This review contains spoilers.
This has been a rough season for Star Wars Rebels. After the Season Two opener “The Siege of Lothal” set an impossibly high bar by being perhaps the third best Star Wars story ever, the show has been fumbling week after week with lackluster one-off episodes featuring uninspired and unearned character beats. It got so bad that this time last week I was ready to throw in the towel and quit these reviews all together.
I am delighted, then, that in their one last chance before the winter hiatus, the Rebels team finally got the show back on track in a big way.
“Legacy” doesn’t have the grand scope that “The Siege of Lothal” has, but in a way that’s not a bad thing. This is a small, introspective character piece – one that is much needed in this season that has been largely devoid of any meaningful character development. This episode is all about Ezra’s personal struggle, wrestling with the ghosts of his past and the uncertainty of his future, and it’s played out primarily through conversations and dreams instead of more traditional action-based conflict. Except, that is, the opening of the episode where the Empire shows up to kick the crap out of the rebel forces stationed on Garel.
The episode opens with Ezra dreaming of his parents. Convinced it’s a vision from the Force, he goes to Kanan and Hera to describe what he saw, and it turns out Ezra’s vision reinforces the information provided by Tseebo back in the first season. Ezra’s parents were not killed by the Empire, but instead were taken to an Imperial prison – the only problem is that there are hundreds of Imperial prisons across the galaxy, and prisoner records are hard to come by. However, last night the rebels intercepted a report of a massive prison break, and among those that escaped is Prisoner X10 who was arrested on Lothal for treason against the Empire. Convinced that this must be one of his parents, Ezra pleads with Kanan and Hera to return to Lothal to seek out his family, and as it turns out, the Imperial forces have recently released their stranglehold on the planet.
Unfortunately, the reason why the Imperial presence on Lothal has lifted is because they’re on there way to a new world, one from which they’ve received intel about rebel forces in hiding. As the Ghost crew prepares to leave for Lothal, the Imperial fleet arrives at Garel, locking down the city and bombarding the rebel ships as they attempt to escape the planet. In the midst of this conflict, Ezra is fueled by rage – he hates the Empire for taking his parents away, for destroying his life and leaving him orphaned, and now when he finally has a chance to fix this, here they are again trying to stop him. What’s interesting is that Kanan doesn’t lecture him on the dangers of anger and the Dark Side, but instead responds to Ezra with empathy – an understanding of the pain Ezra is going through and a promise to help him make it right. I continue to be impressed by the way this show has characterized Kanan. It’s something I’ve discussed before, but despite never having achieved the rank of Jedi Knight in the old Jedi Order, Kanan may be the wisest, most level headed Jedi in the whole Star Wars saga. Kanan’s lack of training means that he’s had to figure this stuff out on his own over the last 15 years – no code to fall back on to tell him how to live, but instead he must rely on the wisdom of his own experience. For Kanan, fear and anger aren’t inherently evil traits, but instead are emotions that are part of the human experience. He doesn’t try to suppress these emotions in Ezra, but instead guides him through them, allowing him to channel those feelings in a positive direction instead of letting them fester into hatred. Back in Season One I was certain that we’d eventually get a storyline where we see Ezra tempted by the Dark Side, but now I think the show is too smart to go for that kind of low hanging fruit. Ezra wrestles with his emotions, but he has not only a great master, but an excellent counselor to guide him through these feelings.
