Rebels Review: S2E1 “Siege of Lothal”

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“The Inquisitor is dead. The Ghost crew has connected with other rebel cells. And a new ally named Ahsoka Tano has emerged. Despite these successes and developments, the fight against the Empire takes a deadly turn, as the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader comes to Lothal.” (SPOILER WARNING)

A lot of people already know this, but I am a HUGE Star Wars: Rebels fan. I love the show and almost everything about it. Rebels, to me, captures the magic of watching Star Wars for the first time as a young kid staying up past his bedtime (don’t tell my mom…) with the fun and action that recaptured my imagination as a teenager when the Clone Wars started back in 2008. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to try and find a way to watch Rebels.

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But more specifically, let’s talk about The Siege of Lothal, the hour long premiere of Rebels Season 2. When we last left our Rebels, the crew of The Ghost officially joined with other Rebels cells and became part of the larger Rebel Alliance. We were re-introduced to Ahsoka Tano, former Jedi and Padawan of Anakin Skywalker, who is actually a huge figure in the fledgling Rebellion. Kanan, thinking that Ezra was killed, defeats the Inquisitor in an epic lightsaber battle, ending in the Inquisitor’s death. In his place, Darth Vader rises…

But we’ll get back to Vader 🙂

The season starts off with a bang. A lot of people complained last season that the episodes seemed to have too many one-off incidents that didn’t seem to be connected to a larger story. In the trilogy that ended season 1, we started to see some of those loose bits come together and start filling out a large cohesive story. The Siege of Lothal continues this trend by picking up even more stories that were started in season 1, featuring a little help from Lando Calrissian himself! I’m hoping that this season picks up on larger story arcs and broader strokes for our characters and move more and more out of the one-episode-per-story style we saw last season. (But then again, I’m hard to please: Seasons 4 and 5 of the Clone Wars had some arcs that I thought were just too long.)

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First, I want to talk about the new Rebel Alliance that we meet. Ahsoka, wearing her samurai, but not Jedi garb, seems to be really high in the ranks of the Rebellion. This episode doesn’t tell us any more about how Ahsoka survived the Great Jedi Purge, nor how she became involved in the Rebellion. Obviously, the series cannot tell us everything but it would have been great to have some gaps filled in now that she’s back. (Though, seriously, did anybody expect to be rooting for Ahsoka when she was introduced back in The Clone Wars?) We’re all interested to see how much she knows about Darth Vader and how she feels about her former Master, but this episode only hints about how much she knows about the Sith Lord. She doesn’t play a huge role in the episode, taking a rightful backseat to the main cast. I was happy to see her not take charge of the show: this is Ezra’s story, and she’s only a part of it. I think Filoni and the Rebels crew, based on this episode at least, know how to balance her well.

We also meet Commander Jun Sato, a new human commander of a band of A-Wings called the Phoenix Squadron. Fitting, because the Rebellion was re-introduced over Mustafar, the lava planet where Vader fell the first time and Ahsoka emerged fifteen years later. It’s fun to see the Squadron in action, and we see them twice. Once we see them operate a small mission to capture some Imperial goods, and the second time we see them fighting Darth Vader’s Advanced TIE Fighter. (It’s not a pretty fight.) I love seeing some classic starfighters in action, and they seem as fluid as some of the dogfights in The Clone Wars. They flight in a little tighter formation in this series than they do in the films, and it’s cool to see that. I can’t wait to see what happens when the series finally introduces B-Wing fighters and we see more classic starfighters in action.

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So what about the crew of The Ghost? Well, this episode doesn’t really give us any new insights into most of the characters (which is a HUGE bummer, because I think I speak for all of us when I say that we want to see more of Sabine’s backstory). We see a little bit of tension between Hera Syndulla (who, since we last saw her in “Fire Across the Galaxy” has been revealed as daughter of Cham Syndulla from the Clone Wars in Lords of the Sith) and Kanan. I would love to see Hera’s backstory built up further and be shown more of why she believes so fully in the Rebel cause. I’d also love to see more of Ezra: he’s apparently really strong in the Force, but his Force powers in this episode were used as plot devices rather than ways to show us more of Ezra himself. There was a pretty humorous scene with some Jedi Mind Tricks, though…

We’re getting a lot of Kanan though, which is honestly a little concerning to me. I thought that Rebels was Ezra’s story, but it’s almost feeling like Kanan’s story. Most of the Rebels material aimed at adults focuses on Kanan, between Marvel’s Kanan: The Last Padawan and A New Dawn focusing on the story of how Kanan and Ezra met. This is not necessarily a bad thing: Kanan is a great character and I love seeing him becoming more well-rounded. We knew that he was hesitant to merge with the Force again, and now he is hesitant to join another war after barely surviving the Clone Wars (recounted in Kanan: The Last Padawan from Marvel), but Hera feels strongly about joining the Rebellion and aiding in their effort. Hopefully this tension lasts throughout the season: this show has developed a strong bond between the characters, so it’s time to shake it up and test these bonds.

