Rebels’ mid-season finale is packed with action, even if it leaves us with more questions than answers.
It’s been two months since we first met the heroes of Star Wars: Rebels. We’ve observed their personalities, learned their backstories, and watched them defeat Stormtroopers in ways that make Han Solo look like a clumsy oaf. Now Rebels has run for just long enough that we don’t need to spend time introducing settings, villains, or bizarre alien races. It can just dive in and do something incredible, and since we’re familiar with everyone involved we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
That’s not to say Rebels isn’t putting effort into its characters or pacing anymore, it definitely is. It’s just that Rebels has reached the point where it’s comfortably broken in, like a pair of shoes that feel great but hurt a little when you first put them on. That means “Gathering Forces” is an episode that’s not especially challenging, but remarkably satisfying. And if the hints teased in this episode are anything to go on, the best is yet to come.
If you haven’t watched “Gathering Forces” (or “Empire Day”, which preceded it), you can catch up via Disney XD or services like iTunes.
Last week, the Ghost crew’s plans to wreck Lothal’s Empire Day celebrations were complicated by Tseebo, a Rodian whose brain augmentations have downloaded countless Imperial secrets. Realizing his tactical value, the heroes managed to break through an Imperial blockade, but not without a hyperspace tracker being placed on their ship’s hull. Discovering the tracker, the Ghost realizes this might be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone; lure the Inquisitor into a final confrontation while safely sending Tseebo somewhere he cannot be found.
“Gathering Forces” is Rebels’ mid-season finale, meaning there’s little time spent on setup or character development. Instead, it’s almost entirely about payoff, trusting you’ve watched enough of the show to be up to speed. Not that the story is so complex that you’ll be confused if this is your jumping on point: Here are some good guys. Here are some bad guys. The good guys are setting a trap for the bad guys. Fight!
The limited character development we do see revolves around Ezra’s reaction to Tseebo, but does very little to resolve it. After Tseebo’s bombshell that he knows what happened to Ezra’s parents, he doesn’t get to explain everything he knows before Ezra snaps at him for not doing more to help him. It’s heavily implied that this might be Ezra’s first “turning to the dark side moment”, but the nice touch is that his anger at Tseebo is part of his defense mechanism. Ezra notes that he had to believe his parents were dead, or else he would’ve assumed they were coming for him and held off developing survival skills. The trouble is, while Ezra eventually mends fences with Tseebo, further information about his family doesn’t go beyond this point, clearly intended for an upcoming episode.
Instead, “Gathering Forces” is all about the fight scenes. Starting with a fantastic space battle where Ghost holds off a TIE Fighter Squadron, to a tense escape from hyperspace, ending with a showdown against the Inquisitor himself, this episode is as well-paced as any finale. And since “Empire Day” already did all the setup, this chapter lets you sit back and watch events without thinking much about their significance, simply enjoying them because they look cool. The final lightsaber battle, despite its small scope, does engage you while raising the stakes when you least expect it.
The trap itself is a nice callback to a previous episode: Suspecting that he can’t take out the Inquisitor alone, Kanan separates himself and Ezra from the crew (since they’re the only force users) to lure him to Fort Anaxes. In case the name doesn’t ring any bells, that’s the base from “Out of Darkness” where Hera and Sabine fought the fymock horde. It’s also a great opportunity for Ezra to complete last week’s Force exercise of making animals into allies. The end result looks as fantastic as you’d imagine, even though I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the unsuspecting Stormtrooper squad that enters the darkness of Anaxes. Rebels does not go easy on them.
The Inquisitor himself does not go down so easily however. To share much more would spoil the fun, but a single line teases that fights in the second half of this season will be even better: “My master will not be pleased.” Since the Inquisitor reports directly to Darth Vader. I’ll let your mind fill in the blanks on those possibilities.
Unfortunately, that also points to the more disappointing aspect of this episode: There isn’t much in the way of resolution. While everything is engaging and fun, “Gathering Forces” still leaves a lot of threads open so it can jump right into the spring premiere. While Rebels certainly should save a big punch for the actual finale, this was an impressive conflict that probably should have done a little more than leave us with the status quo. It’s like how old 80s cartoons used to have the heroes and villains fight, only to part ways to fight again next week; it looks awesome, but feels somewhat lacking. The only substantial “new’ detail is that Ezra is starting to tip towards the dark side, but for Star Wars, that was pretty much inevitable.
Regardless, “Gathering Forces” is a great episode, even if it’s not entirely clear what forces were gathered. (The fymocks, perhaps?) Once the holiday break ends, I’ll be anxiously looking forward to see where Rebels takes the Ghost next.
Bottom Line: “Gathering Forces” ends Rebels first half-season on a high note, using its various TIE Fighters, lightsabers, and alien creatures to full effect. With no need to introduce new characters or plot concepts, we dive forward to an enjoyable payoff, hindered only slightly by leaving the status quo unchanged. That said, there’s lots of great plot threads to pick up in the spring, and should certainly satisfy your Star Wars itch for the time being.
Recommendation: Watch this episode, you must.[rating=4]