Rebels Revisited: For Mandalore – The Escalation of Drama and Subversion of Expectations

rr-sabinesaber-mandalore

Full disclosure: I had part of the idea for this article in mind after having seen the first of this duology at Star Wars Celebration Orlando in the spring. My expectations for the second episode, then, were a bit colored by having to wait six months for the next bit of the story to finally be revealed. A cruel, cruel man is Dave Filoni, giving Celebration attendees the first of a two-parter as a special sneak preview and leaving us with one of the cruelest cliffhangers in any Star Wars media that I have personally consumed.

There will, of course, be many, many spoilers for both episodes of the “Heroes of Mandalore” two-parter coming up ahead. Only proceed if you’ve already watched the episodes for yourself, it’s well worth the events hitting you fresh.

Star Wars Rebels has always been a very serialized show, with heavy continuity and character development from episode to episode and season to season drawing the viewer ever deeper into the stories of the main cast. This duology serves as a climax, of sorts, for Sabine’s story. While she’s guaranteed to return throughout the remaining season as a member of the ensemble, this is the climax of the arc that’s been building since the show’s first season, when we first glimpsed this extremely talented, yet highly unorthodox, Mandalorian girl.

Sabine path back to Mandalore to face her past began toward the end of last season, but this arc takes it to a larger level than just her facing her family. We finally see what happened that drove Sabine to flee Mandalore, and left her with such a vehement hatred of the Empire and mistrust of authority in general. And in that, Rebels rises to the highest peaks of drama that have yet been reached in the show.

And then sweeps them away less than three minutes later on the back end of the cliffhanger.

It’s an unfortunate effect of Rebels as a whole. With the tone and style that they have taken on as a show, the natural pull of the characters’ stories toward more dramatic events leaves a lot of untapped potential on the table. When the drama they attempt to convey goes as far as it seems like it should, it only makes the other flaws in the writing stand out all the more.

Part of this will obviously be colored by my own experience with the episodes, I fully acknowledge that. With the climax of the first episode being what it is, with the apparent deaths of Sabine’s mother and brother brought on by a weapon built by Sabine herself, I was left to stew on that particular plot twist all summer. How fantastically dark and twisted is that climax, with Sabine on her knees in the sand, knowing that everything she was most afraid of has finally happened? If events stood as they were given at that climax, it would be one of the darkest endings in all of Star Wars, let alone in the animated canon.

sabine-ursadead

Which, I suppose, is exactly why it could never have stood as it was. Rebels is a kids’ show. A show that sometimes gets very dramatic and heavy (remember, Ezra’s parents are still dead), but still a kids’ show. And going as far as Sabine being responsible for half of her immediate family being horribly roasted to death inside of their own armor would be a mite too far. The broad comedy of Ezra’s antics with the jetpack and the lighthearted banter of the dialogue feels more tonally jarring than it’s really meant to be; those things are where the show’s tone rests at its median, the same tone it’s had since the pilot.

But the show manages to throw in a low-key twist of its own right at the very end of the second episode, where Sabine does not rise to the occasion and take up leadership of Mandalore. The foreshadowing and hinting, even within these two episodes themselves, both seem to point that direction. Yet in the end, she hands the darksaber off to someone more qualified and steps away. In this sort of story arc, where the main character traditionally triumphs at the climax and is rewarded with glory and power at the end, Sabine’s story ends differently. Someone like Sabine, who is acknowledged as exceptional even within the story itself by just about everyone she comes into contact with, does not typically hand what seems like her destiny over to someone else.

Dare I say it, but it’s far more a Jedi’s sort of decision than a Mandalorian’s.

Sabine’s final conquering of her personal demons, the destruction of the superweapon she created and her passing the torch off to Bo-Katan, mirrors another character’s climactic actions at the end of their personal arc: Luke Skywalker’s. Almost to the point where they feel a little on-the-nose. Tiber Saxon mocks her and references the Emperor while torturing her with lightning from the machine, then after the tables have turned Sabine opts not to strike him down but to “throw” her weapon away by destroying it. She rises above her natural inclination to seek vengeance for the wrongs done to her, all the years of pent-up anger, and leaves Saxon to his fate. Cruel mercy, perhaps, but still mercy.

