Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Episode 5: "Out of Darkness"
"Out of Darkness" was a fittingly titled episode. It brought the series out of the trouble spot of "Breaking Ranks," the last episode, which I thought tried to do too much too quickly. By contrast, "Out of Darkness" tied each of its story elements together very nicely. It devoted most of its time to Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren, two women with very different perspectives on their work, and it suggested just enough about each of them to let the viewer form his or her own opinion of their motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and thought processes. The episode threw Hera and Sabine into a well-thought-out challenge (this was no mere two-dimensional plot stuffing), gave the challenge a unique setting, and included the right balance of humor and grit. Most importantly, "Out of Darkness" set up a future expansion of the rebellion storyline and hinted at how Hera and Sabine would each approach that "first step into a larger world."
In this episode, Hera and Sabine, two of the best gunslingers on the Ghost crew, got the team-up they deserved. Their combat skills were formidable, and their back-to-back fighting style showed that, with everything on the line, they truly trusted each other. The animators brilliantly conveyed how the two women acted in sync, the result of fighting alongside each other on countless missions. Even while running, they hit home with most of their shots, demonstrating impressive marksmanship and discipline. After so many episodes focusing on Ezra, it was nice to explore the dynamic between the crew's two women for a change.
What made this episode really interesting was that it didn't just show us how good a fighting pair Hera and Sabine were. It was about much more than that. Sabine may have trusted Hera with her back in a shootout—and vice-versa—but the younger woman had many questions that the Ghost's captain couldn't answer, and this secrecy highlighted a fascinating tension running through the crew. Early on, we saw that Sabine was very put off by Hera's reticence to elaborate on the source of the team's intel. Whoever this "Fulcrum" was, Hera wouldn't tell her crew any more than they absolutely needed to know. Demonstrating the brashness that inevitably results from a life as a loner and the persistence that comes from feeling left out, Sabine demanded to know more about the crew's operations. I was thrilled that the series was introducing this concept of trust issues and I enjoyed the very human drama of a crew member struggling to adapt to a team where she is kept out of the loop.
Hera's side of this relationship was just as fraught with self-doubt and nervousness as Sabine's. She was responsible for the Ghost crew's lives. As much as any one of them might say that they understood the risks and took responsibility for themselves, it was Hera's job to organize and execute their ops. It would have been impossible for someone in her position not to begin shouldering weight of their wellbeing. From that vantage point, Sabine's persistent inquiries about their intel threatened the harmony of the team. She couldn't, for example, justify telling Sabine everything while keeping Zeb in the dark. At first, Hera met Sabine's requests for more information with the gentle brushoff. She even acknowledged how skillful she was at saying something while really saying nothing in a conversation with Sabine aboard the Phantom. Immediately after this, however, Sabine cut into a conversation with Fulcrum, leaving Hera feeling most unhappy. This was not just a breach of protocol; it was a breach of team ethics and the chain of command.
Given how much Hera must know about where Sabine came from, this disobedience must have struck her as concerning, if not alarming. "An outburst like that is not appreciated," Hera told her. It occurred to me here that Hera was talking to Sabine like her oldest child, someone she still had to police but with whom she could use a blunter tone than she could with Ezra. This was the first episode in which Hera's behavior revealed worries that highlighted her loneliness as the team's strategist. She was clearly worried about Sabine's fierce independence, because if left unchecked, it could compromise the crew's operations. Shortly after admonishing Sabine over her interruption, Hera was even blunter, saying she didn't like Sabine's "attitude." One could see the strains in this relationship emerging over the fault line of need-to-know information.
It was only once Hera and Sabine arrived on the Fort Anaxes asteroid base to retrieve Fulcrum's supplies that some of Sabine's explanatory backstory emerged to justify her concerns. Back on the Ghost, she had compared their rebel operation to the Imperial academy on Mandalore, where she had been discouraged from asking questions, leading to dismal results. Kanan gave her the brush-off, and for the first time, Sabine just blew up at him. At Fort Anaxes, Sabine's worries became clearer: She was concerned that Hera's rebels might be the same type of people as the Imperials, just with a different coat of paint. This is a common concern from mercenaries and smugglers who work with the rebels in the Star Wars universe. Han Solo expressed a similar thought, albeit with more fully developed cynicism, in the novel Honor Among Thieves. I really enjoyed seeing this aspect of Sabine's character. Unlike Hera, she wasn't completely loyal to the rebel movement, because its strategies brought back bad memories.
As much as she respected Hera, Sabine understandably had trouble simply trusting the Twi'lek's agenda. She recounted, mostly for the audience's benefit, how she had blindly followed the Empire's orders, and she called this arrangement a "nightmare." It was clear that she wanted to trust Hera—she obviously respected her—but she couldn't just set aside her suspicions and anxieties. This situation piqued my curiosity as nothing on the series had before: What happened to Sabine at the Imperial academy to make her this way? How did her separation from her family—to which she briefly alluded in Spark of Rebellion—play into both her distrust of authority and her experience at the academy?
Sabine is one of the more fascinating characters on Star Wars Rebels because she bridges the divide between the experienced leaders Hera and Kanan and often unfocused, clearly subordinate recruits Ezra and Zeb. Like the two young characters, she has a lot of questions about why the Ghost flies where it does and how their missions come together. But like Hera and Kanan, she displays a remarkable calm under pressure in most of their encounters. Even with everything Zeb has been through, it seems like Sabine has done more reflecting on her encounters with the Empire; she seems more deeply and consistently troubled by its rise and its aggression than does the Lasat. Sabine is at once serious and anxious, focused on getting the job done and curious about the details of the job that are kept from her.
