In the penultimate episode of Rebels’ Season Two, the mystery isn’t the local fauna of the planet the rebels are trying to call home, but whether additional hints are being laid down to foreshadow something or somethings terrible in next week’s season finale. “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” tentatively is a straight forward episode along the theme of wrapping up the rebels desire to find a permanent base from which to hide, refuel, and strike out against the Galactic Empire, but lurking underneath is a lot more and not by accident, the problem which rears its ugly head is one that is initially hidden and out of sight. A degree of the episode is really dedicated to Hera’s concern for Kanan’s, as well Ezra’s, well being and imminent departure on their mission to Malachor. Likewise, Ezra’s own fate in next week’s season finale may have received some foreshadowing.
We are provided just the inkling of her concern as the episode opens with Kanan and Ezra sparring in the cargo bay. Their lightsabers set to training mode (this is a new thing for televised Star Wars), the two slash and parry, using the Force for advantage, but ultimately end in a draw with Ezra’s blade at Kanan’s neck, and the Jedi Knight’s blade pointed straight at his padawan’s belly. Ezra frustratedly complains of yet another tie, inferring that he’s not necessarily advancing fast enough for his own wishes. Of course, this would mean that he wants to reach a level of expertise that will result in him besting his mentor.
Sabine and Hera observe from above and the Mandalorian makes an innocent comment which Ezra immediately twists into negative criticism, causing the young Jedi to snap at her. Hera diplomatically restates Sabine’s words to cool down Ezra. Strikingly, before the scene concludes Ezra and Kanan voice a disagreement on what victory means for either of them, echoing Yoda’s advice from “Shroud of Darkness.” Victory, the Jedi Master had lectured to Ezra, was not what was important to a Jedi, instead, it’s how one achieves that victory. This is put to the test, as Ezra announces that victory only comes with killing the Inquisitors, while Kanan rebukes his student, telling him that victory is simply surviving. This disagreement is left unresolved as Kanan launches an attack at Ezra’s unprotected back. For Kanan, he uses the opportunity to teach his padawan to never turn his back on an enemy. Ominously, Ezra retorts, “Since when are you my enemy?” The scene then ends with a cut back to Hera with the twi’lek wearing a worried or pained expression.
In a bigger picture, the rebels are busy establishing a base, named after the droid who helped to find it, on the new planet from “The Forgotten Droid.” The Ghost has been tasked with ferrying supplies back and forth from the rebel ships too large to land and after landing with said supplies, we are treated to an unusual tense exchange between Hera and Kanan. Hera perceives Kanan as focused on the mission to Malachor, not on the rebel effort to establish a new home. The relationship between the two becomes a thread which runs through the three acts of the show as part of the episode’s attention to Hera’s fears that she will be losing Kanan.
While Kanan is busy not picking up on Hera’s troubled state (something Sabine is repeatedly shown doing, by the way), Ezra finds Zeb camped out by a bunch of crates, reclining back in a chair, listening to the Star Wars equivalent of a radio, and sipping a drink with a sunset as his main entertainment. Ezra’s intention is to make a farewell to Zeb, acknowledging his trip to Malachor may be a one way affair. The Lasat dismisses this idea in the optimistic belief that every soldier must carry in the face of a dangerous mission, which everyone will return home, regardless of the actual likelihood of such a belief. Instead, Zeb invites Ezra to take a seat beside him and to enjoy the setting sun. It’s a scene that invokes the Vietnam War’s Platoon, of soldiers taking a moment between one battle and another, to simply enjoy the moment. As to be expected, it doesn’t last.
In the process of setting up sensor markers around the growing base, a Phoenix Squadron pilot (who for the sake of this review shall henceforth be referred to as Lt. Red Shirt) meets the wrong end of a multi-legged, ugly-eyed creature and fails to return to camp. This absence results in Hera ordering Sabine and Rex to investigate the problem, which they immediately discover to be boulder size spider-like creatures with nasty temperaments. Rex is captured and hauled away, while Sabine survives due to the spiders being repulsed by the sensor marker and the Ghost showing up to the rescue. The mission of the episode directs our heroes to caves beneath the surface in a bid to rescue Rex. It might be noted, somewhat of an oversight, but after this point, Lt. Red Shirt is never mentioned again, even after the inevitable rescue of Rex from the clutches of the spiders – it goes from “We got Rex!” to “Let’s get out of here!” At no point is there, “We got Rex, but what about Lt. Red Shirt?!” This type of oversight happens from time to time on Rebels, such as in “Wings of the Master” when Hera’s reflections on losing fighters and an entire Corellian corvette are little to nothing. At best, it reveals the writers are hyperfocused on our characters, and at worse, they have a bad habit of using unfortunate rebels to move the plot along.
Assuming that Lt. Red Shirt will receive a nice memorial off screen, we return to our heroes descending into the underground lair of the spider creatures. When a tunnel divides, Hera insists that Ezra go with Kanan, countermanding Kanan’s own order. Her reasoning? They need to get used to not having Jedi around. Quite literally, then, the crew of the Ghost is divided and going in separate directions. More importantly, we should examine the menace of “The Mystery of Chopper Base” against the fears that Hera is essentially keeping just below the surface.
