Star Wars: Rebels - The Siege of Lothal
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Star Wars: Rebels returns, albeit briefly, with a confident, exciting and thrilling 2 episode, mini movie which takes up the story a little while after the end of Season One.
As I had been hoping, Kanan, Ezra, Hera, Sabine, Zeb and Chopper have become part of a larger, but still fledgling, resistance group intent on disrupting the influence of the growing Galactic Empire in the galaxy. This, potentially, opens the door to a larger universe which fans have been hoping for, by finally freeing the Rebels to leave Lothal.
We jump right into the action during a space skirmish, smash and grab mission to steal some shield generators from the Empire. Our Rebels are part of Phoenix Squadron, under the command of Jun Sato and they seem to be a well integrated and effective fighting force, however, Kanan at least, has some reservations about being part of this 'bigger' picture.
Soon though, our band are dragged back to Lothal, in a mission to rescue defecting Imperial Minister, Maketh Tua. Tua has failed in her efforts to curtail the rebel activities on Lothal and is told by Darth Vader to report to the Emperor in person. Understandably fearing for her life, having witnessed the demise of previous failed Imperial agents, Minister Tua contacts the Rebels to offer information in exchange for her safe passage off Lothal.
As we would expect, things don't go quite to plan and before long our heroes are faced with the dark lord himself, Darth Vader. And this is where the episode really starts to fire on all cylinders. The depiction of Darth Vader we see here, voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones, is really the first time we've seen him in action since 1983! Sure he's been in games. Sure he's been in comics but these are his first significant, and new canon, lines of dialogue since Return of the Jedi. The 8 year old in me is just giddy to see more of the Vader from my childhood.
In fact, this is actually a Vader we have rarely seen. This is a Vader untouched by the knowledge that he has a son, let alone a daughter! A Vader yet to be blamed for the failure in the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the first Death Star. This is pure Darth Vader. Full of hate. The burnt and broken body of Anakin Skywalker, augmented by cybernetic limbs and encased inside a mechanical suit.
He is massive and powerful and this is portrayed brilliantly in a fantastic lightsabre fight pitting Vader against Kanan and Ezra. He toys with them, swatting them aside with ease and is only stopped, briefly, when a combination of the team bury him under 2 fallen AT-ST's. This distracts the Imperial forces enough for the crew to escape the area, bruised and beaten, in a stolen shuttle. It's a breathtaking set piece and I must say, this is no gravity defying, leaping around, lightning fast lightsabre fight and it's all the better for it. It feels much more solid and real than the countless fights we saw in The Clone Wars series and, as such, feels much more important.
The gang then enlist the help of everyone's favourite smoothie, Lando Calrissian, in escaping Lothal by way of launching decoy signal buoys, programmed with the same signature as their shuttle to confuse the Imperial radars and allow them to escape the planets atmosphere and jump to light speed. A nice nod to the original Star Wars is shown just before the escape, when Ezra witnesses the burned and smoking remains of Tarkin Town and decides his destiny is no longer on Lothal. One can't help but think of the scene with Luke Skywalker seeing the bodies of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru in the original 1977 classic.
This then, leads to my one little grievance with the logic of the episode. When escaping Lothal, Hera tells Zeb to make sure they aren't tracked, to which Zeb says, "Consider it done", only to then learn, when they rejoin with Phoenix Squadron, that they have been tracked!!!!!! We, the audience, know they've been tracked as Agent Kallus tells us but that little slip with Zeb's line could surley have been edited out. It's a small point and anyway, it opens into the next set piece which is Vader taking on Phoenix Squadron's fleet of A-Wings single handedly and decimating them.
Here we see the much lauded, greatest space pilot in the galaxy writ large. He spins and flips, flies backwards and corkscrews, all the while gunning down A-Wings, and is simply unstoppable. At least for the unfortunate and 'expendable' A-Wing pilots who go into battle against this one solitary opponent. Observing from the control room of Commander Sato's, Phoenix Home, command ship, Hera can watch the slaughter no more and rushes to the Ghost to "get involved". The rest of the crew go with her and Ahsoka Tano tags along to help.
Once launched in the Ghost, the crew try to defend the Phoenix Home, which Vader is threatening to cripple. Ahsoka senses a strong force presence in the singular foe they are facing and joins with Kanan in meditating to determine more. In a cracking scene we cut between Vader and Ahsoka as they both begin to 'feel' something. Ezra, in a voice over, works out that this is the Sith Lord they just faced on Lothal and we cut again to Vader in his cockpit and, in a shot straight from the end of Star Wars, he utters the thrilling line, "The apprentice lives". We finally cut back to Ahsoka who cries out in fright/pain and faints away. It's another great set piece and sets up a much hoped for future encounter between Darth Vader and his one time apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. It probably can't end well.
Vader does in fact manage to cripple the command ship and Commander Sato is persuaded to reluctantly abandon it. Sato and his crew join up with the rest of the fleet to escape the system at light speed while Vader is distracted, trying to capture the crew of the Ghost alive. He comes close but hasn't reckoned with the piloting skills of Hera Syndulla, who pulls a fast one, maneuvering between two Star Destroyers and outwitting the Imperial Officer trying to catch them in a tractor beam. The Ghost manages to jump to light speed while it is Vader's Tie Fighter which gets caught in the tractor beam. Skills!
The Ghost crew reunites with the rest of the fleet and we see Ahsoka, Kanan and Ezra talking about what they felt during the battle. Ahsoka insists she doesn't know who the Sith Lord is but she warns, "They'll all be coming now".
Back on board a Star Destroyer and Vader contacts The Emperor to inform him that he has broken the Rebel cell and scattered them. The Emperor senses more though, and, when prodded, Vader tells him that the apprentice of Skywalker lives and was in league with the Rebels. This seems to please The Emperor, brilliantly voiced by Sam Witwer, who tells Vader to dispatch more Inquisitors to track down the Rebels, while Vader's thoughts turn, excitingly, to finding Obi Wan Kenobi.
In case you can't tell, I thought this episode was fabulous! The writing, animation, voice acting, direction, editing and music are all phenomenal. Barring my one little foible, with the tracking thing, it is a perfectly plotted and tight little 44 minutes of television. For the first time that I can recall, the feeling of the dark side of the force was described as a feeling of coldness. Which, of course, one would expect but I've never seen it described thus. And at last, in the Star Wars universe, we have an Asian character, in Commander Sato, who is just an Asian character and not a stereotyped Indian/Japanese/Chinese/Eastern European voice on a bad guy. As I mentioned before the one lightsabre fight we have is a real ding dong battle. Languid but powerful, deliberate and precise. It is all the more realistic for it. The hero characters actions finally have consequences and they barely escape, ultimately defeated, to fight another day.
The scene then, is set. Darth Vader, job done, Rebels driven from Lothal, can fade a little into the background again and some new Inquisitors can be set loose to root out the insurgents. We are also given a tiny hint that there is more to the Empire being on Lothal than meets the eye. Death Star construction? Something to do with Kyber crystals? The secret Jedi temple? Who knows? We will certainly find out in time as Dave Filoni and the story group don't just sow these seeds randomly.
Season Two proper won't be back until the Autumn but this was the best kind of appetiser for what's to come. With Captain Rex, Commander Wolffe and Clone Commando Gregor all confirmed to be making an appearance, I cannot wait to catch up with this show just in time for Star Wars - Battlefront in November and The Force Awakens to hit in December. It really is a great time to be a Star Wars fan.