I’ve complained with past episodes that Star Wars Rebels has made itself an inherently “low threat” show, in that it’s very difficult to have anything noticeably bad happen (the Season 2 finale being a merciful exception). For one, this is a kid’s show, so it’s hard for Rebels to go to dark places too frequently. But more explicitly, Rebels is increasingly moving towards the events of A New Hope, meaning that between the “now” of the show and that point (estimated to be about two years from the show’s current events), there’s little that can happen to the characters.
This problem was driven home by the Christmas release of Rogue One, which, as a matter of fanservice, included cameos by the Ghost and Chopper, and an audible mention of Hera. The appearance was fun and validating for Rebels fans, but now Hera, Chopper, and the ship are all marginally “safe” between now and when the show catches up with Rogue One. Worse, they’re explicitly tied to Rogue One, and Rebels is now destined to end up at the battle of Jedha.
As the show resumes from the holiday break, the destiny problem resumes on the two-part (or hour-long, if you’re watching it at home tonight) “Ghosts of Geonosis,” which fanservices Rogue One as much as that film did for Rebels. Tonight’s episode, in fact, ties together multiple parts of the Star Wars franchise by bringing in Rogue One‘s Saw Gerrera (voiced by Forest Whitaker), linking back to the character’s appearances on The Clone Wars and at least nodding towards the character’s future with the Death Star. This is all very fun, as long as you don’t think too hard about the fact that you know where Saw will be in two years in Rebels‘ timeline.
“Ghosts of Geonosis” is burdened by the fact that too much is known about where things fall later in Star Wars mythology. The Lothal Rebels are sent to Geonosis to rescue Saw and his team, who themselves were sent to Geonosis to determine why the planet mysteriously went extinct and what the Empire was up to there. People who have been following the rebooted franchise since 2014 in various novels and comics know exactly what happened: the Geonosians were involved in the construction of the Death Star, and the Empire had the planet exterminated and sterlized to force their silence.
The Lothal Rebels themselves don’t know any of that, and to the show’s credit, “Ghosts of Geonosis” at least ratchets up the tension by making Geonosis an even bleaker, emptier world than its appearance in Attack of the Clones. At least there, the planet was teeming with “bugs” and the heavy industry of war. Here, the planet is almost entirely sterile, save for some stray battle droids being maintained by a lone Geonosian who may be the last of his kind. The “bugs” may have been a race of bastards in Attack of the Clones, but the lone survivor–annoyingly named “Click-Clack” by Ezra–is reduced to a sad, lonely reminder of his race. “Ghosts” is indeed a fitting title for the episode, with the planet’s bleakness reminding us of how harsh the Empire can get.
“Ghosts” is otherwise an opportunity to expand on the character of Saw Garrera, who, let’s be honest, didn’t really get a lot of development in Rogue One. In fairness, “Ghosts of Geonosis” is an extension of his story from Clone Wars. He’s still bitterness over Separatists having killed his sister even some twenty years later. It’s a little frustrating to see Rebels devote another portion of itself to a “non-show” character, but this is pretty much Rebels‘ M.O. at this point–this is not the first time a Clone Wars or film character has shown up and had an episode rotate around them.
“Ghosts” does elaborate on Saw’s reputation as an extremist, as he becomes increasingly abusive towards Click-Clack, justifying it as a necessary part of war. When it turns out Click-Clack has been guarding the (apparently) last Geonosian egg, Saw has no problem turning a gun on it to blackmail Click-Clack for information. This being a kid’s show, he eventually has a change of heart (all it takes is the kind of sympathy you can only find on a cartoon–the Geonosians are just like you, Saw!) and he turns around. But, at least seeds are laid for why Saw’s such a cold bastard in Rogue One.
I am not sure future repeat performances are warranted here. An explicit tie-in to Rogue One was inevitable, and doing it immediately after the holiday break makes sense. That said, Forest Whitaker’s voice performance didn’t quite click with the other characters, and an animated role may not be his strong suit. Now that we’ve had the fun of a clear link to the movies, it’s time for Rebels to get back on track with its own story.
Rating: Three Ghosts Out of Five.