First, we have the spider creatures, who at first glance appear to simply be boulders resting on the ground, until it’s revealed those boulders are actually their abdomen. So the problem is one that’s in plain sight, but at the same time, hidden. This lines up with Hera’s own behavior, it’s something Sabine is seeing, but Kanan is blind to. Second, in order to confront the problem, the party is forced to go underground or beneath the surface, and as this episode progresses, Kanan is required, at Sabine’s urging, to do the same with Hera to reassure her that he will be back. In a clever way, the writers created monsters and a geographic layout that mirrors one of our main character’s emotional problems.
This can also be extended to our Jedi padawan, Ezra. Over the course of the season, the writers have been hinting at problems within Ezra that one cannot necessarily quickly see and acknowledge. They are problems with how Ezra views the desire for power and how he views a Jedi should use that power. As noted above, twice, two different Jedi have rebuked him, be it Yoda advising him that power is not always a good thing, even if it’s used to defend one’s friends or loved ones, and by Kanan, on what victory means – which itself bends back to Yoda’s advice in the same conversation with Ezra. Later in the tunnel, another brief argument also arises as he tries to connect with a spider creature through the Force, against Kanan’s advice, and fails miserably. It’s an astonishing failure based on his continual success with doing so up to now and signals that the padawan may be developing an overconfidence in his own abilities, one more problem to add to the others. Going into the season finale, these problems will come to surface for good or bad.
Speaking of the good, the group ends up finding and freeing Rex, but are pursued back to the Ghost by a mob of spider creatures. After some struggle, and Sabine’s realization that the sensor marker serves as a deterrent, they manage to escape back to Chopper Base. While some feel the spiders compromise the safety of the new planet, Hera digs her heels into the alien soil and announces that this is their new home and nothing will change that. The result is an invisible fence of sensor markers surrounding the base and warding off the spiders. That problem solved, at least for now, Kanan finally approaches Hera and reassures her that they will return from their mission. It’s not clear whether Hera truly believes Kanan, but the two embrace with a camera frame lingering at first on Hera invoking a similar embrace from a recent blockbuster film – Leia’s embrace of Han in The Force Awakens, before Han goes off to ultimately be killed. It’s not the most reassuring cinematic reference, and as the embrace continues, the camera pans up to Kanan’s face, where the Jedi momentarily appears to be just as confident as we’re made to feel. The moment ends with the pair silhouetted against the setting sun, leaving little doubt of the emotional relationship between the two. Regardless of the lack of PDA, it’s fairly safe to say the pair are a couple, and through the course of “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” Hera has been preparing herself for the loss of the person who may mean the most to her in the galaxy.
The episode concludes with Ezra lying in the grass next to the sensor marker fence and a spider creature ambling opposite the reclining Jedi. Once again he tries to reach out to monster and again he fails. He’s perplexed by his failure and is suddenly joined by Ahoska Tano, who’s arrival at Chopper Base has been the only thing holding back a departure to Malachor. The former padawan of Anakin Skywalker tells Ezra from her experience, just when one thinks they understand the Force, they learn how little they actually know. Ezra Bridger responds, “I don’t think I ever understood the Force to begin with.” It’s an interesting final line for Ezra, but also ambiguous and potentially opening up the padawan to become victim to an offer for knowledge of the Force in the very near future. “The Mystery of Chopper Base” ends with a somber audio cue titled on the StarWars.com site, “Call of Darkness.” The future does not bode well for our rebels.
“The Mystery of Chopper Base” is faced with the problem of being a penultimate episode to a highly anticipated season finale. As a result, it’s provided the burden of providing an interesting episode which cannot outshine the upcoming season finale, but at the same time, continue the buildup of excitement and interest leading into that finale. In some cases, this means the episode serves as a vehicle to move characters into the positions they need to be in for said finale. This can mean physically moving them, such as slapping them in a ship and sending them to the periphery of their destination, but it can also mean emotionally moving them. “The Mystery of Chopper Base,” chose to do the latter, preparing our characters emotionally for what is to come. In this case, it meant acknowledging Hera’s fears that Kanan will leave and never return. This not only benefits Hera’s own characterization, but helps raise the stakes of the pending “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Only Ezra’s attempt to bid goodbye to Zeb touched upon the seriousness of traveling to Malachor was the other point in the episode when the writers highlighted the danger that the characters comprehend is awaiting them. Thus, the conflict in the episode, the spider creatures, served almost entirely as a physical and visual analog to what was going on beneath the surface for a number of our heroes.
Within these confines, “The Mystery of Chopper Base” succeeded because the in-episode stakes created by the spider creatures were never meant to be serious. Instead, the purpose of the episode, to move our characters emotionally into the space they need to be in, in preparation for the season finale was quite successful.