Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Episode 7: "Gathering Forces"
"Gathering Forces" was a strong episode about Ezra and the power of overcoming fear. Aside from scenes of the Inquisitor closing in on Fort Anaxes and a brief diversion to once again tease viewers about Fulcrum's identity, the story stayed with Ezra the entire time. This commitment to Ezra was welcome and important: Ezra's story, like Kanan's, is central to the Ghost crew's journey. In "Gathering Forces," Ezra gained emotional maturity and developed a deeper understanding of the Force. He had had his first brush with the dark side, that foreboding entity which the Inquisitor referenced in "Rise of the Old Masters." And he forgave an old family friend in a way that better positioned him to continue his Jedi training.
At the beginning of the episode, Ezra was as angry and unsettled as we'd ever seen him. Tseebo's sudden reappearance in Ezra's life had dredged up old memories, and he was struggling to stay focused on the mission as the Ghost blasted its way off of Lothal. When Sabine expressed interest in solving the mystery of Ezra's parents, he told her that there was no point. His parents were dead, he said dismissively, as if he were angry that anyone was trying to revisit the issue on his behalf. After Sabine left, however, he rounded on Tseebo and asked the Rodian to confirm what he had said. He didn't even believe his own words. He may not have wanted to show it in front of the others, but he was desperate to know what had really happened to his parents.
Ezra spent the early part of this episode in an angry, moody state. At first, he yelled at Tseebo, blaming him for abandoning the entire Bridger family. Taylor Gray deserves tremendous credit for portrayal Ezra's lashing out in such a compelling way. I felt for Ezra as he shouted despairingly at the Tseebo. Soon, anger gave way to resignation, and Ezra wanted nothing more to do with Tseebo. It was the typical emotional progression of an adolescent human on Earth: Lay every emotion on the table in a dramatic display of frustration, then repress residual emotions by feigning disinterest. When Ezra put that stolen stormtrooper helmet on and turned away from Kanan's questions, he wasn't just ignoring his master; he was putting on a mask of nonchalance, using his trinket to distance himself from his life and its pressures.
I want to briefly touch on Sabine's uncharacteristic display of empathy in this episode, because I think it speaks to how similar Ezra and she truly are. From the very beginning, Sabine was worried about Ezra. When Hera called her to her station, she was hesitant to leave—she wanted to help translate Tseebo's ramblings in the hopes of telling Ezra something about his parents. As she ran away to man the Ghost's guns, she appeared even more conflicted, as if he she believed that she was abandoning Ezra. Later, in the crew lounge, Sabine cast a worried glance at Ezra when she saw him brooding. This was more than just a team member worrying that a fellow team member could jeopardize their operations with his emotions.
Sabine's concern for Ezra stemmed from their shared history with the Empire. Both young rebels had had their families ripped away from them by the Empire (although Sabine's past is still mostly a mystery). Sabine sympathized with Ezra's emotional turmoil, his defiance, and his desire for answers. One of the most important Ezra/Sabine scenes was when Ezra was about to leave with Kanan and Sabine implored him to consult Tseebo while he still had a chance. Sabine clearly knew what it was like to lack answers to questions that kept her up at night. Now, Ezra had found someone who could answer his own nagging questions, and he wasn't taking advantage of the moment. Sabine couldn’t believe that he was squandering that opportunity.
In an emotional exchange, Ezra tried to make Sabine understand why he couldn't risk questioning Tseebo: His stoic acceptance of his parents' disappearance was the only thing that had allowed him to move on and power through life on the streets. He had built up so many walls to block out the desire to reflect on his past losses, because the only way to survive was to concentrate on necessities. Stopping to remember his parents could have gotten him killed.
This explanation linked back to everything I have written about his difficulty transitioning out of street life. For the last seven episodes, the audience has watched as Ezra has grown more comfortable working with a team and learning about the Force. Bit by bit, he was leaving his old life behind, but after so many years of fending for himself, it wasn't easy. Survivalist pragmatism had, tragically, become a fact of life for him. He would never have a "normal" adolescence; the Empire had made sure of that.
Ezra's had suppressed his past to survive under pressure, and in this episode, Kanan relied on that survival instinct to teach Ezra a new lesson. When master and apprentice returned to the asteroid base from "Out of Darkness," Kanan forced Ezra to open up to the darkness-loving fyrnocks and learn to control them by throwing him into their midst and stepping back. As Kanan explicitly acknowledged, Ezra was at his best when he was fighting to survive. Clearly, Ezra's past as a do-what-it-takes "street rat" will never truly leave him.