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Speaking of Hera and Kanan, Rebels has a hugely creative team. They work closely with the designers and animators to recreate classic scenes from the movies in their show with a loving bit of tact. Early in the episode, a scene on the flagship The Liberator is entirely remniscent of Han and Leia arguing in Echo Base..but that’s nothing compared to the gut punch of seeing the Empire wipe out Tarkintown. Vader is now responsible for the destruction of two villages close to Jedi that we hold dear. It’s too bad we won’t see him pay in the series.

Other than setting the context by calling back to the movies, the series is hitting its stride in regards to its tone. Last season we saw the Inquisitor decapitate two Imperial commanders at once with his double sided lightsaber, really raising the bar on the level of violence we can expect from the show. This season opener was no disappointment: after Minister Tua tried to defect to the Rebellion, she was killed in a trap set for the Rebels. I was shocked to see her killed and to see how the show is burning through its side characters. I would be worried, but I think some bigger forces are going to fill the vacuum left by their absence…

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But enough teasing, right? We all want to see Darth Vader! We want to make sure that the Rebels crew is handling him correctly, not messing up one of the most iconic villains of all time. This fear is well founded: Clone Wars had far too many episodes with implausible escapes because a character from the movies couldn’t die in the TV show. I think back to the pilot of Clone Wars where Asajj Ventress escapes Yoda by literally exploding a small bomb and distracting him for a few seconds….but I digest. Let me just say, Vader was well utilized in this episode.

One of the things that the new Disney canon has been doing well is combining the Prequel and Original Trilogies. Kieron Gillen’s excellent Darth Vader comics show us a truly menacing Sith Lord who is motivated by lost love for Padme. Lords of the Sith showed a Vader with a twinge of guilt over his former Padawan. But Rebels? Rebels shows us the ominous figure of Darth Vader that we met in the Original Trilogy but joins him with the excellent General Skywalker from the Clone Wars. This is a Vader who has a commanding presence, but isn’t about brute force. His lightsaber battle with Kanan is slow and methodical, nothing like the fight between Kanan and the Inquisitor. There aren’t flips and flying sabers and blasters, just a head to head blade on blade battle. It was a great call to the fight on the Death Star in A New Hope. But to bring in the Prequel Anakin side, Vader has a plan to bring the Rebels out of hiding, and he is an awesome pilot taking down a whole squadron of A-Wings on his own. Sure, the fight was a bit of fan service, but it was a well organized fight and it did its job by introducing Vader as a truly formidable enemy.

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Anybody worried that cheap tricks were used to evade Vader need not worry. The show treated Vader with respect, and the escape at the end felt justified and not cheap. The Rebels were able to outsmart the Imperials and use some hyperspace flying and tractor beams to their advantage. This move boosted Hera’s actual military expertise without making Vader look like an idiot, which was really, really relieving.

But one scene in particular gave me chills…Ahsoka and Kanan join up to reach into the Force and figure out who their new opponent is. Ezra notes that he felt him back on Lothal, a deadening “cold” inside that chills him to his core. Ahsoka, realizing the hatred and fear that lives in this body, was a powerful force from the Clone Wars…does she know that Vader is Anakin? Whatever she knows, Vader knows more. In the cockpit he feels her reaching out, uttering “The Apprentice lives…” Chills ran down my spine as I realized that this is really happening. The thing that we feared through the whole Clone Wars series, that Anakin and Ahsoka would have to come face to face, is a reality now. The two will be fighting and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Plus, the way that Vader refers to his past life as Anakin Skywalker in the third person shows that this Vader wants nothing to do with his past life and he’s out for blood.

One of the things that I appreciated was the new Emperor/Vader dynamic. Rather than showing Vader as obsessively hunting the Jedi as a side project like the Purge comics did, the show legitimizes his search for the Jedi. Even Palpatine gives Vader the seal of approval to up his search for the stray Jedi.

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The episode ends with a command from the Empire: Send a new Inquisitor and flush the Rebels out. But Vader has other things on his mind: surviving Jedi, most importantly, Kenobi. The cliffhanger is perfect and gives us a haunting look at the rest of the season: the hunt is on. Vader will not stop until he can exploit Ahsoka to find Kenobi and the Empire will not rest until the Rebels are wiped out completely. This season looks like it will be a wild ride, and that’s not even including the upcoming cameos from Hondo Onahka, Gregor, Wolffe, and Captain Rex himself. Unfortunately, we have a while until the season starts. But in the meantime, we can enjoy Marvel’s fantastic comics (Princess Leia ends this Wednesday to be replaced by Lando in July!) and Dark Disciple before the Journey to The Force Awakens really begins.

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