Rebels Revisited: Alliances Make For Strange Bedfellows

wtfkallus

Jay: This two-part episode really did a great job highlighting the Mothma-Saw conflict and presenting their opposing viewpoints in the clearest way, while simultaneously developing Saw in a way that didn’t make him look like a two-dimensional cartoon character (lol). But this episode’s strengths highlighted the weakness of its handling of Kallus, who has somehow transformed himself. I don’t mean the Hot Kallus thing, that’s mostly funny (and people are allowed to be fans of characters even if they aren’t the purest). What I mean is that Kallus, formerly Fulcrum, formerly ISB Agent Kallus, is now important enough to the Rebellion that he’s present in councils with Mon Mothma and General Dodonna. He, a former genocidal Imperial agent, gets treated better than a fellow Rebel, Saw. He also gets more trust than Jyn, a person who’s been anti-Imperial her whole life, and more trust than Bodhi Rook, another defector who is in fact distrusted by the Rebel high council.

This is problematic, not least from an optics point of view. Saw, Bodhi, and Jyn are mistrusted (POCs and a woman) while Kallus (white male) is implicitly believed. This disparity is a bad look, even though it is obviously not the intent of the writers (indeed, it’s easy to justify the contrast between Bodhi’s treatment and Kallus’s–Kallus’s Fulcrum stint has earned him credibility, and Bodhi is an unknown quantity). But it doesn’t look good, and I think people are noticing the troubling optics there. But leaving that potentially controversial point aside, it’s hard to see why Saw’s extremism makes the Rebel leadership so uncomfortable with him when they’re apparently fine with Kallus.

It’s possible there will be story repercussions for Kallus, and a treatment of his war crimes just hasn’t shown up in the show yet. That’ll satisfy the need for it to be addressed, but it makes me ask — why put it off until later? Kallus was, more than any other character, the main antagonist for the Ghost crew. His defection is a big deal, and the consequences of it and his addition to trusted Rebel staff deserve to be addressed before we suddenly see him as one of the good guys. I have enough faith in the writing team to believe that it will be addressed, but the fact that it hasn’t been addressed yet bothers me.

This is especially the case because I still feel like Kallus’s defection and turn to the light was largely unearned. That’s not to say it came out of nowhere, as the show had been seeding it since season one (Kallus’s reaction to Grint and Aresko’s execution comes to mind). But it’s been inconsistent, not only because he’s the guy that previously bragged about genocide, but because he also frequently lapses back into straight villain territory seemingly whenever it’s convenient. After being horrified by Tarkin, Kallus is enthralled with Vader’s cruelty and efficiency, and even participates in the killing of Maketh Tua for doing exactly what Kallus does a couple seasons later. It’s only after digging into Geonosis and having a comradely moment with Zeb (and subsequent contrast with his relationships with his actual comrades) that Kallus appears to have a change of heart. We’re meant to see Kallus as one of those honorable Imperials of the type often seen in the old Expanded Universe, but come on this is a guy who murdered a colleague for making a joke.

It’s entirely possible the show’s intent is to portray Kallus as a selfish jerk who defects only because it suits him, and portrays the Rebellion as hypocritical and inconsistent — if so, my foot is in my mouth and well done. But otherwise, honestly…while I’ll be glad if the show eventually deals with his history with the Empire, I’ve got to say that this is still one of my biggest complaints and least favorite character/plot arcs in the entire show.

(P.S. don’t take my reaction to less than two minutes of Kallus to mean that I disliked these two episodes, they were among the best the show has produced and I enjoyed everything from Saw/Mothma, Yavin Base, more TIE defenders, and finally seeing a Lambda-class shuttle in this show instead of a Sentinel landing craft. Heck, I’d be absolutely remiss if I didn’t mention I was so happy to see a female stormtrooper in the show at long last, and a death trooper commander voiced by Jennifer Hale no less.)

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Sarah: This was a fantastic set of episodes and it really feels like all the threads of the show are starting to come together into something big. And I’m happy to see Saw Gerrera continue to make appearances in the lead-up to A New Hope because the dynamic of Saw vs. Mothma and the debate on how far it’s acceptable to go when you’re fighting against fascists is a fascinating one. It’s an excellent way to add dimension and depth to a period of time that could’ve easily been quite boring; the question of “what will you become?” is such a defining part of Anakin, Luke, and now Rey’s journeys and I’m glad to see it as a recurring theme in so many other aspects of the GFFA. So far season four has been off to a really solid start and we’re finally seeing the payoffs to storylines that have so far only been hinted at.

