This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 Episode 19
What happens when Chopper isn’t a force for chaos? “Double Agent Droid” tries to answer that question by putting AP-5 and Chopper in the bickering roles established by Ezra and Zeb in season one. Like them, the droids act goofy in the service of the story. Like them, the bickering made me wonder how this crew managed to persist in a war at all, but “Double Agent Droid” smooths over a lot of its own potential problems.
This episode shows that both Wedge and AP-5 are becoming stronger characters. Wedge’s laissez-faire attitude and the fact that he doesn’t know Chopper very well are convenient, because they mean that the script doesn’t have to jump through hoops in order to explain why no one on the Ghost realized Chopper was acting strangely. Wedge works essentially as a getaway driver while AP-5 and Chopper infiltrate the Imperial base, then swoops in after Chopper has been brainwashed.
AP-5 monologues a lot of different character beats in a row, and the episode doesn’t quite focus on any of them. AP-5 believes that Imperials don’t appreciate droids, blames Chopper’s personality issues on that lack of appreciation, and sees himself as above both the droid and the people. AP’s delivery is always amusing even if his dialogue isn’t.
He’s the bitter adult to Chopper’s child. When I thought about their relationship that way, it was harder for me to watch the reprogrammed Chopper working against his will. The show doesn’t spin any particularly horrible implications out of Chopper’s predicament – he seems to be okay after the signal is cut – but he is changed from a creature of id to a Stepford droid. AP-5 is sort of right that Chopper only ever makes people miserable.
I considered angling this review toward the question of whether Chopper’s place on the team is earned, but I think that’s old news when it comes to Rebels. Sometimes the characters act childish, and that’s okay; Chopper has ranged from murderous to irritating, and it’s okay even if that isn’t my cup of tea. That brings us to the one person on the show who does have a clear emotional connection to Chopper: Hera.
Hera operates on a completely different level of emotional intensity. Even in AP-5’s harrowing spacewalk, the episode didn’t quite focus in on someone’s emotions the way it did when Hera realized she had an easy way to punish the people who brainwashed Chopper. Her almost instantaneous decision to get some payback instead of just freeing her droid brought with it some voice acting that showed Vanessa Marshall’s range in a way the show hasn’t done in a while. She shouts from the heart, and commands the Imperials in a way we’ve rarely seen with the Rebels.
This is a Hera who has been hit close to home. The show hasn’t dedicated a lot of time to the connection between Hera and Chopper, but it did reveal that she rebuilt him. He’s a reminder of her home, a home which has been under attack for her entire life. Of course she would be defensive about that. It’s also very characteristic of Hera for her to show her feelings with words instead of actions. Turning Chopper into a weapon in order to do that was certainly an extreme example, but I think it worked, and it let Hera swoop in and save the day in an episode that didn’t spend a lot of screen time on either humans or women. (Vanessa Marshall also voiced one of the Imperial controllers, which I appreciated.)
As for the animation, this episode had a limited palette but did just fine with it. I’ve been more critical of the Rebels style lately: while the lighting and textures are improving as the show continues on, some of the faces lack style. I generally prefer the animation on Rebels to that of The Clone Wars, where angular designs sometimes looked mechanical and cold on otherwise recognizable human characters. However, Wedge’s bland face looks both too lumpy and too elastic. The blandness fits the character perfectly, but his expressions sometimes get lost.
(I’m a bit trepidatious about Maul next week for this reason too: the previews have featured some nicely grimy desert sand, but the characters’ faces look too soft for their supposed ages or their grim history.)
The outside of the Imperial base wasn’t shown very much, but it was notably pretty, with a natural-looking green light contrasting with the stark black cliffs. Inside we meet the Controller and his team, which might be one of the scenes most directly inspired by THX-1138 that we’ve seen in Star Wars so far. Imperials with flat affects and Lobot headsets coldly track the Rebels. The Controller doesn’t have a backstory or even much of a motivation, but because of his nature, that doesn’t matter. The whole point is that he’s a shell of a person turned into part of the Imperial machine. That’s frightening, and also connects nicely back to Tseebo’s fugue state in season one. The ambient sound is also particularly good – the room sounds crowded and echoing.
The action scene also had a good amount of energy to it, with the Phantom itself becoming an obstacle while AP-5 tried to save the day. The abrupt switch in AP-5’s reactions at the end was more jarring than funny, but the space creatures were cute – if very random. That about sums up this episode, too. It’s pleasant enough, but doesn’t have a particularly strong through-line.
One of the strongest things about this episode was the pacing in the context of the larger series, though. As my friend Johnamarie pointed out in her review, the battle for Lothal is on its way. We know the big battle is coming, just not how exactly we’re going to get there. Devoting an entire episode to the plans gives the show a chance for some meaningful emotional buildup to that episode, especially because next week seems to be diverting to the equally weighty conflict on Tatooine.