Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Episode 9: "Idiot's Array"
Even a series as suffused with mythology and canonical weight as Star Wars Rebels needs to take breaks from the heavy stuff every once in a while. We just finished watching Ezra develop a deeper understanding of himself and his purpose in life, so it was good that this episode, "Idiot's Array," turned that somber dynamic on its head and threw pretty much everyone off balance. This was a phenomenal episode because it didn't take itself too seriously—even as it provided some of the best comedy that Star Wars has had in years. Apparently, all it takes to concoct the perfectly fluffy episode is a bad bet, an exotic animal, and the man Han Solo called a card player, gambler, and scoundrel.
Lando Calrissian's appearance in Rebels is an example of synergy done right. Many have complained that it felt forced, that it was done for the sake of publicity, but I disagree. I think it's completely logical that Lando would be haunting backwater cantinas like the gunship bar on Lothal. As for the serendipity of him picking the Ghost crew's favorite hangout spot—which, by the way, I'm glad the series chose to make a regular location—that's no more coincidental than Han and Chewie being at the Mos Eisley Cantina just when Luke and Ben needed passage off Tatooine. The Force works in mysterious ways, even with non-Force-users.
To me, Lando's appearance actually helped build the show, rather than constrict it. He reminded us that all of the trappings of the galaxy with which we are familiar are orbiting around while the rebels are doing their thing. He's an easy character to bring in, because he has no canon baggage in this time period. And it was just great to hear the magnificently charming Billy Dee Williams again. Even the music seemed to want the crew to recognize that they were meeting an iconic original-trilogy character. As Lando strode up the ramp of the Ghost for the first time, the music assumed a light, airy tone, as if two major segments of the franchise were meeting for the first time.
For fans who want Han Solo's animated pre-Episode IV adventures, Lando's work with the Ghost crew was the next best thing. As soon as he dropped the "no questions asked" Mos Eisley reference, I knew the writers had captured the feel of Lando perfectly. That feel lasted throughout the entire episode, as evidenced by Lando's last conversation with the smuggler Azmorigan. With a blaster to his face, Lando still mouthed off, telling the corpulent criminal, "You don't walk anywhere!"
Lando formed a strategy for dealing with his new rebel friends almost immediately: throw them off their game so they couldn't identify his next move. I loved watching him smooth-talk Hera, respect and praise Chopper (such as when he called him a "hero" for activating the ship's ID scrambler), and compliment Sabine in front of Ezra, even dropping some artistic knowledge. Lando took the predictably delightful umbrage at Hera's "smuggler" label, but he knew what he was doing, and so did the audience.
Just as Baron Administrator Calrissian kissed Leia's hand and called her beautiful while standing directly in front of Han, the younger Lando wasn't shy about showing up men in his interactions with women. He did everything he could to demean Kanan, Zeb, and Ezra in his soft-touch way. One of my favorite running gags was Lando's calm explanations of what words meant, because nothing says "I'm cosmopolitan" like condescension. Whether it was "entrepreneur" with Kanan or "connoisseur" with Ezra, Lando knew exactly how to push other men's buttons—and always in front of women they admired. Both Kanan and Ezra bristled visibly at being taken for idiots.
His scheming aside, the most important thing about Lando's personality in this episode was how he was simultaneous careful about his plan and careless about others. When Azmorigan asked if he had "the goods," Lando replied, "Always," while looking at Hera. It was our only hint that he was planning to temporarily sacrifice her in order to acquire his own goods. There was a certain callousness in this act. It showed the audience that Lando was more concerned with profit than people at this point. Sure, he gave Hera all she ended up needing to effect her own escape, but he put the entire escape on her own ability to rise to the occasion. Again, she was more than capable of doing so, but he seemed to put his faith in her and move on. His stunt could have gotten her killed.
The thing is, though, this didn't feel out of place. It only emphasized the difference a decade makes, because it encouraged us to compare Rebels Lando to Cloud City Lando. By the time he takes over as Baron Administrator, Lando—despite retaining his roguish charm and penchant for smooth-talking—cares a hell of a lot more about other people and the world around him. In fact, I'd argue that this episode alone substantially increased my respect for future Lando. Cloud City may have been a relatively small operation, but it was likely bigger than anything Lando had managed up until that point. To go from casually throwing away Hera to protecting an entire city from the Empire shows remarkable character maturity. In this light, even Lando's decision to betray Han in The Empire Strikes Back can be seen as a reflection of his relatively newfound concern for his citizens. It was ill-advised, to be sure, but can we really call it monstrous?
Even in Rebels, however, Lando seemed to be hinting at his affiliation with the Ghost crew's political ideology. On two separate occasions, Lando used first-person plural language that raised Kanan's suspicions. "What do you mean 'we'?" he asked Lando the first time it happened. Later, after Lando said, "You really should have more faith in our captain," Kanan bristled at Lando including himself in their group. (He likely also felt guilty about not trusting Hera more.) It was enough to make me wonder: Was Lando implying that he was already, or soon intended to be, part of the same resistance movement as these proto-rebels? Was it simply a sly admission of ideological sympathy?