When Sabine and Hera found themselves stranded at the base with a darkening sky and an even darker predator, the Mandalorian saved them by improvising with the skill set she knew best: explosives. It was important for the series to develop the fact that Sabine's proficiency with demolitions equipment was more than a simplistic fascination with explosions. Sabine had studied the composition and yield of different kinds of explosives, memorizing their different applications like a cook would memorize spices and seasonings. She didn't just like to blow things up because the explosions looked pretty (although she did enjoy that aspect). It was about more than that. For Sabine, demolitions was an art, or perhaps more accurately, a science.
"Out of Darkness" might have revealed more about Sabine than anyone else, but it also prominently featured Hera's strengths and concerns, giving us a glimpse into the mind of a leader. As the episode began, Hera was calm under pressure while facing off against pursuing TIE fighters. She proved herself to be an excellent pilot, cocky but skilled. Further highlighting the parallels between her and Han Solo, the writers had Hera toss out a line that was classic Han: "I know my ship." When she scraped the underside of the Phantom, Kanan ribbed her for it, but his mock surprise only underscored how much respect he had for her piloting ability. Indeed, Hera's mastery of her ship during the escape from Fort Anaxes clearly impressed Kanan, who regarded her with something like attraction as she smoothly took the controls from him and guided them away.
But however calm, confident, and steady Hera may have been as a pilot, she was less sure of herself when it came to navigating relationships and power dynamics among the crew. While the team had leaders and was not truly democratic, we've seen Hera try to seek the group's input on several occasions, suggesting that she thinks it's helpful to make everyone feel included whenever possible. When it came to divulging information, however, this principle went out the window. Hera considered it more important to protect sources and preserve deniability than to make Sabine, Zeb, and Ezra feel like they were on equal footing with Kanan and her. For such an empathetic person who connected so naturally to her crew, it must have troubled Hera to have to fall back on phrases like need-to-know. She asked Sabine to have faith in her, but she must have known how hard it would be for the younger woman to do that after everything she had been through.
It is incredibly exciting to see the big picture of the rebellion begin to resolve, bit by bit, in Star Wars Rebels. In "Out of Darkness," we learned that the Ghost crew was getting intel from an outside source and struggling to deal with its occasional inaccuracies. The comment "It's getting harder to anticipate the Empire's moves" shed light on how the crew's fight was going: sporadic victories, but uneven results. In this kind of environment, it was easy to understand Sabine's anxiety. Hera, meanwhile, faced the burden of larger decisions than Sabine was aware of. It was her responsibility to negotiate between her crew and the sympathetic operatives playing on a much larger scale. "We need as many allies as we can get," Hera told Sabine on the Phantom. I look forward to seeing how the introduction of these allies changes the dynamic of the Ghost family—and of the series itself.
I criticized "Breaking Ranks" for trying to stuff too much into one story. "Out of Darkness" showed how this challenge should have been handled. The focus was clearly on Sabine and Hera, and how Hera's leadership challenges complicated Sabine's independent streak. But mixed in with these themes were other elements that made the episode more than a psychological examination of two characters. The grim setting of the main storyline, on a remote base that was vulnerable to dark spots from hovering asteroids, gave Hera and Sabine a worthy and unique challenge. The creatures that only came out under cover of darkness—believe it or not, they're actually called fyrnocks—represented a fresh take on the cliché of the alien predator, and the way the rock-filled sky presented its own time-sensitive threat added an unexpected layer to Sabine and Hera's predicament. The Republic gunship in the background was more than a Clone Wars Easter egg: its rusting, claw-marked appearance was a sign of how dangerously desolate Fort Anaxes had become. On a similar note—no pun intended—the music on the asteroid base perfectly accentuated the eerie quality of darkness as it settled over the remote location.
I enjoyed seeing the other Ghost crewmembers at work and at rest. Zeb and Ezra's friendship appeared to be growing, judging by their mostly harmonious teamwork while fixing the Phantom, the way they were jointly humble and conciliatory in Hera's presence, and the way they once again bonded over getting into trouble because of Chopper. Although Ezra wasn't the focus of the episode, he still got in a good moment at the end, when he tried to play the hero and get Sabine's back during the escape. Naturally, the attempt ended with him getting cocky and nearly getting himself killed. Sabine had to save him, and she kind of shook her head at his foolishness. (Equally naturally, Zeb made fun of Ezra for his bravado as soon as he was safely back aboard the Ghost.) "Thanks for saving me back there," Ezra said after they were away. "Don't read too much into it, kid," Sabine shot back.
If Hera borrowed Han Solo's piloting expertise and cocky demeanor, Sabine borrowed his skepticism about the rebellion's organization and its prospects for success. At one point in the episode, Sabine momentarily panicked when she saw how many of the fyrnocks were menacing them. Hera had to remind her to stay steady and "follow the plan." This was their relationship in microcosm: Sabine's ambivalence about the Ghost's missions and Hera's attempts to keep her centered. The young Mandalorian struggled to see the bigger picture in their efforts, and this presented Hera with the same challenge that Leia faced with Han: how to motivate and instill trust in people to whom you can't reveal the full story.
This early in Star Wars Rebels, with so many story threads beginning to take root and unfold, there is a lot of potential for the series to meaningfully expand on what we know of the early rebellion. As Sabine's discomfort suggests, the situation will remain complicated. But as Hera pointed out at the end of the episode, the Ghost crew "won't always be fighting this battle alone." The fact that there are other characters and storylines out there, waiting to draw in our heroes and interact with their strengths and flaws, promises a rich universe of stories yet to come.
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