This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels: Season 4 Episode 5
“Flight of the Defender” was a very mystical episode, adding some of the less definable aspects of the Force to a fun, high-energy adventure. From an opening in which exposition is smoothed out by the presence of a pack of loth-cats, “Flight of the Defender” barrels along with mostly satisfying contributions from Thrawn and Pryce and an ending that’s bound to leave a lot of questions. It’s a very Dave Filoni episode.
In this case, that means it’s full of joy and wonderfully self-indulgent animals. The actual core of the story starts when Sabine decides, pretty sensibly, that the easiest way to transport the physical data disks on the experimental TIE Defender is to steal the entire hyperdrive-equipped ship out of the yard just as Grand Admiral Thrawn and Governor Pryce arrive for a tour. The loth-cats had my roommate and I laughing out loud, especially since there’s no suggestion that the stormtroopers have an interest in being nice to them — it’s just time for the loth-cats to take down some Imperials.
The real star of the episode is the loth-wolf, though, which tips the episode firmly over into high fantasy territory and seems to have some sort of affinity for Force users. Although the thick fur doesn’t quite translate into the blocky Rebels style, the slightly reptilian design of the wolf is so very wonderfully anime. Dave Filoni has been working wolf motifs into Star Wars since The Clone Wars, and drew inspiration from the film Princess Mononoke for Ahsoka’s design, so the wolf is obviously something he’s wanted to show for a while. I’ve embraced it.
Ezra naturally works well with animals, and it was very cool to see Lothal represented in this respect by both the roly-poly cats and the majestic wolf, which patiently endures its smaller friends. Questions remain: Is the wolf some Force-transformed version of or avatar of Ahsoka, as the fan theories claim? I don’t think so, but the wolf does seem to have a connection to both Kanan and Ezra, if the subtitles clarifying “Dume” out of “doom” are any indication.
Let’s back up a bit. The previous episode, “The Occupation,” showed the environmental wreckage of Lothal, gray smoke piling up in front of a sickly orange sun. The fields further outside the city seem to be doing better, but I imagine Ezra is worried about those too. The presence of Thrawn and Pryce adds tension to the mission, which would have quickly gown downhill without them and becomes almost humorously disastrous with. I especially liked Thrawn’s utter calmness, even when faced with the TIE Defender itself. Several times he indicates that he can tell who’s flying just by their skill level, and that the ship itself is compensating for the pilots’ inexperience. At first I thought he was standing out in front of it because he knew the pilots didn’t know what they were doing, but it sounds like he just had that much moxie.
In contrast, Pryce shows a lot more emotion and doesn’t have as much to do as Thrawn does. The fury in her eyes when Ezra lands right in front of her is almost enough characterization to satisfy me for the entire episode, but I still want a bit more about how she feels about Lothal’s favored son returning to the fold in such dramatic fashion. (I don’t exactly think he’s prodigal, but to Pryce, he did live a life of crime …?) Her anger and her determination to give Lothal to the Empire more ever day makes her frightening.
For her part, Sabine yet again uses the enemy’s weapons against them. I’m not sure this is supposed to be this deep, but I was reminded again that the Empire would have been willing to use her Mandalorian-killer against her. For now, her hijacking of the TIE Defender is portrayed as a close call and a victory. I’m glad this episode didn’t repeat the kind of moral lessons we’ve seen from Ezra before, where a young character does something only slightly more dangerous than the Rebels’ usual and gets called out for being rash. Sabine is still more experienced at the mechanical side of things than Ezra is, and the episode just lets her do her job for a while. The conversation about how far she — and Ezra — are willing to go to do that job has already been had. While the morality of it all is still a little muddled — remember how she spared some Imperials just to leave them to die? — the adventure story works just fine.
Sabine also gets to show some genuine technology nerd joy when she discovers that the TIE Defender has a navicomputer, which means that the Rebels don’t have to cart a data disk, Rogue One style, back to Yavin 4. It also means the ship is even more dangerous than they thought.
The starfighter combat was … decent, with the lack of texture on Lothal’s ground really hurting the scene’s chance at being atmospheric even though the TIE Defender’s moves themselves were pretty slick. I kept looking for how the shadows of the rocks fell over the grass, and it all looked pretty flat. I love that the Imperials would have predicted it was Hera flying the ship, though.
Between these two episodes, I have high hopes that Filoni and company have planned for more connections between season four and the rest of the series. “All paths are coming together now,” Kanan says, and while it’s unclear whether this is a specific premonition or a general Force sense of destiny, I can see the same happening in the writing. “Flight of the Defender” was an exciting Star Wars story, and the layers of references to other parts of the show helped make it feel even more so. Let’s hope they keep this up.
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