A dogfight more exciting than the one in “Breaking Ranks” starts “Out of Darkness” off right, and sparks the conflict between Hera and Sabine that runs through this efficient episode of Star Wars Rebels.
While this episode is the first that focuses on the female characters, it isn’t about gender. The closest thing to gender commentary – Hera and Sabine rolling their eyes at Chopper, Ezra, and Zeb’s antics – could also be an extension of the family dynamic, with younger people clashing with older people. Instead, “Out of Darkness” is about trust, and a not wholly satisfying ending makes the episode realistically open-ended.
When Sabine feels like she isn’t being given enough information, she demands to come along on Hera’s mission to meet up with an supplier. It seems that Sabine’s story in “Droids in Distress” about being a student at the Imperial Academy on Mandalore wasn’t entirely untrue. Something at that academy made her leave, and based on her actions in “Out of Darkness,” it sounds like a lack of information got someone hurt or killed. I hope this episode is a setup for a more complete look at her backstory.
As it is, this episode gives us a lot. Sabine’s arguments with Hera also feel like confessions, as a young girl who might be not much more familiar with the crew than Ezra is tries to find her footing with an imperturbable woman whose calm, gentle faith also sounds a lot like secrecy. The dialogue is good because the viewer slowly finds that what appeared to be bothering Sabine isn’t the root of the matter – instead she has a more existential fear that the Rebels are fighting for nothing.
Partially because of the expanded look at Hera’s personality, watching the show has also made me appreciate the prequel novel “A New Dawn” more. Kanan’s rude rakishness in the book isn’t a permanent character trait; it’s something he grows out of and learns about. Likewise, Hera’s reticence to give out information isn’t an authorial choice designed to make her mysterious and alluring; it’s a character trait that comes from both necessity and a calm, secular faith..
Star Wars has always contained elements of monster movies, and “Out of Darkness” focuses on some creatures. The designs were a bit too cartoony for my taste, with skinny legs and wide, flat, almost human faces. However, they have the same vicious momentum as the fight scenes in The Clone Wars, especially near the end of the episode. Hera and Sabine as back-to-back gunslingers also made for a solid action sequence.
“Out of Darkness” is, like its first scene, a brisk, action-heavy episode that truly felt like an ensemble piece. Brief moments with Zeb and Kanan are some of the best from those characters so far, and build on all of the characterization that has come before. Like “Breaking Ranks,” it gives me confidence that Rebels has really committed to being a serial show. It doesn’t have to have three or four episode arcs like “The Clone Wars,” because Rebels is one big arc. All of the characters are in a state of flux, and “Out of Darkness” showed that that is as true of Hera and Sabine as it is of Kanan and Ezra. However, the two are still the weak links in terms of backstories, with only Chopper having such unclear origins.