As the Ghost crew manages to break free of the Imperial assault on Garel, Commander Sato’s command ship is caught in the tractor beam of one of the Star Destroyers. On Hera’s order, Kanan and Ezra leave in the Phantom to head to Lothal, while Hera, Sabine, and Zeb stay behind to aid the other rebel forces. One of my complaints this season is how fragmented the core team has been, with each episode breaking them up for really no good reason in an attempt to tell stories focussing on each individual character. This episode follows that trend, by breaking up the group in order to tell a story focussing on Ezra specifically, but it works here in a way that none of the previous episodes this season have for a few reasons. The first is that the reason for the split feels motivated on a story level. This isn’t some case where Kanan and Ezra are off on an adventure while the other members of the Ghost crew are futzing around back on Garel; instead Hera, Sabine, and Zeb have pressing, urgent reasons to stay behind, and we even stay with them long enough to see why it was important for them to stick around. Additionally, the episode gives us time with the team working together at the beginning so that the split in the middle of the episode has a little bit of a punch behind it. We like these characters, and we like seeing them together, so fracturing that dynamic is only effective if you remind us of why it hurts to have them apart. I’m sure it’s no accident that this second season of Rebels mirrors the second Star Wars film’s trait of having the team separated, but the reason why that worked in The Empire Strikes Back is because it was not just some arbitrary thing. We got to see these guys together at the beginning of the movie, then things go to hell and the team is forced apart which creates tension for the rest of the film. Their separation is tied to the sense that things have suddenly gotten unbelievably bad for our heroes, and we want to see them triumph over that and reunite. You could accuse this episode of merely aping Empire’s structure (and, again, it’s no accident that the attack on Garel is reminiscent of the attack on Hoth), but it’s effective in a way that none of the previous episodes this season have been.
Back on Lothal, the Jedi find Ezra’s old home burned to the ground, but amid the wreckage they find a white Loth-cat, the same Loth-cat Ezra saw in his vision. The duo follow the cat and it leads them to Prisoner X10. Unfortunately, Prisoner X10 is not one of Ezra’s parents, but is instead, Ryder Azadi, the former governor of Lothal who was imprisoned for supporting the Bridgers’ broadcasts speaking out against the Empire. Ryder breaks the news to Ezra that his parents are dead, killed leading a prison break that was inspired in part by Ezra’s broadcast at the end of the first season. I must admit that I didn’t see this coming, I thought for sure that the possibility of rescuing Ezra’s parents was going to be a thread that wove throughout the better part of the series, and at first I even wondered if this wasn’t a fake-out before a surprise reveal later on. In this week’s “Rebels Recon” supplementary show, though, the Rebels team makes it pretty clear that Mira and Ephraim are gone for good.
It’s an interesting decision, because on one hand it almost feels like an anticlimax after waiting a year for this particular story thread to develop, but on the other hand it makes a lot of sense. Hearing that Ezra’s parents died after being inspired by their son to fight back against their captors packs a pretty significant emotional wallop, and forcing Ezra to come to terms with the fact that there was nothing he could have done to save them is a devastating choice. The fact is, there was never any way Ezra’s parents could have survived. On a narrative level, he’s accepted this new surrogate family, and he can never go back to the normal life he once had, no matter how much he might want to. Rescuing his parents only to kill them off later would have been a pointless endeavor, so this ultimately feels like the right choice. What might have been anticlimactic works beautifully due to excellent writing and direction and the final goodbye Ezra gets to share with his parents is beautiful, even if it’s only in his head. I also have to give a shout out to Kevin Kiner’s terrific score. Since most of the show’s themes are riffing on John William’s classic music (as well as a few cues from the likes of Alien and The Rocketeer) it’s easy to overlook what great work Kiner is doing, but the music that underscores the quiet, final moments of this episode proves that he has far more to offer than merely reorchestrating the work of others.
It’s been a frustrating half-season, but here at the winter finale Star Wars Rebels has won me back. Being bookended by great episodes doesn’t quite excuse the fact that most of the season was a failure, but it reassures me that these guys still have greatness in them, and I’m hoping that we’ve worked through all the wheel spinning in the first half of the season, allowing the back half to be more consistently great throughout. The rebels have been forced out of their interim base, and Ezra now has nothing holding him back from fully committing to the rebel cause, so that puts us in a place where interesting, dynamic stuff should be happening for the remainder of the season. Let’s hope they pay off on that promise.
See you all in January.