Star Wars Rebels has quite the challenge ahead of it for its sophomore season. With its foundation established, the show must now not only deepen our understanding of its characters, but also expand its own niche of the Star Wars universe.
In a savvy solution, showrunners Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg are exploring new ground by returning to familiar territory, introducing a grown-up Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars at the end of last season, and bringing back a handful of clone soldiers as well in this premiere.
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It’s an idea that’s rich with promise as we see new characters interact with old ones, but the season 2 premiere “The Lost Commanders” doesn’t take full advantage of the opportunities.
As the crew of the Ghost, including Hera, Kanan, Ezra, Zeb, Sabine and Chopper, join forces with the Rebellion, they’re tasked with trying to find a location for a secret base. Ahsoka points them in the direction of some old friends she knows who can help out, while she herself goes off on a mysterious mission to investigate the origins of Darth Vader (her former master).
In their search, the Ghost crew becomes stranded on a desert planet, where they meet three washed-up clones who fought alongside the Jedi in the Clone Wars. Rex, Wolfe and Gregor were not part of Order 66 because they removed the chips that the Republic used to control them, but that’s not enough for Kanan, who is rightfully wary of clones after two of them killed his master and tried to hunt him down.
That tension is the strongest part of the episode, and reaffirms the theory that Rebels is Kanan’s story more than anyone else’s. This is also a sign of the impact the shared universe can have on related Star Wars stories. If you’ve read the comic book Kanan: The Last Padawan, which details Kanan’s ordeal as a Padawan who survived the Purge, his uneasiness around the clones in this episode becomes much more understandable and emotionally resonant.
Unfortunately, that depth still doesn’t extend to the rest of the characters. Chopper and Hera don’t make the journey to the desert planet with the rest of the crew, and Zeb and Sabine don’t get much to do except listen to the clones’ orders. Ezra has morphed into a pluckier, more outspoken figure compared to his Season 1 temperament, which is a welcome change that should clash well with Kanan’s wariness.
But even the clones don’t quite make sense within the story. It’s interesting to wonder how exactly a clone would react when its purpose is fulfilled, but the episode just kind of leaves that thread dangling while it tries to spice up the story with some action. I found the hunt for the “jooper” (sp?) decent enough, but it was confusing to me that the clones would deceive the Ghost crew and put Zeb in danger, only to have everyone except Kanan be completely cool with it. It doesn’t work for the story to have Kanan’s suspicions justified.
Since this episode is only half of a two-parter, hopefully each character plays a much larger role next week. I’m not opposed to Rebels going back to the well of The Clone Wars with its story. There’s plenty of fertile ground to mine by mashing together characters and ideas from different eras of the universe. But it can also be an excuse for lazy fan service, which this episode is guilty of on multiple counts.
- I did love the Jaws homage in this episode during the chase scene with the jooper, especially the jaunty, adventurous tune playing and the animal skeleton affixed to the front of the clones’ vehicle.
- Wolfe’s apology at the end, for contacting the Empire and ignoring Ahsoka’s messages, feels like it came out of nowhere, especially since I thought the probe droid was being set up to frame the clones. The awkward story structure came off as a shoehorned attempt to build more tension.
- Almost no Chopper in this episode, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.