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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A potentially exciting rescue mission only shows Rebels handles its themes better than its stories

Illustration for article titled A potentially exciting rescue mission only shows Rebels handles its themes better than its stories

Hey, Hera: why did you just send Kanan and Rex out to save Ezra and Commander Sato? Sure, Kanan’s original idea, bringing the whole gang out to save him, was a bad, incomplete idea, but you never bothered to explain why your idea–sending two people who aren’t on great terms with each other out on the rescue mission–was a better one. Sabine even knew what the gravity well was, and she could certainly sneak around in a Stormtrooper suit. I was waiting for a concrete explanation on Hera’s decision, some kind of intriguing bit of strategy that could explore some of the more intricate ways her mind works. But, despite the scene setting itself up for it, the explanation never came. As far as the episode is concerned, Hera chose Rex and Kanan to save Ezra because the episode just wanted to do a Rex and Kanan episode. Note how weirdly uninterested everyone is in terms of Ezra’s actual safety.

Star Wars Rebels is starting to get a little too cute. Self-awareness is fine, but there’s just this overall disengagement with the stories this season (both at the episodic and the long-term) that makes the self-aware narrative beats more insulting than enjoyable. Zeb arrives with some conveniently knocked-out Stormtroopers so they can steal their uniforms. Sabine (I think?) arrives with a transport ship for cover. Just to make the point clear, Kanan questions why the Empire makes it so easy for them to constantly steal them. I enjoy the fun, looser romps as much as the more dramatic, serious ones, and this show has proven it can do both. But when none of the characters seem truly engaged in the actual conflict being present, I loses interest. Why should the audience care when the characters don’t?

The early part of the episode struggles a bit in that regard, but when it gets to the actual rescue, things pick up considerably, primarily by focusing on the theme of underestimating friends and enemies. “Stealth Strike” does this in three ways: it pairs up Rex and Kanan, it presents Commander Sato as skeptical of Ezra’s potential, and it showcases the Empire ship commander as dismissive of Ezra as a threat. At the very least, it presents a unifying thematic idea that keeps the episode aesthetically grounded, even if the actual story beats aren’t that rewarding.

The strongest beat by far is the Kanan/Rex pairing. It’s rooted in an historic hostility between Jedi and clone, and it doesn’t help that their personalities and ideologies are already clashing. When the episode focuses on them, the episode has a dramatic life to it, whether it’s in something funny, like the clumsy elevator scene, or in something rewarding, like watching them shoot and lightsaber together. Star Wars always plays it big, so of course “Stealth Strike” would lean a bit hard on the most melodramatic scenes even if they don’t make any real sense. Rex closing the door in front of Kanan to hold back the Stormtroopers was rooted in the clone’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the team, but it didn’t seem like they were too overwhelmed, did it? And Kanan’s “I got to save my friend” moment was a bit too much on the nose. (Generally speaking, the word “friend” is just an awkward word to use in dramatic speeches, and I’m not sure why.) It’s in the small moments that make this pairing really work, like when Kanan commented on Rex’s (poor?) shooting, or the awkward thanks Rex gives the Jedi at the end of the episode. In either case, the tension is there, which allows it the proper pathos when it’s resolved.

Less interesting (but more fun) is Sato and Ezra, the latter’s enthusiastic skill eventually winning over the former’s skepticism. Obviously Ezra’s antics are geared to appeal to younger audiences but, geez, that kid is really impressive now (which is odd, since it looks like his training has been going so poorly). It’s goofy to see Ezra and Chopper banter, but it’s also fun to watch the apprentice escape his handcuffs and take out three guards like it was nothing, sabotage the gravity well sans gravity, and–in the most impressive scene this season–haul tail down a hall of gunfire, deflecting blaster shots and taking out Stormtroopers like a video game hero. I was as shocked as Sato was. The third beat was the Admiral’s (Brom Titus, according to the credits, but I’m pretty sure he’s never mentioned by name) hubris that he wouldn’t let a child whoop his ass. Well, a child whooped his ass. It underscores the entire episode’s theme about never devaluing the potential of allies or opponents, but that’s… kind of the Empire’s whole thing.

Stray observations

  • After so many episodes of Chopper being relatively calm, here he returns to the being the fatalistic dick of season one. His overall ambiguity towards Ezra regarding whether he disabled the gravity well was bad enough, but I’d buy it if he didn’t then just run over the kid’s hand as he was hanging for dear life. This seriously needs to stop.
  • Holy hell did I laugh when Rex managed to throw his helmet and nail a Stormtrooper in the head, only to immediately shoot him dead right after. Kanan force-pulling troopers while Rex blast them one-by-one was a close second. Overall I’m not sure how to feel about the morbid comedy here, but a funny bit is a funny bit.
  • Say what you will about the animation (some of you have issues with it), but the massive crash scene of various ships smashing into each other was insanely awesome. Both Rebels and Clone Wars could do impressive space battles when they wanted.