Star Wars Rebels S4E1&2: ‘Heroes of Mandalore’
Parts 1 & 2
Disclaimer and Salutations! My reviews for Star Wars Rebels will discuss SPOILERS not only from this show, but its predecessor, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I will also be potentially discussing important plot elements from any of the eight films released, so beware. I may venture into speculation for The Last Jedi as well, so beware of that as well.
SPOILERS from here on out.
First and foremost, the main characters of these two episodes are Sabine Wren (voiced by Tiya Sircar) and Lady Bo-Katan Kryze (voiced by Katee Sackhoff). The character work is focused on them, the action revolves around them, and frankly, this premiere is all the better for it. The female characters of the Star Wars television shows have a tradition of bringing more complexity to the table than their male counterparts, especially in Star Wars Rebels. And this premiere is a perfect microcosm of that.
We start the episode with a frontal attack on an outpost in which Clan Wren and the Ghost Crew believe the Empire holds Alrich Wren (voiced by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Sabine’s father. Sabine, who holds the Darksaber, leads her people into battle. It’s a nice turn of events to see Kanan (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Ezra (voiced by Taylor Gray) taking their orders and cues from their Mandalorian crew-mate. Unfortunately, the siege goes awry and there is a moment where Sabine is in danger.
Bo-Katan and her subordinates from Clan Kryze (Pronounced ‘Kreez’) arrive in time, and force the Empire to abandon their post. However, one of the Imperial officers has consulted with the hologram of his commanding officer, who clearly expected Sabine to lead this rescue mission. But they retreat all the same, and our crew takes the outpost.
Fenn Rau, (voiced by Kevin McKidd) introduces Sabine to Bo-Katan, who was made Regent of Mandalore by the end of the Clone Wars. It was the Jedi who gave her that title. He mentions that “her sister [Duchess] Satine once ruled Mandalore.” The Mandalore arc from Star Wars: The Clone Wars is one of the more fascinating of the whole show, and holds the cornerstone to one of my favorite ‘Who are Rey’s parents?’ theories. It also involves Darth Maul being a sadistic bastard, Obi-Wan Kenobi in love, and some astonishing and emotional action set pieces.
Sabine tries to give the Darksaber, the symbolic weapon of the ruler of Mandalore, to Bo-Katan the walking legend. Bo-Katan looks down at the blade that helped destroy her life over a decade ago, and refuses the younger leader. She says she was also betrayed by the clan of assholes (The Saxons) when she refused to bow to the Empire.
In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Bo-Katan was a power-hungry terrorist who helped massacre at least one village we know of, and was second-in-command to the Mandalorian splinter group called Death Watch. One of her other accomplishments is that she walked away from a fight in which Ahsoka Tano performed a quadruple decapitation of Bo-Katan’s comrades, so that’s not nothing.
I bring up Bo-Katan’s past because her turning down the Darksaber is something that is so counter to who she used to be. It’s something of a treat for all of us who watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network or Netflix.
Like Darth Vader, Ahsoka ‘Ashla’ Tano, and Ben Kenobi, Bo-Katan has become somebody else after the Clone Wars ended in tragedy for everyone. It’s worth noting that ‘Ben’ is the nickname Satine gave Obi-Wan when they were teenagers in love. Perhaps he took it up permanently as a way of memorializing her.
The monster Bo-Katan helped put in power (Darth Maul) murdered her sister to prove a point to a man she rescued (Kenobi) so that he could bring the republic in to help them fight two Sith Lords. She rebelled against Maul because he was an outsider, being a monster had little to do with it. He killed her sister Satine after Bo-Katan split from Death Watch. In other words, it could be argued Bo-Katan’s at least partially responsible for the Empire gaining their foothold on Mandalore. I also bring it up so I can include this image, which also perfectly echoes Sabine’s dialogue about Mandalore being in a near constant state of war.
Back to the plot, Sabine orders Fenn Rau to contact her mother, who should be arriving soon; having sent ahead Bo-Katan and her team to aid her daughter. Sabine explains to Ezra that Mandalore is a barren wasteland because of the constant warfare, and that once upon a time it used to be beautiful, but it was before she was alive to see it.
Sabine’s mother Ursa (voiced by Sharmila Devar) and her brother Tristan (voiced by Ritesh Rajan) arrive with bad news: Alrich Wren is being transported to the capital city Sundari for a very “public termination.”
