You know how Rogue One was a prequel to the original Star Wars? Tonight’s episode of Rebels was the prequel to Rogue One.
OK, that’s not entirely fair: Rogue One has had lots of supplemental material both before and after the film’s release a year ago. The novel Catalyst released shortly before the film and explained the complicated relationship between Galen Erso and Director Krennic and walked right up to the opening flashback of the movie. Last season’s episode “Ghosts of Geonosis” gave some early hints of the Death Star project and a lot of insight into the character of Saw Gerrera–a major character in the film who, um, really didn’t do a lot more on-screen than get blown up at the destruction of Jedha. And there’s been a few other comics and books about the
dirty dozen crew of Rogue One who met their untimely end on Scarif. For a two-hour movie, Rogue One did leave a lot of backstory to be played with in future supplemental material.
“In the Name of the Rebellion” gives Rebels the opportunity to play around with Forrest Whittaker’s Saw Gerrerra (the man, again, reprises the role of the character in voice only) and the difficult concepts he raised in Rogue One. The film, sadly, didn’t do much to show Saw’s problems; it just alluded to him taking more of a terroristic approach to fighting the Empire. On screen, Star Wars tended to show the Rebellion as more of a conventional war: good guys fight bad, and the people with the best strategy, weapons, and tribe of teddy bears tends to win. As a children’s story, it avoided darker questions about the gray of war and what tactics are morally acceptable. Tonight’s episodes at least show that playing dirty works, but has consequences.
The first half has the Ghost crew squared away on Yavin IV in an open allusion to the Rebels’ posture in Rogue One and A New Hope. Unfortunately, the fledgling Rebel Alliance isn’t doing great, with bad intelligence and poor numbers leading to Hera and Wedge almost being killed on a recon mission. Cue the entry of Saw Gerrerra–still separate from the Yavin group–who taunts Mon Mothma and the Rebels for taking tactics that are as effective as a mosquito against an elephant. Saw gets results, you see, even if he kills a bunch of civilians in the process.
It’s here that Rebels misses a golden opportunity to reflect on the temptations of the Dark Side, something Ezra is still struggling with–at least in spirit. There’s no force seduction here, but it’s clear that Saw’s methods carry an overt appeal. The Rebellion manages to get bits of intelligence here and there; Saw is known for killing large numbers of the enemy (with considerable collateral damage). It’s soulless, but it’s also effective, and he’s actually out getting things done while Mon Mothmas’ group licks its wounds.
This is an open parallel to Luke and Anakin’s temptations to the Dark Side, and let’s face it, Ezra had the same struggles back at the close of Season 2. The quick and easy path works, even as it costs you your sense of honor and justice in the process. Maybe that’s a little too clean a contrast, and indeed, war in the real world provides no easy answers. (It’s been 70 years since Hiroshima, and we still debate whether that was a just move.) But although Rebels has Ezra drawn to Saw’s methods, it never really has him reflect on whether a dark methodology in war is any different from a Jedi playing with the Dark Side. It’s not, but the show could at least reflect on it.
So: that aside, this week’s double-run episodes at least take Ezra down the dark path of war and make him think about the cost of dirty tactics. An initial mission to tap into an Imperial satellite dish goes very wrong, and a simple spy mission ends up leading to Ezra and Sabine almost getting caught when Ezra chooses poorly by impersonating the wrong Imperial officer. The mission is botched, but surprise–in swoops Saw, who makes short work of the relay tower and takes Ezra, Sabine, and Chopper on an even more dangerous mission.
That mission ends up being a major prelude to Rogue One, almost to the point of silliness: names like “Jedha” and “Krennic” get dropped a lot, and the group ends up fighting a very familiar group of Stormtroopers and uncovering an extremely significant item which almost blows the Death Star project wide open. Unfortunately, Saw and the gang also end up inadvertently end up rescuing a group of kidnapped engineers–yes, it’s transparent why they’ve been kidnapped–and the debate becomes whether the priority is to save the hostages or sabotage the Empire’s plans.
Somehow, the episode manages to accomplish both: Saw gets what he wants, Ezra and Sabine rescue the hostages (and Chopper gets in a hilarious takedown of his own), and the Empire–predictably–is dealt a major blow. On the one hand, this is probably the proper spot to leave everyone in. “Ghosts of Geonosis” had Saw learn a lesson in humility, but the Saw we see in Rogue One is still quite mad with success. Saw ends here convinced of the righteousness of his tactics, and it’d be inconsistent to put him on the path to justice here. On the other hand, it’s still something of a cute, clean ending for a show that’s alluding to one of Star Wars’ darker movies.
As a bonus reflection: Rogue One did imply that the Rebels have their own dirty secrets. Cassian Andor pulled some very questionable moves for the sake of protecting information, and the commandos who joined Jyn’s team on Scarif all apparently carried their own war guilt. Rebels may not want to put that burden on Ezra…but it is funny that Saw’s efforts end up detroying a whole Star Destroyer with everyone on board–again–and nobody is bothered by this. Maybe the path to the Dark Side isn’t so bad as long as somebody else is taking it?
Three and a half Saws out of five.