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TFN Rebels Review: "Rebel Resolve"

Posted by Eric on February 24, 2015 at 11:00 AM CST

Star Wars Rebels Season 1 Episode 12: "Rebel Resolve"

Insurrections are never easy, especially for those in leadership roles. The strain that leadership is placing on Hera has never been more apparent than it was in "Rebel Resolve," the penultimate episode of Star Wars Rebels' first season. Torn between the demands of her in-the-know contact and the loyalties of her friends and team members, Hera eventually followed the latter, in a decision that could be setting up a major confrontation in the season finale. But Hera's struggle was mostly in the background. The foreground action in "Rebel Resolve" centered on Ezra, whose growing determination, improving Force abilities, and fierce loyalty to Kanan seemed to place him on a heroic but dangerous path.

Ezra continued his remarkable growth in "Rebel Resolve" by taking matters into his own hands to save Kanan. As the story began, the rest of the team doubted that Kanan was alive, but Ezra knew otherwise. He could feel Kanan through the Force. Ezra's ability to tap into the Force has become so commonplace in barely a dozen episodes that the ease with which he does it—and does it successfully—is now almost commonplace. In this episode, Ezra trusted his instincts despite the team's doubts and never wavered from his instinctual feeling that Kanan was alive. Later, confronting first Vizago and then Hera, Ezra demonstrated his independence and self-confidence in the face of both intimidating demands (Vizago) and withering scorn (Hera). Ezra still had flashes of self-doubt, but it is clear that he's growing surer of his ability to act alone with every episode.

What drove Ezra to take matters into his own hands? Incredulity, disappointment, and loyalty. Ezra was first incredulous that Hera would turn her back on Kanan, disappointed that she wouldn't change her mind, and loyal to Kanan throughout. He undertook his side mission because he didn't see the difference between their current predicament and the other tough scrapes from which they'd escaped. Importantly, this reflected his ignorance; he didn't recognize how much danger he was putting the crew in by pursuing Kanan. Only Hera knew that.

Because Ezra wasn't privy to Fulcrum's instructions, he was shocked at Hera's use of the word "soldier" to describe Kanan. "Soldier?" He responded incredulously. "He's our friend." Taylor Gray's spot-on acting perfectly conveyed Ezra's combined disbelief and despair: he couldn't even process Hera's unexpected demeanor in assessing Kanan's fate. He was shocked that she could so casually disregard Kanan with a detached, clinical term like "soldier." It was almost as if he wanted to know what had gotten into her.

Spurred on by both his need to rescue his father figure and his disillusionment with Hera's leadership, Ezra risked it all by making a deal with an unsavory character, the smuggler Vizago. Taking this risk showed both how desperate Ezra was and how confident he was in his ability to keep things in check. The animators portrayed him as a stoic, no-nonsense negotiator throughout the initial confrontation with Vizago. He believed he understood what he was getting himself into by offering Vizago a favor from a Jedi.

That brings us to the big reveal. When Ezra declared, against Sabine and Zeb's strong urging, that Kanan was a Jedi, there was a tense moment filled with fear, doubt, surprise, and confusion. I really thought Vizago would be impressed. But then we saw the smuggler laugh derisively, and I remembered the state of the galaxy and the Jedi's place within it. The reputation of the Jedi was such that Vizago couldn't fathom the idea that a ruffian like Kanan was a member of that legendary order. Smuggler or not, he at least knew something of the Jedi and their almost God-like abilities and discipline. His dismissal of Ezra's brave admission reinforced how few people in fringe systems like Lothal had ever met a Jedi. As Tarkin himself suggested in "Call to Action," Jedi Knights were mortal and fallible just like you or I. They could be (and were almost all) killed. They were not gods.

Nevertheless, Vizago was so unfamiliar with the messy, imperfect reality of what Jedi were that it took a bold demonstration from Ezra to convince him. Here, too, we saw the lengths to which Ezra was willing to go to save Kanan. He got really angry at Vizago and felt he needed to prove himself. Zeb and Sabine cautioned him not to do anything unwise, and perhaps he should have listened to them. After all, they knew types like Vizago better than Ezra did, and they were worried in dealing with Vizago he would sell his soul. But Ezra was undeterred. In lifting the crate above the smuggler's head, he demonstrated to the audience in no uncertain terms that he wasn't messing around anymore. I found this scene very telling: Ezra ignored his better judgment because of how much he cared about Kanan.

This touching but also worrisome gesture could have profound implications for the future of Star Wars Rebels. Every Star Wars fan knows that these dark times are particularly dark for Jedi survivors. The novel A New Dawn showed Kanan burying his Force abilities deeply, not just because he was so rusty with them but because he knew the risks of using them. For Jedi under the Empire, discovery meant death. Crucially, we haven't seen Ezra demonstrate that he truly recognizes this peril.

