Near the end of the very uneven return of George Lucas to the Star Wars cinematic universe, a young Anakin Skywalker exclaims in the midst of a star fighter dog fight, “Now this is pod racing!” The character’s gleeful shout was to sign with an exclamation point how fun, fast and exciting the moment was in the film, even if it fell rather flat in reality. Halfway through ‘Fire Across the Galaxy,’ someone could have leapt to their feet and shouted, “Now this is Star Wars!” and they would have been absolutely right.
Ever since the highly debatable debut of the prequel trilogy, there has been a hungry desire to find something that feels, more than looks, like the fun and exhilaration of the original trilogy. The movies of the prequel trilogy slogged and tumbled their way closer to that point, but never quite captured it before the ending credits of Revenge of the Sith. Instead, surprisingly or not, the next closest and perhaps also successful, attempt to capture that feeling came in the form of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which ran for six seasons until being canceled prematurely by the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney. The show filled the void between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith with the adventures of the Jedi Order, notably Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano. For this reviewer, as the show progressed, it earnestly began to feel ‘more Star Wars.’ Upon cancellation, many lamented that the fans had lost something irreplaceable and the announcement of a new animated show, Star Wars Rebels, only generated fears of a Disney-fied Star Wars cartoon, suitable for sandwiching between Disney’s formulaic television shows.
Since Rebels premier, the show wobbled and stumbled, as if shaking off the dust of expectations and seeking to find itself. It’s surrogate character, Ezra Bridger, was young and it seemed surrounded by characters that matched the checked off boxes of cliché teammates. The show, however, was intent on capturing the Star Wars of Star Wars from the beginning, drawing upon the artwork and ideas of noted Star Wars artist, Ralph McQuarrie, and unashamedly crafting its musical score from John Williams’ stirring work. The setting of the show was placed only a handful of years before Star Wars and premised on the rise of the Rebel Alliance. Over the fourteen to fifteen episodes (there is debate over how the episodes are counted), Rebels has slowly earned the right to honestly state, “This is Star Wars,” and perhaps it hit this magical point in ‘Fire Across the Galaxy.’
The episode begins nearly in medias res with our band of rebels at the beginning of their plan to save their teammate, Kanan, from the Empire. When we last left off, Kanan was in the clutches of the Inquisitor and Grand Moff Tarkin, being tortured to reveal everything he knew of his fellow rebels. When torture in orbit of the plains planet Lothal proved fruitless, the decision was made to take the Jedi to the volcanic Mustafar, where Darth Vader was born after the climatic duel between him and Obi-wan Kenobi and a place infamously known as that where Jedi go to die. In order to stop this from happening, the team steal an Imperial cargo vessel thanks to Sabine’s acrobatic taunting and distraction of the storm troopers guarding the craft. En route to Mustafar, the team also picks up the stolen TIE fighter from earlier in the season, then set off to save their friend.
This all happens relatively quickly, it’s a fast paced episode that only gains momentum as it proceeds. While the crew of the Ghost make their way to Mustafar, Kanan is still in the interrogation cell aboard Tarkin’s star destroyer and still being tortured. Our first clue to a surprising and delightful end comes from the interrogation of Kanan by the Inquisitor, who demands to know the identity of “Fulcrum.” Kanan doesn’t know and receives violent arcs of electricity in his side for his defiance. Yes, kids, the torture continues in this episode!
Team Ghost arrive in their stolen vessel and use the TIE fighter to deliver an electric magnetic pulse/ion explosive into the cargo hangar of the star destroyer, knocking out systems and knocking unconscious the ship’s compliment of storm troopers. The Grand Moff is not one easily beaten and by quickly recognizing the attack for what it was, had ordered for reinforcements that show up to slam shut the window of little to no resistance the rebels were hoping to use to find and free Kanan. At this point, the feeling of watching Star Wars begins to creep in, as we watch our heroes escape and exchange fire with storm troopers while running through the gray Imperial corridors with blast doors shutting left and right. The rescue party (this one not composed of Han, Chewie, Luke and droids), is forced to split up with Ezra seeking out Kanan and releasing him.
The absence of the Inquisitor in Kanan’s cell is surprising, but only so far as it seems intentional to bring the Jedi and his padewan together to be dealt with at the end of a red lightsaber. Darth Vader, at the beginning of the season, had ordered the Inquisitor to eliminate any force capable individuals he discovered, “Children of the Force,” if they refused to serve the Empire. It appears this directive guided his decision to allow Ezra to reach and free Kanan, as the three face off in your reactor hyperdrive chamber of dizzying heights and no guard rails. In the duel that ensues, we see creative twists, as Kanan borrows Ezra’s lightsaber and makes quick use of its stun gun capabilities, forcing the Inquisitor to defend against stun blasts in between slashes of the light saber. Eventually, Ezra draws upon the Force to retrieve Kanan’s light saber that had been swinging like a trophy from the Inquisitor’s belt and joins the battle, with the villain tactfully using the Force to knock his opponents away to relieve himself of the burden of defending two attackers at once. Then, igniting the reverse end of his lightsaber, flings it at Ezra, knocking the inexperienced hero off the platform to his presumed death.
