This review contains spoilers.
2.10 A Princess On Lothal
Throughout the clone antics and high-stakes flying of the first half of season two, Agent Kallus has been hounding the Rebels. His generally ineffective strategies threatened to make the Imperial military look buffoonish, leaving the Force-using Inquisitors to shoulder the load when it came to presenting actual danger. A Princess On Lothal uses a young, politics-savvy Leia Organa to give a new look at how the Rebellion and the Empire interact, reinvigorating the “war” part of Star Wars Rebels without necessarily upping the stakes.
The teenage Princess Leia encounters the Ghost crew when she brings three new starships for Sato’s fleet. Ezra is still grieving after the loss of his parents, and Ryder Azadi, the former governor who brought the news of their deaths, is sticking around with the Rebels. This episode moved along briskly from the shipyards and back, with some repeated elements but an inventive climactic fight scene. In the middle, it wisely takes the time to let Ezra’s feelings about his parents’ deaths settle in, showing his grief in a brief but effective moment.
Maybe it’s because this is the first new episode of Rebels after The Force Awakens, whose First Order was built entirely on extremists’ reactions to the evil legacy of the Empire, but I found myself watching for some new things about the two sides of the war in this episode. The Imperial in charge is one Lieutenant Lyste, who, I discovered after some Googling and helpful Twitter conversations, was also the supply master Ezra and Zeb stole cargo from back in Fighter Flight in season one. He isn’t very different from Kallus. He’s more bumbling, maybe, with a more specific grudge against Alderaan. His personality isn’t the key here, even though having a recurring Imperial who grows and changes helps the villains feel more like people.
Leia is the key to unlocking how the Imperials feel about the Rebels. She smoothly transitions from a Rebel conspirator — fitting into the Ghost family dynamic and helping both Ezra’s grief and Sabine’s plan — to an Imperial Senate attaché. At first, I was concerned that the episode could have gone on without her, that it could have been any Rebel operative delivering those ships and dodging the Imperials. But Leia is critical here because she doesn’t dodge. Each time the Rebels get in trouble, Leia solves it by acting like exactly what the Imperials think she is — a legitimate representative of their government in the Senate.
And this is where the Empire’s view of the Rebellion is addressed. A few times in this episode we get dialogue that shows it directly — in a more humorous moment, one Imperial is shocked that Rebels take stormtroopers prisoner, and Leia says that the Empire “know[s] how good [the Rebels] are.” The Empire considers the Rebels a real threat, and that’s where the plot of the episode comes from, as the Ghost crew tries to get past the various defenses holding the ships in place. The Empire’s respect for Leia makes her job harder.
The latter line of dialogue establishes the Rebellion’s legitimacy, and gives a solid reason for the Empire to devote so many resources to a few ships. The former could be read a bit darker: the Rebels do kill people, they don’t have reason to take prisoners, and an Imperial cog in the wheel may well see them as ghosts that go bump in the night, more immediately frightening than a far-away Imperial torture droid.
Leia uses the Empire’s assumptions about the war to her advantage. Her job is to represent Alderaan and the Senate, so she has to make the Rebels look like the bad guys and Alderaan look blameless. The Imperials trust her, and meanwhile, the Rebellion’s only recourse is to play the part — to be the bad guys who capture Leia and the troopers who try to save her, to be what the Empire expects them to be. The Rebels capture the princess, because the Empire expects them to be the villains. And Leia orchestrates all of it.
The plot is a bit self-propagating; Leia brings ships, and of course things don’t go smoothly because it was Leia who brought the ships — but it does show how Leia’s perspective informs the Rebels’ actions. Without her, they might have used Sabine’s strategy and attacked the Imperials head on. Her characterization doesn’t quite solidify, but then, she’s a teenager, shifting between defensive anger and a level-headedness that almost matches Ahsoka’s. Along with Kanan, Leia is one of the most mature people to ever give Ezra advice, and he seems to take it.
Ezra’s loss is addressed particularly well. It neither bogs down the episode nor goes away, and Ezra retreating to the Ghost’s gun turret to be alone in the wake of his parents’ deaths painfully parallels the time he spent there looking at their picture and wondering whether they were alive.
Then, the episode gets back to the war proper. The battle for the three cruisers follows what has become a pretty standard format: the Rebels work together to steal something, with some sneaking elements and explosions thrown in. The fact that the Imperials think Leia is on their side makes this fight different, as does the use of AT-AT walkers. Kanan’s acrobatics, the Ghost burning orange holes in the side of an AT-AT lit up against a navy blue sky, and the walkers looming out of the fog all made for great visuals, even if the fight didn’t feel much more intense than the earlier, smaller conflicts in the same location.
At first, I was concerned that there wasn’t enough justification for Leia herself to be the Rebels’ contact here, even though Bail has already been established as their reliable ally. Although this Leia is too young to provide a connection to the Skywalker family, she does exist between two worlds, the quiet, fierce Rebellion and an Imperial Senate — and Imperial army — with its own ideas of how the galaxy should work.