There have only been a few fleeting moments where Kanan has alluded to the need to stay hidden. I recall him stopping Ezra from grabbing his lightsaber when the Imperials roughed up patrons in the team's favorite cantina, and I also remember him expressing fear that Ezra would ignite his lightsaber during the shootout with Azmorigan. (Ezra then revealed that the weapon had a blaster.) Other than that, when has Ezra shown serious restraint when lives were on the line? It's a question that leads to a disturbing line of thought, given how likely it is that the Ghost crew will face more frequent and more dire peril in Rebels' second season.

Sooner or later, I suspect that Ezra will screw up badly in this regard. I wouldn't be surprised if the screw-up resulted from Ezra paying off his debt to Vizago. After all, does anyone think that the favor Vizago will ultimately call in will be either morally or physically safe?

I have sort of rapped Ezra on the knuckles here, but that's nothing compared to how Hera reacted when she discovered what he had done. She was positively furious that Ezra would ignore her instructions and jeopardize the team's safety by subordinating himself to a criminal. Hera was interesting in this episode. She was essentially Ezra, Zeb, Sabine, and Chopper's "opponent" for the crucial early stages of the plan. We haven't really seen the team divided like this before. But of course, Hera had a good reason to wall herself off from the pleas of her fellow crew members and firmly oppose an attempted rescue of Kanan.

It's important to remember here how conflicted Hera was about shutting down rescue plans. She didn't like what she had to do, but she knew she had to do it. She had talked to Fulcrum, and Fulcrum knew so much more than she did. She could only hope to keep things together with her remaining team members, in the hope that whatever Fulcrum needed from her was still feasible.

So powerful was Fulcrum's influence over Hera that the hooded figure convinced her to abandon Kanan in the service of a larger mission. Kanan was by all accounts her closest friend—and deep down, somewhere, faintly, maybe more. They had worked together longer than any of the other Ghost crew members. Yet Fulcrum had no time for sentiment. The mysterious rebel scolded Hera for caring too much about Kanan and delivered her cold assessment that the Jedi had to be sacrificed. In telling Hera what the Twi'lek didn't want to hear, Fulcrum was also reminding us of the challenges facing rebel cell leaders who organized resistance against the Empire. Winning the larger war sometimes meant abandoning the smaller battles.

In this context, it's also important to consider Hera's view of Ezra. She wasn't just annoyed at him for disobeying her. She was frustrated because she understood why he had done so. I'm not just talking about his loyalty to Kanan; I'm talking about his lack of awareness of the big picture. For security reasons, Hera didn't share nonessential information with her team. We've seen previously how angry this made Sabine. Hera didn't exactly have a huge picture herself, especially compared to Fulcrum, but simply by talking to Fulcrum she knew more than the others. Ezra, lacking the caution born of higher-level talks with rebel contacts, felt comfortable treating the rescue of Kanan like any other mission. Sabine and Zeb joined him because they, too, didn't have the bigger picture to consider. Hera's interactions with Fulcrum gave her a unique reason to be cautious.

On top of all of that, Hera's frustration with Ezra was also based on Fulcrum's prioritization of the young boy's safety. Fulcrum stressed the importance of protecting Ezra several times in their brief conversation. Hera was told that it was necessary to abandon Kanan "to protect your unit, to protect Ezra..." Surely Fulcrum recognized Ezra's special importance as a Force-sensitive and prized his survival, whether as a practical or a symbolic asset. Meanwhile, Ezra could not know that Fulcrum saw him this way, nor could he know that the stakes were this high. When Hera failed to stop him from sticking his neck out for Kanan, she knew that she had disappointed Fulcrum.

Hera's contact had given her a broader perspective, but she couldn't convey that to Ezra without jeopardizing one of the most important elements of a resistance movement: compartmentalization. The last time this was touched on in any significant way was "Out of Darkness," the episode in which Sabine bristled at Hera's secrecy. For security reasons, Hera kept information close to her chest, and while this annoyed her fellow rebels, she knew it might someday make the difference between survival and capture—life and death.

In "Rebel Resolve," two scenes hinted at the benefits of this compartmentalization. First, Tarkin wondered aloud if Kanan's resistance to torture really meant that he didn't know anything valuable—a strong possibility, given Hera's secrecy. Then, as the rest of Ghost crew expressed doubt that Kanan would give anything away even under torture, Hera mumbled to herself sadly, "He doesn't know anything." She saw then the brutal pragmatism of keeping Kanan in the dark about her plans. Compartmentalization strained relationships, she knew, but it was the only way she and her friends could survive exactly the situation in which they now found themselves. Hera clearly didn't enjoy lying and misleading, but she was also determined enough to accomplish big things that she understood the necessity of doing so.

