In anticipation of the Season 3 premiere of Star Wars: Rebels, we — Zach and Nick — are doing a retrospective series looking back at the series past 2 seasons. Last week tackled Season 1 and explained how the show is able to fill in the gaps in the Star Wars universe in an engaging way. Now it’s time to gives the series second season its due.
Season 2 of Rebels kicks off right where Season 1 ended. The crew of the ghost has now joined the group at large and preparing to fight against the empire on a larger scale. Despite new enemies, old enemies, and other trailer fodder, our crew continues to develop.
I first want to touch on how excellently the series conveys the threat the empire gives to the galaxy. Starving planets, hunting down force sensitive babies, hunting down of refugees, the empire is shown in all of its terrifying glory. It gets increasingly intense as the empire enforces curfews and generally screws with other people.
The first season had nods and some characters from other Star Wars media. Grand Moff Tarkin, Storm Troopers, and the empire. But most of the episodes were focused on new things specific to the series. Season 2, by comparison, ticked the nostalgia meter over 11. Not an episode goes by without a sly reference or even character. It’s impressive how much Rebels uses from Star Wars canon.
“Shadow of the Apprentice” is a culmination of all this, and the most fan service set of episodes I’ve ever seen. We have several elements, such as fan favorite Ahsoka Tano, Darth Maul (he’s still alive. Confused? Watch The Clone Wars), Darth Vadar, Expanded Universe Sith Lore, and some brilliant light saber fight scenes. It was one the best episodes in the series. It’s amazing how so much happened. Maul manipulating Ezra, Kanan’s blindness, the holocron being taken, the death of the inquisitors, Ahsoka realizing to her horror that Anakin is now Darth Vadar.
What’s apparent is how swiftly Rebels has developed several of its characters. Zeb was the captain of the guard and meant to defend his people’s royal family. He has since fallen from disgrace and ejected himself from his culture out of both shame and disillusionment. Sabine got some more Mandalorian backstory. Hera both further proved herself as a pilot and has interesting relationship dynamics with her father and culture. Chopper, while still morally disturbing on several levels, actually gained a friend and stood up for droid rights!
Rebels also furthered the development of characters introduced in the Clone Wars. Ahsoka deals with some guilt and regret about leaving the Jedi order and her teacher/master Anakin. Captain Rex is still alive and a bit wiser from his years of retirement. Hera’s dad is still a pivotal of the Twi’leks. It’s really nice to see our heroes develop.
One the of the best things this season was Princess Leia’s episode, “A Princess of Lothal”. She was focused, in control, and even when her plans fell awry she still found a way to insure the Rebels could ‘steal’ her ships. She was so hardcore in her mission that she even let Ezra stun her with a blaster so the Empire wouldn’t think she was helping them. Leia is even able to maneuver the situation and make it so Alderaan is compensated by the empire for the ‘stolen ships’.
One of the most distinct character developments to come out of this season was that of Maul. He was originally shadowy dark and underused light saber fodder in The Phantom Menence. I’ve seen Maul regarded as the only good thing about that movie. Sadly he was killed off before he could do much. The Clone Wars rectified this by reviving him. It was a bit cheesy, but it was also a bit disturbing. Now he’s in Rebels, and ho boy, does he have issues.
I think its far to say Maul is one of Star Wars’s darkest characters, especially in terms of the things that have happened to him: being
trained abducted by Sidius(shivers) as a kid, had his identity erased with a new name, manipulated into following the darkside, cut in half and forced in solitary, losing his long lost brother, forced again to do Sidious’ bidding, tortured physically and mentally to make him feel inferior, and then stranded again, this time on Malachor.
Jasper Maul is also one of the most violent people in the series. He recklessly murders people without regard to their rights or feelings. He is very vindictive, and will get back at people no matter what. Like when he killed an old crush of enemy. Worse still, he toppled the entire government of Mandalore. Further, he tries to recreate the cycle of abuse by brainwashing Ezra into trusting him and then using him to get more power. He is rash and can’t let of his thirst for revenge against Rose Quartz Jedi, Sidius, anyone.
