‘Star Wars Rebels’ Recap — 1.02: “Droids in Distress”

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Welcome to my first recap of Disney XD’s stunning Star Wars Rebels, a show which has already received wide acclaim and even scored a second season! I sincerely hope Rebels – the first of its transmedia kind in the official canon – will be more than just that show holding you over until Star Wars Episode VII hits theaters next year. I already reviewed and slightly recapped the first episode, which many of you already know was structured as a feature-length film known as “Spark of Rebellion.” Now it’s time to turn our focus to the ongoing series at hand, starting with this second episode titled “Droids in Distress.” Going by the title alone, I think you all have a pretty good idea of what’s in store for the next thirty minutes (yup, I fully expect you watch the episode following this sentence if you haven’t already).

Before we begin, I just want to go through some of the logistics pertaining to how these recaps will be operated. There will be spoilers in EVERY recap , so please be aware of that. Also, I will be anointing each episode a score at the end of every recap, similar to what IGN does with their television reviews. Like we always do at Awards Circuit, the score will range from zero to a maximum of four stars. Many readers who’ve been frequent visitors of the site for years already know what each star signifies, but for those who are new, let me quickly summarize the value I see in each star: 0 = failure, 1 = awful, 2 = mediocre, 3 = good, 4 = outstanding. There are of course half-stars used when the true value of the respective episode/show/movie lies somewhere in-between each codified number. Pretty basic, I know, but it’s always good to go over the scoring process lest frustration, confusion or anger take hold. With that out of the way, it’s time to launch into hyperspace and discuss “Droids in Distress”…

This episode kicks off with, what else, the crew of the Ghost fleeing TIE fighters and an Imperial Star Destroyer. Unlike most missions, this one is deemed a failure, and Hera Syndulla seems none too pleased by this. The team has been roaming across the galaxy like starving artists and it’s high time they start making money for all their contributions. Hey, if worse comes to worst, Ezra and Kanan can always join the circus and use their Force powers as part of the act! But Kanan at least wants to hit rock bottom with someone the team has already worked with: the shady Devaronian arms dealer, Vizago (Keith Szarbajka), who we already met in the premiere episode during the armament of Lothal’s Tarkintown settlement.

The crew reluctantly agrees that they’re too desperate for credits to be selective with their operations, and thus decide to assist Vizago. Their target: secret weapons about to be sold to the Imperials, the sale of which might spell doom for the entire galaxy. Upon arriving at the Capital City spaceport, the team learns that the receiver of these weapons is none other than the Lothal Prime Minister herself, Maketh Tua (Kath Soucie). Tua is accompanied by an Aqualish weapons dealer who has the valuable cargo secreted away at a docking bay on the planet Garell. The plan is for Hera to pilot the Ghost and follow the shuttle to their destination for rendezvous and extraction. The rest of the group will pass themselves off as common travelers and use the shuttle as their transport to Garell.

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Because Tua requires an interpreter to communicate with the Aqualish arms dealer, a pair of familiar droids are brought along for the transaction. That’s right, C3-PO and R2-D2 enter the show as argumentative as when we last left them. Please refrain from hugging them through the screen – I know they’re adorable but you might hurt your hands! It’s no surprise that the Rebels’ astromech Chopper sees newer unit R2-D2 as its rival, and immediately goes on the offense. The ruckus causes the shuttle’s pilot to ban them from the front of the bus, which he apologetically recites from Imperial scripture. During the commotion, Sabine strikes up a conversation with Tua and the Aqualish, impressing the prime minister by lying that she’s a Level Five student at the Imperial Academy. This immediately earns Tua’s respect and trust, and when the Aqualish finally informs Tua of the whereabouts of these lethal weapons, Sabine translates ahead of Threepio that they’re in Docking Bay B-17 instead of their actual location, B-7.

In the meantime, Ezra, Zeb and Kanan have taken the cargo into their possession and are within moments of loading the entire shipment onboard the Ghost when Threepio fowls everything up by tattling on Sabine. Tua, livid, takes the Aqualish and her coterie of stormtroopers to the correct docking bay. A shootout commences and we get to finally see what Zeb is made of. Fighting with rage and bravado, Zeb reminds viewers of Dave Batista’s Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy but with a slightly better personality. The two characters share a sob story that sets them on a path of revenge, but we’ll get to Zeb’s individual woes in a bit. For now, let’s just revel in Zeb’s tenacious onslaught of stormtrooper ass-kicking.

