This review contains spoilers.
2.1 The Lost Commanders
In my review for the Star Wars Rebels film, Siege Of Lothal, I talked about how Ezra’s ignorance of the Jedi Order seemed as though it would inform his development as a Jedi apprentice. As it turns out, it informs his interaction with other aspects of the Old Republic too, letting him defuse potentially awkward situations when the Ghost crew enlists retired clone troopers to help them out. The Lost Commanders mines the brief, devastating conflict between the clones and the Jedi to good effect, but among the beautifully painted desert and the Hiyao Miyazaki-style walker tank, some backstory seems to be missing.
Rebel informer Ahsoka Tano creates the link between the Rebels and the clone troopers Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor. She’s had trouble contacting them in the past, but a captured droid head contains the information she needs. Once the Ghost crew finds the clones, they go fishing for a sand worm, until a well-intentioned traitor calls the Empire down.
Captain Rex was a cornerstone of The Clone Wars, and a lot of the emotion in this episode came simply from the tense relationships between the Jedi and the clones after Order 66. Kanan bristles at the idea of being referred to as a Jedi general, both because he resents the Rebel authorities and because the clones took away the Order of which he might once have been a part. He’s even more uncomfortable on the tank than he was in the Rebel fleet. This is where Ezra’s innocence again comes in handy: he bypasses the awkwardness between the two groups completely, not at all afraid of the bad blood between the groups he has become so entangled in. The mission might have gone very differently if Kanan had been forced to do more talking.
The clones are introduced smoothly: very quickly Rex is established as the calm leader, his weak point his apathy; Wolffe is the grumpy one who jumps to defend the walker, and big-eyed Gregor is childlike and twitchy. Gregor’s story is, perhaps, the saddest: after losing his memory during the Clone Wars, he was nearly killed in an explosion, leaving him living an addled third life as a clone vagabond. The evidence of their lives is all over the walker: as Sabine says, the vehicle is a work of art, with musical wind chimes and hanging mesh containers. The introduction is stiffly staged, though: all three clones walk out of the door in formation. No one appears to be guarding the rear of the walker in case of ambush, and nor does anyone seem to have been caught in the middle of doing something else. The introduction worked well in a commercial, but seemed less realistic than the clones’ surroundings.
The pathos was there, though, and strong, every time Kanan refused to be called by a military rank, or every time he and Ezra worked together and showed some semblance of the Jedi Order that was so tied up with the clones’ retirement. Dee Bradley Baker does his usual exceptional work at playing all of the clones slightly differently: Gregor’s voice was a carefully tuned mix of reediness and the more typical clone growl.
Ahsoka is, of course, the other veteran of the Clone Wars in this episode. She serves as both military commander and spiritual mentor, channeling Gandalf from The Lord Of The Rings films. It’s still a little surprising to see her character model in Rebels, but the facial animation is impressive: Ahsoka’s eyes narrow as she thinks about Darth Vader, and she looks at the Rebel Commander Sato with an almost parental fondness. Her dialogue is stiff – “I have not yet attempted” – and that’s a legitimate way to play an Obi-Wan-inspired mentor. However, a lack of backstory brings up some jarring questions: why did Ahsoka wait until now to try what seemed like a rather easy method of finding the clones? How long has it been since she last saw Rex? Or since Siege of Lothal? Making Ahsoka distant seems to be tying her hands a little at this point, even if she wears the elegance of an all-seeing Jedi well.
The Ghost crew settles pretty easily into the lives of the clones, with Sabine in her element as a mechanic and Zeb serving as, well, bait for the sandworm fishing. That use of bait is mirrored when one clone betrays the group to the Empire: the Rebels destroy the probe droid sent after them, but the Empire is still coming. Gregor says, “Hunter, bait, it’s all the same,” and while we might need to wait for the next episode to see more about how that connects to his personal philosophy, it’s a blunt reminder of how shell-shocked and single-minded the clones still are. Their walker moves ever forward through the desert, struggling to dig in, and Rex is resigned to being disliked by Kanan and sitting out the war. The Empire, as always, has a way of making people hopeless. The best they can do is be bait.
I’m curious to see what consequences the traitor faces, or whether Kanan’s quiet disapproval of the clones will come to a head. This is the first of an arc of episodes, reminiscent of the ones used in The Clone Wars. I trust Rebels to wrap up the immediate story while leaving an emotional through-line for the rest of the season: Kanan isn’t likely to decide to whole-heartedly join the Rebel fleet because of this experience with the clones. His lack of decision in this episode, though, contributed to a slight disconnect between him and the main plot.
He and Ezra have clearly become a team bonded by their trials by fire. One of the episode’s most emotional moments is when Ezra quietly says that he has learned from a great Jedi. He thinks that Kanan is like the Jedi in the Old Republic, like Kanan’s own Master who Kanan never got to meet. Darkness like that keeps this episode pulling at the heart strings – it just hits harder in single lines than in the arc of the episode as a whole.
As I’ve pointed out before in Rebels, one of the show’s strengths is the synergy between the dialogue and the animation that allows characters to say one thing and leave another loudly unspoken: Ahsoka’s thoughts about Rex and Darth Vader are clear, and Zeb has a great, if slightly awkward moment where he recovers his cool after an encounter with the sand worm.
Hera is shuffled off to the sidelines when the Ghost suffers some Chopper-related malfunctions, and I hope that she will have more to do in the next episode.
The animation seems to have gained some more detail and color over last season: close-ups on faces are particularly crisp. The backgrounds are also beautifully painted and reminiscent of the planet Abafar in The Clone Wars. The Lost Commanders was an enjoyable episode, even if it couldn’t quite focus on its thesis.
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