This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 16
This season’s second Sabine-centric episode reveals a wealth of backstory for the young Mandalorian. We know who Sabine’s family members are now (or at least several of them), and a little more about the political situation in the places controlled by the Mandalorians. The plot, covering Sabine’s attempt to regain her family’s political power using the darksaber, is complex on the surface, with family members who thrive on honor duels and sparring matches while remaining fiercely loyal to one another. The dialogue itself, though, treads familiar paths and left me wanting more insight into all of the characters.
When Sabine, Kanan, and Ezra visit Sabine’s mother at Krownest, they’re tossed into Clan Wren’s tense political situation. The interactions between the different types of Mandalorians are relatively complex, placing Sabine’s brother Tristan in an awkward position because of Clan Wren’s need to cuddle up to the Imperial-sponsored ruling Saxons. Unfortunately, Tristan is too bland of a character to generate much warmth between him and Sabine. He’s essentially a political tool, and your mileage may vary on whether that is a shrewd way to show how disjointed and pressured the Mandalorians have become, or if it is just stiff writing.
The action scenes seem to argue for the latter. The best moments of Sabine’s final fight were actually the silent and still ones, when no one was talking and no one was moving with the weightlessness of Rebels’ Mandalorian jetpacks. The still moments allow us to look at the weird juxtaposition of the darksaber and the white ice. Then Saxon and Sabine trade boisterous barbs again, probably a Mandalorian tradition, and the whole thing feels a bit rote.
On the other hand, Sabine and Ursa Wren’s long conversation treads familiar ground while digging a little bit into their history. Just like in many families, Ursa’s desire to protect her children comes off as stifling. I appreciated how long writer Christopher Yost allowed that conversation to go on. At the very least, it answered a lot of our questions about how Sabine’s family feels about the weapon she unleashed on her own people. Ursa’s motivation is never quite made clear, but because of that, we get an interesting contradiction.
Children have to grow up before they can learn to relate to their parents as people instead of parents, and Sabine hasn’t done that yet. Maybe that’s why the dialogue doesn’t get past Ursa’s contractions. Sabine can’t quite understand her mother’s fear yet.
Ursa immediately jumps on Sabine for not having won the darksaber in combat, but Ursa is not particularly worried about her daughter’s livelihood. She just sees Sabine as “immature” and “selfish.” She’s both immature herself and trying to hold her clan together. The end of the episode gives a pretty definite answer to the question of whether her fear or her loyalty are stronger, but I would have liked to learn more about who Ursa is as a person.
We never learn much about the relationship between Ursa and Tristan, either. Another show – as usual, I’m thinking of Avatar: The Last Airbender – might have taken a moment to clarify whether Ursa is cloyingly loving to her son or views him as a political tool. Most likely it’s something in between, but we never really see that. When Tristan stands beside his mother he nearly disappears, just one more action-figure shaped Mandalorian. There’s a moment early in the show when it isn’t clear who Tristan is to Sabine, and the fact that he’s her brother is dropped neatly into a different conversation.
Visually, the episode doubles down on Mandalorian architecture as modernist. Krownest – maybe a prefab structure, since Tristan says Clan Wren lost their original home – is a serious-looking place of cantilevered glass rooms and cold stone. The surrounding environment gives us a lot of decently animated snow, but it’s lacking in the sound department. The lead-up to meeting Ursa is appropriately quiet for drama, but without strong sound design when it comes to the crunch of the snow, it doesn’t feel real. There are some neat visual choices elsewhere in the episode: the display screens Sabine uses in the beginning are dusty and gray, and a tiny plant growing in the Wren’s training room gives the place a bit more life.
Fenn Rau and Gar Saxon represent the Mandalorians from outside the clan, and other than some brief intrigue with Fenn Rau, they’re mostly forgettable. Saxon has become more grizzled and now serves as the Emperor’s Hand, a position in the Expanded Universe that was filled by the Force-sensitive Mara Jade, but now appears to be more of a ceremonial title for a puppet ruler than anything related to the Force.
Kanan and Ezra also tag along, and Ezra is written as less aggressive and more immature than he was for the first half of the season. It’s subtle difference, and he’s still annoying, but I do think this episode did a better job than the previous ones of clarifying that Ezra isn’t acting under the influence of the dark side any more. He’s just young. Activating a weapon in front of the Mandalorians was about the most foolish thing Ezra could do, and the contrast between their reaction to the Jedi and their reaction to the darksaber shows exactly how important Sabine’s weapon was.
“Legacy of Mandalore” has a lot to unpack. Ursa’s motivations and Sabine’s complete willingness to become a leader for her people are interesting topics. Ursa’s hesitance to directly strike out against the Empire – especially when her husband and her son are both essentially hostages to the Empire in different ways – makes sense, and shows her as a leader who holds true to the aggressive traditions of her people while trying to keep her struggling clan alive in an era in which history seems to want it to fall apart.
It’s just a pity that the rest of the dialogue – “Clan Wren will be well taken care of,” for example – doesn’t hold up. For an episode that introduced so much new backstory, the fact that the writing itself is so typically cartoonish is a disappointment.
A brief note with spoilers:
The biggest revelation in this episode is actually that Sabine chooses to stay with her family instead of going back to the Ghost. Does this mean that she won’t appear in the next few episodes? I don’t doubt that she’ll be back at some point, but her next mission, rescuing her father, is interesting enough that I hope we’ll actually be able to see that on screen.