This review contains spoilers.
I’ve been trying to figure out what is going on with Rebels this season. While the show hasn’t been exactly bad (except for that one episode) this season has had a noticeable step backwards in quality following the previous season. I’m not sure if there’s just extra padding because they got a larger season order, or if they’ve gotten lost in the more expansive scope of this season, but week after week, the last several episodes have felt as though they were treading water.
It’s so nice to say, then, that this week finally brings back some of that spark that made me fall in love with the show in the first place.
“Stealth Strike,” the episode in question, continues the trend of the past several weeks by splitting up the Ghost crew to focus on the arc of one particular member, in this case Kanan. While on a mission to investigate the disappearances of rebel patrols, Ezra and Commander Sato are pulled out of hyperspace and into the clutches of a new Imperial weapon – an Interdictor cruiser equipped with gravity wells capable of preventing lightspeed travel for any ships within its range. After receiving their distress signal, Kanan steps up to lead the rescue effort only to find that he’s been saddled with Rex as his companion on this assignment.
The purpose of this episode couldn’t be more plain: it’s a set-up to allow Kanan to both confront and overcome his mistrust of Rex and finally accept him as a valuable member of the team. The problem is that the way this season has been structured, this feels like the culmination of a character journey we haven’t really been exposed to. In an effort to explore the arcs and backstories of each individual character, the show has fractured the Ghost crew, only allowing us to spend time with a few members of the team each week. Because of this, we haven’t really seen a lot of Kanan and Rex being at odds beyond what was established in the episode that set up this conflict in the first place. This is meant to be the conclusion of an arc, but there is no arc to connect these two points – we skip from the beginning straight to the end. That’s a big problem with the way this season has played out (and why I’m itching for them to get to Zeb’s obligatory backstory episode so we can move past this nonsense and let the team function as a unit again) but this episode, in and of itself, does a remarkable job overcoming these problems and providing an effective payoff even while previous episodes robbed it of a meaningful lead-in.
Most of what makes this episode work comes down to the basics of storytelling 101. In weeks past there’s been an unfortunate schism between the action of the episode and the arc of the character central to that episode. Whether it was Ezra delivering an unearned speech about his dedication to the Ghost crew after futzing around with Hondo for 20 minutes, or Hera somehow becoming a more effective leader because she monologued about her past and took a special ship on a test flight, the character development these episodes have tried to achieve has been divorced from their actual content, which makes for bad storytelling. This week, however, the action is inseparably linked to the character journey at its center, which is how it should be every time.
Kanan and Rex, who don’t like each other are, are forced to work together side by side wherein they learn the value of what the other has to offer. It’s basic stuff that’s been done a thousand times, but it’s been done a thousand times because it works. The rescue itself almost doesn’t matter – in fact Ezra basically rescues himself – but it’s a framework for these characters to confront their differences and overcome them. Kanan doesn’t trust Rex because he views the clones as traitors who he (rightly) holds responsible for the death of everyone he’s ever cared about, but on this mission Rex has an opportunity to prove he has no love for the Empire, and in truth feels just as betrayed by them as Kanan does. Rex knows the ins and outs of Imperial rank and protocol, but he approaches it all with disdain; it’s a corruption of everything he once stood for. Meanwhile, Rex views Kanan as something of a second rate Jedi – an apprentice who never finished his training and perhaps even a coward who shies away from war, unlike the generals of the past who courted it. Rex is a wholly committed soldier in this new rebel cause, but Kanan still bristles at the notion of going to war with the Empire, yet when the chips are down and someone is in need, Kanan won’t hesitate to rush to their aid. This episode is all about these two characters coming to terms with their biases and proving each other wrong, and it plays out entirely through the action instead of clunky monologues.
On top of that, the action itself is a lot of fun. It’s intentionally riffing on the rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star, but not in a way that comes across as empty fan service. Yes, you have characters disguised as stormtroopers sneaking onto an Imperial installation before being discovered and having to blast their way out, but the stuff that makes it work isn’t the call backs, but the little moments of humor and excitement that are wholly informed by the Rebels characters. Ezra being something of a badass by escaping capture and getting the upper hand on a trio of stormtroopers, then immediately screwing up and stunning Kanan and Rex by mistake is not only a fun gag, but it’s a great character beat that understands and informs who this person is, same goes for Kanan abandoning the pretense of stealth as soon as the situation starts to get hairy.
The episode culminates with Rex sacrificing himself to allow the other rebels to make a clean get away, but Kanan refuses to leave Rex behind and jumps back into the fray to rescue the clone. Despite this journey being shortchanged by the season as a whole, the episode itself makes it a satisfying payoff that feels totally earned. The two of them manage to escape just before the Interdictor is destroyed thanks to the efforts of Chopper and Ezra, and as they rejoin the rest of the rebel fleet, Kanan and Ezra share a salute, acknowledging each other’s important role in the rebel cause.
One again, this episode doesn’t do much to progress the overarching story of the season, but considering the past few weeks I have a hard time criticizing that because at least it displays some level of storytelling competence as well as being a genuinely fun half-hour of television. I want Rebels to stop spinning its wheels and actually get the story rolling, but if we’re going to have extra padding this season, I’d like it to at least be fun to watch and feature meaningful character growth. Thankfully this episode qualifies.