This review contains spoilers.
We have now gotten three separate two-part episodes in Star Wars Rebels thus far, and a pattern is beginning to emerge. The first part in each of these micro-arcs is dedicated to the goal of progressing major plot and character developments; whether that be Ezra wrestling with the ghosts of his past in “Empire Day” or the Lothal rebels chasing down leads in an attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of Kanan in “Rebel Resolve.” The second part, then, is all payoff – free from the burden of forwarding the narrative, it’s allowed to be more action-heavy, weaving character details into the margins, but always within the context of climactic confrontations. This week’s episode, “Relics of the Old Republic,” follows suit by existing almost exclusively as a pretense to have a Republic-era AT-TE go toe-to-toe with the massive Imperial walkers.
That may sound like a slight, but I actually enjoyed this episode quite a bit more than last week. If you recall, last week I complained that “The Lost Commanders” felt in some ways more like an episode of The Clone Wars, but “Relics of the Old Republic” once again feels like Rebels. The episode opens right where we left off; Rex and his clone companions provide a list of abandoned Republic outposts, smuggler’s dens, and old Mandalorian bases* in the outer rim to aid in the rebels’ search for a new base of operations. Meanwhile, Sabine works on the damaged Phantom so they can leave the planet, but before she can finish the repairs, the Empire returns Wolffe’s call regarding the appearance of Jedi. Despite his best efforts to convince Agent Kallus that the call was a false alarm, the Empire arrives to make things difficult for our heroes.
Thus begins the episode’s main purpose as an extended chase scene with a trio of AT-AT walkers pursuing the clones’ tank-turned-fishing boat. The action here is all a lot of fun – there are the obvious callbacks to Empire Strikes Back, but it also plays with beats and imagery reminiscent of things like Wrath of Khan and even Mad Max. The most fiendishly clever aspect to this chase, though, is that it’s a chase between cumbersome, slow moving, tanks. It’s an idea that seems counterintuitive on the surface, but it makes for something unique and memorable. The fact that this is a chase in slow-motion allows for both the rebels and the Empire to make calculated strategic moves, making this a battle of wits as much as it is a battle of military hardware. What’s more, the Ghost crew also gets to step up to the plate and play a more active role in this episode instead of being pushed to the side in deference to Captain Rex and the gang. Sabine, Ezra, Kanan, and Zeb work side-by-side with the clones in planning and executing their strategy, and though we don’t get a lot of new information about them, it’s thrilling to see these characters we know so well work seamlessly together to pull off this plan. It goes back to what Roger Ebert once said about it being exciting to watch professionals simply be good at what they do. We know who all of these people are, we know what they’re good at, and it’s just endlessly entertaining to watch them do the things we know that they’re good at. Even Ezra only expresses self-doubt for a fleeting moment before resolving to do his job, and he ends up succeeding in everything that’s asked of him. The clones are in the mix as well, but they’re for the most part supporting players in the Ghost crew’s plan, which is exactly the way it should be.
My biggest complaint – and even this is a fairly minor issue – is that Hera being stuck on the Ghost doesn’t serve any real purpose. As the pilot, it’s not too unusual for Hera to stay with the ship so the rebels can make a quick getaway, but in those instances she typically plays an important role in bailing the rest of the team out when things get too hot. This time Hera doesn’t even get to do that much. I don’t think every character needs to be in the center of the action in every episode, and I understand why it makes sense for Kanan to wrestle with his mistrust of the clones without Hera there to talk him down, but the method of keeping her separate from the group called attention to itself as feeling manipulated. She wasn’t absent from the action because the story demanded it, but because the writer wanted it.
Speaking of Kanan and his feelings about the clones, the final climactic moment of the episode is a turning point of sorts for him. After taking down one of the three walkers, there’s an opening for the Lothal rebels to escape onboard the Phantom, but as the Phantom takes flight and the clones take on the remaining AT-ATs on their own, Kanan resolves (with a bit of encouragement from Ezra) that he can’t just let the clones die. The Ghost crew returns to finish the job, defeating the walker, and offering Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor roles in the rebel movement. Upon returning to Phoenix Squadron, Rex and Ashsoka share an emotional reunion, and Ahsoka thanks the crew of the Ghost for rescuing – and trusting – her friend. Meanwhile, back on Kallus’ Star Destroyer, a delivery of sorts arrives courtesy of Darth Vader, and as the ramp lowers on the Imperial shuttle we get our first glimpse of the Fifth Brother – the new Inquisitor sent to hunt down our trio of Jedi.
The fact that this episode was more action-centric made it a step up from last week, if only because it meant there was less time spent fawning over the return of the clone troopers. As I’ve said previously, the Lothal rebels cannot be reduced to supporting roles in their own show, and this episode restored the proper dynamic. I don’t object to these characters being involved in this story, but hopefully we’ve purged the bulk of the clone-related fan service with “The Lost Commanders” and these characters’ involvement can add interesting dimensions to the story of the Ghost crew without overtaking it. Next week is going to be dealing with the rebels facing off against the first of these new Inquisitors, so at the very least we’ll get a week off from leftover Clone Wars story threads.
*I get the impression that this list is going to be the pretense for many of the rebels’ excursions this season. We already know that the show is going to play with Sabine’s Mandalorian heritage as well as reintroduce Hondo Ohnaka from The Clone Wars (ugggggghhhhhhhhh), so the mention of pirates’ lairs and Manalorian bases feels conspicuous.