The Inquisitor relishes the apparent victory and questions Kanan’s will to fight, “You have no one left to fight for…” It was just part of an ongoing series of taunts, wherein the Inquisitor forces Kanan to admit that he had run away from his Jedi Master, rather than to stand and fight. It’s an emotional moment, as much as a Jedi might be allowed, as Kanan must collect himself from the resurrected memory of losing his teacher and now having lost a student. The tension boils over with the sudden question, “Is Kanan going to lose himself to anger?” as the Jedi’s eyes narrow and he adjusts his grip on his light saber. The answer is no, it’s determination as Kanan confesses to the ilk,”I have nothing to hold me back.” In the character of the Jedi that we have seen drawn over the last 37 years, it’s emotional attachment which holds back the Jedi, and it is release of these attachments that bring them to their highest ability. In the climactic moment of the episode, perhaps the season, Kanan overcomes his attachments and displays the skill and strength of the Jedi he has been trying to become since the day he fled as a padewan.
Kanan takes up Ezra’s dropped lightsaber and furiously attacks the Inquisitor who can only retreat against the onslaught. Even as the Inquisitor attempts to use his spinning lightsaber attack, Kanan quickly strikes forward with both blades into the handle of the Inquisitor’s weapon, and slices it in two, disarming the villain and sending the weapons plummeting into the star destroyer’s hyperdrive systems. The weapons spark the first of a chain of catastrophic explosions and Kanan finds himself with his lightsabers flanking the neck of the Inquisitor, who hangs from the walkway. Before Kanan can administer a death blow, the Inquisitor snarls, “You have no idea of what you have unleashed…” then releases his grip and falls to his presumed doom. It’s a surprisingly dark twist, especially for the show that many believed was going to end up more Ewok than Wookie.
Speaking of presumed falls to their death, we learn that Ezra had landed on a lower platform and had remained unconscious until the end of the duel, at which point the two Jedi flee the ship. At the same time, Hera, Zeb and Sabine had been forced to take a TIE fighter to escape and discovered that Chopper, left in charge of the cargo ship, had vanished. Joining them in pursuit from swarms of TIE Fighters are Kanan and Ezra, the pair also in a borrowed TIE Fighter. Death or capture seemed inescapable without the rebels having the ability to flee to hyperspace and as the flurry of TIE fighter attacks reached their crescendo, the cargo ship emerges from hyperspace, accompanied by several Corellian corvettes (the very first ship one sees in Star Wars, being pursued by the Star Destroyer) and surprisingly, the Ghost. Quickly the team dock with the cargo ship and escape, thanks in part to the protection provided by the unexpected company.
Safely away, mission accomplished, the question arises, “Who is piloting the Ghost?” In the next minute, the crew is greeted by a hologram of Senator Bail Organ, aka Jimmy Smits, who announces that the ships belonged to other rebel cells (Yes, Virginia, there is a rebellion.). But the question still remains, who was in charge of the Ghost? The answer is one that actually belongs to two questions, the previous one, and another that has been a source of debate for Star Wars fandom since the debut of the Clone Wars, did Ahsoka Tano survive Order 66 and the culling of the Jedi? The answer to the latter is an astounding yes, as Ahsoka emerges as a fully grown woman and Jedi to greet the team of rebels. In a heart beat, Rebels and Clone Wars are bridged together by Anakin Skywalker’s padewan.
For fans of Clone Wars, who last saw Ahsoka walk away from the Jedi Order in that show, her emergence must be cathartic. Her character had started out something similar to our Ezra Bridger and had slowly developed into a deeper individual, who rightfully questioned the actions of her superiors and helped convey the depiction of the Jedi Order in its last days as one handicapped by politics and indecisiveness. Many had speculated that she was Fulcrum, based on markings on containers from an earlier episode, and a pat on the back for those who did.
The moment to bask in this revelation is fleeting. Ahsoka Tano was special because she was Anakin Skywalker’s only student and her departure may have helped considerably with his own detachment and estrangement from the Jedi Order, which lead to his successful recruitment by Emperor Palpatine to become Darth Vader. Her arrival here was immediately then mirrored by the last seconds of the show, following Tarkin’s return to Lothal with a new solution to the rebel problem; disembarking behind him, Vader.
Season two has immediately gotten much more interesting.