“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.
The real twist comes later, as the Ghost’s crew tries to rescue Trayvis from the Imperial threat. It quickly becomes clear that he’s not quite the heroic figure we hoped for. Trayvis can’t keep pace with the group and suggests surrender to the Empire almost the instant they appear. But the final blow comes when he gets a blaster in his hand while alone with Ezra and Hera – and turns on them. Tayvis was an Imperial agent all along, placed in a position where he can track Rebel forces across the galaxy and mark especially dangerous cells for his superiors.
It’s a twist that some fans will likely see coming, especially when Trayvis openly asks for Rebel intel during the escape, but it remains a well-executed one. “Vision of Hope” does a great job of hiding the truth in plain sight. Ezra’s vision about Trayvis knowing his parents was accurate, but not in the way he thought – Trayvis was the one who turned them over to Stormtroopers. “Vision of Hope” is built entirely on a theme of optimism versus cynicism that pivots around this moment. Ezra’s vision, Hera’s optimism during the broadcast, the more cynical comments from other crew members is all appropriate foreshadowing. Even Kanan warns Ezra (and the audience) not to trust his vision fully, and he was right – while the visions were technically correct, it lacked all the context of Trayvis’ true loyalties.
While it makes for a great twist moment, the downside is that the characters aren’t really doing much that’s new for two-thirds of the episode. Rebels is still hitting all the right notes, but falling into this comfortable routine could easily become a rut without new details to mix things up. We’re not even allowed to dwell on the fact that the entire Rebel movement is compromised. Consequences will likely emerge in future episodes, but the short runtime means we just end up with the status quo in the end. While tightly constructed, I can’t help but feel “Visions of Hope” would’ve worked better as a two-parter to allow the significance of what’s happening to fully sink in.
It’s probably worth mentioning that one of the best part of Rebels right now is its villainous cast. Trayvis (played by Brent Spiner) makes a perfect turn from optimistic leader to Imperial lackey, presenting enough clues to pick up when rewatching the episode. Agent Kallus is also a welcome sight after being the Inquisitor’s second-in-command for several episodes, and has somehow become an imposing force of his own. The voice work of these two characters is top-notch, and they really make Rebels feel like it’s facing something bigger than Stormtrooper squadrons.
Bottom Line: “Vision of Hope” is the best episode of Rebels 2015 season. It begins as a well-executed, but by the numbers story, only to turn the tables in a twist with major implications for the Star Wars galaxy. Combine that with a solidly-structured plot, engaging action sequences, and stellar performances from its villains, and “Vision of Hope” proves that Rebels will leave its mark.
Recommendation: Whether you’re a Rebels fan or enjoy Star Wars in general, “Vision of Hope” is well worth watching..[rating=4]