Just one episode into “Star Wars Rebels,” and a problem is already rearing its head that could become a recurring issue: The show is leaning too much on the mythos of the original trilogy.
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Of course it’s always great to see familiar faces, especially when they’re as beloved as C-3PO and R2D2 (not to mention a surprise appearance at the end of the episode). But “Rebels” needs time to forge its own identity and develop its characters instead of giving the spotlight to established figures. That doesn’t mean the show can’t interact with classic Star Wars characters, but they shouldn’t be the life of the party.
Our heroes meet the droids during a mission to hijack an Imperial shipment for Cikatro Vizago, the shadowy arms dealer we briefly met in “Spark of Rebellion.” The pair is accompanying an Imperial official and her alien cohort on a trip to deliver illegal weapons to the Empire, but they’re intercepted by the crew of the Ghost, who want to sell the goods for some desperately needed credits.
But the plan is easier said than done, especially when the crew finds out that the arms are ion disruptors, which doesn’t sit well with Zeb. In a nice bit of backstory, we learn that Zeb’s people were massacred on his home planet of Lasat by Imperial troops wielding ion disruptors, and he’s firmly against allowing the weapons to fall into anyone’s hands.
This is the strongest part of the episode, and it represents how “Rebels” can distinguish itself in the Star Wars universe. Not only are we beginning to see the consequences of the Empire’s reign over the galaxy, but we’re getting a glimpse of the moral gray areas that surface among the good guys as a result. Kanan disagrees with Zeb and wants to profit by selling the weapons to Vizagos, forcing us to question what Jedi values the Ghost’s captain still retains.
Just before they deliver the weapons to Vizagos on Lothal, the crew is attacked by Empire forces, led by Agent Kallus, who engages Zeb in a bo-rifle duel. The fight itself is a bit messily animated, with the hypercaffeinated camera whirling around the characters as if it’s trying to keep up with them. But it pays off with the juicy reveal that Kallus ordered the Lasat massacre, setting up a tantalizing rivalry between the two. Kallus almost defeats Zeb before Ezra saves his crewmate by subduing the Imperial with a Force blast.
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Ezra plays a key role in the episode as the Ghost crew relies on him during a crucial part of the heist. But instead of touching on his newfound Force powers, the characters constantly mention that his Jedi training is coming soon, as if they’re reminding us to keep us from getting bored. His heroic act at the episode’s end feels like it was shoehorned in to keep his Force powers relevant.
The final scene treats us to a moment between Kanan and Senator Bail Organa, although the Jedi doesn’t recognize him. I’m OK with this introduction, as it’s a minor character who could be the Ghost crews’ tie to the Rebel Alliance. I just hope “Rebels” doesn’t use familiar characters as a crutch.
What’s ironic is that, with the exception of Zeb, right now our heroes act more like droids than C-3PO and R2D2. They perform their functions well, but they lack a flesh-and-blood personality. I hope the writers take off their restraining bolts soon.