Star Wars Rebels consistently reaffirms my trust in its writers. Last week, Hera was so full of hope that she became repetitive, but this week her hope-filled conversation with Ezra illuminates her actions as she makes a tough decision.
In “Call to Action,” Kanan tangles with Tarkin during the Jedi’s plan to project “inspirational-type messages” from an Imperial comm tower to Lothal and the surrounding star systems.
The show is becoming more tense – not darker, since Luminara’s corpse might still have been the peak of the show’s darkness, but more tense as it ramps up toward the finale. I don’t think the season finale will feel like a special event separated from the rest of the show. Instead, it feels like a gradual acceleration. The music contributes to the tense feeling, as do camera angles from above, which give a vulnerability to both our heroes and an Imperial stormtrooper they stun in an alley.
In a way, that person watching from above is Tarkin, fresh from the novel of the same name as well, of course, as the Original Trilogy. His first appearance alone is rich with subtle interactions between the villains. In a beautiful, classic shot, a Star Destroyer flies ominously over Lothal. Afterward, Maketh Tua’s expressions speak volumes as a nervous look gives way to a puffed-up greeting. She seems relieved for just a second by Tarkin’s informality and his eye-rolling, but he eye rolls at everyone equally, since she and Kallus haven’t been effectively protecting the Empire’s “industrial interests.”
Steven Stanton, reprising his role as Tarkin in The Clone Wars, smoothly delivers a quiet verbal beatdown to all of them, including the Inquisitor. (“A shame we don’t have someone who specializes in dealing with [Jedi.]” Owch.)
Later in the Imperial story, the show literally kills the cartoon cliche of the fat villain and skinny villain. Aresko and Grint’s deaths, like Kanan and Ezra’s heart-to-heart, are textbook examples of ramping up emotion before a final battle, but they really work. The Inquisitor’s lethality and Kanan’s reliability are emphasized just where they need to be in order to make the most impact.
Tarkin is a secular enforcer, and the transmission calls for everyone, not just Jedi, to speak out against the Empire. “Call to Arms” is particularly meaningful for Kanan and Ezra, though, with an intense ending that seems ready to place them in the annals of student-teacher pairs who met nasty ends, like Anakin and Obi-Wan or Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. “Call to Action” reminds viewers that this is the Dark Times, after all. The odds are not with the Jedi, and even those Jedi Knights who survive are the half-trained ones like Kanan, because of people like the Inquisitor.
The Imperials destroy their own tower (their own industrial interests.) After that, there is a sense that Tarkin’s “what it takes to win a war” is more twisted even than the Inquisitor killing his own people. Tarkin has his own belief, his own law of the jungle like he did in the novel.
That returns us to Tarkin’s beliefs about the Jedi. He calls them folklore as part of his critique of the Inquisitor, then addresses a question fans have wondered about in the past: if Tarkin worked with Jedi in the Clone Wars, why does he speak of them like they’re ancient in A New Hope?
At the end of the episode, Ezra’s voice projected over Kanan’s terrible situation layers well. Ezra talks about “freedom” over a scene of capture. It’s in that scene that I was reminded of Hera’s words about hope.
While it gives viewers a lot to chew on from the Imperial perspective, the Jedi are still the heart of the episode. The final fight takes place in darkness, but it isn’t muddy: instead, bright blue and red light heighten a scene that feels both classic and immediate. “Call to Action” closes in silence, letting a frightening, effective cliffhanger stretch out.