Star Wars Rebels: Gathering Forces Review

A spiritual successor to “Rise of the Old Masters” is a powerful, unique look at the Force.

I think it’s no surprise that Star Wars Rebels’ best episodes have been about Jedi. The Force empowers human emotions, and shows external manifestations of what are usually internal struggles – fear, anger, selfishness and selflessness. It ties powerful emotional stories to physical conflict, and “Gathering Forces” also brings both together in a stand-out episode about Ezra, Kanan and more. 

The Jedi pair act more like an Old Republic Master-Padawan team in this episode than ever before, but just as Kanan is beginning to teach well, the emotions that resurfaced when Ezra visited his childhood home bring him close to the dark side.

Before we get into the glorious tale of the jettisoned Jedi, it should be noted that “Gathering Forces” doesn’t skimp on other characters. Sabine still has the data from Ezra’s home, and her ongoing desire to become more involved with Hera’s connection to Fulcrum resurfaces in ways both direct and subtle. Hera herself gets an action scene that is fast-paced and easier to follow than her flashier fight to destroy the Kyber Crystal.

Tseebo is also a more serious character than he was in “Empire Day,” with a lot of pathos and varied voice work by Peter MacNacol. While Ezra thus far isn’t a flat character, his problems are the same problems that the many, many orphaned fictional heroes face. On the other hand, Tseebo admits his much more adult fear of being unable to raise a child.

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Chopper remains misanthropic. If the writers wanted viewers to worry when a crew member got hurt in the escape, he wasn’t really the one to pick.

After the Inquisitor places a tracking device on the Phantom, Kanan and Hera return to Fort Anaxes to hold the Imperials off while Hera takes Tseebo to safety. Here, Kanan and Ezra begin to work together as well as any Old Republic Jedi. Their comfort with one another shows in Kanan’s confident curriculum, in how often they touch each other, and in the fact that Ezra, while still occasionally mouthing off, lets Kanan lead him. I believe their relationship here, from Ezra’s panicked “one with the Force, one with the Force” to Kanan defending him when that mantra doesn’t work.

The fight scene that follows isn’t the most creative lightsaber battle Star Wars has ever seen, but the lighting, the dialogue, the choreography, the vicious attacks by both fyrnocks and the Inquisitor, and the sounds of rushing wind and falling debris create an intense, atmospheric scene.

I wrote in my review of “Rise of the Old Masters” that it seemed plausible that Ezra had literally never heard of the dark side, and nothing in this episode contradicts that. His introduction to the dark side shows the excellent pacing demonstrated in the rest of the episode, with his power literally bringing a monster out of the shadows. The framing often places Ezra and Kanan directly in front of the creatures in this episode, completely different from when they stood on opposite sides of a clearing from the lothcat at the beginning of the arc. It makes the Force a primal, dangerous thing in a way that is more unique than, and just as thrilling as, seeing someone Force-choke their foe. 

Next week, Rebels will start a hiatus for the holidays, and return with a new episode on Monday, Jan. 5. At this point in the season, fans have a lot of questions to sink their teeth into: What is Bail Organa doing? Who is Fulcrum? Where are Ezra’s parents and Zare’s sister? The show has also created a convincing camaraderie between the characters – and kudos for doing so without having Sabine and Ezra flirt. There has been a lot of emphasis on the Jedi, but if it makes for episodes like “Gathering Forces,” I have no complaints.

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4 out of 5