This review contains spoilers.
3.7 Imperial Supercommandos
The third season of Rebels is finally exploring backstories. We saw characters’ histories come to the fore in Hera’s Heroes, we saw it in Zeb’s adventures with the Lasat, and now Sabine’s heritage becomes more important.
The last episode Sabine featured in alone was The Antilles Extraction, in which her skills were put to good use, but we didn’t learn a lot that we didn’t already know. Imperial Supercommandos was a good opportunity to show the audience what the Mandalorians are like, while also tying more cameo characters in to Rebels. Sabine holds her own in this episode, from a game of strategy where she and Fenn Rau plunge knives into one another’s territory to some exciting action scenes.
The motivating force behind this episode is Fenn Rau, the Mandalorian soldier we saw fighting on behalf of his people during the Clone Wars. In season two he was captured by Sabine and Kanan, who wanted to offer him an alliance, but he isn’t interested. Now, he’s their prisoner (or “a cranky guest”). Lost communications on the planet Concord Dawn threaten the Rebellion’s safe passage through the system, so Sabine, Ezra, Rau, and Chopper go to check it out.
Rau wants Sabine to join him in keeping Mandalore independent. Looking back on it, it seems significant that Sabine never actually considers this. The driving force of the episode is seeing how she fights to survive and get back to the Rebels, not whether her loyalty is ever actually shaken. That would have been a different episode, but it would also have given a little more insight into how she feels about her culture if she had ever considered it.
However, her loyalty is her strength, and we see that here. She’s also presented as more thoughtful than Ezra (“I was using strategy, it takes longer!”), and has some creative moves. However, she doesn’t change much, and it sometimes feels as if the episode doesn’t pay as much attention to her as it does to Rau’s inner conflict, even when Sabine is the one literally carrying the action scenes. I don’t want her to angst over her parents, but I do want her to express interiority as well as spunkiness.
It is interesting to see what the visuals of the episode say about this extremely visual character. The planet Concord Dawn is a murky purple, the Mandalorian building decorated with splashes of yellow reminiscent of the colours of Sabine’s armor.
As we saw last season, the planet Concord Dawn has been ripped up in some kind of cataclysm, and rocks floating up into space at the jagged edge of the world make for some good visuals. Rebels has always had some impressive starscapes, from its kaleidoscopic hyperspace to the Lasat refugees’ nebula, and the skies in this episode are equally impressive.
Rau has his own arc, too, although his characterisation isn’t particularly deep. The mention of Hondo in the episode emphasizes how little personality Rau has, relatively speaking. However, it is an arc, both teaching Rau something and adding twists and turns to the very fast-paced episode, so it succeeded on that front. Especially when watching the episode twice, one can see how Rau’s ideas about loyalty change.
Although we don’t see a lot of functioning Mandalorian culture in the episode, we do get a good sense of the honour code the Mandalorians live by. The villain, Gar Saxon, has sold his soul to the Empire. His white-armoured Mandalorians look like uniformed stormtroopers, especially compared to Sabine’s graffitied armour, which was certainly the point. Saxon has no loyalty, while Sabine and Rau both express their views about honour and loyalty in different ways. Their emotional journeys were based on their perception of what honoring Mandalorian culture looked like, which was a nice way to tie the world-building in with the story.
As for Ezra, the young Jedi is once again pivotal to the plot but not actually in the limelight. It’s been interesting to see how the show treats Ezra when he isn’t front-and-centre. In The Antilles Extraction, his attempts to get involved with the plot were more annoying than heroic. Imperial Supercommandos improves on that by making Ezra the one who needs to be rescued. He isn’t helpless, though. His attempts to smooth-talk Saxon don’t work, but they do buy him time, and make an amusingly meta point: it takes the Mandalorian leader a lot less time to figure out Ezra was lying than it took the Empire.
In general, the pace of the episode is blistering, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rau’s opinions are delivered in neat little bundles of dialogue mixed with some blatant exposition. (The latter especially comes from Ezra, who serves as the mouthpiece for anyone who isn’t familiar with the Mandalorians from The Clone Wars.) Even a cool shot through the lens of an Imperial probe droid can’t disguise how blatant the exposition is. The action scenes are gripping, if not as straightforwardly triumphant as they could have been.
Imperial Supercommandos will, for me, go on a lengthening list of season three episodes that I think are good but not great, more solid than a lot in season two but without any particular charms of their own. I’m curious about how people who haven’t seen The Clone Wars (or didn’t quite grasp the Mandalorians’ in-fighting) felt about the different factions and about how the collapse of Death Watch lead Saxon into the arms of the Empire.
As someone who enjoyed the Darth Maul: Son Of Dathomir comics, it was cool to see Gar Saxon on the screen. In the comic, Saxon and the female Mandalorian Rook Kast were Maul’s closest lieutenants. He didn’t have an overabundance of characterisation then either, except for his loyalty to Maul’s cause, and shifting that loyalty to the Empire doesn’t seem to have changed much. His banter with Ezra is fun and he’s clearly a physical threat to Sabine, but I don’t think he will go down in the annals of memorable Star Wars villains.
Read Megan’s review of the previous episode, The Last Battle, here.