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Star Wars Rebels Review & Recap: ‘Rebel Assault’

It’s not a coincidence that the strongest episodes of this show happen when the creative team focusses on its female cast.

This episode belongs to the newly anointed General in the “Rebel Alliance to Restore the Republic”: Hera Syndulla (voiced by Vanessa Marshall).

The aerial assault on Lothal goes poorly. However, from a strategic standpoint, they didn’t have a choice but to go on this suicide mission. If the Empire mass-produces their new TIE Defender, the rebels will lose every future ship-to-ship engagement. Their X-Wings will become useless. So they have no choice but to mount a small mission to destroy the factory making the TIE Defender on Lothal.

Phoenix 4 “Cleat”, you died so soon.

During the space battle, we see through the point of view of two different X-Wing pilots in addition to General Hera. One of them is a woman, and the other is a man. I actually really like that the new star wars media has essentially retconned the original trilogy’s sexism by ensuring there are are some (but still very few) female pilots. But whatever points Rebels gets for including one here is made null since they blew her up. Do better, Rebels. I’m not upset that they’re killing off X-Wing pilots left and right, but I am a bit disappointed they introduce some much-needed representation for the explicit purpose of getting rid of it. R.I.P. ‘Cleat’ (voiced too briefly by Anna Graves)

Not quite London Bridge, but it’ll do.

 

On the ground, the rest of the Ghost crew is standing by to assist in the bombing run. Sabine Wren (voiced by Tiya Sircar) uses some explosives and her demolition expertise to level all of the anti-aircraft towers.

Aboard one of the Star Destroyers, Grand Admiral Thrawn (voiced by Lars Mikkelsen) is supervising the blockade of Lothal. He informs his TIE Captain to deal with these rebel scum.

What do you mean we couldn’t afford Tarkin for this episode??

Hera engages in a dog-fight with the leader of the TIE fighters. This captain, Vult Skerris (voiced by Mario Vernazza) is flying a TIE Defender.  Thrawn tells his TIE captain Skerris to pull off of Hera, since he’s playing into her hands. Captain Skerris disagrees.

Hera begins her run at the bridge of the Star Destroyer that Thrawn is aboard. With a resigned sigh, he tells his battery crew to open fire on Hera, knowing he’ll catch his own man in the crossfire. However, he’s not too torn up about it. The man was defying orders after all.

Hera’s plan works. The main battery fire from Thrawn’s Star Destroyer rids both ships of their shields. She fires at one of the things on top of the Destroyer, creating a smoke screen. As the overconfident Skerris flies right by her, Hera executes the identical move that Rey used while piloting the falcon (Or David Oyelowo’s executes does in Red Tails…Oyelowo’s character Kallus wasn’t in this episode unfortunately). Skerris is outmaneuvered and the flaming wreck of his ship crashes into an Imperial Cruiser.

The Rebels are now past the blockade, and they’ve lost some folk. The ground team has destroyed the anti-air units, and they’re clear to begin their bombing run. They’re optimistic.
Until Thrawn’s contingency measure of a second wave of TIE Fighters. Oh.

Hera afraid makes me afraid.

We don’t actually see this in-atmosphere air battle. But we see what the ground crew sees. It’s kinda beautiful, in a terrible way. Thrawn is proud of his art.

It’s a sobering moment for this show, and the franchise as a whole to see the Rebellion thwarted like this.

One of the few times I’m okay with Ezra’s face being in frame.

Communications are down, so our lovely Ghost crew have no idea if Hera’s alive other than Kannan’s (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) declaration of optimism.

If this were a two-parter, this would be the point where the episode ends and the next would resume. But this mid-season finale was one episode, which was an interesting and clever move from the staff of this show. It was written as a stand alone, tacking it on at the end of last week and calling it a mid-season finale would’ve been a pacing disaster so I’m glad we got a compact 22 minute outing before the hiatus rather than a longer jumble. Good job, Rebels.

Sabine confirms everyone’s fears by stating, yes those burning wrecks falling from the sky is the “entire attack force”.

You’re not an Ewok anymore!

Thrawn reaches out to a prodigious mercenary he hired called Rurkh (voiced by Star Wars alumn Warwick Davis). He wants the capture of the rebel pilots, “Captain Syndulla in particular”. Thrawn’s obsession with Hera is bordering on strategic fallacy. It’s cute in a strictly adversarial way of course…

The Ghost crew for some reason decide to abandon Hera. Okay, I may be a little harsh, but their decision amounted to, ‘meh, she’ll be fine on her own…if she survived the battle and the crash landing into a densely populated area under absolute Imperial control.’