Barely escaping the Imperials in one piece, Ghost high-tails back to the outskirts of Lothal to collect the group’s reward from Vizago. Believing they’re being held ransom after R2-D2 tricks C3-PO into following him aboard Ghost, Threepio idiotically transmits an “SOS” to the nearest Imperial Star Destroyer…which unfortunately happens to be the one Agent Kallus is commanding. What the frack, Threepio?! This betrayal causes Vizago to go back on his word and flee before the Imperial troops arrive with their small armada.

Zeb, who I mentioned earlier is going through a bit of an emotional crisis in this episode, pleads to his team that the weapons be destroyed. It turns out these particular blasters, known as T7 Iron Disruptors, were the weapons used to wipe out the majority of his species, not to mention desecrating his homeworld of Lasan. The man who ordered the destruction is revealed to be none other than Agent Kallus himself, which of course fuels Zeb’s hatred to the point of blinding rage. After unleashing the slickly designed AT-DP (All Terrain Defense Pod) walkers, Kallus cruelly drops the aforementioned truth bomb on Zeb, and the two duke it out with the weapon of choice for many a Lasat warrior: the electricity-fueled AB-75 Bo-rifle, which has a similar design to the electrostaffs used by General Grievous’s bodyguards in Revenge of the Sith.

This duel is pretty epic to say the least, though I must say I’m a bit disappointed that Zeb was the less impressive opponent of the two, especially since he knows the ins and outs of the weapon like it’s a physical part of him. To be fair, there was a giant explosion that threw the two nemeses out of combat sync. While the Imperials are blasting the terrain around them to smithereens, Sabine and Artoo come up with a brilliant strategy to overload the disruptors from within. Once they trigger the inner chain reaction, most everyone gets to safety and the explosive blast that follows turns the Imperials and their mechanized weapons to dust.

Before Kallus – who at this point has the upper hand in the duel – delivers the killing blow to Zeb, Ezra screams in anguish and Force pushes Kallus against a giant boulder, saving Zeb’s life in the process and astounding Force-sensitive Kanan. Kallus recovers quickly enough to escape, the Ghost crew following suit not long afterwards. All is well for now…or so it seems.

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Still in need of some cold hard credits, Kanan is able to earn a nice chunk of change from a familiar Imperial Senator from Coruscant after returning his droids to him. Onboard the iconic Tantive IV vessel (the very same ship boarded at the beginning of A New Hope), Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan lets slip to Kanan that he’s a friend of the Jedi…or at least was. As soon as the Ghost crew collects their reward and leaves, Organa reveals that the entire meeting with the droids and the Rebels wasn’t a coincidence after all. It seems Organa has been keeping tabs on the freedom fighters for quite some time now, and sent R2-D2 to video record the Rebels during the droids’ encounter, knowing full well they would show up to sabotage an Imperial transaction that could cause further pain to peaceful planets like Lasan. This is one of the few times I’m actually happy that a member of the Empire spied on a Rebel cell. Hopefully Bail Organa, Threepio and Artoo will be reaching out to the Ghost crew sooner rather than later. After all, the Dark Side sure likes to keep itself busy.

Overall, this was a fairly good episode, much better than most post-pilot episodes that fall totally flat after such a thrilling start. The action and animation continue to impress me, as do the characters, who are so comfortable in their own animated skins that you almost forget they are artificial creations. Even though it was revealed at the episode’s conclusion that Kanan would finally teach Ezra the ways of the Force, I never understood the reason behind Kanan’s delay. Also of note: Hera referring to Kanan as “love” during a brief exchange. It was so subtle that viewers might have missed it, but does that mean Kanan and Hera are actually a couple? I sure hope so since I found the whole “Jedi may not form romantic connections” rule a bunch of bantha poodoo. Readers who have read the Star Wars Rebels prequel novel, A New Dawn, know full well how huge a crush Kanan has on Hera, but the book never concluded with Hera reciprocating those feelings. Maybe their relationship changed during the gap between these two stories? Who knows, but after that minor reveal, Ghost could be the next palace of love. Zeb and Sabine, I’m two seconds away from shipping you guys (#TeamZebine!).

Alright, my final impressions are…

The Good: Engrossing action, animation appears more polished than what was shown in the pilot, and Zeb continues to fascinate me as a character. Also lovely to see the much-anticipated C3-PO and R2-D2 cameo, not to mention their entertaining interactions with douchey robot Chopper, who’s most enjoyable when causing “Ricky-Gervais-at-the-Golden-Globes”-level mischief.

The Bad: Is every main character on Star Wars Rebels going to have a sad back story, perhaps enough to fill an entire audition episode of American Idol? I also didn’t care for the show’s unwillingness to explain why Kanan has been refusing to train Ezra despite promising him in the pilot.

The Ugly: The snapping sound Kallus’ back makes when he’s thrown into the boulder following Ezra’s Force push. Ouch indeed!

VERDICT: (★★★)