Tonight’s Rebels episode was surprisngly nuanced for a show that’s both aimed at kids and full of conventional fiction tropes. “The Honorable Ones” made use of the classic “Enemy Mine” trope where morally opposite characters are forced to team up against a bigger threat or circumstance. Most adults have seen this convention used time and again in fiction, so it might be tempting to roll our eyes at seeing Rebels use it yet again – we shouldn’t. The kids, who are the target audience, may be getting exposed to it for the first time. That said, seeing Zeb team up with the Empire’s Agent Kallus was refreshingly well-done.
The episode sees the crew of the Ghost investigating Imperial activity over Geonosis, as there’s evidence the Empire was building something big here. (More on that later, but everyone here knows what that means.) The investigation turns out to be a trap set by Kallus and the Empire to catch the crew. Most of them escape, except Zeb – who gets caught in order to buy them time. Zeb makes his way to an escape pod, but somehow Kallus ends up in it with him, and the two are jettisoned to one of Geonosis’ icy moons; well beyond the tracking abilities of both the Ghost and the Empire.
As these things tend to go, both hero and villain awkwardly find themselves having to rely on each other for survival. Zeb and Kallus are trapped in an underground cave where the temperature is rapidly falling and Kallus is injured. Other than finding an inexplicable glowing rock which provides some extra warmth, the two become completely dependent on each other for survival.
Here, a canonical Star Wars source goes somewhere that the franchise tends not to go: it humanizes one of its villains. To date, Kallus has been a typical one-dimensional villain, and earlier episodes revealed that he participated in the slaughter of Zeb’s people. This put Kallus in the same moustache-twirling category as Tarkin, Palpatine, and most of Star Wars‘ other unfailingly evil characters. Here, a forcibly intimate situation between enemies requires both Zeb and the viewer(s) to examine Kallus a little deeper. We learn that he really did join the Empire out of a sense of pride and camaraderie, and that his participation in the slaughter of the Lasat at least started out as a peacekeeping mission. Even Zeb is shocked to learn that Kallus’ initial encounter with a Lasat was through an apparent terrorist operation, in which a member of Zeb’s species acted with the same indiscriminate behavior which Zeb associates with the Empire.
This becomes a surprisingly tight episode, focusing on how rivals on opposite sides of a war can view each other when they’re forced to do it up close. Rebels episodes often suffer from having too large a cast, which give insufficient screen time to the characters. “The Honorable Ones” doesn’t need to do that, and indeed, going too far beyond the up-close look at Zeb and Kallus would have hurt it. Instead, the viewer actually gets deeply drawn into the episode and starts to question whether every member of the Empire is really that bad. It’s a chilling thought, considering how often we see TIE Fighters blow up with little thought to the pilots inside.
There’s no surprises in where the episode goes from there. Zeb and Kallus mutually fend off some goofy-looking Geonosian monsters and assist each other in escaping and setting up a beacon to get the first available ship–the Ghost or one of the Empire’s–to come get them. There’s a beautifully tense moment where Kallus appears ready to dump their introspection and shoot Zeb, until it turns out he’s shooting at the monster behind him. It’s a moment that’s been done thousands of times in “Enemy Mine” stories, but it still surprises here.
- The Ghost crew discovers that the Geonosians are all dead, presumably killed by the Empire for sinister reasons. Believe it or not, this was covered in Marvel’s Darth Vader #4 which revealed that the Empire had them all sterilized after the Clone Wars. They’re not quite all dead by Marvel’s series, but it’s close enough to show that the new Lucas team really is trying to keep continuity tight.
- And yeah, we all know what big thing the Empire was building over Geonosis. The Ghost crew doesn’t find out yet, but this may have been some hint-dropping for this year’s Rogue One film.
- Chopper kicks some ass in this episode. We need more of this.
- Really, Kallus as the nuanced Imperial is nice. It’s a great contrast to Ciena Ree from the Lost Stars novel, who was so unfailingly loyal to the Empire that it hurt.
- Next week: Yoda. Rebels has been doing so well with character-building episodes, and now we’re getting another classic character appearance. This had better be well-done.
- Lastly, check out the Kanan comic from Marvel, which wraps up next month. It’s one of our few Rebels sources outside of the show, and they’re well-coordinated.