We are in the endgame: that is, in short, the message underlying third double episode of Star Wars Rebels Season 4. In Occupation and Flight of the Defender, the Rebels return to Lothal, the place where it all began. Answering the plight of the former governor Ryder Azadi (one familiar face from the early days), they need to smuggle themselves in with the help of Vizago (another familiar face). On Lothal, dressed up in ridiculous disguises, they pretend to be civilians, which doesn’t last long, and they need to be rescued by the stormtrooper dropout Jai Kell (another familiar face with the familiar voice of Dante Basco). Jai takes the Rebels to Azadi, who, in turn, informs them about the imminent test of the new TIE Defender prototype. Everything points to the realisation that if the Empire starts manufacturing these TIEs, Rebel fighters won’t stand a chance. Ezra and Sabine embark on a mission to gather data about the TIE, which ends up with them stealing it, running away and in the end getting past the Imperial patrols with the help of a mysterious Loth-wolf, whom nobody sees except for Ezra.
These two episodes certainly offered food for thought. It is great to see Ezra’s worries that the Alliance is abandoning Lothal, those worries that Saw Gerrera had been preying on in the last episode and that Mon Mothma barely managed to placate: Ezra’s response to Ryder Azadi’s call shows he isn’t over it, just as he shouldn’t be. Later, upon arrival on Lothal, he is clearly shocked more than anyone else to see his homeworld changed beyond recognition. The strength of his bond with the planet is undisputable now. No Jedi policy of non-attachment here: Ezra is more attached to Lothal than Anakin was to Padmé. Combined with Ezra’s “signature ability” of being able to easily connect with animals (I am happy this came back as well!), now specifically manifested in Lothal’s native creatures, we see the pattern forming more and more clearly: Ezra’s destiny seems to be somehow linked with that of Lothal’s ecosystem that is currently being devastated by the Empire.
This devastation, or rather its visual depiction, is one of the masterful details the makers have managed to capture perfectly. The barren landscape where there once was green, skies black with smoke, the ever-present Imperial force, curfew in the city, and most of all, familiar locations from the first seasons in a completely new, “Scouring of the Shire” style. In Occupation, Kanan and Hera briefly visit Ezra’s tower, whose metallic colour has dulled and which is covered in soot, and the change is almost painful.
Speaking of Kanan and Hera, those two share a long-awaited (but perhaps a bit too abrupt) tender moment. I mean, whoever of the audience hasn’t seen the romantic tension between them must be blind (no pun at Kanan intended), but it seems like it’s happening a bit too fast, without any introduction. It is as if the makers realised they need to hurry up with all the relationships between characters they have so far neglected.
The Flight of the Defender is largely yet another episode of Ezra-Sabine action (after In the Name of the Rebellion), which makes one wonder whether that relationship isn’t getting some extra attention too (riding a huge canine together, like it happened in this one, is a trope you can see leading to a romantic relationship in several shows). The questionable couple’s endeavours notwithstanding, this episode also teased something more of the relationships between the “old men” (meaning Rex, Kallus and Zeb). Seeing Kallus and Rex interact was interesting element to introduce, given their respective former ranks and experience, and I would very much like to see an episode devoted just to them (since they are now the stewards of the Ghost, it may end up on the table). That said, Zeb and Kallus still need to have a proper, long talk as well – given that it was Zeb who basically made Kallus re-think his life choices, it seems like a big omission that the matter hasn’t been addressed yet.
Yet another good episode (or actually, two episodes). If I am to criticise anything at all, it would come from my suspicions of calculated fan-service being present in the form of Loth-cats and “inflatable pigs” for cuteness effect (although the “pigs” were more necessary for the plot than the cats, objectively speaking) and Hera/Kanan tender moments (and potentially Ezra/Sabine moments) for their respective fans. Not that I think the cuteness was too over the top, and as for the couples (at least the first one), it was high time something started happening.
Objectively, the creators have very well managed to create the feeling of “endgame”, and to bring us back where we started. And, given that the Rebels are currently stranded on Lothal, we certainly aren’t done here.
Let me just finish by mentioning one “conspiracy theory” I have. The names of Rebels episodes are known to sometimes have more than one meaning, or some deeper message hidden under seemingly straightforward name. How about “The Flight of the Defender”? On first sight, the meaning points in completely unimaginative manner toward the new TIE fighter and its launch. At the same time, “flight” (still rather obviously) can mean “escape”, which is also true in this case. Both of these meanings would refer to the same sequence: Sabine and Ezra’s daring flight (whichever way we interpret that word).
But is there some other “flight of the Defender” present in this episode? Sabine and Ezra flee, but what if it isn’t about them flying the Defender, but rather, one of them – possibly Ezra, being the clear protagonist in this episode’s final sequence – running from the Empire. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of this season, Ezra became “the Defender of Lothal” or something along these lines. That would cause him to abandon his Jedi commitment (solving one of the big questions of the series) and make him bound just to a single planet – in this case, Lothal – and its ecosystem and people to become its protector.
In the end, we are left with questions. Is Ezra the Defender of Lothal? Are the Loth-wolves a manifestation of Lothal itself rising to defend itself against the Empire? What will be the Rebels’ role in all this? Did the Loth-wolf in its last words to Ezra say “doom” or “Dume” – Kanan’s Padawan name – and if the latter, where did it learn about that, and what does it mean?