Mike: Who knew the space whale episode would be so controversial?
Where “The Call” continues Star Wars Rebels’ streak of episodes with gorgeous and interesting new visuals and skillful staging and humor, it has provoked fresh debate amongst many fans about exactly when and why the protagonists will choose to kill people—especially striking after “The Protector of Concord Dawn” dealt overtly with the subject for the first time just a couple weeks ago. In that episode Sabine clashes with Kanan and Hera when she wants to take revenge against the Mandalorian Protectors—potential Rebellion allies—for almost killing Hera. This week reshuffles the deck in an unexpected way by pitting Ezra (and eventually Kanan) against Hera in defense of the purrgil, whose lives Hera could give a womprat’s ass about. For my money, the episode does sufficient legwork in justifying Hera’s flippant attitude by explaining that she’s lost comrades to purrgil collisions in the past (she is a professional spacer, after all), but it ignores a much more interesting point: they’re all totes on board with wiping out the Mining Guild goons.
Now, not much is known about the canon Mining Guild (or the Legends one, for that matter), so it’s very easy to assume that they’re much worse than just innocent civilians making a living. But the script certainly doesn’t seem very concerned with getting that across, so it’s just as easy to assume this episode is about our heroes robbing and murdering people who did nothing worse than stand their ground. The directing all but delights in this; we get a quick look at the second TIE pilot moments before Ezra shoots him down, and a nice long look at Boss Yushyn being carried to his apparent demise in the jaws of an angry purrgil.
Showing the antagonists kick puppies, if you will, is a time-honored method of expediently justifying their eventual deaths, but this has become a common reaction to Rebels—going all the way back to the premiere, the Ghost crew has been offing enemies in ways that are surprisingly brutal and flippant for a children’s show, and even when they’re stormtroopers, the quintessential enemy combatants, it can sometimes make viewers uneasy (a comfortable majority of them, based on the Twitter poll I conducted yesterday).
While generally I’m okay with it—stormtroopers are indeed enemy combatants, and who knows what practices the Mining Guild has engaged in to thrive under Imperial rule—I do think the Mandalorian episode took what was once a background concern and elevated it to a valid criticism by showing the cast actually debate the needless taking of lives amongst themselves. It suggests that they’ve had similar conversations offscreen about killing stormtroopers and miners and decided they were all on the same page there. Which is fine, but I think a lot of people would like to know why.
How do you guys feel about this? Do you think the show is taking intentional moral stances at times like this, or is it a simple byproduct of taking The Clone Wars’ penchant for battle droid slapstick and applying it to living beings?
Ben: This is something I’ve seen as a bit of dissonance right from the show’s pilot episode. From the moment Kanan pulled a cruel switcheroo on a hapless Imperial soldier and tossed a grenade in his lap, the tone of the show toward killing has been a bit… odd. As Mike mentioned, there are some times where life is treated as being far more important than in others, which is especially evident after an episode where they made such a big point about not killing people. They slaughtered the Mining Guild employees for the sake of a bunch of space whales as well as their own source of fuel say what now?
It’s really weird to say about a show that’s been so well and consistently written right from the beginning, but Rebels has been very inconsistent with how they value life. TCW was the same way, especially when it came to the clone troopers, the predecessors of the same stormtroopers that the Ghost’s crew has been slaughtering since day one. Rebels places great value on the lives and well-being of civilians, but treats antagonists, be they Imperial, criminals or members of the Mining Guild, like they’re nothing but targets and obstacles.
It’s an especially interesting contrast with a show we’ve compared Rebels to quite a few times in this column: Avatar: The Last Airbender. In that show, while people did die quite often, part of the crux of the character arc of the titular airbender, Aang, was his reluctance to take a life. It was a constant and consistent struggle, as his foes became more and more ruthless, for Aang to stick by his beliefs and not take that step in ending someone’s life. It was the entire point of the final confrontation between him and the Fire Lord. Would he kill someone, and not just any someone but the closest thing he has to an arch-enemy, when everyone was telling him that he didn’t have any choice, or would he find another way?
In Rebels, there isn’t even a sniff of that sort of conflict. The closest character we might have to Aang, Ezra, is being tutored in the Force by a Jedi who has absolutely no qualms or hesitation about killing. Ezra himself is getting better and better at forming connections through the Force, but has never attempted to connect with any Imperial soldiers (aside from Zare and his fellow Academy students). I had thought that, with Ezra’s two primary weapons in the early going being largely non-lethal until he got better with his lightsaber, he would have some sort of conflict about possibly killing someone.
Maybe it’ll still happen. Maybe it’s coming down the line. Here’s hoping so. I hope it becomes a bigger deal as Ezra’s abilities continue to grow and the Force becomes more real to him. But it disappoints me that this is even a topic of discussion at this point, as I thought that Rebels would be able to handle the issue better up to this point.
Jay: Do not be fooled. You have heard accusations from REBELS. Accusations of “atrocities,” of war crimes. They create these to deceive you.
These are lies. Why would they lie to you unless they were desperate, unable to achieve victory?
THE EMPIRE IS VICTORIOUS ON ALL FRONTS!
The only ATROCITIES are theirs, as they destroy order and peace.
They began this WAR.
They are TERRORISTS.
They are CRIMINALS.
They are MURDERERS.
Trust you leaders. We defend you from those who would replace the New Order with anarchy and economic misery.
Support your Empire.
THE EMPIRE IS VICTORIOUS ON ALL FRONTS!
SUPPORT THE EMPIRE
Enlist in the military, donate goods, inform on suspects today!
Don’t suspect them, inform on them!
The truth of the Rebellion is laid bare. They make good speeches about liberty and rising up against injustice. Their seditious libel is infused with political idealism, their Jedi cant with hope. For a while now, we’ve allowed ourselves to be misled. Sure, they set off explosives in the middle of civilian areas — but it was for a good cause, wasn’t it? No — it was to seize military supplies to provide to arms smugglers. Ah, they only kill when necessary — but not true, as they casually toss grenades into the hands of soldiers or shoot them in the face. Soldiers, we remind you, who are just local patriots seeking to serve their communities.
But it’s desperation that brings out their truest nature. Cold, and desperate, the monstrous brutality of the Rebellion at last emerges. Stripped of the luxury of political half-truths and demagogic deceits, the Rebels reveal their truly base nature. Robbing from innocent civilians seeking to make a living, the Rebels casually murder the employees of the small outpost they’re thieving from. Some attempt to justify their barbarity with the thinnest of pretexts: why, the Mining Guild is a vast commercial conglomerate who services their political enemy, the Galactic Empire. But is it a crime to interact with the galactic government? Is every innocent citizen a target of Rebel murder squads, simply for the crime of paying taxes or participating in a commercial endeavor? What about the innocent employee who only wishes to feed his or her family, who has no decision-making power in a galactic enterprise?
Is there no end to this sort of cruelty? This dark murderous calculus that would seek to reduce people to mere pieces on an insurrectionist’s dejarik table? When the Rebels speak of liberty, they speak of their liberty to murder whenever they wish, and to slaughter whomever they wish. Like the Jedi they champion, Rebel morality is relative and self-servicing. Their justice is one where the scales are always balanced in their favor, and all principle and honor discarded when most convenient to their ends.
We cannot begin to speculate on the Rebels’ true goals. Is it supreme galactic power, like the Jedi who sought to murder our Emperor and seize control of the Senate? Or is it something even more sinister — a galactic anarchy, a mass bloodletting that leaves the galaxy as dead as their cruel hearts?