The ninth episode of Star Wars Rebels season four was released online this morning, and it serves as the conclusion to the first part of the season, as now Rebels goes on a break before returning in 2018 for the final seven episodes of the show’s run.
“Rebel Assault” was also the first instance this season of Rebels returning to the single episode format, as previously the show went with two episodes a week this year. In the first two weeks, this meant a two-part episode, and then in the past two weeks it simply meant two different episodes that were connected. It was a very strange decision for the show, considering this format, to switch to showing just one 22-minute episode before a long break, since this episode didn’t quite pack the significant punch needed.
Nonetheless, it was still a good episode in a strong season of Rebels, but it ended on a big cliffhanger that leaves you feeling the build up but with little to no payoff – yet. So we’ll attempt to review this episode simply as it is, while noting that when we get part two it will likely make part one stronger too.
As always, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, full spoilers are ahead:
The episode wasted no time jumping in to things, as it starts with the Imperials detecting an incoming Rebel assault, led by Hera Syndulla piloting an X-Wing (!). That leads to an extended dogfight sequence above Lothal as TIE Fighters rush to defend the planet while Syndulla’s squadron begins their attack. Grand Admiral Thrawn, commanding the battle from the bridge of the Chimaera, orders Vult Skerris to attack in the TIE Defender, and Skerris proceeds to take out a couple of X-Wings quickly. Hera swoops in and destroys his escort TIEs, but Skerris takes off after her. Syndulla has an idea, and flies directly at the Star Destroyer. Thrawn orders Skerris to break off his pursuit, but after the pilot declines Thrawn orders the Destroyer to fire. The Destroyer hits both ships, disabling their shields, and Syndualla creates an explosion by attacking the Destroyer. Skerris loses Hera in the smoke, and she suddenly kills the throttle, turning her ship around to angle a precise shot at Skerris, destroying him and the TIE Defender. Seizing the opening, Hera and the remaining Rebel pilots head for the planet’s surface… where they’re met by Thrawn’s second wave, a ton of TIE Fighters. While that attack had been taking place, the Rebels on the ground set charges to blow up the ground turrets, and after having done that they turn to see the Rebel assault on the city… only to see what’s left of the fleet burning as they fall from the sky. In an emotional moment, Kanan desperately calls for Hera on the comlink, to no reply, and he slowly and begrudgingly goes with the rest of the crew as they retreat back to base.
Thrawn dispatches Rukh to find any surviving pilots to take prisoner – especially Hera Syndulla. Hera survived the crash, as did Chopper, and they meet up with another surviver, Mart, and rescue him. Rukh arrives and fights Hera and Mart in hand-to-hand combat, defeating both. But Chopper intervenes and rescues Hera, allowing the three to escape Rukh. Meanwhile, as the other Rebels are flying their speeders away, Kanan suddenly stops and informs the others he’s going back for Hera. The others watch him go, and they reluctantly turn and leave. Kanan is stopped by the Loth-wolf on the road, however, who once again utters, “Dume.”
Hera, Mart, and Chopper find a sewer port and create a distraction to draw the stormtroopers and walker away from it, and Mart and Chopper get ready to enter it. Hera’s almost there when Rukh arrives and stops her, and soon Imperial transports arrive too. Hera orders Mart and Chopper to leave and forces them to do so by closing the sewer port, and she is subsequently overpowered and captured, coming face-to-face with Governor Pryce before being taken away as prisoner. Mart and Chopper escape, however, and upon opening another entrance to the sewer find Kanan standing there to meet them. Mart and Chopper explain what happened to Hera and Mart apologizes, but Kanan says, “It’s alright Mart, there’s nothing you could have done. But there is something I can do.” At that, Kanan drives off with those two back toward the Rebel camp, while the Loth-wolf watches.
Here are some of my thoughts from the episode:
- HERA really got a chance to shine in this one, taking center stage. We know she’s a terrific pilot, and she really proves it in this episode with her actions flying her X-Wing fighter. Her dogfight with Skerris was great and showed her capabilities (as well as Skerris’ pride). But we knew that there are few pilots who are a match for Hera; what we also got to see in this episode were Hera’s other skills. Crash-landed and stuck behind enemy lines on Lothal, we see Hera’s resolve, her hand-to-hand combat skills, and her leadership looking to save her other pilots first. It might have been the strongest episode yet when it comes to Hera’s character.
