From the return of Rex and the other clone troopers on Rebels, a friction has existed between them and our Jedi Kanan. It’s an unsurprisingly rough relationship given how the history of the Republic’s Clone Army and the Jedi concluded: Order 66. The elimination of the Jedi at the hands of their fellow soldiers and comrades in arms ranks as one of the gravest betrayals in not just the Star Wars universe, but most literary worlds. The last season of Clone Wars touched upon the conspiracy behind the order and arguably, some of the most emotional moments of Revenge of the Sith lie within the short montage unveiling its execution. In our own story, Kanan Jarrus personally witnessed his Jedi Master killed at the hands of clone troopers, soldiers he had only moments before sat happily beside around a fire. Before he took on the name of Kanan, he was hunted and pursued across planets by the same clone troopers (see The Last Padewan comic series).
As a result, it’s not a surprise that Kanan has had difficulty overcoming these last memories of the clone troopers, despite the years and facts which now define what occurred in the last days of the Old Republic and at the dawn of an empire. Since the clones arrival on Rebels, they have gradually earned small steps of respect from Kanan, but at the start of “Stealth Strike,” it’s made very clear that a prejudice still survives in the former Jedi’s mind when he compares Rex to a storm trooper. Regardless, the purpose of the episode is to draw the two together and it does so admirably.
We begin with a Rebel Corellian corvette, under the command of Commander Jun Sato with Ezra Bridger along for a hyperspace ride to investigate the disappearance of another rebel ship. The mystery of their vanishing is immediately revealed when the corvette is ripped out of hyperspace by a new Imperial ship with the power to create gravity wells that pull ships from the faster than light mode of travel. Sato has only a moment to send a call for help before the rebels are captured and taken prisoner. It’s enough time and in short order we find the other members of the crew of the Ghost planning a rescue mission. Over Kanan’s objections, Hera orders him to take Rex, given his military knowledge, and go rescue their friends.
Rex’s military knowledge opens the door to a subject that’s continually touched upon in the episode, the transition of the military under the Old Republic to the martial forces of the Galactic Empire. A straight line of continuity is drawn from the clone armies to the Empire’s military, be it the protocols employed to an Imperial officer attempting to buy Rex’s loyalty with an offer of an appointment to an Imperial training academy. The transition from the clones to the storm troopers is a story we still have yet to see unfold in any of our expanded universe materials, only the simple knowledge that once the war over the Separatists concluded, the clones were effectively sent into retirement. It is obvious, however, that they left a legacy in the wake of their service.
While neither Rex nor Kanan are overjoyed with teaming up, as a sense of rivalry has existed between them on a personal level based on shared training of Ezra, Rex does exude a sense of excitement at returning to a world for which he was born. Courtesy a stolen shuttle (with excellent decoration from Sabine) and two sets of storm trooper armor, the pair along with Chopper head for the last known destination of Sato and Ezra.
Upon arrival they discover the new Imperial ship, accompanied by a couple other Imperial cruisers, and Rex uses his military know how to get them permission to enter the ship’s landing bay. What follows is a tit for tat display by both men of their abilities, one a clone trooper and the other a Jedi, as they infiltrate the ship hunting for Ezra and the other rebels. Naturally, Ezra has had no intention of simply waiting for a rescue and in a display of growing Jedi prowess, overpowers three storm troopers and runs immediately into his rescuers. The definition of “by run” in this instance meaning stuns the pair believing them to be regular storm troopers. It allows for some levity, which this episode sprinkles throughout as an enjoyable element.
Just as quickly as the three meet up, Ezra convinces Kanan they need to split up again; Ezra and Chopper to disable or sabotage the Imperial ship and our odd couple to rescue Sato and his men. Ezra and Chopper find their way to the mandatory cavernous nerve center of whatever weapon the Empire has created (minus guard rails), where Ezra distracts the engineers while Chopper does something to sabotage the ship’s gravity weapon. Once again Ezra displays a growing acuity in the skills of a Jedi, which he will do again one more time, astonishing Sato and most likely, the viewer as well. His skill has grown considerably since the first season of the show. After this, everyone once again meets up, only to break apart with different goals.
The split this time, the last split, involves Rex breaking away to hold off pursuing Imperial troops, while Kanan and Ezra hurry the other freed Rebels back to their corvette to escape. It’s a critical scene in the episode and for the relationship between Kanan and Rex, with Rex disappearing behind a blast door while a look of grave concern spreads across the Jedi’s face. One might peer into Kanan’s head and see a sign suddenly illuminated blinking, “I care about this guy!” As a result, Kanan sends Ezra off on his own to lead the rebels (resulting in the above mentioned impressive display) and goes back for Rex, who had been captured and taken before Admiral Brom Titus, commander of the weapon.
It’s a moment where two timelines are more firmly woven together; the timeline of the Prequel Trilogy and that of the Original Trilogy. Titus questions Rex’s loyalty to the Empire, which Rex responds his and the clones’ loyalty was to the Republic not its successor. For one of the first times in the series, however, we are allowed a glimpse into the motivations of the Empire and its supporters. Titus turns to Rex and asks him why he is fighting against the peace and order that Rex and the other clones had fought for. Order out of chaos is one of the chief purposes of the Empire, one which when viewed from a state of anarchy might even seem acceptable, if not admirable. Of course, we know that it’s the way the Empire achieves this order which informs its evil nature, but this statement essentially lays at Rex’s feet the idea that he and the other clones are almost directly responsible for the Galactic Empire. It was their fighting and their blood which helped to make Emperor Palpatine’s rise to power complete.
The uncomfortable nature of this line of questioning does not go on much longer as torture commences and then Kanan appears and rescues Rex to his delight. Quickly they exit the ship via escape pod, are picked up by Sato, and are in the process of making their escape to hyperspace when the Imperial ship’s gravity wells drags them away from complete escape. At this point, Chopper’s sabotage goes into effect and our favorite sociopathic droid succeeds in killing hundreds, if not thousands of Imperials, by causing the gravity wells to malfunction and drag the surrounding Imperial ships toward Admiral Titus’ beloved weapon. Multiple collisions occur, followed by one massive, but beautiful, explosion. Our heroes win and escape to freedom, and of course, our odd couple from the beginning are now close friends.
“Stealth Strike” is a genuinely solid episode of Rebels for a number of reasons. The writing raises darker implications of the efforts of the clone troopers during the Clone Wars and also helped build a bridge between Kanan and Rex. Humor was not absent and the best Star Wars is the Star Wars where the fan is allowed a chuckle from time to time, be it an uncomfortable conversation between Han and the other end of an intercom system or Ezra accidentally stunning his rescuers. The storm trooper armor clad heroes running around an Imperial weapon echoed A New Hope resulting in a soft dose of welcomed nostalgia. The animation remained at the superb level that we have come to expect from Rebels, in both the lighting, framing, and direction. It also introduced one more character into the villainous row of those who serve the Empire, Admiral Titus. As long as Rebels can continue to produce episodes like “Steal Strike,” it will continue to be a must see show for fans in need of visual visits to the Star Wars universe.