Maul is as complex as he is dark. He has a deep seeded dependency on over powering others and continuing the Sith cycle of violence. He is disturbing, terrifying, and one of the most interesting examples of way the Dark Side is something we root against. I’m morbidly interested in how his story ends.
This is all to say Rebels is good at developing not only the show, but the whole universe it exists in. And the development is actually pretty promising. My conclusion from my last retrospective stands, Star Wars: Rebels is improving the Star Wars universe, and enriching it’s already colorful characters. I’m hopeful to see where the show goes next.
If I am being honest, I watched Season 1 after Season 2. Heck, I only got invested with SWR because I heard home-girl Ahsoka was back. Boy oh boy, though, now I am thoroughly invested in the show and I can safely say it is because of Season 2.
Season 2 kicks off with a “movie” of sorts, which serves to introduce us to Darth Vader and demonstrate the depths of his villainy. Since the crew had just transferred from TCW (The Clone Wars), wherein Anakin was a problematic, yet thoroughly moral character, I was worried that they might portray Vader as similarly moral. Even worse, I thought they might show the Padawan-trained Kanan Jarrus as a capable match for the Dark Lord. Boy was I wrong.
Vader was every bit as terrifying as he is in the original series, perhaps even more. In the series, Vader’s evil was limited to his interactions with the protagonists. In Rebels, we see how he deals with the Empire at large. Everyone is a pawn in the game of the Sith, even Vader since he still answers to the Emperor, and Vader uses people as objects. He callously whacks a minor Imperial official who had been a major antagonist in Season 1, he orders the destruction of an entire town to flush out the Rebels, and when the Rebel fleet arrives Vader single-handedly cripples it. Only one thing spares the fleet from total annihilation: Ahsoka.
Yes, the one and only Ahsoka Tano is back. During The Clone Wars I was expecting her to die at Vader’s hands during his march on the Jedi Temple. Instead, she quit the Jedi Order like a boss and escaped Order 66. The specifics of this will be clarified later, but Ahsoka herself gives some clues, such as a final siege of Mandalore just before the Battle of Coruscant. In any case, Ahsoka’s attempt to use the Force during the space battle unwittingly connects her and her former master. For the duration of Season 2 she is in a heartrending dilemma. Part of her knows that Darth Vader must be Anakin Skywalker, but she cannot bring herself to believe it until the very end. All the while she blames herself for his horrific fate and maintains hope that Vader might yet be redeemed.
This whole season was backstory. Every episode had some kind of connection to the past, especially to the Clone Wars, both the show and the galactic event. Considering the time and quality gap between the prequels and the original series, it is easy to forget that the Clone Wars were a galaxy-wide event with far-reaching consequences. Almost everything in the original series is a result of the Clone Wars; the iconic Star Destroyers were built for the Republic to facilitate the war effort; the storm-trooper’s armor is a descendant of clone trooper armor; Emperor Palpatine was only able to rise to power because of the Clone Wars. For the first time in Star Wars media a definitive connection between the past and the ‘present’ is being distinctly made.
In that vein it is no surprise that the characters get some backstory as well. While Season 1 gave scant hints of it, although Ezra and Kanan’s histories were pretty thoroughly explained, Season 2 was packed with it, and I LOVED it.
Hera Syndulla was a particular favorite of mine. Cham Syndulla’s rebellion on Ryloth in the Clone Wars was handled superbly, especially Cham’s role in it as a whole. He fights solely for the liberation of Ryloth, and we see this come to the surface again in Rebels. As Grand Moff Tarkin pointed out, the Rebels pose no risk to the Empire if they do not unify, and Cham’s interests do not extend beyond his native solar system. His daughter, Hera, is a perfect foil to this. She always sees the bigger picture, hence she abandoned Ryloth and joined what she saw as a larger rebellion that might aid more people. It is wonderful to see this in a female character, when so often women are shown to be only devoted to family and men are the righteous “bigger picture” types. Hera is also given plenty of opportunities to shine as a leader and an ace pilot. She receives the official billet of Captain within the rebellion, and now commands fighter squadrons in raids on Imperial targets. She is also VERY good at it.
