Normally, I’m a bit wary when Star Wars shows bring in guest stars, which usually comes off more like publicity stunts than anything substantial. A good example is the Forest Whitaker’s appearance as Saw Gerrera on Star Wars Rebels, which never quite went anywhere. And to be honest, Elijah Wood-as-Jace-Rucklin isn’t exactly a memorable character. But his role – as a conniving, manipulative pilot who’s poised to be Kazuda’s foil and rival – works, primarily because it provides much needed focus for Kazuda as a character, and for Star Wars Resistance as a whole. “Fuel for the Fire” is the show’s strongest episode to date, with its best use of character development as well as its best comic gags so far.
I mentioned before that cartoonish wackiness isn’t the best avenue for Resistance, partly because the visual aesthetics can’t propel itself past some low-key squash-and-stretch reactions, and partly because it’s beyond the overall tone of Star Wars in general (not to say it can’t be done, but it isn’t really working here). The more basic gag of specific situations going wrong or overboard is much better, especially when kickstarted off established character truths and/or conflicts. So the cold opening bit, in which Kazuda desperately tries to save an engine from falling off The Colossus is great, but that comes after Kazuda’s failed attempt to try and fix it in the first place. It’s not overplayed (since it’s in the cold open). It’s played comically, and it stems from Kazuda’s distraction with watching the pilots race and not paying attention to what he’s doing.
In other words, it’s just a better take on Kazuda on a character. It’s not perfect (he’s still a bit muddled from an overall narrative point), but his troubled headspace regarding his role as a mechanic/spy/pilot is clearer here (I wonder if it’s because the spy aspect is played down to a minimum here–or more accurately, played with a more subtle hand). There’s a small but crucial difference in saying “I fixed this!” in an overly arrogant way vs. saying it in a hopefully confident way; Kazuda isn’t trying to impress Yeager and everyone else, he’s trying to show how much he improved. He hasn’t (not by much at least), which adds to the comedy of that cold opening, as well as the drama of it: the fascination of the flights, the guilt of dropping the engine, and, most crucially, the argument between Kazuda and Yeager that follows. Both characters’ frustrations are palpable: Kazuda wanting to push aside his mechanic duties to spy, but really to pursuit those pilot dreams (why is Yeager on his case when he just needs to fake it?), Yeager not even wanting to deal with Kazuda, but still fruitlessly trying to make him realize he needs to be a good mechanic to even survive his time here. It’s clear both of them have their perspective. Yeage is right from the maturity point, Kazuda’s perspective is at least clear.
So it’s no wonder he’s immediately attracted to Rucklin and his squad, with their devil-may-care attitudes and their relative sense of freedom. It’s immediately clear that they’re scamming Kazuda for something else (and I could have done without that confirmation prior to the first commercial break), but it helps that Kazuda doesn’t jump immediately into the thrall of the new group. Kazuda is just interested, with a secondary layer commitment to them after Rucklin saves his life on the speeders (that was purposely sabotaged, but still). Rucklin’s willingness to cut corners, answer to no one, and embrace that desire to fly appeals to Kazuda, so of course he agrees to letting them look at Yeager’s secret hanger. The following scene has its comic energy, in the form of the two boys avoiding the ins and outs of Yaeger, Tam, and Bucket, but it’s grounded with the small but important bits of Yeager’s quiet glance at his past. He was a prominent pilot at one point, and had a family. What happened to all that is a mystery, but it gives Yeager more dimensions, and also provides a layer of humanity to Kazuda. He knows what he’s doing is wrong.
And also dangerous. He realizes that the experimental hyperfuel was stolen, and rushes off to stop Rucklin from using it in the race. What follows is, again, a very situation-specific comic sequence that’s both well-storyboarded and animation (which includes a shot from the two pilots’ perspective as their careening through the air), as well as tied to the story and the climactic situation, where Kazuda jumps on Rucklin’s ship before the race and forcibly ejects him. The plane indeed explodes, but Rucklin is so assured of himself and his actions that he blames it all on Kazuda, making him an enemy. We’ll probably see him and his crew again, but the core understanding between Kazuda and Yeager is much more rewarding, the two coming to an understanding of sorts. That understanding may be short-lived, as an obvious but still perfect topper gag leaves more ship parts tumbling into the sea, but “Fuel for the Fire” works as a silly, yet nuanced, exploration of Kazuda at this questionable point in his life. And the hints of Yeager’s life is a bonus.
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