If this was a good and strong episode for Lando, it was an equally good episode for Hera—though it didn't exactly start that way. As the team leader, Hera was responsible for everyone on her ship. That's why Zeb and Kanan's near-dereliction of duty, by gambling off Chopper, made her so angry. She was as responsible for Chopper's wellbeing as she was for Zeb or Kanan's, and she was truly incensed at the idea that they would treat him like the property that everyone else considered him to be. It was her job to keep the team together, and she had failed at that right off the bat. Even in this angry scene, however, there was some levity. After Hera punched Kanan almost halfheartedly, Kanan gave Lando a wry smile. It was clear why: Hera needed to let off residual anger and Kanan knew he screwed up, but both were content to move on after that.
Hera really started to shine in this episode after Lando traded her for his cargo. We've known she was quick on her feet, but rarely have we seen it so starkly. As soon as she realized that she was supposed to play property, she began improvising. She saw an opportunity to disable Azmorigan and she took it. She recognized Lando's escape-pod hint for what it was and she acted on it. She even got a laugh line on her way out, commending her makeshift weapon thusly: "That was a really useful tray."
Back on the Ghost, Hera once again needed to punch someone. This time, it was Lando whose actions had undermined and messed with her, and she was clearly getting tired of it. But Lando's ongoing scheme soon worked to her benefit, although it couldn't have felt like it at the time. When Hera was cut off from the cockpit, Kanan was forced to run the Imperial blockade of Lothal himself. The next few scenes were a reminder of how valuable Hera's ace piloting skills were to the crew of the Ghost. In the subsequent dogfight, beautifully choreographed by the animators to look and feel exactly like the one in A New Hope, Kanan struggled mightily to do what always came naturally to Hera.
"I'm having enough trouble just keeping ahead of these guys," Kanan said at one point. He honestly had no idea what he was doing, and Hera had to direct him from outside the cockpit. This was a good way to remind both Kanan and the audience how complicated Hera's job was. As the pilot, she was often the only one missing from the ground action, but her expertise with getaway-driving was no less important than the rest of the crew's work.
It was at this point, after they had successfully run the blockade, that another one Hera's strengths became clear: Her strategic mind. Hera recognized what Lando was doing: dividing and conquering to distract the crew while he—what? Swindled them? Hera wanted to know what was going on. She took command and reminded him that his success depending on her leading her team as one unit. Later, Hera showed that she had been wise to Lando's games all along when she pointed out matter-of-factly that he'd never had the credits with which to pay them. It was fitting that Hera, who was just as tough as Lando or Han, parted ways with Lando by using his own half-wary, half-jovial line from The Empire Strikes Back: "Not after what you pulled."
The third character who came off looking good in "Idiot's Array" was Chopper. We've long known that the droid had a personality; we saw it again here as he tried to assert himself in the opening sabacc game. But we don't often dwell on how Chopper feels about his place on the crew. When Zeb offered him up as betting leverage and Kanan approved the act, it became clear to Chopper that both men saw him fundamentally as an object. When the chips were (literally) down, Chopper wasn't a crew member to Kanan or Zeb. The Lasat's play ended up being a reckless one, but Chopper had to go along with his subsequent transfer of ownership.
To spite the rest of the crew, Chopper began treating Lando the way he never treated Zeb, Kanan, or the others. He brought him a drink and happily took him on a tour of the Ghost. He activated the ship's ID scrambled at Lando's half-flattery, half-request. It seemed for a while as if Chopper was happy to be working with Lando instead of the rebels. At the end of the episode, however, he made clear his true intentions in a way that reinforced both viewers' and crew members' respect for him.
Chopper, ever underappreciated, took advantage of the shootout at the mine site to snatch Lando's fuel canister, which viewers suddenly remembered the Ghost needed. It was funny to see the brave, stubborn, and diminutive droid slam himself into the canister to move it across the ground and into the ship, all the while electronically struggling with its weight. As a final heroic flourish, Chopper saved Zeb's life by shooting Azmorigan off his feet during the hostage standoff. What a droid!
Ezra didn't have the best time in this episode, but I sure enjoyed watching him go through it. Things started off alright for him: he and Zeb were bantering like true friends, mostly at Chopper's expense. Ezra even liked Lando for the first few minutes. But then Lando started talking to Sabine, and Ezra got jealous. It was a truly hilarious scene. Lando recognized Sabine's artistic influences and commented approvingly and expertly on them. Ezra felt bad, because he couldn't praise Sabine in the same way; he couldn't give her the same level of validation.
Sensing an opportunity to weaken Ezra, Lando mused to Sabine that he was "just a child with no experience of the galaxy," raising Ezra's temper further and giving Zeb a laugh. Lando then defined the word "connoisseur" for Ezra, who brushed off the brilliant condescension just as Kanan had. Ezra talks tough and smart, but, as we see, he has his insecurities. Once Lando was out of earshot, he had to ask Zeb, "Hey, what does that mean?" This is what I meant when I said "Idiot's Array" had fantastic humor. Everything about this scene, right up to Ezra's quiet admission of ignorance, was well-written and expertly paced. It didn't hurt that both Billy Dee Williams and Taylor Gray delivered their lines with wit and perfect comedic timing.