Sabine is great, and we get some more backstory on her. I think it is somewhat unbelieveable that two teenagers can become successful bounty hunters, even teenagers from the Imperial Academy, but if Boba Fett could do it in TCW I cannot get too mad. Her interactions with the Mandalorians, though really stand out. I think I can see some very interesting Leia parallels in her. Both are running from troubling family connections, and both are sharp-shooting bad-asses, but we might see Sabine come to terms with her past and move past it.
Zeb really shines in this season, though. His past and the discovery of others of his people are harrowing, but I think his interactions with Agent Kallus are really the best. Kallus was at the very least partially responsible for the almost complete destruction of Zeb’s people and planet, but he seems to actually regret some part of it. Zeb, for his part, seems at least somewhat willing to forgive Kallus as well; they are both military men, so they both understand each other in some way. His goals are for Galactic Peace, and he sees the Empire as a means to that end. The fact that he was able to ignore years of Imperial dogma and training and not kill Zeb shows the depths of his character, and the final scene showing him back with the Imperials, contrasting their coldness with the warmth of the Rebel’s pseudo-family is quite touching.
More than anything, Season 2 shows us what the Sith have been up to in the years between the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. May I just say, that the Ghost Crew have been spared no expense to show the depths of depravity the Empire is capable of. They steal Force-sensitive children for purposes unknown, and to enforce Sith matters, which are not always of Imperial importance, we get to see more hints of Darth Vader’s Inquisitorius. Sarah Michelle Gellar provides a delightfully evil character for the Seventh Sister, and I must say I am sad that she (SPOILER) will no longer appear in Rebels.
Still, even their names show that they are not Sith. After all, as Maul found out there can only ever be two. The Inquisitors are deprived of everything, even their names, and they only exist to serve Vader. It is implied that they are the only survivors of the Jedi Temple Raid, twisted by the Dark Side into hunting what remains of their brethren. They are also utterly expendable, and while none of them fail quite badly enough to merit Vader killing them personally, he does send them after someone who is way out of their league: Maul.
“Formerly Darth, now just Maul,” is back, ladies and germs, voiced to perfection by Sam Witwer (who also voices the Emperor quite well). True to Sith form, even though he no longer identifies as such, Maul continues to seek power and perpetuate his teachings. He has been living on the edges of Palpatine’s empire, cursed with the knowledge that there is no way he can take on the Emperor directly. Instead he seeks out ancient Sith knowledge in the hopes of gaining an advantage over his former master. His presence on Malachor shows just how close he has gotten to victory, but also shows a weakness in Palpatine. The Emperor must know of the true purpose of the Sith Temple on Malachor, as Vader himself seems well aware of it, but Palpatine is so sure of his plan that he does not guard the temple more heavily. The Emperor’s overconfidence, especially with the near-completion of a mysterious and massive weapon over Geonosis, is growing.
With this comes a growing darkness in Ezra. As I mentioned before, Ezra functions as a parallel to Anakin’s fall to the darkside, not out of personal ambition, but from a desire to protect the ones he loves. When he communes with Yoda in the Lothal Jedi Temple, he expresses a strong desire to fight for what he wants to protect, and Yoda sighs sadly. He has seen this before, and he knows the path it will lead down, but he is powerless to stop it. Season 2 ends with Ezra acquiring an ancient holocron from the Sith Temple on Malachor. With Maul’s teachings he has learned to open it, and now he seeks the knowledge within to give him and his master an edge over the Sith. The Force, it seems is not so much Dark and Light as it is an ocean, and in the deeps lies power, but if you swim too deep the water will crush you or drown you, and everything you were seeking will be lost.
Season 3 is going to be great.