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A little breathing room gives life to the premiere of Star Wars Rebels' final season

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If you haven’t heard, this is Star Wars Rebels’ fourth and final season. Throughout its run, Star Wars Rebels has had its heights for sure, but quite a few lows as well. Its primary issue, however, is that it has always felt inessential, a side curiosity to Star Wars lore instead of something substantial and supplementary. It always felt like the show never quite knew how to develop its cast of misfits: Kanan, Hera, Sabine, Zeb, Chopper, and particularly Ezra have been inconsistent at best, and the episodes (and the writing of them) struggled to give them a real overall sense of purpose. (There are still a lot questions. Why is Lothal so important? What happened to the romance between Kanan and Hera? Why has Ezra matured so erratically?)


We get hints of an answer to that second question in a small but nice interaction between Kanan and Hera, but “Heroes Of Mandalore” isn’t really interested in that right now. Here, Star Wars Rebels just gets back to brass tacks, pushing much of the show’s arcs to the side to focus on one: Sabine, the Mandalorians, and the vague but powerful weapon she helped create. The way these brass tacks are provided? Via some damn good, modern Star Wars action. The (perhaps too?) complicated fights over Mandalorian hierarchy and control is paired down, simplified, and blunted: Sabine is a defacto leader working to save her father, and there’s a growing sense that the Mandalorians are coming together, under the symbolic Darksaber that Sabine yields… until a certain event occurs.

Until that point though, the first part of “Heroes Of Mandalore” comes to life simply by giving its events, action, and interactions room to breathe. Star Wars isn’t often subtle, its narratives thriving in soap operatic and melodramatic beats, but by allowing those beats some space, they add weight and gravitas to them. Characters hesitate, pause, think, and reflect, like when Sabine speaks with Bo-Katan Kryze (sister to Duchess Satine from The Clone Wars) for the first time–after the assault on the tower yields no results–or the deep, rich, affectionate reunion between Sabine and her father after he is rescued. Action scenes take their time as well, allowing even cheesy comic moments–like a clumsy but effective Ezra trying to manage his jet pack–mix with tense, soaring action moments, like Ezra clinging to the bottom of a transport craft, or Kanan leaping from one craft to the next, or Sabine mastering a speeder bike to kick some Stormtrooper butt. It’s supremely effective, giving dramatic scenes their due, action scenes their suspense, and hopeful/successful scenes their earnestness... which is pulled out from under us when The Duchess is deployed.

It’s legit disturbing to see burnt bodies and floating ash fluttering around our team, especially knowing that they were living beings only a few seconds ago (the above shot of Sabine on her knees rubbing her hands in that ash is cliched but deeply effective). The horror of the moment is, again, given the space and anger it deserves, especially when characters lash out at Sabine’s contribution to the weapon. Now we have some clarification on this infamous terrible device that Sabine created, and while there’s a bit of a narrative laziness to the backstory (she even named it The Duchess after Satine because she, by her admission, made stupid mistakes) but, again, Star Wars Rebels gives it the space to work. Sabine making a deadly weapon because she was stubborn hot shot and wanted a challenge is a bit much, but that she tried desperately to destroy her work, and the nature of that weapon’s destruction, is palpable. The Duchess uses Mandalorian armor against its wearers; with all the Mandalorian history and culture forged into that armor, it adds a thematic complexity to the attack, to Sabine’s guilt, and to the reluctance of the various clans to not blast Sabine on sight.


There’s a certain forced narrative necessity in utilizing Tiber Saxon as the main villain here, a character that seems to be so new that his name doesn’t reveal any results in a Google search (prior to this episode). That’s part of “Heroes Of Mandalore’s” mission to pare things down; Tiber Saxon is straight-up a mustache-twirling villain, unlike his brother Gar, who played a more nuanced, if tyrannical, liaison between Mandalore and the Empire. Tiber literally shouts out “I am the Empire! Palpatine has shown me the way to true power!” and if you need even more clarification, he uses the weapon on every Mandalorian in the room (a weakened version, but still). He’s a dude who just wants absolute control, and, well, he needs to be stopped.


Of course, Sabine and her entire crew rush in, and after another entertaining battle within Tiber’s ship, she rejiggers The Duchess so that it only attacks Stormtrooper armor–almost killing all of them on board. (Those who survive are definitely killed when Sabine slashes The Duchess and consequently destroys the entire ship.) The resultant explosion somewhat undercuts the dramatic moment that Sabine has when deciding how far she wants to utilize The Duchess, but it’s clear that it’s less about the Imperial troops on board and more about using the weapon in the overall fight against the Empire. It would be a useful weapon for the rebel troops, but this isn’t about them. This was between Sabine and Bo-Katan, a moment about honor and where each of them stand within the full legacy and history of Mandalore–past, present, and future. Sabine had come back home in search for forgiveness and redemption, and her story arc ends (I’m assuming) with that intact–giving up the Darksaber, and by proxy the leadership of Mandalore, to Bo-Katan. The Mandalore narratives were always the strongest part of Star Wars Rebels. It’s nice to see Sabine back in the rebellion’s fold; here’s hoping the show can continue this streak.

Stray observations

  • For the final season of Star Wars Rebels, I’ll only be reviewing select episodes. This will include next week’s two-part episode as well, but after that, only episodes with big name cameos or significant events will be reviewed.
  • Part one was written by Henry Gilroy and Steven Melching, and directed by Steward Lee. Part two was written by Christopher Yost, and directed by Saul Ruiz.
  • It’s a little cheap to imply that Sabine’s mother and brother were killed when the Duchess was deployed, only to reveal they’re alive in part two, but at the very least the show provides a logical explanation for their last-minute survival.
  • It feels a little forced to have Sabine give up her dark saber to Bo-Katan; that is, to cede the Mandalorian leadership role to her. It feels like Star Wars Rebels wanted to desperately end on that rousing, swelling moment–a “passing the torch” on sentiment–instead of acknowledging Sabine’s raw humility that never wanted nor deserved the position. But again, it tracks in its own unique way, based on the speech she gave her.
  • We don’t get a full fallout of what happened at the end of “Zero Hour,” the season three finale, but it sounds like we may get more on that next week?
  • I was a bit thrown off on Bo-Katan telling Sabine not to use the weapon on the Tiber Saxon and the Stormtroopers to finish them off, considering the Mandalorians are a warring culture and have no problems with killing, but it tracks here. Traditionalists prefer honorable warfare–straight up battles–instead of a “cowardly” method like a massive weapon.

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About the author

Kevin Johnson

Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.