; Kallus has become increasingly uncomfortable around his fellow war crime perpetrators, to the point that he even helps her, Wedge, and Hobbie escape.)

Luckily, Sabine knows how to take control. When captured, she sacrifices herself to save Wedge from torture, but then easily fights off her captors and Governor Pryce, in a pretty awesome, pretty ugly (on purpose) fight. Is this the first time we see Sabine use her fists this extensively? Her declaration that her “clan taught her better!” before walloping Pryce was perfect, as was the nifty contrast between the two “cute” pilots whining about escaping, only to be freed by Sabine herself. (When they mention how they were planning to escape, Sabine sweetly scoffs, “That’s cute.”) Those small moments showcase a tougher, more character-rich side of Sabine, and I look forward to seeing her get into more scrappy situations in the future. That future at the moment isn’t looking so bright though. Gaining two new pilots is a nice reward, but in contrast to the massacre in the opening scene, that’s barely a success.

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Stray observations

  • So, yeah, Star Wars Rebels reviews are back! I won’t be able to do retroactive reviews of the first three aired episodes, but they sort of flow together thematically. “Steps Into Shadow,” parts 1 and 2, and “The Holocrons Of Fate” focused primarily on the tension between Ezra and Kanan, especially after the craziness of “Twilight Of The Apprentice.” The episodes handled their slow but eventual reunion strongly, although I had some issues with how it set that all up. Kanan speaks with yet another Force-adjacent spirit to find himself (Bendu), and I don’t know how often the show can go down this well before it gets repetitive. I do admire the dedication of it all, and when Kanan and Ezra embrace in the cave in “The Holocrons Of Fate,” it’s immensely effective.
  • Still, it’s hurt by a kind of flat plotting, particularly in “Steps Into Shadow,” with its workman-like story of the Ghost crew acquiring the fighters, although that final scene of the plummeting shipyard was well done. I was less impressed by Maul’s return in “The Holocrons Of Fate,” which started off with his random capture of Sabine, Zeb, Hera, and Chopper. Not only do we not see how he did this, the episode possesses one of my most loathed cliches–an escape attempts that fails. When they don’t change the stakes of the episode in any significant way, they come off as a waste of time. If I had to grade them all, I’d give the three-episode run a solid B.
  • The big things to know. 1) A character from the various Star Wars novels, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is poised to be a big player this season. I’m not familiar with him so I’ll let you all speculate and comment on his potential. 2) Maul escapes from the Ghost crew after witnessing the contents of the holocrons, cackling about someone who’s alive. If you’re only familiar with the movies, he’s probably talking about Obi-Wan; if you’re familiar with The Clone Wars, there’s a chance he’s talking about Darth Sidious. Or maybe someone else entirely? Who knows? 3) The most significant thing to me is Ezra’s continued struggle between the Dark Side and the Force. He’s on better terms with Kanan now but there’s definitely a sense he’s still strongly tempted by sinister forces. In a deeply disturbing scene, Ezra Jedi-mind controls a pilot of a AT-DP. He not only forces him to shoot his fellow Stormtroopers, he then forces him to literally walk off the edge of a ledge to his death. It’s uncomfortable, made even more so by the weirdly blasé reactions of his teammates. I don’t know how the show feels about this, though, which both worries and excites me.
  • Did… did this episode kill off the only black pilot? Sorry Rebels, you don’t get a pass on that.

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