Rebels returns this week with the episode we have been waiting for. Ever since hearing that the new series would be taking place during The Dark Times (Time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), many have hoped for an episode about what daily life is like, not under the Empire, but within the Empire. This episode did not disappoint. In addition to the glimpse of Imperial command, the game of cat and mouse between Thrawn and Kallus has created a sense of palpable tension and foreboding that begs for resolution.
The episode opens with the creative, if a bit jarring, Kallus-Eye-View of his Imperial Light Cruiser. The Empire has captured a Rebel: Ezra. When Kallus “interrogates” Ezra alone, Ezra reveals that the Empire has been monitoring Kallus’ “Fulcrum” communications and that Rebel Command has sent Ezra to extract him. Before they can act, Thrawn himself arrives, accompanied by Governor Pryce, ISB Colonel Wullf Yularen, and the various sector heads. Together, in an operation lead by Thrawn, they are setting a trap that will force Fulcrum to reveal his or her identity. Since Thrawn has narrowed down the possible locations of the Rebel base, and since he thinks Fulcrum has seen the map which lists those worlds, it will force Fulcrum to act.
Using Ezra’s Force powers and a security chip from his subordinate, Yogar Lyste, Kallus breaks into Thrawn’s office, deletes Chopper Base from the map, and adds another planet. Then he hacks Thrawn’s combat-training droids so that they attack Thrawn to provide a distraction. With Thrawn thusly distracted, Ezra escapes and Kallus elects to stay behind to continue to act as Fulcrum, having framed Lyste as “Fulcrum.” Yularen and Thrawn both think that the situation ended too cleanly, and this, combined with the other evidence, convinces Thrawn that Kallus is Fulcrum. Rather than arrest him, Thrawn allows Kallus to persist, knowing that eventually Kallus will slip up and lead him straight to the Rebels.
Something expertly done this episode is its structure. This story is incredibly thrilling. Ezra’s capture in the cold open, Kallus dancing around Imperial officers to avoid being caught, the infiltration and escape out of Thrawn’s office, Thrawn and Wullf Yularen’s hunt for Fulcrum, the needed transmission of the security codes, every element in this episode is fine tuned to maximize tension. Will this happen? What will happen? Will Thrawn find out? Is Kallus safe? This episode had us on the edge of our seats.
The payoff of the episode was equal parts exciting and foreboding, as we find out Thrawn knows about Kallus and is now using him as a tool for the Empire. The Rebels have it coming for them, as scary as it is, and it is thrilling to see where this season goes with this.
The Return of Wullf Yularen
In a pleasant surprise, Wullf Yularen returns to the small screen. Most of us remember him from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, wherein he functioned as General Skywalker’s fleet commander. Since the rise of the Empire, Yularen has shifted gears and backed away from the military. Instead, it is heavily implied that he is the head of the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB). It makes one wonder what has happened to engender such a change.
From TCW we see that Yularen values the rules and command structure above everything, and he has been shown on multiple occasions to have been very competent, so it seems unlikely that Yularen was demoted or suffered some other disgrace. After all, if US Military rank is anything to go by, an Admiral is a much higher rank than a Colonel. It seems more likely that Yularen was simply asked to lead the newly founded ISB (as we saw no evidence of a similar organization within the Republic) and thus resigned his commission in the navy.
Kallus as a character has changed. In season one he was a dedicated intelligence officer of the Empire. Now he is a double agent working against the Empire. Despite being so hardline, he has now joined the Rebellion. He was like space Javert, as Michael Kogge, who wrote the Novelization of the Rebels episode, “Spark Of Rebellion”, expertly put:
“Unlike the Inquisitor or Darth Vader, he can’t access any preternatural source for superhuman feats, yet his sharp perception, his devious nature, and his downright doggedness in the pursuit of catching rebels make him a worthy adversary. He’s the Inspector Javert of Star Wars, a man whose devotion to law and order is absolute. For Kallus, Imperial edicts are not to be questioned, they are only to be enforced. Consequently, he has dedicated his life to root out those who would dare break those laws, at the expense of everything else. His dark side is not the Force, but his own blindness to compassion. He’s a villain one can find in today’s society, a prisoner of his own intransigence.”
A man so focused on Imperial structure and law, like Kallus, would never even dream of joining the Rebels. Yet funnily enough, the sparks of Rebellion found themselves in Kallus. Through his interactions with Zeb, observation of Imperial actions, and general soul searching, he has taken on the Mantle of Fulcrum. While heroic, Kallus is now in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and his days are numbered.
Kallus had his fair share of trickery in this episode. Switching command pins, dancing around Thrawn, reprogramming the battle bots, pinning it on Yogar Lyste, he runs the whole gambit without any prior planning. He is precise, to the point, and focused on his goals.
Yet ironically enough, he is also incredibly proud and arrogant. As far as he concerned, he is the smartest person in any given situation. Lyste is now Fulcrum to the Empire, and he is scot-free, and can continue acting as a double agent. He is gambling away, trying for the highest bid. Yet this decision may ultimately prove to be his downfall. He fails to see Thrawn as the genius he is, and ends up proving himself to be Fulcrum. It’s irony worthy of tragedy, and we fear that tragedy may yet consume Kallus.
Thrawn: Competent as Ever
Thrawn as a character is handled excellently. He is five steps ahead of everyone else, anticipating their movements through acute observation and wit. He is able to notice unique details in Sabine’s art to figure out what other pieces she’s designed, such as Ezra’s helmet. He has mastered art recognition at a level of a graduate student.
Mental prowess is not all that Thrawn excels at. He is one to hone his body and mind together, as the audience observes while he battles some terrifying imperial battle droids. Having Thrawn battle the droids expresses how not only is he terrifying intellectually, but also physically.
Why is Lothal So Important? (The Zach Theory Hour)
When Tarkin arrived on Lothal in Season 1, he called it a “backwater world.” A quick look at this map of the Star Wars galaxy (based on Canon and Legends sources) shows just how remote Lothal is.But if Lothal is so remote, so unimportant, so “backwater,” why has the Empire sunk so many resources into securing it? Think about it. Grand Moff Tarkin himself, the man who is in charge of all the worlds in the Outer Rim, personally arrives to deal with the rebels, and when the task proves too great for him the Emperor sends Darth Vader. Even after the Empire has driven the majority of the rebel presence from Lothal, they keep three Star Destroyers in orbit to defend the system. We have seen that the Empire has manufacturing capabilities on Lothal earlier this season, but even so the security seems extremely tight for a few factories, unless Lothal is at the heart of the Imperial war machine (which it is not; canon sources state that Kuat is the source of most of the Imperial Navy and the Empire maintains numerous factories across the galaxy).
With all that in mind, it begs the question: what is the Empire building on Lothal? We know from the Lasan Genocide and last episode (and the previous installment of Zach’s Theory Hour) that the Empire loves developing super-weapons. Even the defecting Maketh Tua, as a part of her bargain with the rebels, offers to reveal what the Empire is building on Lothal. It makes one very curious as to what exactly the Empire is cooking up.
Episode Rating – 9: Squee-Worthy: When you are excited about everything here and what it could be and can’t wait to see more. Leaves the viewer with a spring in their step and a song in their heart.
Next Week: The Rebels stuff Mon Mothma into a suitcase and drag her across the Galaxy
Images courtesy of Disney