There’s a cute moment between Kanan and Captain Hera Syndulla (voiced by Vanessa Marshall). They blatantly refer to their ‘sort of’ romance, that really hasn’t seen the light of day yet. Hera mentions that it was only the fact that the mission objective was Sabine’s father which convinced Mon Mothma to allow her two Jedi assets to go to Mandalore. Kanan disagrees about being called an asset since the Clone Wars weighs heavily on him still. Kanan’s status as a veteran is actually an opportunity for interesting discussion that wasn’t used here, since his first real ‘soldier reminiscing’ moment was when he talked with Fenn Rau about Mandalorian squadrons that offered air support. Kanan’s struggles with his wartime trauma could’ve also been a launching pad to discuss how the Jedi had ultimately stopped being Jedi by the time Order 66 was given. They were no longer warrior monks, they had become “an army fighting for the Dark Side, fallen from the light that [they] once held so dear,” (Barriss Offee, Star Wars: The Clone Wars S5E20). The effect of such a war that the Jedi forced their own children to fight in would make for a fantastic episode, though I doubt they’ll capitalize on that particular gold mine. With Bo-Katan around, it’s a shame nobody mentioned Darth Maul, since they all hate him. A fun conversation that could’ve been. Also, nobody tells her that Maul is dead now; it would be nice for her to have some closure.
They find the convoy pretty easily, and they launch their attack from above. Sabine quickly tags the transport with her father in it with her usual flare, blinding the driver.
It’s worth noting that Alrich recognizes his daughter’s paint work immediately. Because he’s a genuine artist, and a loving father. On a side note, with political/moral contentions set aside, Alrich Wren and Grand Admiral Thrawn (voiced by Lars Mikkelsen) could have a conversation about differing art styles for days. After all, war is Thrawn’s art, it’s why he’s the best at it.
Without much trouble, they manage to free Alrich. In one of the strangest and oddly poignant moments of the show, the exiled daughter gets a hug from her dad, and then has her art style gently and a little humorously critiqued by her him. It’s adorable.
They hail Ursa and Tristan on the comms, and they believe they’ve won the day. And then the Empire brings out ‘The Duchess’, the reason Sabine fled Mandalore in shame and fear. She designed this weapon to specifically target Mandalorian armor, which is renowned across the galaxy as some of the toughest material around, and superheat it so fast it atomizes the person wearing it. And the Empire just used it on her people, her clan no less.
Sabine mentioned in “Trials of the Darksaber” last season that she had created such a weapon. The score that plays over the conclusion of Part I is a more somber version of the music that played over her emotional confession. It’s a beautiful and haunting piece of music unique in the Star Wars canon. It’s also called ‘Sabine’s Suite’ and it’s composed by Kevin Kiner.
And so ends Part I.
“Heroes of mandalore Part II” fails to capitalize on what could have been an incredibly moving couple of deaths. It turns out Ursa and Tristan survive this attack. I think it would’ve been better for several reasons if they had perished, but they lived, so let’s get on with it.
Somewhere else, a hologram of Grand Admiral Thrawn is speaking with the Saxon leader (voiced by Tobias Menzies) who reconstructed Sabine’s weapon. Thrawn has a moment where he undercuts the bravado of his subordinate by noticing that Saxon tried to hide that the range of the weapon was lesser than its potential. It’s a clever piece of dialogue that once again distinguishes Thrawn from any Imperial we’ve ever met. I wonder if it was Thrawn who advocated to keep the name ‘The Duchess’ out of respect to its creator Sabine.
Sabine admits to everyone that this was the reason she had left. Her father, mother, and friends knew about it. Bo-Katan had only heard rumors, so she was not happy about this whole mess, and she wasted no time letting Sabine know it. Sabine doesn’t defend herself, she was young, arrogant, and in need of a challenge; and she created an “abomination.”
But that was after Bo-Katan flew outside and dropped a grenade into a TIE Fighter mid-flight. Maybe she needed to blow off some of that adrenaline.
However, Bo-Katan has a quick turnaround when she observes in close quarters how efficient and charismatic Sabine is as a leader. When they land, her people are not happy with Sabine’s presence. They basically all draw their weapons on the girl despite Sabine’s family coming to her defense. It’s a touching moment considering the tension there was between Sabine and Ursa especially last season when she almost refused to talk to her daughter at all, out of shame.
