"Vision of Hope" proves that Star Wars: Rebels is willing to take a closer look at the dark side.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the on-demand release from WatchDisneyXD.com. It will not air on cable television networks until Feb. 2, 2015.
From the beginning, Star Wars: Rebels never seemed especially interested in exploring moral complexities. Its heroes were cartoonishly good, its villains were ludicrously evil, and that was everything you needed to grasp to enjoy the series. But as the show moves forward, that dynamic seems to be changing - Rebels showed that some Stormtroopers actually could be sympathetic to the Rebel cause and is teasing that Kanan may have spent some time with the dark side.
"Vision of Hope" goes even farther, setting up a very well-executed twist where Rebels' optimism turns out to be a major weakness. It's not quite an "I am your father"-scale event, partly because we return to status quo when the episode ends. But it comes close, and shows that Rebels is willing to take bigger risks to make its characters more interesting.
Unfortunately, that also means I can't say anything more without getting into spoiler territory. Skip ahead to page two's Bottom Line if you must, otherwise you can watch the episode on Disney XD or iTunes.
The episode opens with Ezra's lightsaber training session. His task: Deflect blaster shots from the rest of the crew to hit a Stormtrooper helmet. But Ezra can't quite focus, knowing that today is the day Senator Gall Trayvis will make his latest speech to anti-Imperial sympathizers. Suddenly, Ezra has a vision that tells him three things: The Ghost crew will soon meet Trayvis, they will be surrounded by Stormtroopers, and Trayvis will tell Ezra something about his parents. Most of the crew is skeptical of this vision... except for the fact that Ezra deflected every blaster shot while it was occurring.
Sure enough, Trayvis makes his broadcast and offers a coded message that his next stop will be on Lothal. Trouble is, the code seems especially simplistic, which means the Empire likely cracked it as well. After visiting an old friend from the Imperial academy, Ezra confirms that Agent Kallus is setting a trap for Lothal's Rebels, and Trayvis himself will be the bait. Now the Ghost must push forward to rescue a force for hope even they look up to, before the Stormtroopers can silence him.
In terms of action-beats, the first half of the episode isn't anything new, but has refined its pacing to near perfection. It starts slow, as the crew attempts to sneak to the meeting place without attracting attention from the hiding Stormtrooper forces. Agent Kallus enters and makes a surprisingly chilling speech, setting the tone for what's to come. The blaster fights are satisfying, yet tense, with a feeling that the Ghosts may be out of their depth for a change. There's even room for a little comic relief when Chopper's sole responsibility - guarding the exit hatch - is dashed by two Stormtroopers who walk past him and seal it off. It's all by the numbers, but presented so well that you'll enjoy yourself regardless.