This review contains spoilers.
2.11 The Protector Of Concord Dawn
Sabine’s story has been revealed very gradually, with pieces of her backstory slowly coming into view. That’s an unusual amount of interconnectedness for Rebels these days: the second season has tended more towards standalone episodes than a gradual arc. However, this season has been good at giving out Sabine’s story in particular in controlled amounts. That continues in The Protector of Concord Dawn, which finds the young Mandalorian back among her own people.
The Empire is harrassing the Outer Rim more and more, so Sabine suggests the Rebels use an out-of-the-way hyperspace route around Mandalorian colony, Concord Dawn. That requires talking to the factious Mandalorians who live there, whose aggressive response leaves Sabine and Kanan on a mission to either kill their leader, Fenn Rau, or convince him to join the Rebel cause. The central question of the episode is which of those choices will work out better, and putting Kanan and Sabine together allows them to have clear, understandably motivated voices for both of those philosophies. Mandalorian ritual clashes with Jedi tradition in an episode that explores both characters’ backstories while also being unafraid to do some damage in the present.
Sabine and Kanan share the spotlight, but Sabine has the most growing to do in this episode, and has her relationship with an aspect of her own culture at stake. So what has changed for Sabine from the beginning to the end of the episode? In the last episode to focus on her, Blood Sisters, we learned that not only was she a highly-capable Imperial Academy escapee, she had worked as a bounty hunter with her friend Ketsu Onyo. Over the last season and a half Sabine has also learned to trust Hera, which occasionally means obeying Rebel plans blindly. Now she comes in conflict with the crew again in part because of her loyalty to Hera, since Hera is wounded and both Kanan and Sabine are thrown for a loop by their own fear for their captain’s life.
In The Protector Of Concord Dawn we see an aggressive side of Sabine that certainly existed before, but wasn’t as focused. After she decides to kill Fenn Rau, she’s focused wholly on him, and she declares her Mandalorian house name — the familiar Vizsla — with ringing confidence. Both she and Kanan change their minds several times during the episode, or appear to. While some of their thought processes aren’t quite explained — Kanan seemed pretty set on revenge when he set out to talk to Rau, to the point that he the person he chose to come along with him was Chopper — they both come from places of understandable emotion.
For Kanan, that emotion comes from his history as a Jedi. The Mandalorian Fenn Rau also appeared briefly in the #10 issue of the Kanan comic series, in which Rau helped save Kanan and his Jedi Master from Separatist battle droids. This episode of Star Wars: Rebelsallows Kanan to act almost exactly like a Jedi during the Clone Wars would: he tries to negotiate, fails, and moves on to plan B, some unstoppable but merciful action. For this Jedi fan, Sabine saying “When you set your mind to something, you’re kind of frightening” was a great moment of an outsider’s perspective on Jedi abilities. (It’s also particularly interesting that Rau calls Kanan “a survivor” at the beginning of their meeting and “Jedi” at the end.)
Kanan is particularly bitter in this episode, and the almost gleeful sound in some of his most bleak lines (“Jedi philosophy doesn’t work for everyone.” / “That’s why we’re at war.”) really showed how thinly he was stretched. However, I also found his rush to confront Rau to be one of the weaknesses of the episode: it appears at first that he’s going to get revenge, only for the tables to turn when he tells Sabine not to kill anyone. It isn’t that a darker Kanan would be more interesting, just that his initial reaction to Hera being wounded looked a lot more like the dark side than the show seemed to consider it.
The Mandalorian camp was another weakness; except for some aggressive styling it looked pretty much like the same Imperial bunkers we’ve seen on other worlds. The appearance of actual Imperials was brief and generally unremarkable except to confirm that the Mandalorians were indeed working with the Empire. Sabine’s movements were very quick and her action chreography very cool, but her footfalls looked too light even for her speed. It’s through the sparsity of the animation that the budget for Rebels is really showing, which is unfortunate. (Sabine’s paint-splattered armour, though, is still cool.)
I mentioned earlier that this episode is willing to put its characters in danger, and without spoiling too much, there are several cases in which people face potential deaths messier than blastershot. Concord Dawn itself is half a planet, eaten away by what Sabine says has been hundreds of wars. For Sabine, though, the biggest threat in this episode is the moral one. Will she choose to kill — for revenge, but also because it is the traditional way for Mandalorians, even or especially of different houses — to settle things? Her choice is the crux of the episode, and it allows for the exciting action scene that follows.
The Protector Of Concord Dawn benefitted from Kanan’s dialogue and history, but it was Sabine’s story through-and-through, with Kanan serving as the other side of the coin for her. She learns exactly where she stands among (a certain faction of) the people who make up a significant portion of her personal history. I have a feeling the ideas put in motion in this episode — Sabine’s loyalty to the Mandalorians of her own clan, the Empire’s alliance with Concord Dawn — will resonate through the show even more as it goes on.