However I’m also in agreement with Jay that Kallus stuck out to me in a negative way and unfortunately is representative of the larger issue I have with how Rebels has approached storytelling for the past several years. We are introduced to Kallus as a rather one-note Imperial villain. He hunts our heroes, is an ambitious jerk to his subordinates, and at one point gleefully brags about committing genocide to one of the survivors of said genocide. Then he apparently has an epiphany moment, rethinks his allegiance, turns double agent and then full on defects and is now trusted enough to sit in on top secret planning meetings. A fine character arc…but unfortunately we barely saw any of it.

There’s certainly something to be said about the Rebellion needing to take in Imperial defectors in order to survive; when you’re essentially a guerrilla group you can’t always afford to be picky about who you team up with. So I have no problem in theory with Kallus joining up with the Rebellion and being accepted despite the blood on his hands. What I do have an issue with is how it almost all happened off screen. Yes Rebels is a kids show and yes they have short episodes, but Avatar: The Last Airbender was under similar constraints and still gave Zuko a fully realized defection arc (in less time, even). And The Clone Wars did the same for Asajj Ventress in a handful of episodes as well. For whatever reason, Rebels has had a difficult time committing to meaningful explorations of its characters. The season two finale hinted at Ezra’s susceptibility to the dark side, but then it was wrapped up neatly in the first story of season three. Kanan’s struggle to adjust to blindness also lasted all of an episode. And as mentioned, Kallus spent a season and a half as the Ghost crew’s main antagonist and then suddenly went from staunch loyalist to rebel spy.

For all the talk about how Rebels is a darker show, it rarely wants to commit to actually delving into the implications of a lot of its decisions. I’m not asking for deep existential conversations as Kallus wrestles with himself and his past, but is it too much to ask for a few scenes of Kallus actually struggling with realizing the kind of person he’s become? Or something acknowledging that he’s been chasing this specific group of rebels for some time and working closely with a master tactician like Thrawn? It’s easy for viewers to know that Kallus is sincere, but how does Mothma know to implicitly trust him and his intel? How do the rest of the Rebel leaders know? After all, compare Kallus’s treatment to that of Galen Erso.

It’s certainly possible the show will address this in future episodes and I am fully prepared to eat humble pie if they do. But so far I’m frustrated that Rebels isn’t willing to touch the deeper implications of the relationship they created between Kallus and the Ghost crew. To refer back to Avatar, the Gaang didn’t accept Zuko right away both because of his status and because of their very personal history with him. He had to earn their trust and respect over a period of time. And it made the writing and the character relationships far more dynamic and interesting as a result.

It’s easy to say “oh well perhaps we’ll get a future book or comic series exploring that” but frankly we shouldn’t have to rely on supplementary material. If a character arc cannot stand on its own then it’s a writing failure. I like Rebels, I like Kallus, and I like a good defection and atonement story. I just wish we’d been able to see it.

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David: For someone like me, who really enjoys the complexities of the character of Saw Gerrera (I hesitate to call myself a fan, given that the guy is after all pretty much a madman and a ruthless killer), these episodes were a real treat. Forest Whitaker seemed considerably more comfortable here than he was in “Ghosts of Geonosis”, and it was completely impossible not to see this Saw as a healthier version of the man in Rogue One. His face-to-giant-face with Mon Mothma was worth the price of admission by itself, and Gary Whitta’s dialogue there was flawless, showcasing the contradictions and conflicts inherent in both Mothma and Gerrera, the two sides of the insurgency against the Empire. It’s hard not to root for Saw here because these episodes remind us once again that yes, Gerrera was right: the superweapon that has become his obsession does actually exist, and open war against the Empire is going to end up being inevitable. Sure, he was completely out of his mind, but he tried to warn the galaxy and no one paid attention to him, making us find him a tragic yet sympathetic figure.

