WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the season 2 Star Wars Rebels episode “The Siege of Lothal.”
Star Wars Rebels bears much more in common with its big-screen cousins than first meets the eye. Besides the fact that it shares similar story and character elements, the show’s arc and tone are beginning to mirror the ones presented in the films.
Both A New Hope and The Phantom Menace were buoyant and lighthearted affairs that wrapped up nice and tidy, without any loose ends or big moral questions to be answered. But by the next two entries, Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars universe had swapped its naive outlook for some mature, dark undertones in service of the story that needed to be told.
Just like its young protagonist, Ezra Bridger, Rebels is beginning to grow up and prepare for the tougher times ahead. Season 1 ended with the surprising death of the Inquisitor after Ezra and crew managed to rescue Kanan Jarrus from his grasp and meet up with Clone Wars fan favorite Ahsoka Tano in a bid to join the Rebel Alliance. But there’s a new foe for them to grapple with as the Empire tightens its grip: Darth Vader.
The first episode of Season 2, a two-parter called “The Siege of Lothal,” was shown on the third day of Celebration to a crowd of several hundred, along with the cast and crew in attendance.
The episode begins with the crew of the Ghost joining forces with rebel pilots in A-wings to steal cargo from Imperial ships in space. After an intense space battle, the rebels are successful and escape the Imperial targets with the cargo in tow.
Aboard the ship, emotions flare between Kanan and Hera, as the former Jedi doesn’t like working with the Rebel Alliance and wants to return to choosing his own missions. Hera reminds him that the rebels saved his life and they deserve their commitment.
The crew is startled by a transmission from Minister Tua, the feisty blonde Imperial officer who made a few appearances last season. She is about to be punished by Vader for failing to stop the rebels, and she has decided to defect to the rebels to survive.
Although Kanan and Co. are wary of her offer at first, Ezra volunteers the group anyway, especially after she promises to reveal why the Empire really set up on Lothal. She says it’s not because of a crucial droid factory – and that the Emperor himself ordered a Lothal base.
Their plan is a bit fuzzy, but if I remember correctly, the rebels decide to infiltrate an Imperial base using Tua’s knowledge to meet up with her and get her off of Lothal. Unfortunately, Agent Kallus accompanies Tua on the way to the base, and the Ghost crew are forced to improvise, with Kanan stealing a stormtrooper’s armor to break in.
The plan still goes awry, as Vader and Kallus anticipated their plan and blow up Tua’s ship during the operation. The crew barely escapes the Imperials’ grasp.
The Ghost crew holes up at Ezra’s old hideout, and they soon learn that apparently Tua died during the operation and the Empire has pinned it on them. It’s not long, however, before some stormtroopers show up and force the rebels to flee the building, which is burned to the ground by the Imperials.
At their wit’s end, they decide to invade an Imperial compound to get a ship, especially since Kanan already has some stormtrooper armor. They break into a depot that’s not heavily guarded by Imperials but is dangerously close to an Empire base.
However, as the rebels attempt to steal a ship and some shield generators, they encounter Darth Vader, who has anticipated the rebels’ plan again. Kanan is forced to engage Vader in a lightsaber battle, just like you see in the new trailer. Vader easily overcomes him as well as Ezra, who he almost kills by using the Force and manipulating him to decapitate himself with his own lightsaber. Kanan distracts Vader just in time, though, and the two manage to Force-push Vader into the path of a falling piece of machinery.
But Vader easily lifts the machinery off himself, in a moment that got plenty of cheers from the crowd. The rebels still manage to escape with the generators, although Vader hurts Sabine by deflecting her blaster fire back at her.
Vader still deals the rebels a blow, though, when he orders Kallus to burn the refugee camp Tarkintown on the outskirts of the city. As they take a breather from the excitement out in the fields, the crew notice the smoke clouds, and Ezra heads over on a speeder bike to investigate. Kanan arrives shortly afterward and tries to comfort him, but to no avail.
The gang decides that they have to leave Lothal, as the Empire’s presence is just too strong and the Alliance isn’t catching on. They make a deal with Lando Calrissian, swapping their generators in exchange for a way to get off the planet. He supplies them with special devices that throw off the Imperials’ tracking devices, giving them time to enter space and avoid the Imperial blockade by entering hyperspace.
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Vader, however, planted a tracking device on the Ghost and allows them to lead him to a Rebel convoy. Interestingly, at first Vader goes by himself in his special TIE fighter to take on the entire fleet of ships. He manages to do significant damage to the main rebel transport, forcing the Ghost to try and stop him.
At this point, Kanan and Ezra form some sort of Force connection (I can’t remember exactly why) and link up with both Ahsoka Tano, who’s aboard the Ghost, and Vader. It’s then that Ahsoka becomes aware of Vader’s presence and who he is – as does Vader with Ahsoka. “The apprentice lives,” he says.
Vader alters his attack and focuses on bringing in the Ghost crew alive, as his Imperial reinforcements arrive as well. The Sith Lord orders his fleet to focus on the Ghost, allowing the other rebels to abandon ship and leap into hyperspace.
But Hera pulls off a tricky maneuver by piloting the Ghost in between two Star Destroyers. With vader in pursuit, she makes the leap to hyperspace just as the Star Destroyers close the gap, squeezing Vader’s TIE fighter and sending him into a spin while preventing any further pursuit.
Back aboard the Ghost, Kanan again brings up the question of whether they should be fighting for the rebels, and he is again rebuffed. Meanwhile, Vader contacts the Emperor via holocron, and informs him that Ahsoka lives. The Emperor authorizes Vader to send another Inquisitor to hunt down the rebels.
As I said before, Rebels is clearly starting to let some shadows creep into its once bright and goofy heart. Our heroes spend most of the episode on the run, just barely one step ahead of the Empire. Although they escape in the end, they’re forced to leave Lothal permanently. That’s a welcome story decision from the writers, as the decision to keep most of the action confined to one planet felt a bit weird and cheap. Hopefully, this allows them to explore other worlds throughout the season.
The episode also sets up what will likely be the overarching conflicts of the season. Kanan is reluctant to be a part of the Rebel Alliance while Hera believes it’s their only option left. Ezra is beginning to take charge of the group more and make his own decisions. And in the juiciest development, Ahsoka will have to confront the demons of her past after Vader becomes aware of her existence.
Overall, the episode just felt bigger. The space dogfights were more elaborate and well-shot, with multiple storylines going on within a larger battle. The animation was crisper and yet tinged with more shadows and menacing light. The plot moved at a good pace, without ever feeling like it was slowing down.
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And I applaud the writers for not keeping Vader behind the curtain and introducing him right from the get-go, although this does kind of hint he won’t play a huge role in the rest of the season.
There’s no still word on when this episode will air to kick off the show’s second season. We’ve already gotten a taste of what it will be like, what with this episode and the trailer that hints at continuing the stories and characters from Clone Wars.
But judging by what Filoni and crew have done here, Rebels will forge its own path and become its own show worth remembering.
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