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Star Wars Rebels S4E5: “The Occupation”

There are some amazing (depressing) scenes of life under the Empire in this pair of episodes. However, before I get into that, I’m going to start this with a rant that’s been building up within me for a while.

Why Ezra Bridger Fails

We open this pair of  episodes with Ezra (voiced by Taylor Gray) whinging about Lothal again; even after it’s been explained to him, he just doesn’t understand there is a big picture. His dialog and Gray’s delivery could’ve supplanted his nearly identical dialogue from his conversation with Mon Mothma (voiced by Genevieve O’Reilly)  in episode 3 of this season. It’s whiny and tiring. It’s been 3 full seasons and I’ve still yet to be won over by this diet version of Anakin Skywalker. I’ll be honest, I liked Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader much more than basically everything about Ezra Bridger.

Then again, the original film is also built around a whiny kid and his far more competent friends, until Luke got lucky. But Luke became a  complex and likable character that most people love. One of the ways they did that was to highlight his dynamic with Darth Vader, the series’ most iconic villain.

One of the many reasons that I have found Star Wars: The Clone Wars to  be ultimately superior to Rebels is that it understood how to use the Force. The characters using the Force were competent and flawed. They were smart, and rarely made bone-headed decisions and when they did, they learned. The Force was always an extension of a character, never their crutch. Every character to use the Force in Star Wars: The Clone Wars ultimately didn’t need it to be a character worth watching, caring for, and sometimes falling in love with. To paraphrase Cosima Niehaus from Orphan Black out of context, the Force wasn’t the most interesting thing about those characters.

But the Force is the most interesting thing about Ezra, and that’s why he fails to connect with me on almost every level. Without it, he’s nothing.

Except that one time he Killgraved (see Jessica Jones) a stormtrooper into slaughtering his friends with a walker and then committing suicide. I’m a sucker for moments I have to verbally remind myself it’s a kid’s show.

The main character, for the most part, of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was Commander Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka Tano was a complex character who learned from her mistakes. She was a character that almost everyone (myself included) disliked when they released the first four episodes in theaters. But she was never a weak character. Her inexperience and arrogance early on was used to show how far she had come. Ezra has gotten no such development.

Ahsoka Tano anchored Star Wars: The Clone Wars in a way that Ezra will never anchor Star Wars: Rebels. The reason why it’s such a shame the creative team has tried to push Ezra on us so hard isn’t because of his faults, but because he’s surrounded by characters so much more worthy than him. In particular, Sabine.

I’m not ragging on this show. I love it. Nor am I opening a larger criticism of bland male protagonists…yet. I just wanted to talk about the focal character of this show being the poison that kills much of its potential. I could go on, but not today.

 The Empire’s Grand Admiral Thrawn Has Been Playing Halo: Reach

The ‘revolution’ got nuked from orbit.

One of the things this episode did well was show how Ezra’s earlier efforts to poke the Empire in the side during seasons 1 & 2 have resulted in what looks like an orbital bombardment and full occupation.

Nostalgia.

There are wanted posters for Sabine (voiced by Tiya Sircar) and Ezra, as they were the most prolific of the Lothal rebels in season 1. Seeing Sabine’s earlier hair highlighted the recent change she made. Her hair looks more like her family than it ever has. Kanan (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Hera Syndulla (voiced by Veronica Marshall) also comment on how horrible things have gotten for Lothal. In a cute moment while hiding from storm troopers, this happened:

Ship confirmed!

Ezra and Sabine go to ‘Old Joe’s’, a bar that was staunchly anti-Empire the last time we saw it. Predictably, it’s now run by the empire.

“He doesn’t like you.”

I’m curious if the new arrangement of the ‘Imperial March’ playing  in the background is in-world bar music. I love it. Things not to do when enter an Imperial bar: sit at the bar and engage in conversation with somebody who knows your face.

Ezra, your stupidity is beginning to truly astound me. And it’s not like the writers are ignorant of it  since most of Sabine’s dialogue this episode is telling Ezra not to do things that immediately put them in danger.

Before they can leave, the bartender orders the stormtroopers to stop them. Zuko saved them though. I mean, Dante Basco saves them. He’s an old friend of Ezra’s and, like Sabine, a former Imperial. He pays for their drinks and leads them out of the bar. This shouldn’t have worked, but I love Dante Basco’s cameo so much I don’t really care.

They meet up with Kanan and Hera, who manage to blow up some stuff and steal a ride. The Empire brought tanks, so that ride is burned pretty quickly. They manage to make it into the sewers, however they are being pursued by Probe Droids. I will always love the creepy garbling sound those things make.

They fight it out in the sewers, but they get cornered. It’s also worth noting that it took Hera, Zeb (voiced by Steve Blum), and Ezra to take down one of the probes. Sabine Wren fends hers off alone.

Boom.

They reach a ladder, and it turns into a situation remeniscint of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay scene in which they’re basically sending people up while defending from the back. It’s a shame Finnick Odair wasn’t a Force user.

