Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Episode 13: "Fire Across the Galaxy"
There are moments, in the course of a television series, that change everything. These moments are so important to character and story that they serve as markers, signposts on the road to the series' full development. "Fire Across the Galaxy," the Season One finale of Star Wars Rebels, changed the series—and the tapestry of the entire Star Wars saga—in major ways. Never before has an episode of Star Wars television produced such a paradigm shift for its characters or opened up so many previously unimaginable storytelling doors. The already promising scope of this inter-trilogy animated series has just been broadened dramatically. A familiar face has returned. A familiar mask looms larger. The mind boggles at the possibilities for new rebel adventures based on just the final minutes of "Fire Across the Galaxy." But with the bulk of its time, this episode sketched a fascinating picture of growth, promise, and peril for the main heroes of Star Wars Rebels.
Before I get to the meat of the episode, I want to make a few general observations. I liked how stormtroopers were portrayed in this episode. They were shown to be learning from their past mistakes, as when they ran from Sabine's explosive device in the spaceport. ("Not again!" one of them yelled, as if aware that he was in a season finale capping off a dozen such encounters.) One of the troopers in this episode even had some personality: the one who eyed Sabine's artistic TIE fighter and said to his partner, "I kinda like it."
Then there was the great, almost cinematic sequence where Grand Moff Tarkin's reinforcement troopers, with their interesting black shoulder pauldrons, arrived on his Star Destroyer, rushing out of shuttles to the sound of urgent, police-like helmet chatter. Speaking of Tarkin, I liked that he was smart enough to set up a dead man's switch for reinforcements. It showed that he and the Inquisitor had been expecting Hera to come to Kanan's rescue, and even though the rebels succeeded, Tarkin had had the forethought to put a backup plan in place. And another fun thing about Tarkin in this episode: When his aide told him, "We need to evacuate, sir," was I the only one wondering if he would say, "Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?"
The humor in this episode was far from limited to that stormtrooper in the TIE landing bay. There were numerous light moments in what became a serious, epic adventure. Sabine started it off with my favorite type of humor: a pun. "Miss me, bucket-heads?" she called to them as she distracted them from the transport area. When their shots failed to strike her, she added, "Yep, you definitely missed me." Aboard the Star Destroyer, when Sabine said, "It'll take them a while to find us," you just knew they were seconds away from being found—and of course they were. Another funny moment came at a very serious time. When Kanan and Ezra encountered the Inquisitor, the older Jedi stepped forward to fight. "Let me borrow that," he said to Ezra. Ezra, clearly worried about fighting the Inquisitor, replied, "Yeah, no problem."
Perhaps the funniest moment came when Zeb first saw the "modifications" that Ezra and Sabine had done to the hidden TIE fighter. "Okay, well this is...awful," the Lasat said grumpily. Sabine, clearly playing the wounded artist, replied, "What? It's some of my best work." It was this banter that lightened an otherwise heavy episode, showcasing the crew's development into a family. Even in one of the most important moments of their time together—the huge reveal that they were "not alone," so to speak—Ezra couldn't help but make us laugh, asking Zeb under his breath, "Did you know we were a cell?" There was an irreverence here for the gravity of the moment that balanced the moment itself perfectly.
Of course, "Fire Across the Galaxy" was a deeply serious episode, with big changes for the family and team whom we've come to know. In some ways, the characterization of the crew members remained the same, as if we were being reminded of who they were at their core. Hera wanted to be angry at Zeb, Sabine, and Ezra for lying to her about that TIE fighter, but she prioritized the mission over her need to assert leadership—ironically, exactly the right move for a true leader. Ezra used his small size to reach Kanan's cell through the ventilation duct, turning what might be considered a liability (especially when Zeb was taunting him for it) into a strength. And Sabine's plan to disable the Star Destroyer rested on her knowledge of Imperial flight operations from her time at the academy—thanks to the Empire's large scale and uniformity, nobody would think to check any of the inbound TIEs for, say, life forms.
