Note: This review contains SPOILERS
We need to talk about Kevin. Kevin Hopps, that is. Before, I’ve given him a pass – twice, actually. After all, “Fighter Flight” was still really early in the season, and we were still sort of figuring out who these characters are in “Out of Darkness.” I can’t, however, give a pass to his latest episode, “Idiot’s Array.” It’s a bad episode, and though it’s only the first truly bad episode of Rebels, in retrospect we should have seen this coming.
As you’ve probably heard, the hook this week is that Billy Dee Williams is showing up for a guest spot as Lando Calrissian. The episode opens with Zeb and Lando engaged in a game of sabacc. Despite having no credits left to bet, Zeb is so confident in his hand that he bets Chopper, but of course, Lando has a better hand. However, he agrees to return Chopper to the crew of the Ghost if they will help him with a smuggling operation he’s running.
Now that I’ve given the basic premise of the episode, I’m going to break protocol here and forego the standard recap-mixed-with-analysis structure, because the truth is, the narrative of this episode is broken on such a fundamental level that trying to retell it here would just be frustrating. The breakdown of the plot itself is functional enough – Lando and the Ghost crew engage in a smuggling operation, things go wrong, Lando may or may not be trustworthy, hilarity ensues – but on a narrative level, the episode goes all in with the worst kind of coincidence driven storytelling.
This is an episode utterly devoid of basic stuff like setups and payoffs or meaningful character motivations. It utterly fails storytelling 101 and opts instead for a series of escalating “antics.” It’s bad – it’s The Clone Wars Season One bad – and it’s tragic to see a show as good as Star Wars Rebels sink this low. It’s the kind of episode I cynically expected to see from the show before being won over by “Spark of Rebellion,” and if this were my point of entry into Rebels I likely wouldn’t have watched another episode. I know it seems kind of silly to think that the ninth episode in the middle of the first season would be someone’s starting point, but between the guest appearance from Frank Oz last week and the appearance of Billy Dee Williams here makes it clear that Rebels is still trying to court fans – in particular, jaded fans of the original trilogy – with walk-on roles from fan-favorite characters. If someone tuned in for the first time to see Lando Calrissian, they’d have gotten a spectacularly bad first impression of this surprisingly great series.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the guest spot. Last week, I was worried about Yoda showing up and how it might undermine some elements of the original films, but it turned out those fears were unfounded, as they used Yoda in a meaningful way that was rooted in the development of the main characters of this series. Lando, however, ends up being more empty fan service like the appearance of 3PO and R2 in “Droids in Distress.” Lando’s role in this episode doesn’t do anything meaningful for the characters or the larger arc of the Rebels storyline, and it doesn’t even do anything meaningful for the character of Lando. It’s all just wasted on empty antics and throw away gags.
And that brings us back around to talking about Kevin Hopps. I don’t watch enough children’s television to have any kind of informed opinion about Hopps’ larger body of work, but now that we’re on his third episode of Rebels, a pattern is beginning to emerge. Hopps doesn’t seem to concern himself with little things like themes or emotions or even character motivation, instead his M.O. is to make everything silly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not advocating for the fanboy pandering superficial “darkness” in which The Clone Wars frequently indulged in later seasons, but I do believe that you can, and in fact should make children’s entertainment that assumes children aren’t idiots. You can make a show that is fun and funny and accessible to kids without talking down to them. Kids crave learning, they crave new ideas and new experiences. They explore, they imagine, they invent, and they’re always fascinated by the things that are just out of their reach. Good children’s entertainment should play to those qualities; it should make kids reach just enough to stimulate them while still being accessible. Instead, too often kids entertainment talks down to them, patronizes them, and throws them garbage meant to appease them without offering anything meaningful. For the most part Rebels has been a really great kids’ show – fun and accessible while still dealing with more complex ideas and emotions – but Kevin Hopps undermines all that by making shoddy, lazy, bad kids’ schlock.
Where “Spark of Rebellion” introduced a tension between Zeb and Ezra that had interesting emotional layers, all of Hopps’ episodes have dumbed it down to the most juvenile level, playing their relationship as bickering siblings. In other episodes, we’ve seen that Ezra has a crush on Sabine, but it’s mostly been handled in a nuanced, honest way; in “Idiot’s Array” Ezra is portrayed as both obnoxiously flirty and jealous. Even Kanan is dumbed down to fill the Homer Simpson role of Kevin Hopps’ lazy family dynamic for the Ghost crew. Hopps takes interesting, complex, likable characters, and turns them into the most lazy, two-dimensional, cartoon versions of themselves. Even in an episode where he’s forced to deal with character development (“Out of Darkness”) he never actually develops them, he just has them spout exposition and backstory until they’re interrupted by action.
Look, I don’t like being this mean, and I don’t like singling out one individual like this, but it’s become impossible to ignore this problem. Kevin Hopps’ two previous episodes, while not exactly bad, were definitely the low points in the series so far, and this week he’s managed to go even further and write the show’s first genuinely bad episode. It’s an episode so bad that when James Hong’s voice played over an intercom and I was bracing for a return of the awful racist caricatures known as Neimoidians, the episode managed to surprise me with something even more terrible.
There are some great writers working on Star Wars Rebels – Henry Gilroy, Greg Weisman, and Simon Kinberg have all done really strong work – but Kevin Hopps is not one of them. I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt up until now, but he’s revealed himself to be a serious detriment to the show. He either needs to get his act together or take it somewhere else, because his work is becoming a major stain on an otherwise spotless show.