Note: This review contains SPOILERS
After last week’s disappointing episode, Star Wars Rebels bounces back with an episode that is solid, even if it isn’t exactly breaking any new ground. “Vision of Hope” has the feeling of Rebels settling into a groove; it doesn’t feature major guest spots from fan favorite characters like the last few episodes, nor does it rely on an obvious gimmick like the series’ early episodes did. Instead, it takes characters and settings we’ve become familiar with over the course of the last few months and allows story threads previously introduced to play out in a way that feels natural.
The episode opens with Ezra, yet again, being trained by Kanan in the ways of the Jedi. In the midst of this training session, however, Ezra receives a vision of the Ghost crew rescuing Gall Trayvis – the exiled Senator previously seen hijacking the Imperial News Holonet feed to send messages to the Rebellion – from Imperial forces trying to capture him. Ezra also senses that Trayvis might have knowledge of his missing parents, and understandably is eager to meet with him. Sure enough, in the most recent Imperial News broadcast, Trayvis has sent a coded message specifically for the crew of the Ghost, recognizing their acts of rebellion against the Empire and setting up a place to meet with them. As a measure of caution to ensure that the Empire hasn’t also figured out the meeting place, Ezra is sent to gather intel from Zare Leonis, the young Imperial recruit Ezra met back in “Breaking Ranks.”
One of the things that’s been most interesting about the development of this show is seeing how it often loops back on itself, taking elements that seem insignificant in the overall arc of the show and using them in new contexts later on. We’ve seen it before with things like the abandoned asteroid base from “Out of Darkness” being used to give Kanan and Ezra the upper hand over the Inquisitor in “Gathering Forces,” and we’re seeing it again in a big way with “Vision of Hope.”
When the character of Gall Trayvis was first introduced back in “Rise of the Old Masters” it was done without much fanfare. The message he broadcast about Luminara Unduli being held captive by the empire was little more than a plot device to kick off the main thrust of that episode, and his broadcast in “Empire Day” was even more minor than that. Based solely on the context of the show, he was background texture – a device the show runners could deploy when they needed a convenient exposition dump. Of course, the extra-textual factor of casting was a strong indicator that Trayvis would play a more significant role in the future (you don’t cast a geek icon like Brent Spiner in a recurring role just to deliver exposition dumps), but it’s still clever how they’ve built out the world of their show. Similarly, it was obvious by the end of “Breaking Ranks” that the two recruits Ezra befriended would play a role in future episodes, but it’s still rewarding to see them pay off that expectation. It’s a surprising level of serialization for a kids’ show, and that’s never been more apparent than in this episode’s big reveal.
After the Ghost crew learns that the Empire has, in fact, figured out where Trayvis is planning to meet them, their secret meeting transitions into a rescue mission to extract Trayvis and protect him from Imperial forces. However, things go awry when it turns out that Trayvis has been secretly working for the Empire all along. His broadcast to the crew of the Ghost, and similar broadcasts he’s directed at other Rebel cells, was a ruse intended to coax Rebels out of hiding and into the hands of the Empire. Again, looping back to the first appearance of Trayvis in “Rise of the Old Masters,” it was his broadcast that led the Ghost crew into the Inquisitor’s trap, and it also means that the Empire would have been expecting the attack in “Empire Day,” explaining the previously convenient presence of the Inquisitor. It weaves a tapestry of continuity all the way back to “Fighter Flight” – the events of which first drew the attention of Trayvis. The only episode that has, as of yet, not been folded into this more elaborate continuity is “Droids in Distress,” but perhaps the Ghost crew’s connection to Bail Organa will reveal its importance before the season is done.
But it’s not just the serialization of the show that is impressive; it’s also how its characters have really come to life. It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happened, but even the characters who were the most lightly sketched at the beginning of the series have developed into fully dimensional people. The show has always focussed heavily on Ezra and Kanan, but I finally feel like I really understand everyone on the crew. I get that Hera is both the Ghost’s moral center and its humble leader. I get that Sabine is highly skilled and competent, but feels like she has something to prove as the Ghost’s (previous) youngest crew member. I get that Zeb is a bit crusty and cynical, but it’s a shield that protects a very vulnerable, empathetic core. Even Chopper, who I’ve complained about in the past, finally feels right as he’s returning to a prominent role after being largely sidelined since “Empire Day.” Re-casting Chopper as an exasperated, aging professional is so much better than the “trickster” character he’s been previously.
When it’s all said and done, “Vision of Hope” may not be the best episode of Rebels yet, but it’s the one that feels the most comfortable in its own skin. It’s not relying on gimmicks or big fan-servicey cameos, but rather on the strength of its own characters and established stories. There’s a great moment right at the end of the episode where Ezra talks with Hera about letting the hope of finding his parents and his desire to trust Trayvis cloud his judgement, and Hera reassures him of the fact that his instinct to see the best in people is anything but a flaw. It’s a wonderfully understated moment that grows so naturally out of who these characters are. I’ve previously addressed the complaints that Rebels is too narrow in scope, that it spends to much time on Lothal, and that its conflicts feels small in comparison to the film series and even The Clone Wars, but I love that smallness. There’s a feeling of intimacy that Rebels achieves that I can’t say has ever really existed in Star Wars before. This isn’t a story about people with grand destinies saving the galaxy or heroes being corrupted by wars waged on false pretenses, but rather it’s about the lives of a few ordinary people doing what they can to fight for what they believe in, and it’s a story that I’ve deeply enjoyed watching it unfold.