In ways large and small, however, this episode signaled that things were starting to change. By small, I'm referring to the stormtroopers at the beginning saying, "The artist is back." It was a throwaway line, but one that reinforced how routine the crew's run-ins with the Empire have become. Sabine, like the other rebels, had become something of a known quantity to the stormtroopers on Lothal. The next sign of a grander scale was the fearsome presence of Mustafar. I was disappointed that we didn't actually get to visit the planet, but I appreciated its foreboding, blood-red presence as a reminder of the kinds of tragedy that Star Wars was capable of. Even the massive Imperial fleet around Mustafar—far larger than any constellation of enemy ships the rebels have ever faced—was a symbol of this show's growing footprint.
Season finales sometimes reinforce the progression of a series with throwbacks. These references to earlier events make you stop and think, "Wow, that was so long ago. It's amazing how much has changed." The retrieval of the hidden TIE was a throwback in this episode, one that linked together several episodes that didn't seem to have much future consequence at the time. (The main one was "Fighter Flight," of course, but there was a reference to Ezra and Sabine doing something mysterious at the beginning of "Call to Action.") By going back to that TIE, the series reminded us of Ezra and Zeb's earlier adventure, as if saying, "Remember when..?"
The core of this episode consisted of a few important pieces, the first of which was Kanan's continuing ad-hoc Jedi education. In this episode, he overcame a big weakness and defeated a perennial enemy, but things didn't start off that great for him. The Inquisitor continued to viciously torture him, in a way that I still found surprising for a Disney XD series. Once again, the audience was reminded of how thoroughly Hera hid information from the other rebels—the Inquisitor asked about Fulcrum, and Kanan truthfully said that he didn't know anything about a larger rebellion.
The Inquisitor may not have been able to sense that Kanan was telling the truth, because he resorted to a very Sith-like strategy for weakening the Jedi's resolve in the hope of learning more from him. He began taunting Kanan about his failures. As dark, choral music played in the background, the Inquisitor methodically ran through almost a speech of sorts, each word of his Order 66 story like a dagger stabbing Kanan in the arm. Kanan, we learned, had run from Order 66 at his dying Master's urging, and his failure to do more to prevent the atrocity or save Depa Billaba evidently continued to eat away at him to that day.
Kanan considered himself a coward for running, and the Inquisitor seized on that feeling in an attempt to lower his guard. It was disturbing to watch the Inquisitor try to bring Kanan to the brink of despair. By suggesting that Hera and the others would abandon Kanan if they knew about his cowardice, the Inquisitor was trying to strip away the protective layer of friendship that the Ghost crew symbolized for him. The Sith acolyte wanted to remove any reason for Kanan to hold out any hope whatsoever.
The Inquisitor was right that Kanan was embarrassed, but he failed to detect Kanan's deeper concern, one that became evident as soon as Kanan thought the Inquisitor had killed Ezra. At that moment, you could see something change in him. First, he was paralyzed by sadness. That was Old Kanan, Attached Kanan, Worried Kanan. But then, he took a deep breath and centered himself. There was this eerie music as he confronted the Inquisitor with renewed resolve. What had changed? It was as simple as it was disturbing: With Ezra gone, he was no longer afraid of anything.
Kanan's only fear this entire time had been losing Ezra. Once that supposedly happened, Kanan was able to rationally compartmentalize his grief and acknowledge that nothing terrible that could happen to him anymore. Sure, he might die, but at least he couldn't fail the nascent rebellion and Jedi rebirth any more than he already had. (As an interesting side note, the fact that losing Ezra is his greatest fear could set up some interesting challenges for him in the next season. The Inquisitor couldn't detect that liability, but others may.)
When Ezra came to, he saw Kanan fighting furiously and thought his master was "better than okay." But he misread Kanan's energy. Kanan wasn't really okay; he was driven by anger and loss, two things that could spell doom for a Jedi. His attacks were controlled yet ferocious, deliberate but relentless, as if a switch had flipped in his mind and he knew exactly what to do and how to do it. As with Luke Skywalker on the second Death Star, however, his unending barrage of blows on the Inquisitor's lightsaber eventually gave way to clarity. "Now I know there's something stronger than fear," he told the Inquisitor confidently. Kanan had finally learned to truly trust the Force. This trust allowed him to defeat the Inquisitor's spinning lightsaber, which has long been a symbol of the inscrutably sophisticated dark-side fighting style that the Inquisitor deployed.