While Kanan seemed confident in Ezra's ability to perform under pressure, Ezra was visibly rattled. Something was still distracting him, clouding his ability to let go and subsume himself to the Force. He admitted to Kanan that he was scared, but he refused to elaborate on this fear and so could not overcome it. He futilely repeated the phrase "one with the Force" in an increasingly desperate voice, as if the words alone could give him the strength he needed. He still saw the Force as something more definable than spiritual, something he could summon with mere words instead of total commitment.
Only at the last minute, as the fyrnocks closed in around them, did Kanan get Ezra to admit his fear: Knowing the truth about his family. After this admission, Ezra seemed unburdened. He reacted so emotionally to his own words that he simultaneously brought the fyrnocks under his sway and sent a pulse of forgiveness to Tseebo through the Force. Without even realizing it, Ezra had surmounted his fear and accomplished his task. The best shot in this episode was Kanan staring in amazement as Ezra held the fyrnocks at bay. There was no music, no background noise, and no growling from the fyrnocks—just an eerie pulsing sound, as if Ezra's power had silenced the entire moment.
For viewers anxious to see Ezra embrace the Force more fully, the subsequent battle with the Inquisitor offered a surprising treat: Ezra overtaxing his abilities and his emotional discipline, dipping into the dark side itself in an attempt to save himself and his master. I could tell that Ezra was firing on all cylinders out of necessity when he used the Force to effortlessly grab Kanan's lightsaber and defend Kanan. A few episodes ago, in "Breaking Ranks," Ezra had struggled to lift a mere data disk. His Force powers were growing stronger, and his grasp of them was improving.
Yet as Ezra faced off against the Inquisitor, the latter man clearly held the upper hand. The Inquisitor goaded Ezra, urging him to "unleash your anger." I recalled Darth Vader's instructions to the Inquisitor in the ABC re-airing of Spark of Rebellion: Recover as many young Force-users as you can and bend them to our will. The Inquisitor saw promise in Ezra, and he continued to hope that he could unleash Ezra's potential using the dark side. The Inquisitor's words to Ezra were accompanied by the dark choral music that characterized the Emperor's interactions with Luke in Return of the Jedi. Such choral arrangements have become the go-to musical motif for the temptation of the dark side.
Like Luke, however, Ezra angrily rejected both the Inquisitor's seductive promises and his grim version of the future. Also like Luke, Ezra dipped into his anger to repel the man who was threatening him. Whereas Luke charged Vader at the mention of his sister, Ezra drew on his anger to harness the power of a massive fyrnock, one that scared even the other ferocious creatures on the asteroid. Without even realizing it, Ezra directed the dominant fyrnock to attack the Inquisitor. In an indication that he was out of his depth, however, Ezra almost immediately passed out after the sudden burst of effort. When he awoke, he couldn't believe what he had done.
Ezra's lingering self-doubt was obvious as he expressed his disbelief at having saved Kanan. He didn't think he had it in him. Back aboard the Phantom, Kanan was guarded in his response to his apprentice. He recognized that Ezra had touched the dark side in summoning the fyrnock. After hearing Kanan explain the situation, Ezra seemed to sheepishly withdraw, acknowledging that he knew very little about the true scope of the Force. Kanan, for his part, felt bad about not preparing Ezra to keep his anger at bay. It was a reminder to the audience that even noble intentions could be co-opted and corrupted by the dark side. Recall Luke savagely hacking away at his father in the final moments of their lightsaber duel, stopping only after he had cut off his father's right hand and recognized the parallel with his own mechanical limb. The burst of energy that drew Luke out of the shadows and allowed him to defeat his father was the same force that let Ezra summon the huge fyrnock: the dark side, quick, easy, and seductively powerful.
Ezra's journey to overcoming his fear of knowing ended up having a profound effect on Tseebo. As I said in my last review, I have enjoyed Tseebo's presence in the story, because he was a link to the part of Ezra's past that most profoundly defined him. His time on the streets may have shaped his tactics, but his family shaped his character, and Tseebo was the last remaining connection to that old life. Unsurprisingly for someone who was repressing so much of that old life, Ezra reacted angrily to the memory of how Tseebo had failed his parents. Like any young person would in his position, Ezra blamed Tseebo for everything that had happened to him. It wasn't logical, but it was easy: Tseebo was right there in front of him, and his parents were not.