Ezra's actions in the episode carried forward the thread of humor. I loved the brief puffer-pig chase through the Ghost, with Ezra giving Kanan a sheepish grin as pig and boy ran through the cockpit. "What is going on out here?" Kanan asked Ezra, like a parent shouting at the backseat while driving. "It's a, um, puffer--" Ezra began, but an exasperated Kanan cut him off: "I don't want to know." Again, this was a short scene but a very funny one. It proved that the writers, actors, and editors understood how to pace humor. Star Wars is at its best when it blends science-fiction storylines with funny, warm human interactions. It doesn't get much closer to that blend than a wild puffer-pig chase.
But even the chase wasn't the funniest scene in the episode. No, that came shortly after Zeb caught the pig and it inflated in fear. The pig's inflation stranded Ezra and Kanan on one side and Chopper, Lando, Hera, and Sabine on the other. Cut off from his sweetheart and this new interloper, Ezra could only listen as Lando worked his charm on Sabine once again. Eventually, he had had enough. When Lando offered to buy Sabine's artwork and Sabine asked, incredulously, "You'd pay?" Ezra climbed up the swollen pig's side and said vindictively, "Oh, he'll pay." There was a lot to love in "Idiot's Array," but this moment—everything about it, from the physical comedy to the scripted wordplay to the hilariously on-point delivery—was my favorite part of the episode. It was an example of why Ezra is such a great character.
I have one last observation about Ezra. In the final shootout, Ezra revealed his custom lightsaber's second feature: a built-in blaster. It appeared to only fire ion blasts—or at least, that's all it shot in this episode—which helpfully postponed Ezra's first use of a more lethal weapon for a while. It must be said once again: Ezra is a creative young man whose life as a street rat informs his quest to always be prepared.
There are a few miscellaneous things about "Idiot's Array" that didn't fit into the rest of my review, so I'll run through them here. As I said, I loved that the series seemed to be establishing the gunship bar as the crew's regular hangout spot, and I similarly enjoyed seeing Kanan's rapport with Joe the bartender. These relationships and habits add depth to the crew's work on Lothal. I also loved that Rebels canonized the Idiot's Array, a well-known sabacc hand from the Expanded Universe. EU fans are quickly realizing that the creative team on Rebels is well-aware of fan-favorite galactic trappings and is always ready to bring them in if they fit the story.
I really liked the MacGuffin of the puffer pig, not just because it provided great physical comedy but also because it was a quintessentially Star Wars idea. The use of an animal to replace mining equipment is very much in line with some of the biggest themes of the franchise: organic, living ingenuity beating out cold technology. I wouldn't go quite so far as to compare the puffer pig to the Ewoks in that respect, but it certainly provided some of the same contrasts and humor. Light-hearted music played when the curious-looking puffer pig first appeared, reflecting the fact that the pig had defied our expectations of "mining equipment." Memo to Hasbro or some other company: Make a wind-up puffer pig that inflates when touched.
The only thing I really didn't care for in this episode was Azmorigan. He was a boring villain, clearly only there to move the story forward. I understand that he filled a necessary role, which is why I'm not going to harp on how silly he was. But he was without question the weakest part of "Idiot's Array." Thankfully, this was a very, very strong episode otherwise.
I began my review by pointing out that every series needs light, relatively consequence-free stories to fill in the gaps between adventures that move the meta-plot forward. In one sense, however, that diminishes an important takeaway from "Idiot's Array": appreciation. Each of the rebels developed new appreciation for at least one other crew member in this episode. Ezra appreciated Sabine more for her artistic sophistication, Kanan appreciated Hera more for her tremendously difficult job, and everyone appreciated Chopper more for his ingenuity, his commitment to the team, and the revelation that he was "playing Lando the whole time."
As Hera pointed out to Lando, the crew needed to work together to succeed. We saw that in the shootout, with everyone grabbing cover and coordinating their attacks. To work together, the team—which was really more of a family than a hired crew—needed to respect and appreciate each other. Ezra shows the humorous side of this takeaway by insisting to Sabine at the end that he always appreciated her, but there's a broader lesson here: These people are part of something bigger than themselves, and they'll need each other to survive it. Furthermore, "Idiot's Array" showed one hint of how that dynamic could evolve. After all, Lando still owes Hera one, and he did promise Chopper, "We shall meet again." Chopper, once again a part of the Ghost family, burbled, "Whatever." But it's worth asking the question: Will they meet again? How will Lando repay Hera? Will his use of the word "we" ever lead to bigger things for him and our heroes? For now, we can only appreciate the brilliant humor of "Idiot's Array"—and wonder.
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4/22 - Mark Jones
4/22 - Star Wars Celebration III (2005)
4/24 - Claire Davenport
4/26 - Andrew Secombe
4/27 - Rob Coleman
4/29 - Irvin Kershner
4/30 - Star Wars Celebration I (1999)
5/3 - Star Wars Celebration II (2002)