One of the most notable occurrences in "Fire Across the Galaxy" was the apparent death of the Inquisitor, one of the first Rebels ever introduced. The pale Pau'an was a high point of the series to date, not so much for what he accomplished (very little) but for what he represented (the stalking shadow of death who seemingly knew everything about Kanan). His voice, mannerisms, and fighting style were far more impressive than his on-screen achievements.
When the Inquisitor confronted Kanan and Ezra and they began their Episode I homage duel, you could see that he relished the fight. He didn't seem truly excited until Ezra joined in; he was more interested in taking on both of them than beating Kanan right away. He fed on the thrill of the duel. Of course, the Inquisitor's distinctly Sith brand of arrogance—"A fight that might be worthy of my time"—was his undoing. Kanan got the better of him and literally forced him to the brink. The Inquisitor had pegged Kanan as a once and future coward, and he didn't expect him to gain the upper hand. When Kanan destroyed his spinning blade, it spelled the end for the Pau'an.
As he hung onto the platform, the Inquisitor said something interesting, something that still confuses and intrigues me: "You have no idea what you unleashed here today. There are some things far more frightening than death." With no answers at hand, the audience was left to watch as he released his grip on the platform and fell to his fiery death. That death, by the way, made perfect sense. The Inquisitor was the ideal Imperial lackey. Having failed the Empire so many times on Lothal, he knew he had no choice but to accept his fate; he would rather drop to his death of his own accord than let Kanan deliver the killing blow.
"Fire Across the Galaxy" was, in a sense, just a big setup to the next phase of Star Wars Rebels. The rescue of Kanan took up most of the episode's time, but the bulk of the importance and meaning lay at the end. The best moment in the episode—and one of the best in the season—was when the rebel ships arrived to take on the Empire and rescue Hera's crew. There was something grand and majestic about their arrival and Kevin Kiner's new rebellion theme. It was legitimately emotional to watch them soar into action, cruisers sweeping into frame and beginning their attack. The visual of rebel corvettes blinking into existence from a hyperspace jump lent to the thematic feeling of discovery: Here they were, the other rebels! The instant before, the crew had felt alone, and in the blink of an eye, they were suddenly among friends. It felt like the tide had turned not just in this episode, but in the tenor of the entire series.
After the escape and the obligatory Kanan/Hera reunion hug—Do I think there's something there? Probably not anymore, but maybe once—it was time to meet the rebels' new family. First was Bail Organa. I am so glad that he continues to play a role in the series. He's one of my favorite underexplored character. His grace, compassion, wit, and intelligence make him the perfect rebel leader. Kanan's surprise at seeing Bail again was perfect. To the cowboy Jedi, this man was just a random big-shot whose droids he'd once helped rescue. To Hera, of course, Bail was so much more: a link in a chain to a massive network.
It was fitting that Bail appeared to the rebels in the form of a projection from Chopper. It reminded me of R2-D2 projecting Leia's image in A New Hope—literally Luke Skywalker's first moment of awareness that something bigger was out there, calling to him. Like his blue-and-white friend would do one day, Chopper used his holoprojector to facilitate the Ghost crew's first step into a larger world. Sabine spoke for the entire crew (minus Hera) when she exclaimed in amazement, "There are other cells!" In some ways, this was the moment we as viewers had been waiting for for a dozen episodes. Ever since this show premiered, we've suspected that the crew would someday have to be drawn into the high-stakes adventures of the nascent rebel movement. After months of waiting, we were finally seeing it.
But there was one more huge surprise awaiting fans: Fulcrum. The identity of this mysterious rebel contact has been the most discussed aspect of Disney's first major Star Wars project since the hooded figure first appeared. Fan theories have been as wide-ranging as they have been creative. But one theory of Fulcrum's identity has always stood head-and-lekku above the rest, owing to the continuity goldmine it represented for fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And so, when Ahsoka Tano, former apprentice of the fallen Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, dropped briskly into frame, the logic of the decision was as obvious as her ten-plus years of growth and maturity.
