This review contains spoilers.
3.4 The Antilles Extraction
Sabine has had a lot of potential since Star Wars Rebels began. The young Mandalorian has taken a backseat to Ezra for most of the show, so an episode featuring her looked like it might add some much-needed characterisation as well as tell a story that connected to the Original Trilogy. In The Antilles Extraction, Sabine infiltrates an Imperial training academy to rescue some teenage pilots who have grown dissatisfied with the regime. The episode is paced well and follows a classic structure, but doesn’t really allow Sabine to bring any unique skills to the mission. A lack of depth hurt what could have been a very good episode.
Like in the first episode of season three, The Antilles Extraction slows down just when it seems like it’s supposed to speed up. Instead of focusing on characterisation, the episode keeps things moving with action sequences. The main action scene shows Imperial training in detail we haven’t seen before, but is also largely pointless, leaving the characters in the same scenario from which they escaped. Not having enough time to get to know the Imperial cadets makes it difficult to root for them.
We’ve seen some of these weaknesses before. Putting Ezra and Kanan into the role of Sabine’s handlers allows us to keep tabs on Ezra’s characterisation and his increasing anger, but that’s mostly used to show that Ezra is uncomfortable when missions aren’t about him. To the show’s credit, Kanan calls him out on it, but the episode would have stood on its own feet without the Ezra side plot. Removing it would have allowed for more character development for Sabine, too.
“Whatever you have achieved before means nothing,” an Imperial officer barks to the cadets. Unfortunately, Sabine’s lack of backstory takes that as doctrine. Because she has been an Imperial cadet before, she knows how to communicate with other TIE Fighter pilots using Imperial codes. However, that’s the only thing her particular personality brings to the story. She’s a tough fighter and a good pilot, but so are any of the other members of the Ghost crew, and Ezra might have solved her problems with similar tactics. The episode doesn’t provide enough of a reason for her to be the one to take the mission.
For example, there is little to no mention of her art and artistic sensibilities. She’s undercover in an army that encourages homogeneity, and never mentions how much her views on individuality affect her art. This episode could have been a good opportunity to learn about her past, too, but she hardly mentions her previous experience in the Imperial academy system. One of her best moments is some meta snark – she sneers to the largely ineffective Agent Kallus that it “looks like they found someone to do your job.” Sabine isn’t even the character featured in the episode’s title.
Instead, she plays by the books and recruits a young Wedge Antilles, the fan-favorite pilot who appeared in the Original Trilogy and both the Legends and new canon books. Maybe it hurt the episode for me a little that I’m not particularly attached to Wedge, whom I think of mostly for his longevity – he just keeps appearing in things – and for his unfortunate romantic choices in both canon and Legends. He’s a wholesome person, but the dialogue in The Antilles Extraction doesn’t give him any particular charisma to draw in fans who might not recognize or remember his name.
Wedge’s voice is warm, but his dialogue is dull, “I can fly anything,” making him sound like a prototypical Poe Dameron when in fact his character was established long before Poe. In Legends, Wedge was reliable and loyal, and while we see those traits here, they also don’t come across as unique from any of the other Rebel characters.
The lessons are muddled, too. Is the episode about Sabine dealing with her Imperial past? Or her embracing her Mandalorian heritage? One line emphasizes that Mandalorian training is stronger than Imperial training, but we don’t see Sabine discuss that anywhere else. Is the episode about Wedge, who has the most dramatic character arc in the episode but still not a lot of personality? Is it about Ezra? Ezra certainly wants it to be. Ultimately, Sabine is the hero of the day, but her emotional through-line barely exists. The Imperial instructor Skerris likewise hardly has any personality, despite being the Imperial character who serves as the main threat before Pryce and Kallus are called in to raise the stakes.
The episode does offer some interesting looks at the recurring Imperials. Governor Pryce is cruel and relishes her cruelty, while Agent Kallus still considers himself in debt to Zeb and may be on his way to a redemption arc. Pryce and Sabine’s physical fight was surprisingly intense and personal for a show that has generally preferred Force-assisted, high-concept battles.
I can’t help but compare this episode to the first season’s Breaking Ranks, in which Ezra similarly infiltrates an Imperial training academy. Breaking Ranks allowed for a little more time for the other Imperial cadets to get to know their Rebel infiltrator. The cadets didn’t trust Ezra at first, whereas Sabine has no problem getting Wedge and his largely personality-free friends on her side. (One of those friends is “Hobbie” Klivian, but the cameo is just a cameo – Hobbie and the third pilot, a new character named Rake, barely speak.)
Despite all this, I still consider the episode a sign that season three looks like it might be generally doing better than season two. The opening of the episode shows the Rebels on the back foot, emphasizing how ragtag their group is compared to the Empire and feeling more like the desperate idealists they were in A New Hope. A lot of my criticisms are genre-savvy ones, that I don’t think would bother the kids who are the show’s primary audience. The episode was written by Rogue One director Gary Whitta, and while it doesn’t yet seem to tie into the upcoming movie in any obvious way, is an interesting look at one of what Whitta can bring to Star Wars.
It’s nice to see Sabine kicking butt and rescuing people on her own. She’s a straightforward person who enjoys fighting, and so it makes sense for an episode focused around her to be like that brawl – a bit messy, but ultimately more entertaining for it. Unfortunately, her actual characterisation does little to push the plot forward. Creative Sabine is written as playing the mission by the books, and the episode is hurt because of it.