Star Wars Rebels: “Heroes of Mandalore” review

Star Wars Rebels is back for its fourth and final season, with the first two episodes airing today, entitled “Heroes of Mandalore.”

Wisely, Lucasfilm decided to start this season with what really worked last year: Sabine Wren.  We see Sabine, Kanan, Ezra, and Fenn Rau team up with Mandalorians (including Bo-Katan!) in an attempt to rescue her father and destroy the weapon she helped create, and in it she once again shines.

So let’s jump right in to the episode, and obviously, if you haven’t seen the episodes yet there are spoilers ahead.

Picking up on some threads that were established last season, these episodes dealt with Sabine, her family, and Mandalore.  Part one centered around Sabine’s effort to free her father from Imperial captivity, which led to an assault on an Imperial outpost led by Sabine, Ezra, Kanan, and Fenn Rau, starting things off with a lot of action.  It turns out to be a trap, but Bo-Katan and Clan Kryze arrive to provide much-needed assistance.  The Empire had decided to move Sabine’s father to the city for execution, but Sabine and the others staged a rescue attempt in a thrilling surprise attack on the transport convoy in a canyon (that had an Indiana Jones-like feel to it).  Sabine, Kanan, Bo-Katan, and Fenn Rau lead the surprise attack while Ezra sneaks into the transport carrying Sabine’s father and rescues him just in time.  Unfortunately, however, Sabine’s mother (Ursa Wren) and brother (Tristan Wren) – who were fighting Imperials in another battle – were surprised by a mysterious weapon attached to a walker.  Sabine recognized the weapon and warned them, but it was too late.  As the heroes arrived, there were no survivors, only Mandalorian armor and a lot of ashes.  The weapon that Sabine had helped create had wiped out much of Clan Wren, including Ursa and Tristan…

Or maybe not.  Part One ended with Sabine kneeling in the midst of the ashes of her clan members, but Part Two begins with the revelation that Ursa and Tristan just barely survived, having gotten far enough away upon hearing Sabine’s warning.  The Empire soon returned to finish off any survivors, however, leading to another fight as the heroes attempted to escape – aided at the last second by a Gauntlet fighter as they fled.  Followed by TIE Fighters and with the weapons of the Gauntlet disabled, Bo-Katan told Ezra that “a Mandalorian with a jetpack is a weapon” and flew out of the ship to take out one of the fighters, while Ezra flew out and took out the other.  Upon arriving at Clan Kryze’s base, there was initially some conflict as the others were angry at Sabine for having created the weapon, but Bo-Katan (who previously had been furious at Sabine for it) helped dissuade the tension and convince the others that they needed Sabine to help stop the weapon.  The Empire, however, wanted Sabine to help make the weapon fully operational, as Tiber Saxon had shown footage of the attack to Grand Admiral Thrawn, who noticed that the range was far smaller than had been promised.  The heroes infiltrated Saxon’s Star Destroyer, at which point Kanan, Ezra, and Chopper set out to erase any data files of the weapon while Sabine and Bo-Katan set out to destroy the weapon.  It was all a trap, however, and Saxon used the weapon to shock and injure Sabine and Bo-Katan, threatening to kill the latter if Sabine didn’t help.  She agreed, but instead turned the weapon against the Imperials, setting it to target Stormtrooper armor.  She nearly killed Saxon, but Bo-Katan explained that it wasn’t their way, at which point Sabine destroyed the weapon and the heroes escaped as the Star Destroyer exploded.  At the end of the episode, Sabine gave the darksaber to Bo-Katan as several different Mandalorian clans pledged their allegiance to the powerful ruler.

On the subject of Bo-Katan, her return was one of the highlights of the episodes, as she made her return for the first time since The Clone Wars and fought alongside Sabine and the others.  The powerful warrior who was the sister of Satine and who was appointed regent of Mandalore by the Jedi was driven out of power by the Empire and Clan Saxon after refusing to pledge allegiance to the Empire, but she’s back now!  She admitted to Sabine that she’s not the leader that our hero is looking for, and later in the episode she confides in Fenn Rau that she sees the same potential in Sabine that Rau does.  Yet at the end of the episode, Bo-Katan takes the darksaber.  Though I think few would argue against Bo-Katan’s worthiness, it still felt strange – leading me to think that her time wielding the darksaber might be limited as we get more exposition of the Mandalorian civil wars later on this season.

While Bo-Katan was awesome, so was Sabine.  Her character development and arc was one of the biggest strengths of season three, and they seem to have picked right back up on that in season four.  We’ve really seen Rebels become a story with two main characters (Ezra and Sabine), and it’s been awesome to see Sabine’s growth.  In this episode, we see a lot of her awesome fighting skills, we see her rescue her father and reunite her family, we see her portrayed as a skilled and capable leader of Mandalore, and we see her once again confront her past as she battles the weapon she created.  Bo-Katan was great, but Sabine once again made these episodes work.

One thing that the episode did very well was the battle sequences, and there were several of them.  There was the opening assault on the Imperial outpost, the raid on the transports in the canyon, the escape attempt and aerial battle against the TIEs, and the final attack on Saxon’s Star Destroyer in an attempt to destroy the weapon.  These fights were done very well, especially the ambush of the tanks.  That was a thrilling and fun several minutes of action, featuring a number of memorable moments.  The best, however, might have been Kanan falling into a transport full of stormtroopers, then closing the hatch with the force (to make everything dark) and proceeding to kill the troopers.  In many ways, it was a very brief glimpse that was reminiscent of the Darth Vader scene in the hallway from Rogue One.

At the same time, the episodes weren’t perfect.  Firstly (and in the same vein as the battle sequences), one thing that detracted from the action was the reluctance for any killing.  Basically, all you’d see was the hero slice an enemy’s gun with a lightsaber.  This happened numerous times in the episode.  Sometimes, this made sense (like with Kanan), but because it happened so often it began to detract from the gravity of having battles.  Secondly, the stakes seemed to be lowered at the beginning of Part Two.  The end of Part One provided us with some of the darkest and most emotional scenes that we’ve had in Rebels, as Sabine kneels in the ashes of dead Mandalorians from her clan:

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That leaves you with a sense of the gravity of this weapon… but then at the beginning of Part Two, her mother and brother magically survived!  We admittedly don’t know what roles Ursa and Tristan might play later in the season, but at least for the rest of the episode their roles weren’t significant.  It would have provided a far greater gravity of the weapon and a far greater emotional tone in the episode if the weapon Sabine had created was used to kill her family members, but that didn’t happen.  The tone of this was indeed darker than many Rebels episodes we’ve had so far, but I thought this bait-and-switch significantly lowered the emotional gravity of what was about to happen in Part Two.  But given that these are only the first two episodes of what promises to be a very interesting season, in the big scheme of things I’m ok with this because I figure that as the season goes on the true stakes and implications will continue to rise.

Overall, I thought this was a good episode to start the final season of Star Wars Rebels.  Seeing the Mandalorians and the fight sequences is just flat out fun, the return of Bo-Katan helped tie up some loose ends of the Clone Wars while re-introducing a cool character, and Sabine once again stole the show.

My Grade: 8.2

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