The only issue I could find with Saw’s depiction is that he seems less unhinged that he did in “Ghosts of Geonosis”, but I don’t think it detracts from the quality of the episodes. Perhaps Saw was having a particularly good day, sure, or perhaps it’s simply that this time he was being written by one of the people that defined the character for the big screen and thus he rang true. While the Saw in “Geonosis” sometimes felt more like a caricature than a real character, this Saw is the pained, brutal and batshit crazy revolutionary leader we met in Rogue One. That Saw was not a leader of men, but this one is, albeit one that would happily lead his men and women to the death if that helped damage the Empire even a little bit.

And opposite Saw, we find Ezra, the other main character in this two-parter. Other than Hondo, Saw appears to have become Ezra’s most important influence outside of the core Ghost family: if Hondo is the party-going childhood friend that never grew up, Saw is the shady but cool guy from high school that insists on showing you where the local drug lords dump their bodies. We find Ezra obsessed with freeing his homeworld, Lothal, perhaps affected by the events on Mandalore last week, and his obsession finds an echo in Saw’s own obsession with the Death Star. It’s not clear exactly how his experiences with the partisans will affect him next week, but given that this season has been described as more serialized, I’m going to assume that the shadow of Saw’s revelations about how far the Empire is willing to go will hang heavy over him. Now he knows they are at war, that no matter what the Alliance brass thinks, and his fears about Lothal are going to be magnified.

I’d also like to mention the technical side of this episode. Everything worked like a well-oiled machine: the choreography, the animation, the direction, the lighting, even the soundtrack. I don’t think we’ve seen an episode this good looking since “The Wynkathu Job”. And the pacing was brisk and tight: perhaps knowing that this is their last season has made the writing team stop falling into the meandering that has plagued some of the earlier episodes. Not here, though: we move from one scene to the next at full speed, in what for once feels like a real military operation instead of an Enid Blyton adventure. This two-parter shows just how good Rebels can be, and I hope it turns out to have been just an appetizer.

3 comments

  1. chriswerms says:

    As far as the show itself goes, would Rebels lend itself well to handling questions about Kallus for the kids? Maybe: I’m sure the kids see that the villain has become friends with Zeb, risked his life as Fulcrum, and now it makes complete sense that he’s in Alliance High Command. But Sarah does well to point out how Zuko was able to have a much fuller redemption without taking the show off-track. Wonder why a show so comfortable with very heavily implied decapitations would shy away from this?

    But I agree: it is definitely not enough for us. Seems like people went through worse to be met with suspicion, and they got themselves out of the Empire when Kallus was the goal of two rescue ops, at least. Seems like a disproportionate amount of time and energy spent on this guy. Though, I do see why they could suspect Bodhi: he went straight for Saw rather than High Command. He could be seen as a dangerous Partisan, and a very fresh Imperial defector. Wouldn’t trust him, either, despite how much I love him. Seems like a disproportionate amount of time and energy spent on this guy. At this point, for us, at least, it seems that the show has pretty much missed the point where this should have been brought up. Unless handled well, anything moving forward would seem too little, too late, and we’re stuck waiting for a book. A book I’d love, probably, but still, something outside of the show. Which is a huge bummer.

    I did appreciate the nod to Jedha, sending Saw there and setting up the events of Guardians of the Whills. Thjs more methodical Saw was nice to see. I figured it makes sense that he was a bit calmer now, considering he thinks he’s closer to his goal. I imagine that the farther he moves from the Death Star the more unhinged he can be.

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      Good observation re: Saw and the Death Star!

      On a different show I imagine Kallus would be fine—still unsatisfying for adults, maybe, but fine for kids. But it’s hard to skim over what he’s been through and then turn around and wade into the questions Saw brings up.

  2. Eric Brown says:

    Can I ask why folks are thinking that Bodhi is highly untrusted in Rogue One? Cassian doesn’t trust him at first – but Cassian doesn’t trust anyone. Bodhi gets to accompany Jyn into the big meeting with all the alliance big wigs — he’s an unverified source presenting horrific information. Discrediting him is a defense mechanism — I’d rather think that he’s a plant than deal with the fact that there actually is a Death Star?

    Given the general underhandedness and conflict shown in the Rebellion in Rogue One, I didn’t think anything about Bodhi or Jyn’s treatment stood out.

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