This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 4 Episodes 3 & 4
In an episode ostensibly tied to Rogue One, I found myself getting distracted by everything else. The two-part “In The Name of The Rebellion” finds Ezra and Sabine effectively kidnapped by Saw Gerrera, who wants to use their expertise in sneaking into Imperial bases for his own violent ends. The episode attempted to grapple with some of the ideas presented by Saw’s character in Rogue One — how far is too far down the dark path for a character with ostensibly good motivations? — but it doesn’t fully embrace that discussion.
Part of that is because of the separation between the two episodes. Part one features Ezra and Sabine trying to take down an Imperial relay while doing as little damage as possible, and the action scenes are fine but a bit directionless. A lot of time is spent simply getting from place to place on the fantastical terrain, and what could have been a chance for Hera to show her piloting prowess becomes a showcase for Kanan’s instead. I have nothing against the fact that Jedi powers are bound to give a character an advantage, but the moment was set up to look like a chance for Hera to shine, as well as to parallel an earlier scene. And then … that doesn’t happen.
That earlier scene was a wild one, though. To demonstrate the beating the Rebels are taking under the increasingly violent Empire, Hera’s squadron nearly crash-lands on Yavin IV. I love the clear, yellow lighting used on Yavin 4’s jungle canopy. Having prevented her ship from crashing into the base, Hera emerges with all the authority of a squadron leader, assuring her team that they did all right. I’m also always glad to see the Ghost crew referring to one another as “family.” (I wish the episode spent more time on Yavin IV so that we could see the Rebel pilots and find out what besides the Massassi name was carried over from the Expanded Universe, but that might be an episode for another time.)
Then comes Mon Mothma, and the ethical core of the episode. It’s nice to see saga actor Genevieve O’Reilly return as the Rebel leader, and she gets to expand her range a bit here in a trumpeting speech against Saw’s extremism. However, I’m not sure the new canon is doing the right thing in making Mon such a cautious, moderate leader.
In the context of the movies, it’s inevitable — we know that the Rebellion doesn’t succeed until Return of the Jedi, and that the First Order eventually rises up. But showing Mon’s tactics as more effective would complicate the antagonism between her and Saw in a good way. Right now, I can see how Saw’s philosophy would be tempting to teenagers — he even says that rebel soldiers shouldn’t have to “run Mon Mothma’s errands.” In turn, I’d like if Mon was shown having a more direct hand in leading adults — convincing captive mechanics to join the Rebellion, for example.
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Ezra gets the brunt of the moral conversation here. Sabine’s history isn’t brought up, although Saw probably has an opinion on the Mandalorians’ dramatic political history. I can justify the favoritism in-universe by saying that Saw probably knew Ezra was more likely to listen to his side, but it was jarring to see Saw address only Ezra when Sabine was right there.
Instead, Ezra and Saw are the focus here. Forest Whitaker is exactly as good as he was in Rogue One, obsessive and serene in turn. When they debate, Saw reveals a core part of his philosophy — “What is right?” He doesn’t have a moral center other than the need for revenge against the people who killed his sister, and that’s directly opposite of what Kanan told Ezra earlier. Kanan advised Ezra to find his center, and when Saw betrays him, Ezra understands the value of having one.
The other moral debate is about whether to help individual planets or to sacrifice some for the good of the whole. Saw and Mon present a similar argument in very different circumstances. Mon knows people on her own homeworld might suffer as she focuses on the wider conflict, but it takes Ezra seeing Saw decide to leave prisoners to die that starts to shake his interest in the rebel extremist’s philosophy. Again, not an incredibly conclusive moral argument, but well enough as a thread in the conversation that is Rogue One, Rebels, and the new tie-in stories. It’s possible Saw might appear again, but if not, his effect on Ezra ended without much resolution. Neither Ezra nor Sabine apologized for going along with Saw.
In the second episode, the Rogue One connections get even stronger with the appearance of a new squad of death troopers lead by a commander voiced by Jennifer Hale. Both they and Saw use tactics that make them look intimidating in the smoke-filled room, and the reveal of the kyber crystal’s eerie singing was pretty effective. Even though I found myself more entertained by the variety of aliens in the background than the action scenes themselves, I wouldn’t mind seeing this particular death trooper again. As someone who thought that the cast of Rogue One was too human, the majority alien group of engineers was a nice surprise. Occasional quips to Chopper were clever and funny, and some of the aliens had a lot of personality for how briefly they appeared.
That doesn’t change the fact that Ezra doesn’t really seem to grow in this arc, or that the brief jet pack scene was largely rehashed from the previous two-parter. Overall, I think “Heroes of Mandalore” developed its central characters more dramatically, as well as bringing more unique fight scenes. “In The Name of the Rebellion” sets up a lot in terms of the moral struggles the Rebellion is going to continue to face, though, and ties in nicely with the films. We’ll see whether these ideas are developed any further as the season goes on.