TV REVIEW: Star Wars Rebels

Star Wars Rebels is on the up. After a decent pilot (even after a special edition with extra Darth Vader) and two fun but not especially great episodes, it moved into third gear with last week's Rise of the Old Masters, a brilliant show that gave us insights into Kanan's history with the Jedi and the reasoning behind his reluctance to train Ezra, as well as properly introducing the Inquisitor and the levels he's happy to go to in his mission to hunt down the last Jedi. The Inquisitor showed he's pretty tasty in combat (even with that cheating lightsaber), and Jason Isaac's vocal talents are appropriately evil. Now we're following Ezra while he's off to the Imperial Academy in episode four, Breaking Ranks.

Once again, our fearless band of rebels need to intercept a shipment of something, this week's special cargo being "kyber crystals" that the Empire are planning on adding to their arsenal. We're not told a huge amount about them, only that they must stop the Imperial navy transporting them, although keen Star Wars fans in the know may be aware that Kyber crystals made appearances in an earlier draft of Episode IV, as well as its follow-up novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye and a couple of episodes of The Clone Wars.

Of course, Hera and crew don't know where the cargo is, so Ezra is sent undercover to the local Imperial training centre to find the co-ordinates of the transport. On the base he finds a surprising ally in his quest to outwit the Empire, although as per usual the dastardly Agent Kallus is in close proximity, as is the Inquisitor and a ton of the usual cool hardware. One thing that immediately stood out in this episode is how well the kids are written. Breaking Ranks contains a fair few young 'uns training to be stormtroopers, and in the franchise's past children have never really come across well - all you have to do is remember "Are you an angel?" and shudder.

Ezra of course is central to this, and his maturity has begun to grow with Kanan's teachings. Fellow cadet Zare has a seriousness to him and understandably so; he signed up to search for his sister, who previously joined the Empire only to subsequently disappear. It's a very Ezra-centric episode, with frequent interludes with Hera and Kanan engaging the convoy carrying the crystals and Zeb, Satine and Chopper relegated to cameos, and provides some interesting locations, namely "The Well" - a pit in the training base floor that the cadets must climb out of via some very Mario-esque flying platforms.

There's an interesting side to Ezra here, one that shows a possible alternate life for him had he not become entangled with the Ghost's crew. He gets on well with his comrades and fits in, but you hope he'd never had ended up there. It reminds me of the original Star Wars; it took me a while to figure out Luke was complaining that his uncle wouldn't let him join the Empire, ironic considering he spends the rest of the film fighting it. Even with his friends Luke wouldn't have lasted long, and would have likely jumped ship with Biggs. The same with Ezra: whatever his fate, he would have rather embraced any other than standing alongside the likes of Kallus and the Inquisitor.

The action was a lot of fun, and it's great to see more of the AT-DP walkers in action. The space battle between the Ghost and three Imperial cruisers was impressive, and I like the use of the Phantom as a decoy. The scenes showed more of Hera's excellent piloting skills, and the constant outnumbering of the group versus the Empire is resulting in some excellent dramatic tension, and just for a second I thought they were going to fail their mission.

What also stood out is Zare's refusal to escape the Empire, with him instead staying to find his sister. It was a mature moment on Ezra's part to accept this, and one wonders if we'll see Zare again in the future and what his fate will be. Will he find his sister, or will he be a faceless stormtrooper fighting for the flag of Imperial fascism? Or will he be a puppet for the Inquisitor?

The animation style is much easier on the eyes than the more angular designs of The Clone Wars, and the show looks great. The old concepts like the AT-DP (a Joe Johnston creation) fit seamlessly into the design canon, and the Imperial transports (apparently reused from an Episode I design) also blend right in. Kevin Kiner's score was equally appropriate and I didn't pick out any modified cues this time, so it was nice to not play "spot the OT music" for once.

Breaking Ranks is another fine episode to follow the excellent Rise of the Old Masters, and while the general story of intercepting cargo seems to be a regular plot, it's not skimping on experience and character growth for Ezra. And there wasn't one lightsaber seen all episode.

- Charlie

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