Obviously, Rebels has more in store for Sabine Wren. The show itself is not done yet, and there is still plenty more that could be done for and with Sabine before the end. Her story might continue past the series finale with her returning to Mandalore in the future or we could just leave it here, not knowing what else might happen to her home until the inevitable next story about Mandalore comes along. But this particular arc has been brought to a rousing, and mostly satisfying conclusion. Here’s hoping that trend only improves from here on out.

7 comments

  1. DilDev says:

    That Jedi motivation seems to have been built into this arc of Sabine’s since the beginning, starting at least as far back as the Imperial Super Commandos episode when Rau gains respect for Sabine still following a code of honor, even if its one that’s more Jedi than Mandalorian, and then the thread seems to continue on through all the Sabine episodes.

    The comparison to Luke Skywalker, which I totally missed until now, seems very apt.

    Great article!

    • Thanks so much!

      When Saxon referred to the Emperor, it really stuck out to me. Obviously, in context, he’s talking about Imperial dogma and the sort of heavy-handed enforcement of Imperial rule that Saxon has seen work across Imperial principalities. But out of context, it slips a bit of a clue in there as to the overall symbolism of the scene.

      Especially poignant for me is that Sabine’s first instinct, like Luke’s, is to just hack Saxon to death, and it’s Bo-Katan, of all people, who talks her down. Saxon’s death is entirely justifiable, he’s a cruel, sadistic menace to all of Mandalore, yet Bo-Katan, who until now we knew as the more martial sister of Satine and a former member of Death Watch, tells Sabine not to stain her hands with his blood.

      From Bo-Katan’s perspective, it’s simple honor-based logic. Saxon is filth, he’s a dishonorable maverick who collaborated with the Empire and no longer even wears traditional beskar armor. He’s simply not worthy of death at Sabine’s hands, she is better than he is.

      But from Sabine’s perspective, she’s rising above her own first instincts. By destroying the Duchess and leaving Saxon behind without killing him, she’s going back to the lesson that Kanan tried to teach her last season in “Trials of the Darksaber”: that she can’t be afraid to face herself. She’s reconciled to her family in the first episode, and in the second she reconciled to herself. Her story is over. Now she can turn her attention back to the Rebellion and fighting the bigger fight against the Empire.

      • chriswerms says:

        I think a Jedi-esque ending for Sabine is appropriate. She’s trained with Jedi, lived with Jedi, and even her training has Jedi overtones. Most notably, when she uses her Mando lightwhip-thing to grab the Darksaber, sort of like a Force pull. Great analysis, and I think this is a good comparison.

  2. Stephen says:

    I only had a day between watching the two parts, but I also felt that it was a bit of a cop out to have Sabine’s mother magically survive. I get why with a show like this, but I feel that Rebels could benefit from more consequences in general.

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      I felt the same way for a moment, but she did yell “get out of there!” or whatever it was—for people as well-trained (and trusting of Sabine) as Ursa and Tristan I can easily believe they’d have bolted without any further questions. Besides which, I’m in complete agreement with Ben that killing half of her family just as she gets them back would have been too much.

  3. Juan says:

    I’m really not sure about what the writers’ intentions regarding Sabine are. As far as I’ve seen they are letting her have her cake and eat it too where matters of Mandalorian honour and death to the enemy are concerned. She won’t bat an eye at killing lowly enemy troops left and right, be them Imperial or Mandalorian, but gets torn and fails when having to deal death to important Mando people in manners and matters pertaining to her Mandalorian heritage that, if she was depicted consistently, she would do without a hesitation.

    Instead, it’s her mother who kills for her in the family reunion episode, or Bo-Katan who lets her justify a slightly more indirect killing in blood in a very hypocritical way. Luke Skywalker, in this situation, would have tried to save Saxon.

    I know this is at heart a kiddie show but precisely because of that I find it playing too fast and loose with violence, consequences, and consistency.

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      I sort of agree with you where Gar is concerned (though from a characterization standpoint that was an important precursor to her conflict over killing Tiber) but in this case it’s not about killing in and of itself, it’s about the Duchess being “the weapon of a coward”. Not being from a warrior society myself I might say that murder is murder, but for Mandos I think it’s very plausible that this would be not just dishonorable but bordering on sacrilege.

%d bloggers like this: