Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rebels Review: "Heroes of Mandalore"

By: Dominic Jones

The fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels kicked off on Monday with the two part episode "Heroes of Mandalore", which saw Sabine return to Mandalore and lead a rescue mission to save her father.   In some ways these two episodes were the perfect way to start off the final season as they embody some of the best and worst aspects of the series.

The episodes' strength is the action.  Mandalorian action has always been something that the Star Wars animation team has excelled at, going back to The Clone Wars.  While Rebels doesn't reach the same heights as The Clone Wars did during its final Mandalorian arc back in season five, the production crew still does a great job at choreographing Mandalorian battle scenes.  Sure, Ezra trying to use a jetpack got old quick but overall the action scenes in these episodes (especially part one) were among the best of the series.

Some of the best episodes of last season focused on Sabine confronting her past and her issues with her family, and "Heroes of Mandalore" picks up on that story thread.  The final season’s premiere features Sabine being confronted by the horror of the weapon she built for the Empire being used on her own people.  That Sabine created the weapon used by the Empire to subjugate the Mandalorians is something that the series has been hinting at since Season One, and the production team did an excellent job of conveying that devastation.

These episodes also saw Sabine confront one of the series overarching themes: "How we choose to fight is just as important as why we fight." When Sabine has the opportunity to use "The Duchess" (her ironically named superweapon) on the stormtroopers, and Bo-Katan (more on her later) has to talk her out of it was a truly great moment.  However, it would have had even greater impact if it weren't for the classic "bait and switch" moment Rebels pulled at the beginning of the second episode. 

When "Heroes of Mandalore Part 1" was screened at Star Wars Celebration Orlando back in April, the scene that had everybody talking was the moment at the end where it seemed that Sabine's mother and brother had been killed with "The Duchess".  It was powerful to see Sabine be faced with the devastation of her weapon on such an extremely personal level, and it fulfilled the promise made at the preceding panel that the season would be unlike anything else the show had done.

Fast-forward to yesterday (or last month for those of us who saw both parts at Fan Expo Canada), and Part 2’s revelation that Ursa and Tristan managed to survive the attack because they were able to get clear of the blast radius thanks to Sabine's warning--which begs the question: why go through the whole ordeal of making Sabine (and the audience) think they're dead just to bring them back moments later?

To me, this choice undercut Sabine's emotional arc in the episode.  Sabine’s struggle to confront the fact that her people were dying and overcome the impulse to use her weapon on her enemies still carried weight, but had that struggle followed the destruction of her family--especially after Sabine worked so hard last season to reunite them--her choice to destroy the weapon would have been all the more powerful. 

One of the defining moments in Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side comes in Attack of the Clones, when he chooses to slaughter an entire village of Tusken Raiders after his mother’s death.  Putting Sabine in essentially the same position--presented with the opportunity to take cold-blooded revenge in brutal fashion on the people who killed her mother (and brother), yet choosing a more honorable course--would have profoundly magnified the power of the scene. Again, this is not to say that the scene as it is lacks meaning--only that it could have been so much more.

As a fan of The Clone Wars, I was excited to see Bo-Katan again.  The character was first introduced as Pre Vizsla's lieutenant in Death Watch, the warrior group looking to restore Mandalore to its warrior roots, but we would later learn that Bo-Katan was also the sister of Duchess Satine Kryze (the pacifist ruler of Mandalore during the Clone Wars).  Following Maul's takeover of Mandalore, Bo-Katan lead the rebellion against his rule and teamed up with Obi-Wan Kenobi to seek out Republic help in the liberation of her planet.

I really enjoyed the the evolution of Bo-Katan’s character in this episode, and her interactions with Sabine were excellent.  But it seemed incongruous to me that Bo-Katan wound up being the one to wield the darksaber and lead the Mandalorian people.  The way the story had played out to this point felt as if we’d been building towards Sabine taking on the mantle of leadership, with Bo-Katan fulfilling a mentor role, guiding Sabine to  her destiny.  It seemed like a strange and sudden shift when Bo-Katan took on Mandalore’s leadership.  The cynic in me wonders whether this was simply an expedient so that the show could keep Sabine as a regular member of the Ghost crew and still keep the Mandalore subplot going.  I love Sabine as much as anybody, but I would rather see the character leave the show if makes sense in the story arc, than to keep her around just for the sake of not breaking up the main characters.

Overall, I did enjoy these episodes, though I'm not as excited about them as I was when I first saw them last month.  I maintain that the action in them is some of the best but, for me, there were too many questionable story decisions, and this made "Heroes of Mandalore" weaker than it could have been.

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization

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