Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Star Wars Rebels uses space whales to tell an average story, nothing more, nothing less

Illustration for article titled Star Wars Rebels uses space whales to tell an average story, nothing more, nothing less

After two strong, character-driven Star Wars Rebels episodes, “The Call” takes a small step backwards and tells a fairly average, fairly generic story. I suppose you could read a bit into Ezra’s connection to the Purrgills as an extension of his developing Force abilities, which seems to be way more emotional-based than Jedi skill-based (for a lack of a better way to describe it). To be fair, that’s a valid and significant read. The episode itself doesn’t do much with this revelation though, except allow for Hera to change her attitude towards these “space whales.” This isn’t Steven Universe, where Steven’s emotional growth is so deeply tied to his developing powers. Ezra is more open to his feelings, which makes him more connected to the living creatures around him. And that’s fine. Now what? The episode doesn’t bother to say.

We sort of already know that Ezra has a Force-driven connection to living creatures. He had a positive connection to the Loth-cat in “Legacy,” which lead him to Ryder Azadi and the final fate of his parents. We know it can be negative, too, as displayed in last season’s “Gathering Forces.” These are not insignificant reveals. But they feel like they are because they don’t really lead to any clear narrative or character development. They are simply means to an end, for whenever an episode wishes to bring it up for plot purposes. Ezra discovers the full nature of the Purrgills’ connection to the gas, thereby saving and validating their existence, but doesn’t connect to the creatures in any personal way. Sure, he knows the creatures are more complex and emotional than the rest of the crew believes, but that’s obvious to anyone watching. A story like this needs a personal connection to really shine.

There’s a million examples of this: Aang and Appa in The Last Airbender, Hiccup and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon, Steven and Lion (or that one creature in “Monster Buddies”) in Steven Universe, Wildcat and a bunch of dinosaurs in TaleSpin, to take it way back. It’s not as if there isn’t precedent. But similar to the lacking “Wings of the Master,” it assumes going through the typical narrative beats will automatically translate to emotional resonance. Ezra and Hera have a small discussion about the Purrgills, where Ezra’s feelings come into conflict against Hera’s experience with them, in that their existence cost the lives of many of her friends. And perhaps there’s a broader discussion to be had over the idea of these peaceful, innocent creatures somehow being a “nuisance” to self-aware, warring aliens–as if they’re the problem. That discussion never comes up, Hera never directly engages with the Purrgills for her change of heart to resonant, and Ezra just does what he does and saves the day. Bill Wolkoff’s script runs through the beats without bothering to really explore either of these characters’ emotional states.

At the very least though, the story itself is fairly straightforward and well-told, if a bit funky in spots. I don’t really grasp the reason the Ghost crew risked all their fuel to find a mining refinery that would have more for them to use later (the explanation strains logistical and logical sense), but lead into their first encounter with the Purrgills. It’s a sweet moment, and at least watching Ezra silently connect with the Purrgills was nice, compared to his inability to convince the rest of the crew that there was more to these creatures than meets the eye. Director Mel Zwyer stages some strong moments, like Ezra’s/Kanan’s/Sabine’s aerial dive (watching the two Jedi in particular “Force” their way through situations is awesome, if weirdly underused), and the action scenes are clear and well handled. Yet beyond that, there’s not much more to say about it. “The Call” is fine. It’s watchable. It’s perfectly enjoyable. It’s also as generic as it comes.

Stray Observations

  • Kanan’s various quips to Hera about her overall attitude towards the Purrgills seem a bit out of character for him.
  • The alien-villain was a complete non-entity, but pretty much every non-Kallus villain has been useless so far. I did like when he said he was going to do something to fend off the Purrgills but he was clearly just hauling ass. Wish that joke landed more.
  • The colors of the Purgills shifted from their brown skin to purple (with yellow dots) when they went into the gas, right? Pretty sure that meant the Purgills were “charged up.” I’m glad they didn’t overplay the reveal narratively but it would have been nice for that to figure into the plot more–have a character notice it or something.
  • I find it… difficult to swallow that Purrgills’s ability to jump into hyperdrive has never been observed before, especially if the “rumor” is that their ability was inspired the first uses of hyperdrives on ships.