This review contains spoilers.
3.8 Iron Squadron
I feel like I’ve lost the plot a bit with Rebels. Maybe it was the two-week interval between episodes, or the fact that Thrawn is relegated to the background again, or that the Rebel fleet still doesn’t seem to have a very organized front. Iron Squadron tries to solve some of these problems, introducing Commander Sato’s nephew Mart Mattin and showing how Rex and the Rebel crew have joined together, but the episode’s central thesis gets a bit lost. The requisite action scene is fun and unpredictable, but doesn’t feel as important as it could have.
Sent to evacuate the remaining civilians on the besieged planet Mykapo, the Rebels find Mart Mattin leading a group of three teenagers into the fray on what Zeb calls “a ship full of Ezras.” He isn’t wrong. Presumably driven by the death of his father, Mart flies head-on into a battle for which he is woefully under-equipped. It was good to see Ezra explain to essentially a younger version of himself why what he was doing wasn’t quite right.
Because Ezra has experience being this person, he understands that the Iron Squadron is more afraid of losing everything than they are of the Empire. This is certainly relevant to some of the political conversations happening in the United States now – maybe not especially pointed, but not a bad discussion to have, either. Ezra says “How we choose to fight is just as important as what we choose to fight for,” advising the (presumably self-titled) Iron Squadron to be well prepared, but not complacent. And the Iron Squad is obviously not ready.
Their hyperdrive is broken, and they’ve been bothering Imperial craft by dropping cargo containers full of explosives. Mart’s companions are essentially one-note characters, although their designs and actions to a decent job of keeping them consistent. While presumably Mart was left behind after the death of his father, it would have been nice to have even one line of dialogue about why the other two were there and what they were fighting for. the mechanical trouble posed by the hyperdrive is a more immediate danger than Mart’s frustration, and, while the show attempts to make it clear the the Rebels are caught between Mart’s misplaced determination and the planet, the stakes still seem a bit low, Mykapo just a place they happened to be rather than a place they have to save. Tying Mart’s decision into the fate of more people – the evacuees that Rex takes off Mykapo without a hitch, for example – might have woven his story in with the larger plot more effectively.
As could be expected, Mart’s headstrong nature gets him into trouble. That’s where the episode got a bit less predictable, but also where I started to tune out because of the droid antics. Some of the starfighter combat was impressive, more quick and crowded than we’ve seen on Rebels before. The fact that Mart had gotten himself into this mess both changed the format of the episode a little and was a bit grating – just as Ezra starts changing into someone both mature and darker, a replacement Ezra comes along.
I’ve been consistently happy with season three as opposed to season two, enjoying the more episodic episodes and the tighter writing. Lately, though, I feel like I’m saying the same thing about every episode. Iron Squadron gave me that same feeling. It was entertaining but sterile, the “found family” dynamic between the Ghost crew unable to sustain itself at the same time as the show tells us more about individual characters’ backstories. Iron Squadron did a good job of expanding some ideas – we see how effectively Rex operates as part of Hera’s Phoenix Squadron, and it was nice to see the otherwise distant Commander Sato play a larger role in the episode. But Iron Squadron becomes more simplistic as it goes on, and suffers for it.
Grand Admiral Thrawn returns in a small but effective role. Without being too blatant about it, the show’s writers have set up a way for Thrawn to be frightening to even his own people; he’s contrasted with the cowardly Konstantine, who just wants to stay out of the way. Thrawn’s constant pressure on his Imperial flunky makes him as threatening to his allies as to his enemies. If anything, Thrawn’s voice has gotten even more whispery, which combined with his actions makes it seem like he’s constantly on the edge of attacking someone – either Rebel or Imperial. Especially his brief conversation with Sato made me feel like I was watching two heavy-hitters circle one another.
Parts of the space battle scene were also good and frightening in the same way, with a feeling of the inevitable coming with the same quiet menace as in Thrawn’s voice. Some of this episode felt very much like classic Star Wars or the Thrawn Trilogy novels, with characters embroiled in fights for reasons not just of nobility or justice, but sometimes because of human error and misjudgment. Maybe it could have used more justice.
Sabine and Ezra take the lead on this episode, which makes sense both in terms of the plot and the audience. Hera is busy coordinating the rest of the squadron. Having the teens talk one-on-one allows for Ezra to attempt to convey life lessons to Mart. However, Hera’s obvious reluctance to send Sabine and Ezra off on their own looks like yet another case of Hera staying her hand simply for plot reasons. It was nice to see Sabine get as much screen time as Ezra did, especially because we got a little call-back to her loyalty to Hera as well. Kanan and Zeb, on the other hand, are practically nonexistent.
The episode wasn’t paced badly; a lot happens in the middle third. However, the momentum in afterward just sort of peters off, Mart’s initial conflict almost forgotten in the action scenes. Instead of doubling down on its ideas, this episode forgoes them. I don’t think it will be one of the more memorable ones.