"Star Wars: Rebels" Season 4 Episodes 5, 6 – The Occupation and Flight of the Defender (9 out of 10) – Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas; Starring: Freddie Prinze, Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Tiya Sircar, David Oyelowo; Special Guest stars: Genevieve O'Reilly, Clancy Brown; Rated TV-Y7, Aired on Disney XD 10/30/17.
For characters in the Star Wars Universe, there's always a moment when they realize that the cruelty and brutality of the Empire can always get worse. For Ezra and the rest of the Ghost crew, this realization hits once more when they're sent back to Lothal to disrupt the Empire's production of TIE Defenders, the new, prototype fighter ship that will spell certain doom for the Rebellion if they make it to the fleet.
The first episode in this pair of episodes, "The Occupation," concerns the infiltration of Lothal. The planet has been blockaded entirely and they need a legitimate businessperson with legitimate reasons to be on Lothal to get to the surface, and, according to Hondo, Vizago is the person to do it. I'm glad to see Cikatro Vizago back in the story. When the series started, it felt like he'd be much more important to the narrative than he was and Hondo sort of took over that role. That was fine by me, because I prefer Hondo, but it's nice to see him folding back into the story.
Once on the planet, Lothal evokes so much Nazi imagery that it evokes a genuine sense of concern for the entire planet. Ryder's resistance has morphed into something that will remind viewers more of the Free French than the Rebel Alliance, and I don't think this is a bad thing. Ezra visits all the old haunts and finds that they've been completely taken over by the Empire. If Lothal is Paris in this situation, then I suppose that means Alderaan will become a sort of Hiroshima.
I loved the touch of Old Jho's becoming a fighter pilot bar, going back to those old World War II tropes. It even felt a bit like Inglorious Basterds or Guns of Navarone, too. Infiltrating a bar in occupied territory to find a contact that will bring you into the underground? It was exactly that vibe and gave us another tense, World War II style episode to the oeuvre of the show. It also gave us one of the most heartbreaking but wonderful moments between Hera and Kanan. Hopefully, we'll see that relationship advance further before it's too late.
As for the second episode, "Flight of the Defender," although it started with that World War II vibe, it transitioned to something more like Princess Mononoke. Once more, Dave Filoni and team are expanding the Force mythology in a meaningful way, giving us the Lewis Carrol version of it. After stealing the new TIE Defender prototype on Lothal, Ezra and Sabine take to the skies, destroying the Imperial runway in a very Empire of the Sun sort of fashion and take flight, escaping by the skin of their teeth.
After they crashland, the otherwise military objective focused episode takes a left turn into Force mythology by way of Through the Looking Glass. The White Loth-Cat is an oblique reference to Carrol's White Rabbit and Ezra follows it down the Loth-Cat hole, right into the arms of a massive Loth-Wolf. Loth-wolves were thought to have been extinct on Lothal and now one appears, uses some power to put Sabine to sleep, and whisks Ezra and Sabine to safety. But no one else sees it but Ezra. This is evocative of Princess Mononoke, a morality tale about the destruction of the natural world at the hands of men that features giant wolves that look very much like this Loth-Wolf.
After having so much of the previous episode show us the damage the Empire has done to the natural world of Lothal, it's easy to see the parallels being drawn between that film and its themes and Rebels, and it makes me love this episode even more. It's apparent that Filoni has learned from the best, and this is exactly the same sort of cinematic semiotics George Lucas would have engaged in.
The other thing I'm loving about this season, so far, though I reserve the right to feel differently when the series wraps up, is Thrawn on the slow burn. He's been hinted at here, but hasn't been a point of view character. What is he planning? What is he up to? Are we going to see the other side of his machinations without his thought process this season? That sounds like a horror story. But if that's where things lead, I'm on board.
These episodes worked very well for me and provided moments with emotional gravitas and significant events in the story that I'm dying to know more about. I'm giving it a 9 out of 10.
Star Wars Rebels airs on Disney XD on Mondays.
Season 4 Scorecard
- Heroes of Mandalore (9 of 10)
- In the Name of the Rebellion (9.5 of 10)
- The Occupation and Flight of the Defender (9 of 10)
Season Average: 9.16 out of 10
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