David: What makes a good villain? Is it an easy-to-understand motivation? Is it a certain degree of likability? Is it intelligence, perhaps, or the ability to command respect? Or maybe a personal connection to the heroes? Or is it that hard-to-define but easy-to-recognize factor that we often call coolness? Darth Vader has all of these, and that’s the reason he is one of the best villains in modern culture. His screen time in Star Wars Rebels season two was short but definitely memorable, going from a really strong first appearance where he basically made our heroes run for their lives to one final showing where he (maybe) killed one of the most loved characters in the franchise and left the rest of the crew reeling from the impact. But how have the other Rebels villains lived up to this example? Especially: how good of a villain has Grand Admiral Thrawn been?
When the trailer showing the animated Thrawn was first shown at Star Wars Celebration London, the room went completely wild. There you had what was probably the most popular villain from Legends jumping to the small screen and becoming the main opponent for the season, a successor to the Grand Inquisitor and Darth Vader. There he was, looking at art (omigosh at Sabine’s graffiti) and talking cryptically about the imminent destruction of the Rebellion. But once the initial excitement wore off there was one question hanging in the air: would the series do justice to the Grand Admiral? Timothy Zahn seemed to think so, but how would Thrawn work through the whole season? Was this the same old Thrawn from 1991?
No, he definitely wasn’t the Thrawn we were used to. » Read more..
Ben: The third season of Star Wars Rebels is in the bag and with it a season full of mixed character moments across the entire cast, both heroes, and villains. It’s part of the Rebels episode formula at this point and has been since the first season; each big episode is framed with many smaller episodes that feature just a few characters out of the cast. The smaller episodes allow for a greater focus on the different characters, whether that be in a dramatic sense or a comedic one; we’ve certainly had both over the course of this season.
It’s a variation on a common formula across media, I can find similarities with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with their smaller features focused on specific characters and their adventures between the big team-ups. Rebels typically saves its big ensemble moments for season premieres and finales, serving as bookends so we can get all of the callbacks and references to everything that happened during the season itself. This season’s premiere and finale serve as perhaps the best example out of any two episodes in the show’s run.
Rebels is a strong show when it comes to characterization; even characters who only appear once get lines that inject them with more life than most shows. Now that the show has been running for three seasons, they’ve not only given the main cast a good deal of development, they have also introduced a horde of secondary and supporting characters who, while not being as developed, still have enough color and fun to spice things up. » Read more..
“I’ve done a lot of prolonged lightsaber battles over the years and I think what’s most important about any kind of confrontation is what’s riding on it. What’s the tension going into it? It starts to matter less and less how you swing a sword or how creatively you do it if there’s not a lot riding on it.” – Dave Filoni
Mike: First and foremost, this was an Ezra episode. Like “Twilight of the Apprentice” before it, “Twin Suns” had to take an event of great significance to the larger saga and fashion it into a key step in the development of Star Wars Rebels‘ ongoing story. That being the case, of course we spent most of our time with Ezra, because his state of mind was the point of all this. When Obi-Wan tells Ezra to fuck off back to the Rebellion and Ezra actually listens, that’s such a major character shift as to be almost unbelievable. Ezra’s arc ever since meeting Darth Vader has been all about gaining enough power to defeat the Sith, so for him to willingly trot off into the desert with Maul standing right there shows that his conversation with Obi-Wan ended that delusion of grandeur once and for all—clearly it took being told by “Master Kenobi” himself that his place is with the Rebellion to finally get that through to him (and it’s certainly very interesting for Rebels‘ larger narrative).
And with Ezra out of the way, what does that leave us with? A weak, raving maniac still hung up on a thirty-year-old defeat facing off against a Jedi Master at the height of his powers, currently acting as an instrument for no less than the Will of the Force. Obi-Wan in this moment is Chirrut crossing the beach to the master control switch, and Maul, for all their history, is no more than a blaster bolt whizzing by. Not only should Obi-Wan have been able to take Maul apart logically speaking, he has the weight of the entire narrative—I’m sorry, I mean the Force—on his side. Compared to that, this isn’t an event of great significance, it’s a brief annoyance that just so happens to be cool to watch. And for the show to present it as precisely that is, I think, a triumph of perspective over fanservice.
