In the Middle
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Star Wars Rebels gives its predecessor series The Clone Wars a love letter and it does succeed in its primary goal of revisiting the nostalgia of that era in Star Wars mythology. It succeeds less in crafting a completely cohesive episode. A significant part of that inability arises from a script that is astonishingly weak in addressing the complexity of issues in one instance while being remarkably mature in others. The second act of the episode is what really suffers from this tonal imbalance, rendering what were clearly intended to be moments of great revelations relatively obvious. Considering that the third act rests so ardently upon its predecessor to work, it’s a considerable shame that the episode doesn’t take full advantage of the storytelling potential in its hands. The end of the Clone Wars ostensibly arrives with Order 66, but the remnants of what happens in the immediate aftermath hasn’t really been explored on screen. Sure, we see Anakin dispatching the Neimoidians on Mustafar and the ordered shutdown of the droid army via Darth Sidious, but that doesn’t give the audience a clear picture of what was happening on the battlefields after the execution of Order 66, pun intended. The extremely cluttered Revenge of the Sith didn’t need any additional stories but it did leave behind an unexplored subtext of what happens on all of the planets ravaged by the war before the Empire came along. Rebels taps into one of those planets in Agamar, opening up on a destroyed Confederate ship that is nicely reminiscent of the downed Star Destroyer in The Force Awakens, but it takes the profound nostalgia of that image and trips it up considerably on the way.
The beginning strikes the appropriate balance of self-referential humor as Kanan, Ezra, and Rex descend upon an abandoned Separatist base that isn’t that abandoned after all. It belies a bit of logic that the Ghost crew wouldn’t have done some sort of scan beforehand of Agamar to see any sign of activity, even if scanning for life forms wouldn’t do much good with droids providing the primary source of activity around. That aside, the idea of garnering bombs from a dilapidated, forgotten old Separatist base makes a lot of sense in and of itself. The Empire, in its grand scope, has the tendency to forget about such things and so the next dubiously fated mission begins. The nostalgic beats from the opening shots continue to play right off of the bat and into the appearance of the ray shields that appeared abroad General Grievous’s ship in Revenge of the Sith. Then suddenly the crew find themselves surrounded by battle droids, back once more after a significant hiatus. A super tactical battle droid named General Kalani (having previously appeared in the Onderon arc of The Clone Wars) had assumed the decommissioning order was a Republic trick and so had held onto his droids until that moment. He wants to prove, in a mildly tolerable explanation, that his strategy was indeed superior and a small, “last battle” of sorts follows to predictable results. Then Ezra out of all people notes that in this war between the Republic and the Separatists, the Galactic Empire was the one who had ultimately won and within about five seconds of screen time or so the entire dynamic of the episode shifts and that abrupt cleanliness robs this episode of the intrigue it had so ardent promised at the beginning.
The lack of maturity and complexity the resolution to the little games stings so sharply because Rex’s PTSD gets a significant focus and it makes everything else pale considerably in comparison. There’s an attachment to Rex’s character from The Clone Wars that the episode takes full advantage of and it evokes an empathy for his suffering that he had over time buried deep within his self. In his subconscious, he’s being transported back decades to the battlefields of the Clone War and he immediately begins to refer to Kanan as General before remembering where he was. The first appearances of the battle droids immediately brings those decades right to the forefront, where he sees himself back with his clone brothers. Those memories and nightmares alike flood his mind and for a moment he thinks that’s where he is until Kanan’s voice brings him back to their current predicament. But the war itself was arguably not over, spawning into little wars and remnants like the ones on Agamar and the tragedy of the entire Clone War affairs hangs ominously as the characters realize what that conflict gave birth to and what that means. Rex’s memories of his fallen comrades adds a dark emotional heft to that remembrance. It’s a powerful moment of recognition and one that plays well to the sense of time and place Star Wars timelines don’t always allow for. It’s unfortunately robbed of its complete power by a script that can’t give the understanding and complexity it thankfully allows Rex to the story as a whole and more than anything else, it feels disappointing. Rebels has carefully toed the line towards strength over the past couple of episodes, but the goodwill only carries so far.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I’m sure everything will go wrong.”
+“What’s a ray shield?”
+“Wait, who’s Roger?”
+“Your species were not in the Clone War.”
+“There was no other way of life for us.”
+I do still have a soft spot for destroyers droids
+“Every move you make affects the rest of us.”
-Lackadaisical battle droid humor
-“You ended it, Ezra.” Oh, for heaven’s sake
Episode Title: The Last Battle
Written by: Brent Friedman
Directed by: Bosco Ng
Image Courtesy: The Wookiee Gunner