STAR WARS REBELS: THE COMPLETE SEASON 2 [Blu-ray]

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The epic battle to defeat the evil Empire continues in STAR WARS REBELS: COMPLETE SEASON TWO! As Ezra continues his journey to become a Jedi under Kanan’s guidance, the crew of the Ghost bands together with a secret rebel cell and ex soldiers from the Clone Wars to join a fledgling alliance to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy. But the dark side looms large as Darth Vader dispatches new Inquisitors, setting the stage for a climactic showdown in which terrible truths will be revealed and the lives of our heroes will be changed forever.

Full spoilers ahead:

This was a mixed season with some great triumphs that doesn’t quite flow as well as it could.

My highlights and lowlights (listed in no particular order)

The Good

+ Embracing all eras of the saga.

Unlike Season 1, Season 2 recognizes that the fandom consists of more than just original trilogy only fans. The Clone Wars veterans arriving to bring their experience and perspectives into the Rebellion was a badly needed shot in the arm for the show.

+ More original scoring.

In Season 1, I slammed the show for its copy-and-pasting of tracks and leitmotifs from the original trilogy scores. Thankfully, this is greatly reduced in Season 2 and the score has a much stronger identity of its own. When classic and Clone Wars themes are used, they appear at character-appropriate times and are woven into fresh new compositions in inventive ways. The music has gotten its thematic integrity back and is expanding the Star Wars soundscape again instead of regurgitating it to the point of nausea.

+ Ahsoka does not repeat Anakin’s teaching mistakes.

As an unofficial mentor to Kanan and Ezra, Ahsoka takes a refreshingly different approach from her former Master. Anakin was the ultimate helicopter parent – inhibiting her personal growth at every turn with his fear-driven need to protect her from every danger. In contrast, Ahsoka identifies the areas where Kanan and Ezra need to grow and throws them into situations where they’re forced to face their demons head-on. In “The Lost Commanders”, she knows that Kanan has memories of Order 66 and harbors deep fears about working with clones and the military. Rather than coddling or shielding Kanan, she puts him in charge of the expedition to find and recruiting Captain Rex back into the Rebellion. On Malachor, she distrusts Maul but reminds Kanan to trust that he taught Ezra the best he can and that Ezra will only grow by making his own decisions, and his own mistakes.

And finally when Kanan is betrayed and blinded by Maul, she toys with Maul just long enough for Kanan to get back on his feet, then with a confident sneer, leaves Kanan to finish off Maul by himself without the use of his eyes. So strong is her faith in Kanan that she uses Darth Freaking Maul as a TRAINING REMOTE for Kanan to accomplish his first victory as a sightless Jedi. This was easily my favorite Ahsoka moment in Rebels.

+ Yoda owns up to his failure.

Sometimes it’s a wonder anyone still think reestablishing a Jedi Order is a good thing. The PT era Jedi were arrogant, hypocritical and infuriatingly unwilling to question their ways. Given that, it was a long overdue payoff to see the little green troll finally admit, honestly and openly, that Jedi paved the path to their own destruction by letting their fears drive them into betraying their principles and becoming soldiers in a war. It opened up a heartfelt and difficult conversation with Ezra about the righteousness of Jedi fighting to protect others with no easy answers for how three lost Jedi can balance being peacekeepers in a Rebellion whose very aim is to overthrow and disrupt.

Yoda’s maturation as a character here also dovetails perfectly with Ahsoka leaving the Order in part because she felt there was truth in Barriss’s words. Their parting wave is one of the most efficient, yet earned “healing” scenes in the franchise, despite the fifteen year gap in the storytelling. Kevin Kiner seamlessly melds Ahsoka’s theme with Yoda’s theme, sealing the deal on this coda.

From a fan perspective, this episode was also a badly needed redemption after that two hour piece of cinematic garbage known as “The Force Awakens” trivialized the Jedi rite of passage into a video game sequence of mastering the Force by touching lightsabers and mindmelding with teenage Darth Emos in anteater masks. As the film division proceeds to bastardize Star Wars into a never-ending series of generic action blockbusters, it’s reassuring to know that the people running the TV arm of Lucasfilm still understand the gestalt of Star Wars.

+ Ahsoka creams the inquisitors (“Future of the Force.”)

This was a huge payoff for those of us who spent five years watching Ahsoka grow from an insecure, pint-sized Padawan Pain-In-The-Ass to a confident leader capable of making the tough decisions and defining her own path. When she confidently turns off her sabers and disables the Inquisitor’s weapon using only the Force, the show-runners reaffirm their understanding of the mythos. Being a Jedi is not about fencing skills, it’s about controlling your fears and emotions so you can fully connect with the Force. Her persistent refusal to strike a killing blow in Rebels is a subtle but noticeable trait that shows the bitter lessons of the Clone Wars were not lost on her and that she’s aware of the long term costs of strengthening the Dark Side in the galaxy by using the Force to deal out death.

+ Maul finally becomes interesting… for thirty minutes.

I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of Maul coming to Rebels. I’ve always found him to be an overrated and annoying distraction. The PT/TCW era is about Palpatine stealthily taking over by using the tools of democracy, the greed and fears of others and the Jedi’s own flaws against them. An in-your-face black-hat villain like Maul was out of place in such a story. Having said that, I have to tip the hat to Rebels for finally making Maul enjoyable. His seduction of Ezra is convincing, hilarious and masterful – worthy of Palpatine himself.