Since Ezra destroyed the control panel when he activated the ladder, they all died. Or would have if their contact on Lothal, Ryder Azadi (voiced by Clancy Brown) hadn’t miraculously appeared and opened the hatch and put them all on his speeder out of the city.

Part II: ‘Flight of the Defender’

Enter Grand Admiral Thrawn. A.K.A. “Something terrible”

Thrawn’s presence just has this way of elevating every episode he’s in. He’s voiced by Lars Mikkelsen. He is here to witness the training exercise of the ‘TIE Defender Elite’, which has our rebels quite worried. When it flies over their heads, they realize that the Rebel Alliance doesn’t have anything that can really compete with its aerial prowess. Once they’ve got the footage they need, Ryder and Zeb want to go back to Ryder’s hideout to regroup with Hera and Kanan. Sabine however, decides that this is too good of an opportunity to pass up: she wants the flight data recorder. She’s right. There is now way the Alliance can fight something like this without having accurate information about it, and Sabine is both daring and a realist. It’s worth the risk.

I love how they took the time to animate the characters’ frost breath.

There are two stormtroopers guarding the TIE Defender Elite; because the Empire is smart like that. These storm troopers win some kind of award for incompetence and treason.

It’s so cute, let’s shoot at it.

So these idiots discharge their weapons at the local wildlife.

Wildlife took exception to that.

So they run off to chase these Loth-cats. Which allows Sabine to infiltrate the Defender Elite.

Your Mission Impossible is showing.

While Sabine is inside the Defender Elite, Thrawn and his entourage show up for a demonstration. I don’t even care about the hilarious coincidence, because Thrawn never disappoints. Predictably, things go awry from here on out.

Sabine is also an Imperial certified pilot.

During the chaos, Thrawn spots Ezra. He commands his soldiers to “capture him”. I like how Thrawn understands that Ezra would be an immensly valuable intelligence gold mine if taken alive. But Thrawn notably didn’t see Sabine enter the Defender Elite.

She decides to strafe the tarmac, destroying most of the other TIE fighters. Thrawn decides taking cover is for cowards.

Sabine, next time, kill him.

This is stupid, but I believe Thrawn is playing some badass psychological game with Sabine…he wins this round.

Rather than let this spoil Thrawn’s day, he simply orders fighters to go after the two thieves. Governor Pryce (voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn ) asks if they should use the “kill switch”, to which Thrawn says they can still have their demonstration. Might as well have a combat test. And it’s things like this that make Thrawn so magnetic and intimidating. He just turned an embarrassment into a learning opportunity. He knows Ezra is here, but he’s curious about the identity of the second pilot.

After a while, Ezra manages to dispatch the TIEs sent after them. During this time, Sabine has dismantled the transponder. And Thrawn now knows who the second thief is, and that Ezra is actually the one flying; after all, only Sabine Wren “The Mandalorian” could disable the transponder “in record time”. Pryce asks if it was Hera Syndulla, but Thrawn disagrees. He states that if it was indeed Phoenix Leader, the TIEs would’ve been destroyed far sooner. He remarks that if a pilot of “modest skill” like Ezra could beat seasoned pilots thanks to the technological superiority of the Defender Elite; it bodes well for the Empire.

He orders Pryce to activate the kill switch. Two of the wings on the Defender Elite fall off, Sabine saves the third somehow.

Sledding!

It makes sense that the ‘kill switch’ preserves the integrity of the vehicle. The Empire wouldn’t want to be trashing their prototypes.

The remainder of the episode is basically the ‘Dave Filoni likes wolves and couldn’t think of a better way to have them show up’ show. Sabine decides to detach the hyper-drive so that Ryder’s E-Wing can have off-world capabilities. They lug it around all afternoon apparently before the Empire’s search parties arrive.

The pair is hiding behind a rock when a Studio Ghibli wolf from Princess Mononoke shows up…basically.

San, is this yours?

For reasons that really don’t make any sense at all, the wolf switches off Sabine’s consciousness. Sabine couldn’t see the wolf, but the wolf is corporeal, carrying them to safety. Any good feelings the wolf was supposed to bring me were killed when the show is basically shouting at me “EZRA IS MORE SPECIAL THAN ANYONE CAUSE HE CAN USE THE FORCE!!!”

The wolf says something cryptic that sounded like “Dume” (because that’s Kanan’s real surname) or “Doom”. I hope it’s doom for Ezra. That’s not a good place for a show to be in, where I’m actively rooting for the demise of its main character. It doesn’t even happen that often, I promise.

They meet up with everyone else, and Kanan says something about all the paths coming together, which doesn’t bode well for anybody, except Hera.

According to the most recent Forces of Destiny, Hera Syndulla survives through the Battle of Endor and banters with Han Solo. She also calls Leia “General Organa”.


See y’all next week.

Have any questions or comments regarding this week’s episodes? Come pester me on twitter @BellicoseEmpath

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Nathan Levine

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

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