Ever since I first heard that this was happening, I worried about how it would be done, and when. Would Ahsoka—arguably one of the most popular characters among the youngest generation of fans—upstage the Ghost crew in her big reveal? Could Rebels build up the team to the point where they were cool enough on their own to avoid being washed away in a tidal wave of excitement over Ahsoka? These were very real concerns for me, and based on what Dave Filoni has said in his brief comments so far about Ahsoka's return, he took these concerns seriously as well. The result was the best of both worlds: a season packed with drama and adventure that gave us reasons to invest in and identify with new characters, capped off, in the last few minutes, with the return of this fan-favorite hero in a big new role.
As I write this review, it has been almost a full day since "Fire Across the Galaxy" premiered, but I am still processing the momentous implications of Ahsoka's return and the accompanying decision to broaden the scope of the series. What has Ahsoka been up to? Where has she traveled? Whom has she met? What does she think happened to her former master? Has she been in contact with other Jedi? What role has she played among the other rebels? How many conversations have she and Bail had about the era they recently left behind and the traumatic event that shattered the galaxy? Is she in contact with the Onderon rebels she helped in The Clone Wars? I have so many questions, and I know I'm not alone.
But all of these questions will have to wait. The only question Ahsoka answered in this season finale was why she had raced to Kanan's aid: It was "because of you and your apprentice." That was a very important line, and I'm sure we'll see the ramifications of it in the next season. Ahsoka, an experienced rebel cell coordinator, saw unique value in preserving the hope that this one particular cell had generated. Ezra's message had evidently reached further than he'd realized. It will be interesting to see what role the Lothal rebels play in Ahsoka and Bail's larger plans.
It's amazing that we're even talking about Ahsoka Tano and Bail Organa and larger plans for rebellion. The series is moving so far, but not unpleasantly so. The moment those ships streaked out of hyperspace to rescue Hera and her team, everything changed. I doubt we'll be seeing episodes like "Fighter Flight" again. The stakes are now massively higher for our heroes. "One chapter has closed for you, Ezra Bridger," Ahsoka told him. "This is a new day. A new beginning." Watching the end of "Fire Across the Galaxy," I felt as if this statement were true of Star Wars Rebels as well.
But what will that new beginning look like?
Not content to leave us with the upbeat, promising return of Ahsoka, "Fire Across the Galaxy" actually ended on a foreboding, even sinister note. The good guys were getting help from a familiar face—and so were the bad guys. With the Inquisitor gone, the Emperor needed a new agent overseeing operations on and around Lothal. That replacement, that "alternative solution," in Tarkin's words, was Darth Vader.
In both canon and Legends stories, Vader's fearsome presence has been the Emperor's response to signs of unrest. Vader's mere visage can strike terror into peoples' hearts, and if that doesn't do the trick, his lightsaber can pierce their hearts just as easily. It made sense, then, that Vader would be the Emperor's response to the event son Lothal. As Kallus pointed out, the Bridger transmissions and the rumors out of Mustafar had given people reason to hope. "Some people see the Empire as weak," Kallus said to Tarkin. "Vulnerable." As soon as Darth Vader stepped out of the Imperial shuttle, Kallus' face reflected the shock and fear that the Empire wanted everyone to feel. When everything else failed, the Emperor threw his biggest gun at the problem.
Vader's breathing ended Star Wars Rebels Season One, foreshadowing the many, many great stories that are undoubtedly ahead. But one potential storyline looms above all the others. By reintroducing the familiar faces of Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader, "Fire Across the Galaxy" fueled a theory that fans have proposed since Ahsoka's 2008 debut: A climactic showdown between the Togruta and her fallen master. Will Ahsoka ever sacrifice herself to Vader's blade for the future of the rebellion? Who knows? All I know is that I am dying to find out what happens next, and I'm so glad we get to see the Season Two premiere at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in mid-April.
So that's it. The first season of this new Star Wars animated series is over. Ahsoka is back, Vader is in the picture, Ezra is developing his Force sensitivity and his instinct for rebellion, and Kanan...well, Kanan is slowly but surely gaining a steadier grasp of what it means to be a Jedi. The crew of the Ghost is primed for adventures far larger than any of them could have imagined. After this game-changing season finale, our heroes are standing on the precipice of what Ahsoka rightly called "a new beginning."