A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
There’s a quiet catharsis to this week’s episode of Star Wars Rebels that simmers throughout, from the first glances at a morbidly empty Geonosis to the warm meteor that provides any semblance of warmth to its two humanoid inhabitants. The Honorable Ones is possibly the most thematically and character-rich episode the show has ever done and it even surpasses last week’s stupendous installment as further proof that this half of the season largely knows what it’s doing and how to do it well. As the episode’s title suggests, The Honorable Ones is quite concerned about the concept of honor itself. More immediately in place in a show like Game of Thrones, here the concept is much more muted and that works to the episode’s effect quite well. Kallus, in by far his best appearance on the show yet, has his own code of honor and unsurprisingly it’s a rigid, militaristic one. The Empire is not the evil force that took over the Republic in his mind, but simply a new government that’s been around long enough for it to be the only one he really knows (the stupid 19-year gap is by far Star Wars’s most idiotic timeline, but whatever). He simply took up training and arms within this structure and the honor code of the Imperial forces became his own. There were rules that must be followed. Those rules help craft an orderly and peaceful society. Those who rebel are breaking that stability and cause chaos and at a certain point, they go from being an annoyance and transform into a true menace. It’s an honor code that makes sense in a very narrow perspective, but if that narrow perspective has been one’s entire existence, than it becomes much easier to see how Kallus became the man he is at the moment when him and Zeb crash into a cave on one of Geonosis’s moons.
The opening shots of Geonosis are as sharp as the landscape animation has become in recent episodes, the show taking full advantage of moving away from the dreary grass plains of Lothal (the shots of the same planet from the surface of the moon, however, are even more so stunning). As the Ghost crew approach the site where the Clone Wars officially began, there’s an eerie presence across the massive building site sprawled out vastly before Genesis’s planetary rings. Anyone who has gone arduously through the Star Wars fan experience recognizes that the vestiges are those of the Death Star. Rex, having had some experience of his own on the desert planet, has the crew conduct a scan but everything comes up empty. There was not a single beating heart down on that massive planet. The implication of what had happened was loud and clear, yet that same implication comes forward under a varying perspective and it’s illuminating in more ways than one. The Ghost crew and the audience, even if this is an individual’s first foray into the Star Wars universe, understand quite succinctly that a genocide had taken place. It’s not a novel move by any means (removing the workers who make the super weapon has been a villainous move in countless narratives), but it’s indicative of the most ruthless lengths the Empire will go to eradicate anyone they perceive as a threat and in this case it was less knowledge than the fact there were Geonosians who knew about the weapon. It is difficult to believe in any logical frame that every single one of the Geonosians were involved with the construction of the Death Star or were even aware of a massive weapon that size existing in the first place (not that there’s a single sympathetic Geonosian character in Star Wars). It is not difficult to imagine, however, that they were all brutally killed simply for knowing or existing at the wrong time in history.
Kallus and Zeb’s journey in the cave begins simply enough, with the two of them crashing after a space battle, their animosities oozing through effortlessly. From the moment the two walk into the frigid opening of the cave, the simmering tensions joined in the genocide of the Lassat burst in several ways. Kallus, for all of his bravado, is sure that he will breathe his last on the moon while Zeb is wholeheartedly convinced that his friends would come and rescue him as they have always done. If the Empire somehow found them first, Kallus assures Zeb that if he cooperated, he would get a fair trial. His naiveté is hilarious to Zeb, who knows a thing or two about Imperial justice. But that comment also reveals the extent to which Kallus is enshrined in the privilege of his system, that he simply cannot fathom as a reality the Empire committing an act of injustice. His ethical code of “the strong will survive and the weak will perish” fits right within the Empire and every moral conundrum he may have ever had is convenient wiped away by it. Kallus is also fairly cavalier about the Rebels as a whole, which is surprising considering how often he’s been bested by them. At every turn, the Ghost crew manages a miraculous escape and I’m often left wondering at how it is that Kallus still has a job when Imperial officers who have arguably committed less gargantuan errors were gutted by the Grand Inquisitor at Tarkin’s behest. Kallus nevertheless believes that his ethical code of the strong surviving means the Empire will inevitably win in the end and it’s hard to completely argue with that perspective. The Rebellion, for its minor victories at this point, seems inconsequential next to the might of the Empire, which seems infinite. For someone like Kallus and indeed probably any officer of his rank or otherwise, the Rebellion is simply a minor annoyance that would get stomped out sooner or later.
Zeb knows this, but he also knows the fight the Rebellion has and the loyalty that it inspires. The Empire simply doesn’t have that. Sure, loyalty seems irrelevant next to a Death Star (whose copycats need no longer be featured in upcoming Star Wars projects, thank you very much), but it is an extremely powerful force that can bind together courage unlike anything else. Kallus feels loyalty to the Empire but he also felt loyalty to his squadron that was deployed to Onderon to keep the peace. Each of his fellow soldiers were picked off by a Lassat mercenary who worked for Saw Guerrera. The gun Kallus carries was not a trophy of the Lassat genocide but a marker for his comrades that he had lost. Zeb’s expression immediately disquiets as he notes that Kallus couldn’t judge all Lassat by the actions of one. “Does that sentiment apply to Imperials?” Kallus asks in a quiet response and Zeb doesn’t have an answer. It’s a valid point to raise and one that Star Wars often doesn’t raise. I’ve said this all along, that the original trilogy may be greater in execution, but it is lacking thematically compared to the prequels, where the moral complexities felt like true conundrums in spite of the overall writing quality. The audience is almost always resolutely on the side of the Rebellion, but the rebels have committed acts of terror themselves and the moral quandaries around that are often brushed aside. This by no means is the crafting of an equivalency between the Rebellion and the Empire or an excusing of Kallus’s lack of awareness of what the government he serves is truly capable of and under his own nose. It’s a simple recognition that such conflicts are extremely messy. Kallus drops a bombshell into this mix, noting quietly that the Lassat massacre was never supposed to be one and he simply took credit for it after the fact, to raise his Imperial profile, no doubt. It’s another wrinkle in this complex relationship, one that sinks in but has yet to reveal how far it truly goes. But as their arduous entrapment comes to an end and the two choose to save each other, the episode wins on a marker of the strength of conscience over that of animosity. I don’t expect an immediate friendship by any means, there is simply too much bitterness there for that to happen, but that this conflict could be rendered with such moral complexity and understanding is the series’s most definitive accomplishment to date.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“In case things go like they usually do?”
+David Oyelowo and Steve Blum really knocked it out of the park this week
+“I never asked questions.”
+“I didn’t take it as a trophy.”
+“I was only doing my duty.”
+Name dropping of Saw Guerrera from Season 5 of The Clone Wars
+So is Kallus defecting or committing a heroic act of self-sacrifice? Him witnessing Zeb’s enthusiastic and warm welcome from the Ghost crew contrasts sharply with the cold, detached isolation he garners in his Imperial quarters. That he keeps the rock Zeb gave him to keep him warm is a vital note of symbolism that ought to garner significant fruits down the road.
Episode Title: The Honorable Ones
Written by: Kevin Hopps
Directed by: Brad Rau
Image Courtesy: Star Wars Rebels Wiki