WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
So: expect Star Wars Rebels to move very fast this season.
I fear the problem Rebels is going to hit this season is that it largely has to hit a preordained conclusion. While the timeline has always been a little imprecise, it’s apparent that the show is now somewhere in the range of six months to a year before the Battle of Yavin, and prior to that, Scarif. The cast is now stationed on Yavin IV and has linked up with the familiar rebel faces we saw in Rogue One. We know that Hera and Chopper are at Scarif (and, based on a Lego cartoon, Hera apparently lives until the Empire Strikes Back period), and that, some cheesy dialogue notwithstanding, Luke Skywalker has never gone for Jedi training under Ezra or Kanan’s tutelage. In other words, Rebels is now in wrapup mode and there’s a high chance that Kanan, Ezra, and maybe even Sabine and Zeb won’t make it through the season. Even barring that, the show needs to resolve whatever lingering plot threads it’s left out there.
Worse–or better, if you want more Rebels, faster–this show is going into a double-airing schedule. A one-hour season opener is unsurprising, but apparently the next three weeks of the show are going to supply double-episodes as well. It’s unclear how many episodes are left, but at least nine will air before the winter break, and it will apparently show another seven next year. And then: poof, done. Unless the powers-that-be decide to air another Rebellion-era program, Marvel’s ongoing Star Wars comics may be the last we see of the original trilogy era before possibly going full sequel-era on us.
“Heroes of Mandalore” takes steps to resolve Sabine’s story by packing a lot into an hour, with the heroes attempting to free Sabine’s father and overthrow Gar Saxon. In the process, Rebels brings back the Mandalorian hero Bo-Katan, whom faithful Clone Wars viewers will remember as the sister of Obi-Wan’s Mandalorian girlfriend, Satine. And this is all exceedingly predictable: of course the show climaxes with Sabine turning the Darksaber over to Katan, who takes back leadership of the Mandalorians, because this is a kid’s show and that’s how these things are intended to resolve. Look, there’s no mincing this episode: it’s mostly a fairly standard episode in which the bad guys are defeated, and the good guys face temptation but ultimately settle on a higher standard. Sabine has her dark side moment, sure, but it passes.
What Rebels kind of does right tonight, and then fails to follow through on, is having a really, really dark moment that reflects on the high-stakes nature of war with a tyrannical empire. Rogue One did this well, at least showing that there’s a true cost to victory in war and that it’s not all a glorious medal ceremony on Yavin. Rogue One showed that countless civilians die as the results of the Empire’s actions, making things much more palpable than A New Hope‘s quick death of Alderaan. Rebels kind of gets into that tonight by showing that Sabine made an awful, awful weapon for the Empire, and gets into “yech” territory by showing it in use on a few nameless Mandalorians.
It’s just that we don’t get much more than that. The Sabine death-ray is used once in full, once in part, and that’s all. It’s generally very small-scale stuff which is probably forgotten after this episode. It’s reminiscent of last season’s treatment of the Geonosians (they were killed off-panel) or Ezra’s skirting with the dark side (he was tempted, then wasn’t after the season break). Rebels has this problem where it’s caught between being a kid’s show and being set in an adult universe, and so there’s very serious moments interspersed with happy endings and the comedy of Ezra not knowing how a jetpack works (which happens a lot in the first half of this story). It’s frustrating, because the kid’s antics become wildly inappropriate in light of the horror aspects of the episode, and the adult darkness is annoyingly interrupted by the funny moments. This isn’t a great balance for the show.
I’m hoping that the remaining 15-or-fewer episodes of the season work on this light-dark balance a little better. It could be that too much was crammed into a single one-hour episode and it just didn’t come out properly. Rebels has shown that dark episodes work fine and lighthearted ones can nicely fit between them. Having hybrids like this is unhealthy, though, and we should hope it doesn’t spoil the rest of the season.
Rating: Two and a half darksabers out of five.