This review contains spoilers
One of my major beefs with Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the way in which that series espoused a bizarre pro-war sentiment. For any of their flaws, it’s clear that the Star Wars prequels are about the failures of politics and organized religion – the entire point of which being that by fighting as soldiers in a war for the Republic, the Jedi played into the hands of their enemy and sealed their own destruction. And yet, in the animated series dealing with this very same war, the Jedi are nearly always portrayed as unambiguous heroes. Beyond that, there are more than a few episodes in which the Jedi find themselves on a world inhabited by a peaceful or pacifist race who explicitly tell them they want to stay out of the war, only to change their tune and suddenly praise the Jedi’s warrior ways once they get caught in the crossfire. We see the Jedi and the Republic impose their will on those who just want peace, and there’s not even a hint of irony to the victory in which this is presented.
This week on Rebels, the Ghost crew was presented with a similar dilemma, but instead of forcing peaceful people into conflict, the rebels go out of their way to respect their wishes and honor their beliefs. The peaceful people in question just so happen to be a pair of Lasat.
After receiving a tip from one of Ezra’s contacts, the rebels find these Lasat being held prisoner by the Empire. These Lasat – Chava, an elderly mystic, and Gron, a former member of the Lasan Honor Guard – are refuges from the Empire’s destruction of Lasan. It turns out that Zeb was not the only Lasat to escape this slaughter, and these two are in search of Liresan, the legendary ancient home world of the Lasat. Further, they recognize Zeb not as just some member of the Honor Guard, but rather its captain. They believe that with Zeb’s help, they can find Liresan and a new future for their people. Unfortunately, before they can get very far, the Imperial presence starts to heat up thanks to some double dealing from Ezra’s contact, Hondo Ohnaka (I may have shouted a curse at this reveal). As they attempt to flee, the rebels offer blasters to Chava and Gron who decline, and refuse to be a part of the fight.
What little we knew about the Lasat prior to this point pointed to the fact that they were once a great race of warriors, so having this episode pull the rug out from under that assumption is a clever twist. We are met not with brilliant tacticians or noble fighters, but instead a haggard old shaman and a burned out ex-soldier who refuse to do battle. These are people who have known war and have seen their race brought to the brink of extinction because of it. For them, the way forward is not found in violence, but in a reconnection to peace and spirituality. These are themes that mirror the classic, essential themes of Star Wars, emphasizing spirituality over an adherence to a particular dogma as well as a reconciliation from the failures of the past.
While all of this works thematically, the first half of the episode is kind of a drag in execution. To no one’s great surprise, the biggest problem here is Hondo. Hondo’s presence is like a screaming baby in a movie theater: an annoyance that is almost assaultive in nature, gravitationally pulling focus away from the thing you’re trying to enjoy until someone finally has the decency to take him out of the picture. The main purposes of the episode – Zeb’s character development, the reveal of the Lasats, an understanding of their beliefs and spirituality – are constantly upstaged by Hondo’s insufferable antics. There’s a lot of ground for this episode to cover in only 22 minutes, and a not insignificant portion of that time is wasted on Hondo doing his dumb Jack Sparrow routine.
When we finally get onboard the Ghost and we leave Hondo behind, things finally start to get good. As Chava and Gron prepare the ritual they believe will reveal the location of Liresan, Zeb wrestles with his own feelings on all of this. Zeb was the captain of the Honor Guard, the one responsible for the defense of Lasat, its people, and it’s culture, and he failed to protect them. His world was ravaged by the Empire, his people destroyed, and the soldiers he commanded slaughtered. He’s a broken man, everything he cared about and fought for was destroyed, and he’s spent the last however many years struggling to rebuild his life around a new purpose. His disbelief in the existence of Liresan and his doubt in Chava’s prophecy are rooted in feelings of pride and shame as much as they are in skepticism. All of his strength and prowess in battle could not save his people, so what hope could there possibly be in some ancient myth? And yet, with some encouragement from Ezra, he’s able to overcome these feelings. He returns to join in the ritual and determine the location of Liresan, which turns out to be in uncharted space, far beyond the Outer Rim.
As the Ghost crew charts their course to Liresan, they find that their path is blocked by an imploded star cluster, and any ship that were to enter would be torn apart by its gravitational pull. As they’re deliberating on how to proceed, Agent Kallus arrives to cut off their escape, and the rebels are forced to make a choice between fighting or facing near-certain death by trusting Chava’s counsel and entering the star cluster. And what do you know? They choose the latter! Aside from any other complaints, this is perhaps the most significant reason why I love Rebels in a way I could never love The Clone Wars. Rebels understands the fundamental themes of Star Wars in a way The Clone Wars simply doesn’t. This show doesn’t ask us to celebrate our heroes bringing war to a peaceful world, instead the Ghost crew risks everything to help those who are in need while respecting their wishes and a desire for a pacifist approach. As the Ghost enters the star cluster, shots fired from pursuing Imperial Cruiser are pulled away from the ship, and the TIE Fighters that attempt to follow the Ghost are ripped to shreds by the cluster’s gravity while the Ghost itself remains unscathed. It’s a terrific visual metaphor for the self destructive nature of violence, one that’s perfectly in line with the themes Star Wars has always been rooted in.
As the Ghost travels through the star cluster it is guided by Zeb, calling upon the ancient magics of the Ashla with the help of Chava. Once again, we see here an emphasis on spirituality over any one specific dogma as the Lasat’s connection with the Force manifests in a dramatically different way than we’ve ever seen with the Jedi. The trip through the star cluster is beautiful and strange, clearly inspired by 2001, but none-the-less thrilling. As the rebels move past the boundaries of the charted galaxy, the show similarly pushes things into the weirder territories we’ve gotten glimpses of in the likes of Mortis and the Force planet back in The Clone Wars.
And then, it stops. The Ghost crew arrive at Liresan, which does exist, and apparently is full of Lasat. I say apparently because we don’t actually see it. Zeb drops off Chava and Gron in the Phantom while we stay with the rest of the crew back on the Ghost. The episode ends with the promise that we’ll eventually return, but after the buildup and the way the episode pushed us into the real of the weird, to not go all the way and show us Liresan ends up being incredibly disappointing. Maybe if we hadn’t spent so much time screwing around with Hondo, the might have had time to give this thing a proper ending.
Ultimately, this is an episode that works better in theory than it does in practice. It’s dealing with themes that are both strong and essentially Star Wars, but it feels lopsided with a lousy first half, an exciting second half, and an anti-climatic ending that sucks all the wind out of the episode’s sails. Still, even if this is a step down from last week, we’re still doing better in the back half of this season than we were in its first ten episodes, and I really appreciate that this episode swung for the fences even if it ended up missing the mark.
As for next week, get hyped for space whales!