This Star Wars: Rebels review contains spoilers.
Like “Out of Darkness,” “Empire Day” is another good example of an ensemble episode, where every member of the Rebels team has their job to do. It could have benefitted from a similar dynamic between the Imperial antagonists, almost all of whom appear in “Empire Day” but hardly interact. It’s also the kind of serial episode that fans of The Clone Wars have been looking for, and gives just enough of a hint at Ezra’s backstory to make viewers curious. “Empire Day” is a decent episode that could have given some more time to its side characters.
In part, that might be because the episode is only one part of an arc. Our heroes visit an Empire Day celebration in order to destroy a new TIE fighter showcased at the parade. Empire Day is personal for Ezra too, as he was born 15 years ago on the day the Republic fell. We get a snippet of Ezra’s parents, and, more interestingly, another unique glimpse at how Ezra perceives the Force. In the premiere episode it was music, and now, it manifests as voices. What he thinks is a memory could be a hint from the universe that he should return to his old home.
There he finds Tseebo, once a major figure in Ezra’s young life. The Rodian is used alternatively for comic relief or for tragedy: cybernetic circuits overwhelm his mind with data, which could be a very frightening aspect of the Imperial Information Office. Tonally, Tseebo’s story is a bit distant, though, mostly because of the reactions from the people around him: the rebels are annoyed, not saddened, by Tseebo staggering and running into walls. Ezra’s annoyance, though, also sounds like the bravado he lost in his homecoming, and little character moments like that are the show’s strength.
Kanan, Zeb, and Sabine all have funny ones, and some of the humor comes from the mix of violence and tenderness that characterizes the group: when Sabine’s hand hurts after she punches out a stormtrooper, her delivery of “I miss Zeb” is both humorous and touching.
In contrast, the Imperials look for help from their inferiors instead of each other. The Imperial instructor from “Breaking Ranks” hands the chase over to Kallus, who hands it to the Inquisitor and the underused TIE pilot Baron Valen Rudor. The action scene is energetic, but doesn’t live up to the organic feeling of the earlier part of the episode.
That part gives Lothal a lot of texture, with a cute lothcat, an Ithorian bartender with a translator, and aliens getting their first moment of real joy from the forced festivities when they see Sabine’s fireworks. It doesn’t feel like any of the Lothal natives have any love for the Empire. The junior novel Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy did a better job at showing why some Lothal natives are convinced either that the Empire is a good thing or that they should just keep their heads down (it isn’t as though the show can’t function without using the novel as a crutch, but for those interested in “Breaking Ranks” particularly, Servants of the Empire is an enjoyable, quick read). The Lothal in “Out of Darkness” has more overt resentment for the Empire, with stormtroopers having to prod its citizens – except for Kanan – to get them to act patriotic.
Maybe Ezra will be drawn into the mystery of what happened to his parents as as the planet becomes more ripe for rebellion. “Empire Day” also gives an update on Ezra’s Jedi training: throughout the episode, Kanan advises him to leave himself vulnerable to other people and to the Force, but his bitter responses to Tseebo show that he isn’t ready yet.
A side note: The news ticker in the cantina reads “tragedy at boo boo barn” and “attacked by a herd of rabid lothcats.” Maybe Ezra was in more danger when he approached one than Kanan thought.