- CHOPPER also got a chance to shine too, rescuing Hera (twice) and taking on Rukh to distract him. He was hesitant to leave Hera, but she ultimately forced him to – and knowing Chopper’s history gives it more weight, since it means that Chopper may have just lost a second pilot.
- THE SPACE BATTLE was really well-done and engaging, and, of course, X-WINGS! The iconic Rebel ships made their debut in Rebels in this episode, and while some were disappointed that the show didn’t show how the Rebellion came to acquire those ships, I’m ok with it because the Spectres don’t have to be responsible for every significant development in the early years of the Rebellion. In fact, I think it’s a refreshing choice to opt not to show how the Alliance acquired those ships. It sure was great to see them in combat, however, and the whole space battle was really well-done.
- THRAWN. It’s the little things that make Thrawn so beloved, and Rebels has managed to capture some of them this season, such as his utterance of “fascinating” when he encountered Ezra earlier. In this episode, there was another moment that was just so Thrawn, and it was great. As Hera heads toward the Star Destroyer pursued by Vult Skerris (during which the Star Wars theme played, a very rare occurrence for Rebels which was a really nice touch), Thrawn orders, “Skerris, break off your pursuit.” “Negative command, I almost have her,” Skerris replies. Thrawn mutters to himself, “How unfortunate,” before ordering the Destroyer to “Open fire.” The lieutenant begins to protest, saying, “But sir, Commander Skerris -” but Thrawn cuts him off: “- is playing into Syndulla’s hands. Now open. Fire.” It once again was another reminder that the show has made it clear that Thrawn’s only weaknesses are incompetent, prideful Imperials (and there are a lot of them) and the unexpected supernatural (the Bendu).
- The fight with RUKH was cool and Hera held her own in hand-to-hand combat, though Rukh did win. The assassin brought in at least two Rebel pilot prisoners, and it’s great to see him in action. Hopefully soon, however, we’ll see him actually do something that has lasting consequences that fully shows how dangerous he is.
- There should have been more emotional significance with the attack on Lothal failing from EZRA. He’s been anticipating this attack for the better part of a season and a half, and he’s always been motivated by helping Lothal. It was clear that he was astonished and saddened seeing the Rebel fighters crash and burn, but it felt like there should have been so much more emotional significance with his reaction considering the circumstances. I do, however, think his short answer to Sabine and decision to let Kanan go back alone was a hint at his anger, but it wasn’t fleshed out.
- The real emotional weight of the episode centered around KANAN, and I don’t think that was a bad decision (I just wish there had been more with Ezra, not replacing that with Kanan). His desperate cry for Hera to answer her com, then his decision to go back for her, were compelling, and unlike with Hera (who we know survives the events of Rebels), it carried a lot of significance since most probably assumed he was going to his death (and along those lines, the decision by the rest of the Ghost Crew to let Kanan go it alone seemed incredibly out of character for them, though I suppose it was a convenient way to further Kanan’s plot). But the wolves showed up again, and there’s more and more intrigue with them the more we see them. The wolf again says “Dume,” and this time Kanan says that he understands and asks what he has to do. The next we see of him, he’s right where Mart and Chopper are exiting the tunnel and drives them away, saying there’s something he can do to help Hera, all while the wolf watches. What did the wolf tell Kanan that he needs to do? I still think it’s very possible that Kanan will die sooner rather than later, and the show seems to be setting that up for the second half of this storyline.
- Along those lines, I think this would have been much, much stronger if Rebels decided to air back-to-back episodes this week like they’ve been doing all season. We know that Hera survives, so the stakes are lowered a bit, and the cliffhanger is quite strong. There’s a positive side to that: the serialized, inter-connectedness, single-storyline of Rebels this season is a huge, huge, huge positive and is making this season stronger, but it also means that for a break like this there’s bound to be a cliffhanger. I think a double episode would have worked much better here, but it is what it is.
All things considered, this was another strong episode of Star Wars Rebels. There was a fun space battle, a cool Thrawn moment, and an opportunity for Hera (and Chopper) to really shine, while also taking into account the emotional moments with Kanan going back for Hera, as well as the continued intrigue with Kanan and the wolves. I think the jury will remain out for exactly how good of an episode this will turn out to be until we see the second part, but looking at it by itself it’s still a strong one.
My grade: 8.7