If the first two episodes are any indication, season two of Star Wars Rebels will play to the show’s strengths, while tying it even tighter to the Star Wars stories that came before. The two-part “The Siege of Lothal” was shown to a packed room at Celebration Anaheim on April 18, and pits the Rebels crew against an increasingly ruthless Empire.
When Minister Maketh Tua calls for Rebel aid instead of taking the blame for the Empire’s loss at Mustafar, the crew of the Ghost goes after her, only to encounter Darth Vader. Lando Calrissian also makes a return, pointing the Rebels to Imperial transponders that could disguise their escape from Lothal.
Star Wars Rebels has always done very well with its portrayal of Jedi, in part because Ezra sees Jedi with fresh eyes. In the season finale, Kanan and Ezra nobly faced the Inquisitor, and Kanan let go of his fear when he thought Ezra had died. However, the untrained Ezra still seems liable to tip into the dark side of the Force out of earnest ignorance. He has never experienced the dark side, does not have the codes by which Kanan lived for such a short time. Our viewpoint character does not know as much about the dark side as the audience does, and that makes him vulnerable.
“The Siege of Lothal” handles Darth Vader masterfully. Ezra has never heard of the Sith, and as the audience learns with them, we are afraid anew. Kanan introduces them to Ezra not just as another class of bad guy, but as something unstoppable and cruel, and Vader demonstrates those traits as well. He destroys Tarkintown in order to flush the Rebels out in one of this episode’s many detailed scenes of destruction. It seems like the animators might have refined the way they create images of fire and ash: some space battles in “The Siege of Lothal” call to mind the charred ships at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.
Vader has a softer look than one might expect, without the almost robotic movements that gave weight to his limbs in the Original Trilogy, but by the end of the episode he is utterly convincing. A tense fight scene establishes Vader’s power when he lifts a pile of AT-STs off of himself using one hand. As he stands with his hand raised, surrounded by flames, I can believe in this Vader, and in how much he outclasses half-trained Jedi Ezra and Kanan.
Vader does appear to be holding back in this fight, despite the collateral damage. He could have stabbed Kanan several times during the fight, and I hope to see an explanation for that. Was he toying with the half-trained Jedi?
Vader has some stricter competition from another half-trained Jedi. Because of the Rebels’ actions on Lothal, the inevitable conflict between Darth Vader and Ahsoka begins only one episode after she is introduced. Ahsoka reacts violently to Vader’s Force presence, but when asked whether she recognizes him, declines to answer. I hope that we find out later in the show why she chose to lie to the crew. Did she think it would protect them? Could Anakin’s story negatively effect Ezra’s training? Is Ahsoka not sure she can trust her own senses? Or has Fulcrum, like Hera, simply become accustomed to secrecy?
Before writing this review, I was ready to say that there are too many cameos in the second season as in the first, that the episode is focusing on Ahsoka and Vader’s conflict instead of Ezra’s. However, I realize that the established characters do not come off as extraneous, since their stories are tied in with those of the main crew: Kanan and Ezra are facing Vader just as Ahsoka is facing him, and the loss of Lothal will resonate with Ezra. (I think we haven’t seen the last of his concern about leaving his parents’ home.)
The episode drives home the fact that this is the end of the Rebel cell’s operations on Lothal, at least for the near future. Ezra has seen not one, but two homesteads destroyed, and Kanan’s efforts to disguise himself could not hide him from the Empire’s strongest enforcer.
One side plot which had almost nothing to do with Vader, Ahsoka, Emperor Palpatine, or Lando was the disagreements between Hera and Kanan. The two have even better chemistry than they did last season, but Kanan doesn’t like being tied to a larger army, and acts out because of it. Their conflict felt contrived at times, as if the show wasn’t sure what to do with the leaders of the Ghost now that they have been reunited.
It makes sense, though, that the two would have very different opinions about the early Rebel Alliance. Hera enjoys both order and secrets, and the Rebellion provides her both along with helping in the fight against the Empire. Kanan, on the other hand, has never become used to military structure, and his response to it is to devolve into the immature, disruptive person he may have been before joining the crew of the Ghost. Other characters have their own arguments against or in favor of joining the wider rebellion that they only recently learned existed.
Zeb likes the military structure because it reminds him of the elite guard unit in which he used to serve, and that mention is also a neat reminder that he still wants to get his revenge on Kallus for the slaughter of his people. Free-spirited Sabine believes that the Ghost crew will do more good on their own, but it’s kind-hearted Ezra who sways the vote in favor of the organized rebellion.
The episodes always make time for conversations between the crew that make them seem more like a family. The release date for season two has not yet been announced. Freddie Prinze Jr. has said that season two will have almost twice as many episodes as the first season. From an exciting beginning that re-introduces the characters to the somber end teasing the existence of other Inquisitors, “The Siege of Lothal” continued Rebels’ quality run.