Obi-Wan tells Ezra that Maul has “altered the course of many things”, which is a great meta wink at his even being alive in this time period. While I have to admit some great stories have come out of it, I’ll always see the decision to bring Maul back in The Clone Wars as a flawed one—for the last several years he’s been like a tumor growing on the side of the real story, superfluous yet impossible to ignore. Seeing him fight Vader a year ago may have been momentarily satisfying (though, much like this fight, it had a hard-to-top predecessor in the Legends comics), but that would have distracted from Ezra and Kanan’s needs as characters. Here, Maul’s defeat is a secondary concern and the real fight is over Ezra’s decision not to fight; the same decision Obi-Wan and Luke will make for themselves in the future—to do what the Force truly wants from them rather than seek a superficial sense of justice. Ezra casts his pretensions aside and rides north, leaving Obi-Wan behind to cut off the tumor once and for all. » Read more..
Mike: So I thought this episode was fun enough, but here’s a question that’s been in the back of my mind lately: is Star Wars Rebels serving its supporting characters adequately? I love the basic premise of AP-5 as a counterpart to Chopper, but we’re barely seen him this season—have they developed him enough in his two or three appearances to earn a POV story like this? Agent Kallus is the most prominent character without a Spectre designation, and even he never got to shoulder an entire episode himself until just a couple weeks ago, despite his having one of the most dramatic and consequential recent character arcs. Are they doing justice to these secondary players (hey, remember Ketsu?) or are we only seeing the Cliff’s Notes of their stories?
Ben: Short answer, no. Not nearly. The Rebels writers are still falling into much the same trap that they did during The Clone Wars, where they introduce side characters and then do nothing with them until it’s convenient to bring them back up later on. TCW could get away with it to some degree due to its less-serialized style, where people like Cad Bane and Barriss Offee could pop in and out of the overall narrative without too much of a disconnect. This approach had its own pros and cons, as any fan of Barriss will tell you. In Rebels, though…
Rebels’ storytelling is a much tighter, more straightforward narrative that’s driven by the actions of its central characters. The pacing is usually quick, almost too quick, driving events forward, where major plots are brought up and then resolved very quickly thereafter (for the most part; usually the villains work much more slowly than our heroes). This irreversible drive forward gets to the point where a lot of the side plots and characters don’t get the development that they really need. » Read more..
Ben: Rebels has been seeding appearances from different portions of the budding Alliance since the first season, when Bail Organa showed up as a secret observer of the Ghost crew and their increasingly public actions. But the third season has made a clear and definite effort to bring more of those pieces into play, until this week’s episode sought to unite them on screen at long last, showing one of those beginning moments that we always knew had happened but have never actually seen before now.
The keystone to this event is Mon Mothma. We get to see her formally resign her seat in the Imperial Senate and call for any and all fellow rebels to unite under a single banner. While we don’t see the formal signing of an organizational article stating as such, and Mon is far from the first rebel or even the first senator to turn against the Emperor, she is the most high-profile defector from decadence that we have seen up to this point. Major note is made of her courage to stand up against the Empire, fighting in the senate instead of with blasters since before the end of the Clone Wars, and her finally stepping down from that post is a major turning point in the escalation of the war.
Mon Mothma has been showing up a lot in Star Wars lately. She has major supporting roles in a couple of books (Bloodline, Empire’s End), a brief but central role in Rogue One, and now she pops up in Rebels. In the old Expanded Universe, she used to be little more than a name drop, listed as one of the founders of the Alliance but never given all that much to really do aside from administrate the New Republic and dole out advice to the far-more-central Leia Organa. Now, she’s just as prominent before the events of Return of the Jedi as she is after it, showing that she did more to help establish the rebellion than just sign some papers. » Read more..