Note: This review contains SPOILERS
After last week’s episode was stuffed (perhaps even overstuffed) with big, plot focussed reveals, this week’s episode takes things a step back and returns to a more character centric story, this time focussing again on the series’ most well-developed character so far: Ezra.
The episode begins with a group of young Imperial recruits undergoing training at a facility on Lothal. As one of the commanding officers addresses the group of youngsters, we see that – surprise! – one of them is Ezra. Ezra and the other recruits compete in training exercises wherein they’re lowered into a pit and challenged to escape via a series of moving platforms; the first three to complete the course are allowed to stay in the Imperial headquarters while the rest have to spend the night in the barracks. Ezra’s budding Force abilities naturally give him an edge in the competition, which is good considering that Ezra needs to get into headquarters to steal an decoder from Agent Kallus’ office containing the location of an Imperial shipment the crew of the Ghost are trying to intercept.
The B-plot involving Kanan and Hera going after the aforementioned MacGuffin is little more than window dressing to give context for the episode’s central gimmick (Ezra going undercover at an Imperial base), and very little time is spent on it. Instead, the meat of this episode is devoted to Ezra and his shenanigans with Stormtroopers in training.
It seems like an odd choice for the series to attempt an “uh-oh! Has the hero gone bad?” episode this early on. The moment when we see Ezra take off his helmet in the lineup of Imperial recruits is played to be somewhat of a shock, but up to this point Ezra has been far too good natured and anti-Empire for it to work in that capacity. It’s obvious from the get go that this is merely another scheme from the crew of the Ghost, and if they wanted to play this moment as a surprise it would have been better suited for the inevitable point in the series when Ezra is being tempted by the Dark Side. Still, as far as gimmicks though (and the show is still very much in “gimmick-a-week” mode), this isn’t a bad one, and it introduces some characters that I expect will play a significant role in future episodes.
In the process of trying to steal the decoder from Agent Kallus, Ezra happens to overhear a transmission from the Inquisitor revealing that in addition to training new recruits, these tests are meant to discover particularly gifted individuals who might be Force sensitive. Those who are, are taken into custody by the Inquisitor and never heard from again. Upon learning this, Ezra approaches two of the other recruits who have been selected and makes plans for the three of them to escape. Things, of course, don’t quite go according to plan, and while Ezra is able to rescue one recruit – who then goes into hiding with a little help from the crew of the Ghost – the other recruit is forced to remain behind, where he is taken by the Inquisitor.
I’m interested to see how this plays out. In the Inquisitor’s conversation with Darth Vader that was added to the ABC broadcast of “Spark of Rebellion” he instructs the Inquisitor to seek out “children of the Force” and either convince them to join their cause or eliminate them. Some of the rumors we’ve been hearing about future Star Wars movies hint at there being multiple Inquisitors, but at the moment there seems to be just the one. Perhaps Rebels’ Inquisitor is attempting to recruit more people under that banner, one or more of whom could survive long enough to make an appearance in Episode VII. Either way, I’m sure we’ll learn more in whatever future episode deals with the Ghost crew rescuing Ezra’s new friend from the Inquisitor’s custody.
On another note, it’s a tad underwhelming that Stormtrooper training is just a platformer obstacle course and not something more sinister. Kevin Johnson over at the A.V. Club has been complaining that the Imperial forces’ villainy in this show has been too cartoonishly over-the-top, but he seems to forget that we’re dealing with the people who BLEW UP A GODDAMN PLANET in the original film. There’s a place for nuanced, morally ambiguous bad guys, but I’m not sure that Star Wars is it. The series’ iconic bad guy is a man in a black robot suit with a mask that looks like an angry face; you should be dialing the evil up to 11. Here’s hoping whatever the Inquisitor has planned for these “children of the Force” is more delightfully villainous than moving platforms.
Also, as long as I’m making stray observations, it’s fairly interesting how topographically diverse Lothal is. Star Wars’ M.O. up to this point has always been representing planets as having one distinct trait. Tatooine is the desert planet, Hoth is the ice planet, Coruscant is the city planet, Naboo is the lush paradise planet, etc. On Lothal, though, we’ve seen wide open prairies, sparse desert-like regions, a dingy space port reminiscent of Mos Eisley, and now a big urban center featuring an Imperial Headquarters. I couldn’t deal with The Clone Wars long enough to see all it had to offer, so maybe we’ve seen this kind of diversity before, but either way, it’s new to me and it’s a welcome change of pace.
Unlike previous episodes like “Droids in Distress” and “Fighter Flight,” “Breaking Ranks” manages to take a step back from the major arc of the series in order to tell a more self-contained story without feeling like extraneous filler. It does a good job focussing on character development while also dropping just enough hints at the larger story that it still feels essential. It’d have been nice to see one of the lesser developed characters get the spotlight rather than the one we already are the most familiar with, but since it looks like next week’s episode will be honoring my request for a Sabine/Hera-centric episode, I can’t complain too loudly on this point.