This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 18
Rebels fans have been wondering for a while when they would see the formation of the Rebellion proper. “Secret Cargo” delivers with yet another enjoyable episode, this one showing Mon Mothma’s transformation from senator to rebel leader in dramatic fashion. “Secret Cargo” was packed with particularly Star Wars thrills – Mon Mothma’s presence and the very clear connection between her role in the Prequels and in the Original Trilogy; the TIE Defender, utilized by Thrawn; Rebel pilots; and some utter pseudoscience making for an exciting action scene.
Like the fans, Hera, Ezra, and Zeb have been waiting a while to find out what the galaxy will bring them. The opening scene is ominous and dark, but easy to parse: what the Rebels thought was a cargo ship is actually Mon Mothma’s transport, and the Ghost has clued the Empire in on their presence by firing on an Imperial probe droid. (This droid isn’t the tentacled Hoth variety, but rather one of those assassin droids we saw at Chopper base, this time riding its creepy-looking ship out in the vacuum of space.)
That kicks off a chase across a nebula, and some of the many trade-offs in this episode. It was cool to see a diverse group of Rebel pilots working alongside the Ghost, and the switch between their perspectives and Hera’s kept the story moving. The pilots had barely sketched-in personalities, but did get the chance to make an interesting accusation: the Ghost crew’s heroism attracts too much Imperial attention and hurts the Rebellion as a whole. This idea isn’t pushed any father than that, but it does show that people remember the Ghost crew’s exploits – and not always in a good way.
The voices for both the pilots and Mothma’s aids dropped some of the realism, though. They’re relentlessly cartoony and broad, with mostly bland faces. The Ghost refueling at Mothma’s ship does provide some cool visuals, including the fuel pods jettisoning and a Y-Wing coming through the Ghost’s airlock like a boat in a canal.
Mon Mothma herself speaks with a voice and dialogue perfectly suited to the woman we’ve seen in the movies. Her face isn’t a perfect match for the actress who played her in Rogue One, but Rebels’ stylization has always taken some liberties. It was nice to see her acknowledge both Hera and Ezra, especially knowing as we do that Hera and the Ghost are still with her by the time of Rogue One. If I was going to recommend someone who didn’t watch Rebels at all to watch one episode in order to gain context for the movies, “Secret Cargo” might be it.
The nebula …tries. In Star Wars there is little value in point in examining whether or not something is scientifically feasible, but the colors are also not particularly pretty, either. The flat yellows and oranges are glaringly bright and don’t blend together, and the background looks flat and still, with not much of a sense of the space in which the ships are moving. The colors wash everything out, although the contrast between the edges of the nebula and the darkness of space are striking. It looks like the show’s budget might have been spent on particular parts of the nebula more than others – the skin peeling off of ships was a great detail.
This is definitely an exciting episode, even if it sacrificed some things (the side characters, the nebula) for others (the pacing, the formation of the Alliance). This is one of the cases where the stakes would be high if we didn’t know from the movies that it was going to work out all right, but I think the episode gives itself enough justification for the suspense to still work. I find myself not only wondering whether Mothma will get to Chandrila sooner rather than later, but whether Pryce will get the revenge she seems to take so personally, or whether Thrawn will learn something new about Mothma.
Separating Ezra from the rest of the crew adds a little bit of suspense too. In the fighter, Ezra is constantly in danger, but he’s also demonstrating what a Jedi pilot can do, performing rash actions that scare the more experienced pilot. I’m torn between seeing this as yet another instance of Ezra stealing the show, and as just an in-universe fact: the Jedi were accomplished pilots. Even Obi-Wan, who hated to fly, could have been an incredibly valuable asset to the Rebellion. Ezra, who has no compunctions about using his powers in the galactic war, shows a preview of what Luke Skywalker will do at the Death Star years later.
Conveniently, anything that puts Ezra in the too-perfect protagonist box also suits a Jedi just fine. He should be a bit too powerful compared to the people around him. It’s this uncanniness that makes a Jedi. It still doesn’t mean that he’s a particular deep character in this episode, but at least he was fun to watch.
Hera also gets to shine, as, of course, does Mon Mothma. The very thing that Thrawn used to pinpoint Hera’s strategy – her skill and knowledge of rarely-traveled spaceways – eventually gets her out of his trap. Mothma’s declaration of Rebellion is transmitted through all the bases we’ve seen so far. The rebellion is just getting started, but the end of the episode brings a hopeful note – not applause but mobilization.
Season three continues to move the plot forward at a satisfying rate. With Mothma, Sabine, and Maul, this season has made a number of significant changes to the Star Wars universe. I couldn’t help but think, though, that I would have enjoyed this one more when I was a kid, when the formation of the Rebellion might have felt a bit bigger and the background characters might not have bothered me quite as much. “Secret Cargo” places itself at a critically important part in the galactic war, but doesn’t quite have the gravitas to match.