Star Wars Rebels is back and coming out with new episodes regularly. I’ve been a bit behind, so I hadn’t gotten a chance to review as I’d intended. However, it appears the fifth episode is going to be B-wing-centric, and I figured I’d better catch up on my review duties before it came out.
The first two episodes of Season 2 are a back-to-back story arc, and really deserve to be reviewed together.
The Ghost crew head out to an uninhabited world, looking for an unnamed military officer recommended by Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka herself is present only at the very beginning and end of the arc; otherwise, she is presumably investigating the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, who was once her master, Anakin Skywalker.
The leader in question was unnamed for a good reason – it’s Captain Rex of Clone Wars fame, and a clone to boot. Order 66 survivor Kanan Jarrus understandably distrusts a member of the army that slaughtered Jedi from Coruscant to the Rim, leaving his own apprentice, Ezra Bridger, to handle the three Clone Wars veterans, all dysfunctional in their own ways, while he deals with his own anger and hatred.
There’s a danger to Star Wars Rebels in this arc. It spent the first season carefully building its own identity and feel, returning to the more adventuresome spirit of A New Hope that is a distinct contrast to the darker, war-is-hell approach of Clone Wars. With the return of Clone Wars characters, it could quickly revert back to the spirit of its predecessor.
The writers seem aware of that, and took things a bit too far in the light-hearted direction. While the fishing-for-sand-worms bit was hilarious and clever, it also made too light of the fact that the clones had risked Zeb’s life as bait – and were well-aware that their own equipment wasn’t in great repair, as evidenced by Rex’s warning to Sabine that she had to keep it going or Zeb would die. And at the end of the sequence, the only person that seemed angry – and legitimately so – about the near-loss of Zeb is Kanan. Everyone else, including Zeb, just brushed it off like, “Oh, those wacky clones.”
The no-consequences feeling continued with Wolfe, who contacted the Empire to turn Kanan and Ezra over as Jedi. At the end of the first episode, it’s brushed off as a no-harm, no-foul affair, even after he was exposed as intercepting messages from Ahsoka to Rex to ensure Rex never saw them. This isn’t a live-and-let-live situation; his poor judgement almost got them all killed, and he was interfering with a friendship where he had no right to be.
The Empire responds as expected in the beginning of the second episode, arriving at the planet in response to Wolfe’s message and deploying AT-AT walkers to hunt down the Rebels and the clones on their Clone Wars-era AT-TE.
In one of the best sequences in the series thus far, the good guys realize they’re outmatched and flee into a dust storm, blinding both friendly and enemy sensors alike and allowing the Jedi to gain an upper hand. With Kanan guiding the clone crew, Ezra mans the AT-TE’s weapons as the only other one capable of hitting a target in the storm.
Agent Kallus, the Imperial Security Bureau agent who has been pursuing the Rebels since the beginning of the series, proves a competent commander. He underestimates the Jedi in the dust storm, losing one of his walkers, but still has the situation fully under control until his air support is pulled without his knowledge, allowing the Rebels crew to escape aboard the Phantom while the clones cover their escape.
In a sequence reminiscent of “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, the clones take on the two remaining Imperial AT-ATs in a head-on confrontation. The new Imperial armor is more than a match for the clones and their twenty-year-old equipment, however, and the battle quickly turns against them. Only Kanan’s change of heart and the return of the Phantom and its crew turn the battle back in time to save the clones from dying.
While the first episode of the two-parter came off too light-hearted for my taste (save Kanan’s well-deserved dislike of the clones), the second part was a great take on both characters and warfare as we’ve seen it in Star Wars. There’s no fanservice done here; although the clones, particularly Rex, were favorites from Clone Wars, they clearly lost the fight. The final reunion between Rex and Ahsoka aboard a Rebel blockade runner was touching as well: “You grew up,” the clone observes.
Overall, though, the stakes seem small for the season opener. It made sense for Season 1 to start small; it was introducing us to new characters and a small crew, and the stakes grew throughout, culminating in the rescue at Mustafar that brought a Rebel fleet out of hiding. Season 2’s movie kept the tension high with Darth Vader’s appearance, the Imperials crushing the spirit of the Lothal Rebels, and the final space combat between Imperial and Rebel forces that saw most of Phoenix Squadron wiped out and their command ship destroyed.
And suddenly, we’re back to a desert with three characters, aside from the Ghost crew. I understand very well that the stakes can’t always continue to escalate, and breather episodes are necessary, but this would’ve made a great episode 3 and 4 for the season. As the premiere? A bit weak.