"Rebel Resolve" gave a spotlight to a character who hasn't had a starring role in a while: Chopper. From the very first scene, it was clear that Chopper was invested in rescuing Kanan even at the risk of his own deactivation. As the rest of the team bailed out of the AT-PT they had hijacked, Chopper remained plugged into the walker's data port, determined to grab intel on Kanan's whereabouts. Zeb had to physically extract him because he stubbornly stayed behind. It was a great show of dedication from a character who has made a show of dispassionate, begrudging, even frustrated teamwork.

The next key Chopper scene was when he went looking for Ezra to commiserate about Kanan's absence. Never before has he seemed more like a mournful pet looking for his lost owner. He practically nuzzled up to Ezra to express his sadness. This caring side of Chopper, one we don't often see, reinforced his status as a member of the team and proved that, when the going got tough, Chopper knew who his friends were and understood how much they mattered to him.

It was fitting that Chopper was the key to Ezra's intel-gathering plan, because it allowed him to once again show off his own skill set. The Imperials thought all droids were the same, and Chopper was determined to take advantage of this foible to save his friend. He bravely took on the risks of infiltrating and escaping from an Imperial cruiser because he genuinely cared about Kanan. In his escape, Chopper anthropomorphically reveled in his heroic posture, warbling "Buh-buh-buh-buh buh buhhhhh" as he blasted toward the Ghost and then burbling out "Awooooooga" as the freighter caught up with him for the retrieval.

As if to remind us that he was still, well, himself, Chopper shoved the Ghost's newest droid resident off the ship as it was flying over Lothal, ensuring his primary as the team's astromech miracle-worker. The Imperial droid helping Zeb had led me to think that they might keep him around for another episode, but that only meant that I'd forgotten Chopper's pathological jealousy. Luckily, he didn't kill the other droid; in a quick cutaway to Lothal's surface—the second time the series has shown us a brief glimpse at the natural world below our heroes—the now-free courier unit was seen meeting a curious pair of Loth-cats.

The only part of this episode that I felt was off was the series of cutaways to the Imperials torturing Kanan. After such a strong finish to "Call to Action," with Tarkin boldly sacrificing the entire planet's long-range communications just to kneecap the Bridger transmission, I was expecting a more intense, menacing Imperial specter to fall over our heroes—especially Kanan—in "Rebel Resolve." Instead, aside from a mention of the Imperials shutting down their entire data network at the beginning, this episode stuck to a handful of textbook torture scenes with bland dialog. Tarkin had his homage to A New Hope ("now we will discover..."), and we saw Kallus foolishly believe that he could break Kanan with traditional interrogation methods, but other than that, I found nothing interesting in the Imperial scenes.

The only noteworthy Imperial moment was when the Inquisitor confidently declared, "Pain can break anyone." I really enjoyed this line, because it fit one of the core themes of the Star Wars saga: the Sith ethos blinded them and their acolytes to the intensely nourishing power of love. Kanan resisted the Inquisitor's mind probe and the subsequent electrocution routine because he called on the Force to bolster him—and in doing so, channeled his feelings of love and friendship. Kanan didn't want to let down his friends. He didn't want to let down Hera, his leader, who trusted him. He didn't want to let down Ezra, his apprentice, who idolized him. Tarkin, Kallus, and the Inquisitor all seemed to either miss or ignore this essential truth. Tarkin noted that Kanan's willpower reminded him of the "Jedi of old," but he gave no indication that his experience fighting alongside the Jedi had taught him about whence their resolve originated.

"Rebel Resolve" was as strong an episode as Kanan's resolve itself. Hera ultimately conceded that Ezra had done an admirable thing by disobeying her orders. "I'm proud of you," she told him. "You stepped up and took the lead. Kanan has taught you well." She recognized what Kanan had imparted to Ezra, but it took Ezra to remind her that part of his drive came from her. What was great about "Rebel Resolve" was how Hera's fierce spirit had rubbed off on Ezra and led him to disobey her, just as she, at the end of the episode, seemed ready to disobey Fulcrum.

Of course, it won't be easy to rescue Kanan. In the final moments of the episode, we learned that Tarkin was taking him to Mustafar—"where Jedi go to die," as Hera put it, quoting Kanan. I won't speculate on what I think might happen in the Season 1 finale—it involves the likely identity of Fulcrum and a possible reunion between two major characters. Suffice it to say, though, that with the rebels headed to Mustafar, things are really heating up. As we approach the final episode of a strong first season of Star Wars Rebels, you've got to lava where things stand.


You can find all of my Rebels episode reviews on TFN's review index page.

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