Oh… and “Lady Tano.” I have to know what that’s about!

Having said that, now that he’s been outed as the unrepentant baddie that he’s always been, I hope they use him very sparingly (if at all) from here on out. He’s served his purpose in breaking Ezra’s confidence. It’s time for him to leave the stage for good.

+ Kanan is blinded.

Lopping off appendages is so cliché in Star Wars (and without consequence given the easy availability of prosthetics.) This is a much more profound and permanent character shift, and the best kept secret of the season.

+ Ezra’s gift for connecting.

From the start, I wondered what they’d do to give Ezra Bridger a unique arc. He is, after all, the fourth Jedi apprentice protagonist the franchise has had. We’ve already done the arc of the pure-hearted hero (Luke), the arc of the fallen angel (Anakin), the arc of self-determination (Ahsoka), and the anti-arc of the Mary Sue (Rey.) It wasn’t clear what was left to do. Fortunately, Rebels is proving up to the task.

Ezra’s strength is that of a uniter rather than a warrior and this keeps his story from being a retread. It also provides a great contrast to the insular PT-era Jedi. This leads up to an amazing finale where his best character trait is turned against him in the most horrific way, shaking his worldview, making his worst fears come true and forcing him to reassess himself. He’ll have to face Rex every day believing he killed Ahsoka and face Kanan every day knowing he’ll never again see Hera. This is how you build a character. Well played, Rebels.

+ The Syndulla connection.

“Homecoming” was an unexpected standout episode. Hera leaving her family and her world for ideological reasons was a powerful backgrounder and actually made me eager for a Hera comic or novel to cover this.

+ The crossguard-saber fakeout.

That much hyped crossguard-saber in the mid-season trailer burns brightly for two seconds, fizzles out and is promptly forgotten with no lasting impact whatsoever. A hilarious and completely accurate metaphor for “The Force Awakens.”

The Bad

– Sabine is still a waste of space.

Two full seasons into the show, Sabine remains a toy commercial rather a character. All the other regulars (I don’t count Chopper) have well established motivations, wants and fears. With Kanan, Ezra, Zeb, Hera and even Kallus, I can now head-craft story ideas that would test each of them emotionally, force them to confront their worst fears and either grow or fall as characters as a result of their decisions. But not with Sabine. She has no driving objective, inner peril or even any useful function in rounding out the ensemble. Filoni that promises Season 3 will be Sabine’s season. I’d like to be open minded – Asajj Ventress on The Clone Wars was a late bloomer too and she ended up with one of the most compelling arcs on the show. But my patience is running very, very thin on this. Either define her or broom her.

– Chopper does not deserve a dedicated episode.

Chopper is comic relief, period. Filoni has acknowledged that Chopper will end the show the same jerk that he started as. If there’s no arc or growth planned for a character, then don’t waste an episode on him – let alone one as poorly timed as “The Forgotten Droid” was. This misguided episode broke the momentum of the series at a critical time.

– The “side characters” are much more compelling than the “main” cast.

This is not a slam against the Ghost crew as much as it is a recognition that Filoni and the Clone Wars crew created some of the most compelling characters and storytelling in the franchise in the earlier show. But it is a warning sign and made for a disconnected and frustrating season 2 viewing experience.

– The larger episode count was not used to good effect.

For all the epicness some episodes delivered, there was a larger number of filler episodes and misfires than in Season 1. The biggest story in the season happened at the beginning and end but interrupted by a very long and unfocused middle that drained the momentum and prevented the big moments from landing as they should. Which brings me to my final, and most problematic complaint…

– Enough Vader already.

I loved getting Ahsoka on the show. But I hate it that she dragged Vader in with her. Ahsoka’s relationship with Anakin already came full circle in that final arc of The Clone Wars and she’s now a fully fledged character in her own right that doesn’t need Vader to make her interesting. Having her limited time on Rebels consumed by the hype of an upcoming cage match between her and Vader felt like a “story idea” driven by spectacle and melodrama rather than dramatic conflict or a thoughtful building on her character arc.

It was an interesting idea to put her in the role of a parent who left her immature child years ago in a family breakup and is now wracked with guilt over the fact that in her absence, he grew to be a horrific criminal. And the sequence generated some of the most iconic images of the show with Ahsoka slashing Vader’s mask, Vader calling out to Ahsoka in Matt Lanter’s voice, and the dialog-less closing montage of the season filmed in the classic Star Wars tradition.

But try as I might, I can’t connect the dots between the Ahsoka who wouldn’t let her attachment to Anakin keep her in bondage to a Jedi Order that no longer followed its own values and the Ahsoka who declares “I won’t leave you” to a bat-shit insane Sith who will surely kill her. The storyline gave the impression that Ahsoka prioritized Anakin over her duty to the Rebellion. I hope that’s not the case because that would be a 180 reversal of her Clone Wars character arc. This story’s outcome was driven by prior canon and a desire to “mirror” the OT rather than being an organic outgrowth of her own story. I’m glad they didn’t kill her off here as there are now unresolved issues regarding her character growth that need closure.

Pick it up here on Amazon:

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