I am probably not the only one who expected the third episode of Rebels to lower the pace. First two episodes of season three were packed with action, the plot flowed and emotions blew up sky-high. Usually, one would expect a “filler” episode to follow. The Antilles Extraction was not one at all.
After the focus of Steps into Shadow and The Holocrons of Fate has chiefly been on Ezra’s dangerous toying with the Dark Side. The Antilles Extraction is partly a “one member-centered” episode, the likes of which we have seen in the previous season quite a bit. In this case it focuses on Sabine whose mission is to help three young elite pilots defect from an Imperial flight academy. One of those pilots, as the name implies, is young Wedge Antilles.
Ezra himself appears only in a couple of very short scenes alongside Kanan, and even though he is important for the completion of the mission, his presence is not really significant plot-wise. Nonetheless the episode manges to further illustrate Sabine’s relationship with him, and there is also what I consider an important “wisdom lesson” from Jedi to his padawan: when Kanan tells Ezra to stop worrying about things he cannot influence (when Sabine is doing her own mission and Ezra is left behind). I am pointing this out because I believe it is important for Ezra’s character development. What brought him to the brink of the Dark Side was exactly the feeling of helplessness against the Inquisitors and the Sith. If Ezra hears this from Kanan, there is a chance he will listen, and if he will listen, there is a chance he will “let go”. It does not mean giving up, but it might mean giving up on destroying the Sith and leaving the task for the right people at the right time (twin suns…). It seems to me that Rebels is more and more stressing this problem, which might eventually lead to a way for Ezra and Kanan to remain around until A New Hope, but having retreated from the battle, so to speak.
But enough about Ezra and more about Sabine and the young pilots. It was delightful to see Sabine in action, more so as this “action” did not mean just blowing things up (however much it is her signature move). We saw her using her wit (which is an equally important character trait for her) as well as physical prowess and skill she had acquired at the Imperial academy.
The defectors are three pilots: Wedge Antilles (probably the most significant and fan-favourite minor Rebel character from the old trilogy), Hobbie (another pilot flying alongside Luke in the Battle of Hoth) and Rake. The episode provides an interesting insight into the life of young recruits, who are turned into obedient soldiers without personality, mere numbers in the Imperial war machinery (the scene of Wedge and Sabine’s first meeting reminded me of Finn in Episode VII, who underwent the opposite process of becoming a person from being a number).
Strangely enough, the episode which emphasises the transformation of the Empire into a grey mass also features a very high number of individual Imperial characters with strong personality of their own. The commander of the Academy might be an example of a “cogwheel” in the system, but there is also Agent Kallus and Governor Pryce. Governor Pryce is, in fact, a different case of making people part of the system: however strongly she stands out as an individual, her sole life purpose seems to be focused on doing her job in the best way possible and being duly praised for that. But that makes her only a number in the system after all. We get a completely opposite feeling from looking at agent Kallus. From the beginning of the episode it is apparent he is not looking at things around him in the same way his fellow officers are. Following Zeb’s advice in The Honorable Ones, it’s apparent he started to observe and ask himself questions. It was inevitable that this would come to him, and the big question is, how is his character development going to continue.
There is one last character standing out so much that one actually cannot get rid of the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him. It is the moustached elite Imperial pilot, Vult Skerris. The moment I saw him and heard him talk, I was reminded of Baron Fel, an old-canon character who was an Imperial ace (and whose descendants later became heirs of the Empire, but also found their way into the Skywalker-Solo bloodline). I feel it is pretty safe to bet that we haven’t seen the last of him. Oh my, and what a pilot he is! Certainly a cool villain to have. Not to speak of his TIE Interceptor.
At the danger of sounding repetitive, The Antilles Extraction episode was brilliant. It advanced the overall plot regarding the Rebellion gathering its resources, it provided stronger connection to the films, and it portrayed the conflict of the uniforming system and the free individual (represented by Pryce and Sabine also in their exchange “the Empire taught me well” – “my clan taught me better”). Season three of Rebels has yet to disappoint me (and I personally hope that won’t happen at all).