I get they had gunships coming their way, but c’mon guys, you could’ve out-flanked them. Save your General!  Nope, I’m not salty, not at all.

Plot armor, Hera wears the mantle well.

Meanwhile, Hera emerges from the wreck of her ship. A helpful woman tells her how to avoid the Empire.

She stumbles upon one of her pilots. Some dude named Mart Mattin (voiced by Zachary Gordon). Like, I know he’s the nephew of the deceased Commander Sato, but was he really more important than Phoenix 4? She should’ve survived. Killing the Commander’s nephew would’ve been a narrative note of intent that while nobody from the main crew died in this episode, named characters are still vulnerable. Oh, and they would’ve put forth a less regressive message regarding female fighter pilots in this saga. Such a wasted opportunity to do so much by doing so little.

You smug looking…

Apparently Kanan realized leaving his superior officer, and girlfriend on her own against the Empire was a bad idea. Who would’ve thought? He decides to head back. But some Force shenanigans get in the way. I’ve reached my conclusion that I don’t like the Deus Ex Wolves on Lothal. I’ll explain why in detail a little later. But Kanan is stopped by one and he’s realizes that God has a plan… I mean the Force… oops. If they were trying to be subtle here…who am I kidding? They were not  trying for subtlety at all. Shame on you writers, it’s not too late to avoid pulling a Battlestar Galactica where religion is concerned.

The astromech droid who accompanied the downed pilot Hera found gets killed. Nobody really cared. But Chopper is right there!! He’s as real a character as the rest of them. It’s just another moment of characters treating droids like appliances, in front of droids we regard as characters. Par for the course in this saga.

Goes down with the ship.

Together they find an escape going to the sewers. But they need to distract the Imperial Forces guarding it. They succeed, but during the distraction, Thrawn’s mercenary delays Hera. Rukh delays Hera enough to get reinforcements. Hera orders Chopper and the pilot down to safety while  Governor Pryce (voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) captures her. The Pilot and Chopper get to safety with Kanan there to meet them.

So, to round up, Hera is in the hands of the Empire. More specifically, in the hands of Governor Pryce and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Not great for her. The others are stranded on Lothal with no likely rebel support forthcoming after this calamitous failure of an assault. TIE Defender will be mass-produced, and the Empire has won this round.

It’s a little too close to the narrative beats of The Empire Strikes Back for my liking. Not because I don’t like that film, but because we’ve been here before in a sense, in this saga. I complain a lot, but I generally enjoyed this season’s first half.

My favorite episodes were the first couple which took place on Mandalore. This show is always better when Sabine becomes the focal character, and it’s never for long enough. Sabine is my favorite, though I’ll concede that Hera has been consistently better written. Perhaps because Sabine only stopped being a cypher after we were introduced to her past.

There’s some problems I have with this show. One of them right now is how they’re using the Deus Ex Wolves. The show relies on the majesty of it all, and loses focus on the narrative and character moments that are being sacrificed. It feels like instead of the show operating within the general understanding of the Force set up by 8 films and two TV shows up to this point; they are trying to put the Force into a mold to satisfy the specific plot corners the writers put themselves in.

I’m not objecting to a new application of the Force, I’d just  prefer more smoothly integrated one. Also, the Judeo-Christian God vibes radiating off of every encounter we’ve had with these Deus Ex Wolves is unsettling. Their handling make Kanan and especially Ezra feel much like biblical characters rather than the ones we’ve gotten to know (fundamental flaws and all). That may not be a problem for some, but it does bother me, what with our current political/religious climate. And while there are of course biblical allusions all over Star Wars as a whole, this example has been particularly clumsily handled so far for me.

The show has a lot of questions to answer, and I’m not entirely optimistic we’ll get those answers. After all, for all we know, Barriss Offee and Ahsoka Tano are both still alive. Both characters that Dave Filoni explicitly kept alive, I hope for everyone’s sake he didn’t spare them only to throw away their potential now.

On the bright side, at least we know Hera survives!

See y’all when the show returns.

If you want to talk to me about it all, don’t hesitate to comment below.

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Nathan Levine

Nathan is from Culver City, California. Follow him on twitter @BellicoseEmpath.

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