Full spoilers for the episode follow.
Well… wow. It’s hard to know where to begin after such an explosive opening to a new season. There are so many things I want to talk about, but everything starts somewhere. Rebels started in its first season with the crew of the Ghost operating on Lothal, an Imperial planet with plenty of operations for them to interfere with. Back then, they were just a group who hated the Empire and wanted to hurt them in the what little ways they could, while also helping those in need. Their Robin Hood gang got into trouble now and again, but it was rarely ever involved in the bigger picture. The finale of the first season and all coverage of the show since implied that the crew would be moving past that and onto bigger things. It also said we’d be seeing Darth Vader being reprised by James Earl Jones.
Both of those things turned out to be true in big ways, in one of the best hour-long premieres for an animated TV series I’ve seen in a long while. The episode starts an undefined time after the Season 1 finale “Fire Across the Galaxy”. The crew of the Ghost is working together with the fledgling Rebel Alliance, but it isn’t long before they have to deal with their past transgressions against the empire.
The machinations of Darth Vader bring the crew back to their home, as they take a mission to go back in order to rescue Minister Maketh Tua who fears for her life after being forced to answer to Tarkin for her failures. Of course that’s all part of Vader’s plan, and it isn’t long before Tua is dead (killed in a fiery explosion) and the group is on the run. Her sudden death was quite shocking, though Tua has always hung around the periphery of the show and never felt like a villain. I felt it was very effective to use her character this way, and it gave her more of an important role than she had in the first season, where it seemed she was constantly playing second fiddle to the Inquisitor and Agent Kallus.
I loved the opening bits to this episode. Darth Vader was very special to see of course, just as menacing as you imagine, with both well-written and excellently delivered lines. That part was amazing, especially as a huge Star Wars fan, but I found myself enjoying where the Ghost crew stands after the first season even more. It’s clear Ezra (Taylor Gray) has grown into his role as Kanan’s padawan. His powers are confidently demonstrated, and he is frequently able to sense things even before his master. Even the way he speaks is more mature than last season. It is slightly annoying that Ezra is never shown directly killing anyone though, even when he is in the gunner turret on the Ghost. Doubtless this is Disney’s doing, but it doesn’t make much sense. I mean, why is he even on the gunner turret if he has the aim of a stormtrooper?
Annoying children’s television concessions aside, what really hit home had to be the discussion between Hera (Vanessa Marshall) and Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.). It makes the depth of these characters relationship clear that she’s able to summon his vulnerabilities and talk about them. The performance from Freddie Prinze Jr. is great, truly getting across why Kanan is so resistant to joining the rebellion full time. It wasn’t overblown, but the delivery clearly said “I don’t want what happened before to happen again”. I love these moments of humanity from Kanan, hinting at the things he’s suffered since the clone wars (the context here is even stronger if you’ve read A New Dawn).
Anyways, with the crew on the run on Lothal without the Ghost, they needed a plan to escape. They tried to steal an imperial shuttle, and they encountered Vader for the first time. Quickly drawn into a fight, Kanan and Ezra were completely outmatched by the Sith Lord, and seeing them fighting was tense to watch. You his threatening presence as Vader very nearly kills Ezra, and you hear the menace in his voice with every line he speaks. Kanan barely manages to save Ezra from Vader’s wrath, and of course he manages to lift two AT-ST walkers off of himself with the force. The animation here was super good, especially… pretty much everything about lifting the walkers. I do feel the lightsaber choreography has gotten somewhat weaker since The Clone Wars, but that scene was breathtaking.
Regardless, I love how the show handles this iconic character. It doesn’t make him weak for the sake of our main cast, and even the times when he “loses”, it seems like the events that transpired were a part of Vader’s plan all along. The characters always barely manage to escape, sometimes even being injured as Kanan was. Every time they do, it’s usually a victory in a way for this menacing force they have to contend with. It’s so intriguing to watch all of this, especially because Vader has so many lines that stick with you. Every second he is on screen, you can’t help but feel it’s a dire situation for our heroes.
This is especially true of how Vader burns Tarkintown, a small town that the crew helped in Season 1, to the ground just to get at them. Even more impressive is that he follows after the crew to the rebel fleet after Lando (Billy Dee Williams) helps secure their escape in his short, but charming, cameo. The way Vader shows up in a single fighter and nearly completely dismantles the small fleet single-handedly is insane. The crew of the Ghost along with Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) go after him, and are still barely able to give the fleet time to escape from the Star Destroyers that show up.
Speaking of Ahsoka, it’s so good to see her back. It wasn’t until near the end that she was given an important role, but as my favorite character from The Clone Wars it was exciting to see her again. Ashley Eckstein’s performance is extremely well-done, as she imparts the years that Ahsoka has gained since she was last seen into her delivery of every line. More important of course was her reaction to Vader invading her mind. She told the others that she didn’t have any idea who he was, but judging from her expression, it’s clear she actually does understand the situation.
I do wonder why she doesn’t tell the crew, but it will definitely be great to see how she decides to react in the coming episodes. I am crossing my fingers that Ahsoka and Vader cross paths directly at some point, and judging by the ending where the Emperor (Sam Witwer) expresses interest in “Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice”, I’d say we’re building to it. If and when it does happen, it will be quite the encounter. Especially with the promotional art showing that Ahsoka uses white lightsabers now!
This episode has set up a lot for the rest of the season. The conflict between Ahsoka and Vader will be the one I watch the most, but there’s still also plenty of growth to be had by the characters. Sabine and Zeb continue to be neglected as characters, they have their action moments in this episode but little meaningful dialogue to show character development or even history (we still know very little in particular about Sabine’s past). I hope the rest of the season can give these two the development they need to feel on-par with the rest of the show’s cast. I can see how that would be difficult if Rebels is expanding its view to see the larger conflict, but I’ll keep hoping regardless.
In the end, The Siege of Lothal was a great season opener. Not only is Star Wars Rebels great Star Wars, it’s great TV. The animation quality remains high, even if the style has never really agreed with me. The quality of the acting remains even higher, and the music continues to channel John Williams score as much as it can. I hope the rest of the season can keep up the momentum that this has started. I can’t wait to see more, especially if I get to hear some more of James Earl Jones.