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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Star Wars Rebels’ throwback to The Clone Wars is bogged down by a terrible middle

Illustration for article titled Star Wars Rebels’ throwback to The Clone Wars is bogged down by a terrible middle

So, I’m trying to wrap my brain around this episode. It starts off very intriguing: Kanan, Ezra, Zeb, and Rex head onto a distant planet to check out an old Clone War transport ship for weapons, but run into a batch of Separatists battle droids that still function (barely) and still believe the Clone Wars are going on. Three things come to mind: 1) we’re getting a quirky, adventurous, throwback-type episode to The Clone Wars, probably with historical, references, and Easter egg nods to the old TV series; 2) we get to develop some novel connections between the past and the present within this take on the Star Wars universe; 3) we get a character-rich perspective of the old war through Rex (who shows signs of PTSD), and how that reflects the other three characters who knows nothing of the Clone Wars beyond vague stories. This episode has the potential to be fun, informative, and deep, in other words. And, to be fair, “The Last Battle” does touch upon those points in some ways.

But there’s a part right in the middle that completely throws everything off. I’ll get to that in a bit.

“The Last Battle” takes all those points in a direction that’s way more complicated than you’d expect, which ultimately muddles any real significance of what we learn. The tactical droid’s logic to pit Rex, Kanan, and Ezra against his army of clunkers as an ultimate final battle over which side is the better tactician feels like an large reach to set up the central conflict (as opposed to just a direct confrontation). I certainly understand that it’s based on the idea that these droids are old and malfunctioning, and their programming is deeply askew, so in some ways this setup is supposed to be nonsensical. But “The Last Battle” presents the droids’ broken behavior and chaotic logic as functional–or at least valid, to our organic cast. The episode is so caught up in presenting a symbolic connection between the rigid (if off-kilter) programming of Kalani (the tactical droid’s name) to Rex’s own war-bred programming that it never realizes how awkward all of that comes together–in that it really doesn’t.

I question the execution of a lot of the beats in this episode. Brent Friedman’s script really needed some clarification, some extra details for the story to flow smoother. It’s unfortunate because there’s a lot here that does work. Rex’s brief panic after being captured early in the episode was a perfect moment that reflected his troubled state of mind. In bursts and spurts, we can see his frustration during the wargame scenario: his past camaraderie with military-trained Jedi warriors butting up against the unrefined, scruffy fighting of Kanan and Ezra. Rex even gives Ezra a harsh dose of reality when the kid runs off half-cocked on his own and almost ruins a plan (and to be fair, he deserves it). Part of this episode is primarily focused on that dichotomy, between the strictly regulated regiment of Republic warfare vs. the run-and-gun, cat-and-mouse skirmishes of the rebels. Part of this episode is about Rex coming to terms, at some level, with his PTSD and his scrappy crew, particularly in the face of enemies that by his own admission killed many of his brothers-in-arms. The episode does touch these points, and if they focused directly on them, it would be a fantastic one.

But when Rex, Kanan, and Ezra reach Kalani to save Zeb, the ensuing conversation is, frankly, a confounding mess. I watched it several times and still struggle to piece through it. Here’s what happens. Rex and the Jedi succeed in reaching Zeb, but the tactical droid fails to acknowledge the win because he doesn’t have ALL of the droids he should have had so it doesn’t count (you know, like a child). Instead of calling foul, or leaning harder onto the idea of these old droids of being deeply broken, it parleys into a speech, from Ezra no less, about how no one won this skirmish, or the Clone Wars as a whole. The speech is a good idea in theory, but the logic to reach this speech is a massive stretch–particularly at the end of the episode when Rex tells Ezra that “he ended the Clone Wars.” Which–huh? There truly is something to the idea of past Republic forces and Separatist forces coming together in a dark revelation that their enemy is now the Empire (although this would have been more effective if the those Separatist forces were actual living beings). But this point feels like it comes out of nowhere.

This was a frustrating episode to review, and I apologize if a lot of my points are unclear. How “The Last Battle” starts out and how it ends feels like they’re from two totally different episodes, and the bridge between them collapses as easily as that skywalk. After Rex gives Ezra that dressing down, Kanan tells his apprentice that Rex “needs to finish this battle–his way.” Why? Shouldn’t their primary goal be just to save Zeb and escape? Ezra, under his breath, comments, “Just like that droid,” to lay on the symbolism, but I don’t know if that’s too heavy-handed or too stupid. Rex and Kalani aren’t really functioning from the same headspace. And when they reach that tactical droid–man, I just kept watching that scene on the bridge with Ezra, Rex, and Kalani, and I… just don’t follow it at all. It’s just really bad, really confusing, and really forced, and the fact the meat of this episode really hinges on it really hurts it as a whole.


Stray observations

  • Chopper continues to the droid-ex-machina, rolling around to provide escape possibilities for the crew. I don’t think anyone knows what else do with this guy.
  • To double down on the episode’s point, it presents two different battle situations when they run into the destroyers. The first time, they manage to take them out via the crane plan (despite Ezra side-trek with Chopper). The second time, they overcome the destroyers with a Force-push-and-blast move, and a… throw-helmet-at-it-and-blast move. It’s a “planned strategy” vs. “random luck” bit, but it kind of feels dumb. Couldn’t they just Force-pull at the skywalk? And that Rex’s helmet can even penetrate a destroyer shield is just goofy.
  • All of that is also contrasted to the final fight against the encroaching Imperial forces. There, they all follow the plan to exact letter and it works. See, both sides can come together! Both strategy and winging-it can work! It’s a cute idea but this wasn’t the best episode to showcase this.
  • I need re-emphasize this: that bridge scene conversation is a hot mess. It might be the worse batch of dialogue I’ve seen in a long, long time. Honest question–did that work for anyone else? Did it make sense? I sort of want to talk about it in the comments.