This review contains spoilers.
2.6 Blood Sisters
While last week’s episode of Star Wars: Rebels focused on Hera, this week gives us a look at Sabine in a similar way, sending her into a perilous flight with an old friend-turned-enemy. Ketsu Onyo, played with youthful energy by Gina Torres, helped Sabine escape the Imperial Academy on Mandalore and ushered her into the life of a bounty hunter. Now, the two find themselves competing to capture a Rebel droid bound for Bail Organa.
Blood Sisters hinges on the titular sisterhood. Although the two aren’t literally from the same family, they do have a lot of history, and if that relationship wasn’t convincing, the episode would feel flat. Instead, it does work, thanks in part to some unsubtle but convincing references to the sisters’ bounty hunting partnership in the past. Sabine teaches Ketsu a valuable lesson that shows the writers understand one of the keys to writing the morality of the Star Wars universe – that friendship trumps violence, that “wars not make one great.”
While the Rebels’ military force took down the second Death Star in Return Of The Jedi, a killing blow wasn’t what secured Luke Skywalker’s victory. Instead, it was the opposite, an act of mercy by Darth Vader, that brought the Empire down at the Battle of Endor. Sabine’s actions in Blood Sisters continue directly in that vein, and that core of reckless kindness anchors the entire episode.
Without it, Ketsu would have been an antagonist who worked well to advance the plot and dramatically explore Sabine’s backstory, but she also would have been more cliched. Ketsu’s first fight shows her handily dispatching a group of stormtroopers, but it could have been any character wise-cracking and almost stabbing a trooper in the groin in that spaceport. Ketsu’s character in her early scenes is built in large part by her armour, which is a mix of form-fitting cloth and bulky squares and tubes. (This week’s Rebels Recon video tells us that her design was an abandoned idea from The Force Awakens.) That armour is scuffed and racing striped, and Sabine’s paint-spattered helmet and gloves make her look both more personable and more imaginative that Ketsu. Giving Ketsu another quirk in addition to the flashy fight scene might have done a good job to solidify her as a person aside from Sabine. As is, she threatens to fall into the threatening bounty hunter mould that Star Wars utilizes so well.
There are other characters in this episode, although it’s understandable if one forgets them – Ezra’s inclusion is funny, as he keeps talking to Sabine even as she turns aside and walks away from him when she sees some familiar graffiti. He could have been completely removed from the episode without changing anything, though, except that he says that Sabine is usually alone. She eats alone, she trains alone, she practices her art alone – or, as Ezra says, she does that most of the time.
This exposition never quite pans out. Sabine never tells Ketsu to leave her alone for the sake of being alone, though. Ezra may have misread her, because Sabine and Ketsu’s relationship seems pretty comfortable when they aren’t stealing droids from one another. Or, maybe Sabine was only alone because she was used to Ketsu being the one at her side.
So except for some mildly funny moments, Ezra could have been removed from the episode completely without changing anything. Sabine does seem very nonplussed when she leaves Ezra hanging in the spaceport, and she never really pays attention to that. Maybe there will be another episode building on the one-sided affection between the two of them, but this episode isn’t it – instead, it’s Ketsu who has to learn to be less of a loner and change her ways because of her friends. And in this case, Ketsu’s inclusion is far more rewarding than Ezra’s.
Hera also has very brief moments in the framing scenes, although hers serve as a nice connection to previous episodes. She and Sabine lean on one another now so much more than they did in “Out of Darkness” in season one, to the point that Sabine outright telling Hera she trusts her is extraneous.
Ezra is also part of an early scene that might make Hera question her teen allies a little more if she saw them – both Ezra and Sabine shout their code word to anyone they can find in the spaceport. Admittedly, it would probably be exactly how someone new to spying would react – but the spacers’ casual reactions are neither illuminating nor funny.
Another character who had a lot more potential to be either touching or funny is the space bus driver (yes, the Aurebesh on the side of the public shuttle says “Space Bus”), a droid who seems lifted from The Clone Wars. His disorientation might as well have been written for a Separatist battle droid, and what could have been an emotional moment involving him was entirely ignored. (What is it with Star Wars TV shows and an odd uncertainty about to what degree droids are treated as sentient characters and/or galactic citizens?)
There’s no question that Chopper is one of the stars of this episode, though, as his penchant for destruction serves him perfectly. We’ve seen before that Chopper can be thrown at any situation and be pretty much guaranteed to cause as much chaos as possible, and intentionally weaponizing him in Blood Sisters makes him seem even more useful and less treacherous than usual.
As is appropriate to an episode focused on Sabine, this episode has some beautiful animation and explosions, from a gorgeous blue planet to wisps of atmosphere from a starship’s docking tube escaping into space.
Ketsu is an important addition to the world of Rebels, and allows for a look into Sabine’s former dreams. Once, Sabine wanted to join Black Sun, the large criminal syndicate for which Ketsu now works. Although she’s still young herself, Sabine now sees that dream as an immature fantasy that didn’t take Black Sun’s cruelty into account. Ketsu allows us to see how far Sabine has grown, as well as working as a character in her own right. I would have liked to see more unique character traits for Ketsu, but there’s a hint that we might not have seen the last of her, as well as that she has a lot of growth of her own to do.
Blood Sisters gives us a look into Sabine’s history too, even more so than Wings Of The Master did for Hera. The episode could have done with either removing Ezra or making him more important, and Ketsu’s most critical moment happened very fast and still didn’t quite give her a unique angle. The heart of the episode is strong, though, presenting a friendship that’s critical to Sabine’s history and feels just like Star Wars should.