It was Kanan and Sabine who gave Ezra the reality check he needed. Kanan pointed out that Tseebo couldn't have shield the Bridgers from the Imperials single-handedly. Sabine noted that Tseebo had to have volunteered for the implant, which suggested that his goal had been to steal the Empire's secrets. This was not something I had considered, because I didn't give Tseebo enough credit when he was first introduced. After Sabine said this, I saw Tseebo in an entirely new light. He wasn't helpless or dim-witted. He was consciously risking his life to make amends with Ezra.
Even after Sabine revealed Tseebo's bravery, Ezra still wasn't convinced that the Rodian had tried his best. It was the classic fact-averse denial of an impertinent young person. It was easier for Ezra to wallow in his emotions than to confront the messy reality of the wound that the Imperials had dealt him. Tseebo wasn't the right target for Ezra's anger, but as I said above, he was only target present. Ultimately, Kanan was right: Ezra thrived under pressure. It took the threat of imminent death by fyrnock to get Ezra to admit his fears and forgive Tseebo.
Somehow, this forgiveness translated into a Force pulse that cleared Tseebo's mind. It was as if Ezra had literally put Tseebo's mind at ease. Only then did the audience learn the depth of Tseebo's dedication to Ezra: Tseebo had volunteered for the Imperial implant so he could look for the file on the Bridgers. His discovery of the Empire's five-year plan and all that other vital data was merely an accident. Tseebo was even more personally committed to helping Ezra than Sabine—or anyone else—had thought.
Ezra's absolution of Tseebo represented maturity, wisdom, and light, but the episode was not all happiness and friendship. The Inquisitor and his fixation on apprehending the Jedi cast a dark pall over the rebels' mission. Every time we have seen the Inquisitor, he has been the picture of evil itself. His cold, calculating demeanor was enhanced in this episode by several Vader-esque behaviors and elements, from the way he strode down the catwalk of the Star Destroyer bridge (earning nervous glances from crew members) to the way that dark choral music played while he watched the Ghost escape into hyperspace. In yet another nod to Darth Vader and his rebel hunts, the stormtrooper commander who accompanied the Inquisitor wore an orange shoulder pauldron and carried a boxy datapad just like the commander on Tatooine.
As always, the Inquisitor was haughty and dismissive in facing off against the rebels. He barely blinked as he used his lightsaber to slice a creature out of the air. Epic battle music seemed to fill the cavernous asteroid hangar as Kanan and the Inquisitor dueled across the debris-strewn hangar floor. Kanan struggled mightily, while the Inquisitor relished the fight. The Pau'an's eyes filled with glee and he smiled a fierce and toothy grin—he was enjoying what he believed would be his last fight with this meddlesome Jedi.
The Inquisitor was so engrossed in the specter of his imminent victory that he failed to apprehend Ezra's potential for instinctive, protective Force use. The appearance of the massive, angry fyrnock threw the Inquisitor off his game. He seemed surprised when he threw his lightsaber at it and the blade merely bounced off the creature's thick skin. He got angry and spun his lightsaber threateningly at the creature, forcing it to back away. One got the sense that the Inquisitor was incredulous at having to expend so much energy fighting a mindless animal. In addition to being infuriated that he couldn't easily beat the creature, he was also mad that it waylaid him, preventing him from pursuing the Jedi and capturing Ezra. As Kanan and Ezra made their escape in the Phantom, the Inquisitor muttered grimly to himself, "My master will not be pleased," in another reminder of the grand mission he was carrying out for Lord Vader.
"Gathering Forces" terrifically advanced Ezra's transformation from selfish street urchin to emotionally aware Jedi apprentice, and its last scene was a welcome coda to his fears, anxieties, and struggles. Ezra had retreated to the gun turret, with its expansive view of endless space, when Sabine arrived with a birthday gift: an image of his parents, courtesy of the cleaned-up holodisk from his house. Looking at that image, Ezra became an innocent kid again. Before he could stop himself for the sake of saving face in front of Sabine, Ezra was calling out for his parents at the mere sight of them. Sabine was just happy that she could give Ezra this gift—a bright spot on a day that was usually grim. It was a touching gesture, and Ezra appeared to be at peace as while staring up at the image. As the camera pulled back out of the Ghost, Ezra reached up to touch the hologram, as if trying to reconnect with a life he could never get back.
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