This review contains spoilers.
From the moment Ahsoka set foot aboard the Ghost at the end of Star Wars Rebels‘ previous season, I have been nervous about characters and stories leftover from The Clone Wars getting in the way of what Rebels does best. This trepidation was allayed somewhat when the fantastic Season Two opener, “The Siege of Lothal”, managed to further the story of Anakin’s former apprentice without getting in the way of the show’s titular rebels, but there were yet more characters from The Clone Wars who would soon be folded into this new story, and the threat of our heroes being lost in their own show still loomed on the horizon.
“The Lost Commanders” realizes that fear.
The episode opens with the Ghost crew and what’s left of Phoenix squadron looking for somewhere to establish a base and regroup after their disastrous near-defeat in “The Siege of Lothal”. There’s some tension among the group over whether to set up shop somewhere remote, away from the prying eye of the Empire, or whether to stay close to the settled systems in order to better help those in need of protection. Ahsoka chimes in saying that an old friend she’s lost contact with might be able to provide a list of locations that could be viable for the cause, but declines to go along with the Ghost crew in seeking him out, saying that she has some other business to attend to.
This is the first smart move on the episode’s part. Rebels is not Ahsoka’s story. As much as I’m interested to see how that plot line plays out, following it every single week would overwhelm the show and pull focus away from our main cast of characters. I’m also happy that the show never cuts away from the Ghost crew to check back in with Ahsoka, but instead lets this part of her journey play out off screen, at least for the moment. This is the right way to handle the larger Star Wars story threads that are occurring around this time: weave them in and out of the Rebels narrative when appropriate, but keep everything centered on our own Lothal rebels.
It’s also smart to take Ahsoka out of the equation in this episode because if we’re re-introducing more characters from The Clone Wars they must be seen first through the eyes of our protagonists. These characters need to adapt to fit their new setting rather than have the setting give way for a fan servicing reunion.
On that note, the Ghost crew, using the head of an old Separatist tactical droid, tracks down Ahsoka’s old friend, who turns out to be none other than CT-7567, or Rex, a clone captain from the Clone Wars. Things get off to a hairy start with Kanan drawing his lightsaber at the sight of clones, and Wolffe – one of Rex’s companions – opening fire at the sight of a Jedi. Kanan’s reaction is understandable, after all, he witnessed his Master’s murder at the hands of clone troopers during the end of the Clone Wars, but Wolffe’s reaction is more curious. In a conversation that occurs later in the episode, Kanan reveals a bit of backstory from The Clone Wars that the clones were implanted with control chips that caused them to turn on their Jedi allies*, but Rex informs him that he and his current companions had their chips removed prior to being given the order to kill the Jedi. That makes Wolffe’s actions suspicious. If he questioned the Republic’s intentions enough to remove his control chip and commit treason by disobeying the Emperor’s order, why would he react with hostility to a Jedi now? There’s a throw away line where he vocalizes fear that Kanan is there to get revenge, but I think it goes deeper than that, especially considering his actions later in the episode.
Rex and Gregor (the third clone in Rex’s company) agree to share information with the rebels in return for their help in hunting the joopa, a monstrous sandworm that lives below the surface of the planet. Zeb is enlisted to lead at the front of the hunting party, but as it turns out, he’s not leading as a hunter, but as the bait. The ensuing scene is fun and exciting, though it’s more than a bit odd that the rest of the Ghost crew seems unconcerned when the joopa takes the bait and has Zeb in its mouth. Meanwhile, however, Wolffe has signaled the Empire about the arrival of the rebels, and they dispatch a probe droid to their location to investigate. It turns out that Wolffe has also been intercepting Ahsoka’s messages to Rex and hiding them from the captain. When this comes to light, there’s a brief confrontation and Wolffe claims that he was trying to protect the other clones from the repercussions of aiding the Jedi, and everyone just sort of drops the issue and works together to destroy the probe droid.
It’s such a weird note because from the perspective of our heroes, this should be a huge betrayal. The rebels are on the run from the Empire, trying to establish a base where they can’t be found, and now a clone – who Kanan was already suspicious of – has led the Empire right to them. The fact that they all just kind of shrug it off doesn’t make a lot of sense. Unless, that is, you’re not watching this episode from the perspective of the rebels, but instead from the perspective of the clones. Despite being present, this is the first episode of the series that is not about the Ghost crew, it’s about Rex and his clone buddies. This is exactly the kind of thing I was worried about at the end of last season – this is an episode that not only assumes you’ve seen The Clone Wars, but also that you’re more interested in the return of characters from that show than you are with the continuing story of Rebels. This episode constantly drops references to The Clone Wars with little to no context given for them, and though most of them don’t contain essential information, it adds to the whole feeling that this isn’t an episode of Rebels, it’s an episode of The Clone Wars.
And the most frustrating thing is that it isn’t even a bad episode, certainly better by far than most of what The Clone Wars offered, but it’s focus is in the wrong place. Rebels is the story of how a small group of freedom fighters plays a role in the larger galactic conflict, so it needs to always remain focussed on them. It can’t just be a place for Dave Filoni to exorcise the story threads that were left hanging when The Clone Wars was cancelled. These stories can play a role in the story of our rebel heroes as “The Siege of Lothal” so expertly accomplished, but they cannot take center stage, pushing the show’s main cast out of the spotlight.
This episode is the first of another two-parter (as much as I like the extra breathing room, I hope Rebels doesn’t go The Clone Wars route and abandon single-episode stories altogether), so I’m hoping the Ghost crew gets more time to shine next week, especially Hera who was left out of the action for no particularly good reason. I adore this show, and I even enjoyed aspects of this week’s episode, but I just cannot abide the notion of the rebels being reduced to supporting characters in their own show.
*How Kanan would know this doesn’t make a lot of sense. This was a big conspiracy in The Clone Wars, and I doubt the Empire would have come right out and admitted it afterwards. Still this was a necessary exposition dump to bring people up to speed, so if they cheat the rules a little bit it doesn’t really matter.