"Star Wars: Rebels" Season 4 Episode 9 – Rebel Assault (10 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: Warwick Davis, Clancy Brown; Rated TV-Y7, Aired on Disney XD 11/13/17.
This review will contain mild spoilers.
The mid-season finale of the final season of Star Wars Rebels brought us a look at an early assault by the Rebels in their attempt to destroy the Empire's TIE Defender shipyards on Lothal. Knowing that their first real victory is Scariff, we can guess how things will go, but that doesn't make watching them any less stunning.
This episode gives us our first chronological glimpse of X-Wing combat in the timeline of the Rebellion and our first look at it on Rebels as well, and these dogfights stand toe-to-toe with anything seen in the films. In fact, when we're outside the cockpit, watching the ships maneuver on their own and there aren't characters in the shots, it would be entirely possible to mistake these sequences for its big screen brethren. Filoni's team put together something new in the world of space battles in a crowded field and that is something that should be commended.
The episode is daring and a classic World War II (or even Korean War) sort of set up. The Ghost Crew still on the ground on Lothal has the Guns of Navarone mission, they have to take out the gun emplacements on the surface or the approaching allied ships won't stand a chance to make it to the factory. Neither will they have a means to escape.
The attack wing, which seems to be Green Squadron, led by General Syndulla the same way Blue Squadron was led by General Merrick, consists of 20 some odd one-pilot ships. They're tasked with cutting through Thrawn's blockade with the Seventh Fleet, make it to the surface and bomb the TIE Defender factories.
Naturally, being a mid-season finale, this plan doesn't go well.
Partly because we need a cliffhanger, but also partly because Thrawn is in command of the Empire's assets here. With Konstantine gone and no one to go against his orders, Thrawn's defense is executed flawlessly and designed to almost give the Rebels a shred of hope that he then dashes. In fact, there are few moments on this show that I've seen that are better in their intensity than the Rebels breaking the initial blockade and making it into the atmosphere and seeing that Thrawn has hidden a second wave defensive screen. It's terrifying.
And we're not treated to the battle, only the heartbreaking aftermath. And the shots of that aftermath look as good as a painting, with the burning ships streaking down the sky and into Capital City. The lighting work here on the part of Joel Aron and his team, watching the ever darkening sunset with the ships on fire falling is a poignant moment and an image I'd hang on a wall.
One of my favorite things about this episode is the fact that Hera is shown to be one of the best pilots in the galaxy, hands down. Obi-Wan said that Anakin was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, but watching her take out two TIE Fighters in one shot and destroying the communications array on that Star Destroyer to create a distraction to destroy the enemy ace prove that she deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Anakin, at the very least. It was a stunning bit of piloting and it's too bad it didn't help win the day.
To cross franchises by paraphrasing Jean Luc Picard, Hera here learns that it is entirely possible to make no mistakes and still lose. And Thrawn is going to ensure she will at every possible turn. He's learned all of her tricks and although she can still pull of a surprise here and there, he knows how to stop her. And that's the wall they're up against.
When Hera crash lands on the planet, the plot turns into a classic "pilot caught behind enemy lines" plot. There are many movies that cover things like this, from The Bridges of Toko-Ri and The Hunters to the more recent Behind Enemy Lines. Hera has to be resourceful to evade capture by the Imperials and Rukh, who hunts her down and leaves us with our cliffhanger.
It's a well-built episode that brings tears at specific moments, but also many moments that make you want to raise a fist and shout, "Yes!"
Vanessa Marshall as Hera owns this episode. It's the most Hera-centric episode we've had in a long time and the stakes have never been higher. And, although his part is limited, Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s Kanan helps double down on this. His desire to go back for her, even though it seems like a terrible idea, further establishes the connection between the two and takes us down a familiar path of the Jedi: connection is bad and there's a reason attachment is forbidden.
Everything the Jedi have done on Rebels has been a microcosm of the failure of the Jedi and their teachings. Why not this, too? And surprising that it would be Kanan rushing into danger rather than Ezra. An interesting twist, for sure. We've never seen that from the master.
Or perhaps the Loth-wolves have other plans for everyone.
We'll have to wait until the series returns to find out.
This episode is beautifully animated, brilliantly acted, has all the touchstones I'd want in Star Wars space battles and brought tears to my eyes more than once. This is the second perfect 10 in this half of the season for me and it seems like Filoni and crew are firing on all cylinders. 10 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)
- Kindred and Crawling Commandeers (9 of 10)
- Rebel Assault (10 of 10)
Season Average: 9.3 out of 10
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