This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Episode 15
“The Honorable Ones” isn’t about genocide per se, but the specter of it literally lurks overhead in the form of the Death Star construction module. That’s the backdrop for a story of forced cooperation, in which Zeb and Agent Kallus are stranded together on one of the moons of Geonosis. Kallus isn’t so much fleshed out as made more sympathetic by dint of circumstance, and the episode just narrowly misses what could have been strong story beats. However, in the end, it does what it seems to have meant to do: moves both characters’ stories forward in a meaningful, positive way.
Putting Kallus in the spotlight was a smart move for the show, even though season two’s shiny new villains, the Inquisitors, are still short on characterization. Kallus is short on that too, and he has a ready-made grudge with Zeb since Kallus oversaw the slaughter of most of the Lasat species. Zeb knows now that this wasn’t the extinction it appeared to be, but the slaughter still happened. David Oyelowo’s prim-and-proper Imperial makes for a nice contrast to the more animalistic Zeb, and there was plenty of gentle humor simply in the way the characters (sometimes literally) bounced off one another.
Similarly, the episode bounces from plot point to plot point, stringing them together with Kallus and Zeb’s tentative alliance. The first five minutes of the episode are setup, but since the crew has arrived at Geonosis, what a setup it is – Rebels takes plenty of opportunities to dig back into the Star Wars saga to reference both the Death Star and the Battle of Geonosis. The moments where the audience knows more than the characters adds a nice bit of realism.
From there, the ambush that ends with Zeb and Kallus stranded on the planet goes about as one would expect. After a surprisingly straightforward fight between Chopper and an Imperial droid, Zeb is separated from the rest of the crew. His “I’ll meet you at the ship” isn’t exactly an elegant way to assure that he stays behind, but it’s serviceable, especially once Zeb decides to take an escape pod to rendezvous with the Ghost. That’s when things get messy with Kallus.
Stories like this, in which characters are trapped together in close quarters, force those characters to give it their all, to be as cruel or as kind as they can possibly be. There’s no one there to see them do otherwise, and there’s danger creeping in from every side. In this episode that danger literally manifests as dinosaurian beasts, which give Zeb and Kallus extra incentive to get out of the cave quickly.
Despite the clear conflict between Zeb and Kallus, the episode takes its time in establishing exactly what aspect of their competing philosophies it’s going to discuss first. I liked how Zeb pulls the wounded Kallus out of the escape pod silently, letting the Imperial wonder what he’s going to do. Zeb has his own code of honor that dictates that he should let Kallus live until Kallus heals. However, that isn’t as interesting as the other big possibility for this establishing moment: the possibility that Zeb just can’t decide what he wants to do and whether he feels comfortable with killing Kallus outright. (We’ve had enough episodes about whether killing is an okay thing for protagonists to do on this show, though.)
Zeb fighting his own code of honor is the simpler and more easily externalized version of that inner conflict, though, so it’s the one that gets used here. However, that thread doesn’t really go anywhere, except as a cultural touchstone: the Lasats that Kallus fought also had honor. After that, the show moves on to a completely different discussion, and whether Zeb will let Kallus have a fair fight after the Imperial heals becomes irrelevant.
The differences between Kallus and Zeb are shown on more than the philosophical level, too. Kallus is visibly much weaker and susceptible to the cold than Zeb. The Imperial chooses the moment they have hope – when Zeb gets the transponder working and sets it to talk to anyone listening – to insist on his own correctness, maintaining his cocky attitude. Oyelowo also brings the episode to the next level with both his dialogue and his screams: Kallus’ leg is very clearly broken and he’s suffering for it. The realism of his cries is a little jarring compared to the almost comedic way Zeb swings him around at times, but Rebels is clearly set in a cartoon world where violence is selectively significant. “The Honorable Ones” sells the danger of its setting, even if that setting is transparently intended to force something – whether it be a confrontation or an alliance – from the characters.
The emotional beats of the story never quite match what is physically going on, though. A shared battle becomes shorthand for emotional closeness, but the conversation before it was essentially a ‘he said, she said’ of whether the Empire or the Rebellion will win the war. That means that the conversation afterward starts at square one again, with Zeb and Kallus having to lay out a new set of points to debate. It’s an interesting square, though – Oyelowo is a convincing, enjoyable storyteller when he relays Kallus’ first encounter with a Lasat.
We get some of Kallus’ backstory, but less of his motivation and nothing about how he joined the Empire. Maybe that’s for next time, since the episode’s darkly affecting ending indicates that Kallus’s emotional arc isn’t over yet. The episode wants us to believe there’s good in Kallus – it’s right there in the title – and almost succeeds, but without knowing what exactly he believes in when he believes in the Empire, we still don’t know quite what it will take to shake his faith.
Then there are the Geonosians, the other massacre. Kallus says “I never asked questions” about the possible Imperial move against the Geonosians. That seemed a bit evasive, not so much for the character as for the script: would Kallus even be bothered by this at all anyway if he killed all the Lasat? That line doesn’t really reveal how he feels about what is otherwise a major plot point.
I didn’t talk about the Ghost crew much here, since their purpose in the episode was simply to pick up the relay. However, it’s worth noticing that Rex is used well. Although he doesn’t do much, the old clone fits in nicely with the crew now that one of its members is having a plot of his own; splitting up the group means that each individual character has a bit more breathing room. Ezra takes a back seat, which is fine, but the dialogue given to Taylor Gray seems particularly stilted, and his big shout of “Zeb!” after the Lasat is left behind sounds a bit forced.
This episode hit all the beats one would expect from fan fiction with a similar premise – and those beats work well on an emotional level, effectively establishing an unlikely friendship. The episode fumbles for a statement more specific than ‘fighting alongside one another helps people become friends,’ but makes up for it with a lot of warmth on a cold world.