Despite being a kid’s show, “Star Wars Rebels” has an unprecedented opportunity to make the Star Wars universe grow larger than ever before, with its access to the franchise’s most interesting and unexplored time period.
So why does its latest episode, “Fighter Flight,” make that world feel so small?
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Tuesday’s entry shrunk the series’s universe when it should have expanded it. That’s not to say that the writers can’t take it easy for a few episodes and give us some chewy filler stories. But with “Rebels” still laying the foundation for its characters and their relationships, the episode’s scaled-down focus on the interaction between Ezra and Zeb isn’t enough to compensate for its lack of momentum.
At the start of the episode, Zeb and Ezra’s bickering prompts Hera to send them on a mission together on
Tatooine in a spring month Lothal to collect some supplies, including the rare meilorun fruit, which she doesn’t expect them to find. But although the pair manages to locate the fruit, it turns out to be in the hands of the Empire, and it’s not long before trouble finds the two.
While the show’s scope narrows, that does give its key dynamic some finer detail. Watching Zen and Ezra’s annoyance for each other blossom into affection kept the episode from crashing and burning, even if its confidence wobbled more than the TIE fighter that Zeb steals.
Speaking of, I dug the episode’s action sequences, especially the teamwork between Zeb and Ezra in a late scene where they attempt to free prisoners from an Imperial transport. These scenes really embrace the show’s Saturday morning cartoon roots with their nifty choreography and animation, and they’re all the better for it.
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But “Rebels” forgets to borrow another element from those classic cartoons: a memorable role for every character. For example, we’re introduced to a farmer named Mr. Sumar early in the episode who apparently knows Ezra’s parents, and who is later freed by the boy during the climax. But he has fewer lines than Chewbacca, and about a tenth of the personality, so it’s hard to feel invested in the operation to save him.
The villains of the episode don’t fare much better. Ezra and Zeb butt heads with an Imperial officer who destroyed Sumar’s moisture farm after the man wouldn’t sell it to him. The writing for this subplot is the show’s weakest yet. Why would the Empire destroy the farm if they want to buy it? And why try to buy the farm if you’re willing to take it by force?
Even the Ghost’s crew gets the short end of the stick. It’s understandable that a 22-minute episode can’t give every character time in the spotlight, so Kanan and Hera don’t get to do much other than play some Dejarik. This also means that Ezra’s promised Jedi training gets delayed again, though his Force powers are once again shoehorned into the plot in some way.
But Chopper the droid still has a ways to go to catch up to R2D2. And the twist at the end, which reveals a project that explosives expert Sabine has been working on all episode, doesn’t add much to her character.
It’s no secret what the “Rebels” showrunners are trying to gun for in this episode. They’re shooting for the delicate balance between a lighthearted tone and a grim importance that the original trilogy nailed so well. That’s a worthy target. But right now, their aim is worse than a stormtrooper’s.