Sabine owns up to designing the weapon that just incinerated some of their people. She also tells them that she thought she covered her tracks when she left Mandalore; she believed the threat of her weapon was gone after she destroyed it. But most importantly, no matter how cliche it is, she points out that squabbling among themselves like this only benefits the Empire.
Durning the planning of the raid to destroy the weapon for good, Fenn Rau points out that perhaps they could use this weapon against the Empire. To target only Stormtrooper armor. Sabine considers it for a hot second, but then decisively shuts that idea down. Nobody else dies because of her. At least, not like this. Not the coward’s way. Sabine decides they need two teams to complete the raid, one to purge their hard drives (or whatever the Star Wars equivalent of that is) of the weapon’s schematics, and a second team to destroy the physical weapon.
Ursa volunteers. Fenn Rau points out she’s injured. She takes exception to that. And then in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, her son and husband each put a hand on her shoulder so she doesn’t cross the room and K.O. Fenn Rau.
But after this, Bo-Katan and Fenn Rau have a quiet moment of sober contemplation regarding Sabine.
“I had my doubts, Rau. But she came back to face her past, and her bold initiative has impressed me. She has become a courageous leader. She reminds me of the best of who we were; and can inspire us to be more than we have been of late. I will not allow her efforts to be wasted.”-Bo-Katan. This is Bo-Katan rounding the final corner of her character arc which she started in the pre-Disney era.
The mission to destroy ‘The Duchess’ which Sabine named after Bo-Katan’s dead pacifist sister is pretty straight forward. Ezra had one job, don’t be seen. He fails his one job, and costs everybody the element of surprise. But it’s alright, since the arrogant young Force user is bailed out again by the badasses he goes on missions with.
Bo-Katan and Sabine find the core of ‘The Duchess’ and Saxon activates it, knocking them both to the ground. Saxon’s Captain expresses a great point, if the Empire has the ability to wipe out all Mandalorian warriors, why wouldn’t they just do that? He gets zapped by ‘The Dutchess’ too. But not on a setting high enough to kill. Saxon’s lines in this scene are very reminiscient of then Chancellor now Emperor Palpatine right before he cuts down the Jedi council in Revenge of the Sith. Saxon even name drops his Emperor, to paint this connection in bright red.
The Saxon leader threatens to kill Bo-Katan if Sabine doesn’t turn the weapon to its maximum setting. Sabine capitulates, from Saxon’s point of view. But that’s ’cause he’s a fool. Sabine capitalizes on her chance with the weapon’s target parameters, and sets it to Imperial armor, and increases the range, but not intensity. Every single storm trooper in the hangar is incapacitated. Ezra is shocked for a moment as well, as he wears a Imperial scout mask. How mind-blowing would it have been if Sabine set ‘The Duchess’ to the kill setting, and it killed Ezra? That would’ve made for one hell of a final season arc for everybody.
There is some strong symbolism with how this weapon works. It’s like bolts of lightning from Odin or Zeus, aimed directly at the cornerstone of Mandalorian culture, their armor. Sabine’s armor alone is hundreds of years old, and has been in her family all that time. Saxon loses because he is a traitor to his people. He’s a Mandalorian who wears the armor made by the Empire instead of his own people. Sabine uses this against him. And it leads to his death, even if Sabine chose not to wield the blade doing the killing.
Sabine uses the Darksaber to destroy ‘The Duchess’, there’s a few layers of symbolism here and it’s amazing. Darth Maul used the Darksaber to kill ‘The Duchess” namesake, Satine. A relic of Mandalore ends an Imperial weapon. And it is on the words of a former terrorist that Sabine stays her hand and lets Saxon die by explosion rather than by her blade or pistol or ‘The Duchess’. It’s a moment that evokes the Emperor’s death scene in how Sabine makes a similar choice to Luke Skywalker. There’s also not been this much artificial lightning on screen in Star Wars since the Emperor tortured Luke…that’s a similarity too. Bo-Katan asks Sabine, giving her the choice of path to take: ‘Hope or Fear?’
Sabine’s a rebel, and rebellions are built on the stuff, I hear. When they return to their base camp, Sabine bestows the Darksaber once again to Bo-Katan. But this time, Bo-Katan has hope again. Sabine gave her hope of a better tomorrow, which is why Bo-Katan Kryze finally takes up the mantle she was destined for since her uprising against Darth Maul. Sabine has found her leader, and Bo-Katan has found a successor, for when she returns to Sabine the Darksaber, to lead their people.