Star Wars: Rebels – “Heroes of Mandalore, Parts 1 and 2”

I said I was going to do some commentary blogs (not quite reviews, as such) for the final season of Star Wars: Rebels.  It begins now.  Spoilers ahead.

This season is going to comprise 16 episodes, and we’re told it’s one long story arc that pushes from where season three left off to the (presumably) the doorstep of Rogue One and A New Hope.

“A Mandalorian with a jetpack is a weapon.” — Bo Katan

We’re seeing the continuation of an arc that began back on The Clone Wars.  The Mandalorian clans are divided, some serving the Empire in the capacity of the fabled “supercommandos” we were introduced to back in The Empire Strikes Back Sketch Book.  It’s one of those bits of trivia that every old schooler just took for granted, like it was part of the common lore, even if we didn’t quite know where it came from.

In the aftermath of season three, Sabine is wielding the Darksaber and uniting the clans of Mandalore against the rule of the Empire.  The mission we see unfold involves rescuing her father, Alrich Wren, a respected leader in the Mando community.  His importance is the only reason Kanan and Ezra are spared to accompany Sabine and her warriors.  Once her father is rescued, the Empire unleashes a new weapon to finish what they started, a weapon that Sabine created.  It’s more than just a tactical advantage; it hits the Mandalorians where they hurt: their heritage.  The weapon, inappropriately nicknamed “The Duchess” (after Satine in The Clone Wars), operates by sending lethal levels of energy through the specific metals comprised in Mandalorian armor, leaving everything else untouched while the armor and the person inside are incinerated from the inside out.  It not only turns their greatest strength into their greatest weakness, it also destroys the centuries of heritage and honor as the armor is an heirloom.

Sabine has bugged me from the beginning.  She has been the weak link in the lineup, not for lack of potential.  It wasn’t until season three that she became more than a desperate caricature.  It was like she could do anything, to anyone, at anytime, without fail.  Whatever they needed to tack on to her to make her cool, they did so.  The more they did, the worse she got.  For one so young, she’s apparently a weapons savant, military genius, and technical expert who could stand toe to toe with Anakin Skywalker himself if given the opportunity.  At least we know what made him tick.  What’s her excuse?  Plotonium, otherwise known as marketing to younger audiences.  And that’s ok as far as it goes.  No one says every character has to resonate with me and my generation.  That said, towards the end of last season, Sabine has leveled up in better ways, finally becoming a sympathetic character worthy of her crewmates on this series.  This episode sees her confronting the guilt of her past in an effort to unite her people and make things right.  We see why she matters, and why we should care.

Of course, if Sabine is going to stay a part of the crew of the Ghost, she’ll have to acknowledge she’s unworthy to lead the clans, and the Darksaber must be passed to the rightful ruler.  Making her return to Star Wars, Bo Katan, sister of the late Duchess Satine.  It turns out that in the wake of Maul’s takeover and the subsequent rule under the Empire, Bo Katan tried and failed to rule, and she sees in Sabine exactly those qualities needed to make her people strong again for the right reasons.  It’s a recognition that proves her own worth as well, and the clans are ready to support her.  By the end of the episode, Bo Katan takes up that mantle.  It’s a sure bet we will see more Mando action before this is over.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Mandalorians.  I love the idea, but like most warrior peoples, the idea usually tends to be better than the execution.  The romance of it is lost in the power struggle, that sort of thing.  For the Mandalorians, that was sort of the point.  And this is the arc they’ve been on from the beginning.  Bo Katan has learned.  What she represents is the promise of honor that I understand and appreciate at a personal level.

That said, it’s typically fun to see the Mandos in action.  Say what you will, but ever since we learned of Boba Fett and those supercommandos that supposedly fought the Jedi (and lost) during the Clone Wars, there’s an idea there that many of us old school fans latched on to.  It’s the same kind of idea you get from the old Commando Cody serials or The Rocketeer.  When you see Mandos on screen, it’s like watching Dave Filoni and his team breaking out the ultimate toy box.  Digital action figures come to life and unleash havoc on screen in ways we could only dream about back in the day.  This makes this two-part opener work on dual levels: modern storytelling and classic nostalgia.  It’s a strong opener, one that sets up some grand finale, I’m sure.

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