It is here: the double pilot episode of the last season of Star Wars Rebels. Well-built characters, strong moral themes, insight into an unique culture and a lot more. What was it like?
Feels Like Clone Wars
Heroes of Mandalore took even more explicitly the route we have been seeing in recent season, and which is more reminiscent of the Clone Wars series. That is: unlike the first season of Rebels, which had more or less the central cast of Ghost’s crew in every episode, accompanied by one or two “local NPCs”, here, we have the main crew consisting of several locals and one Sabine Wren, plus a bunch of secondary characters (including Ezra and Kanan, who are no more important than, say, Sabine’s mother). It remains to be seen whether this is something the fourth season will play heavily on: the focus on the actual “whole picture”, with every episode rather focusing on one piece of the Galactic Civil War puzzle (like Mandalore) and one character and their personal story (like Sabine).
The “Clone Wars” feel is, of course, further enhanced by the presence of some notable characters from back then (namely, Bo-Katan Kryze), reminiscing the history of Mandalore and its former Duchess. However, I feel like the creators didn’t want to make this episode a nostalgic bit for Clone Wars fans, which is good. There is nothing that would require previous knowledge other than that from earlier seasons of Rebels, the focus is firmly grounded in the present state of Mandalore and in Sabine’s story.
Protagonists: All The Mandalorian Women, and the Artsy Dad
Sabine herself is, like I said, one of the central characters. She is not alone, however. Even though Heroes of Mandalore is actually a culmination of her character arc, and in many ways, a closure; there are several characters who are equally important for the story.
First, there is her family: her mother and brother, who are given due attention, plus newly also Sabine’s father, who did not perhaps strike me as a very attention-worthy character objectively, but who represents one trope we don’t get to see that often in popular culture: he does not fit the classic scheme of a powerful leader-father with a useless queen wife who likes music and embroidery; instead, he is the “useless husband” who is interested in art. At the same time, I should remark that he has all kinds of classic parent qualities, such as being very strict and critical about his daughter’s art preferences.
To make the list of protagonists complete, there is Bo-Katan Kryze, whom I have already mentioned. Aged by some eighteen years, she is now a stern, principled middle-aged woman. It is actually great to see her being the “voice of tradition”, as well as it is great to see her being the reluctant candidate for the wielder of the Darksaber. I should remark that her first reaction to it – the reluctance, or outright refusal – and her recommendation that Sabine keep it made me worried about a possible “cheap” ending to the story – that is, that Sabine would keep the Darksaber and become yet another great almost-teenage hero. But I guess that after everything we have seen, we should trust the creators more.
Ezra and Kanan are more like background characters in this one, occasionally serving even as comic relief. Even though Ezra’s Super Mario-ing and his jetpack adventures are borderline ridiculous, it isn’t overdone and too much all over the place, which is good. Interestingly, both Ezra and Kanan also have each their own moment which hints at their potential romantic feelings towards other members of the Ghost crew. Specifically, Kanan’s to Hera and Ezra’s to Sabine. It is hard to say whether this was only a brief moment to placate the fans (and “shippers”), or rather a small hint at something larger to unfold (given what I just said about trusting the creators, I believe in the latter). After several seasons of beating around the bush, it felt (in Kanan’s case) almost too straightforward. Ezra has had “something” for Sabine since season 1, but the question remains what this “something” is – so far, there has been no indication that it goes beyond the case of “elementary school clasroom crush” (and no indication whatsoever that Sabine might have even that).
The Villains: What Makes One?
The villains in this episode represent a palette of more or less default “baddies”. However, there is an intricate web of relationships between them, which makes it clear that there isn’t just Evil Empire vs. Good Rebels conflict, but that people on different levels and in different situations have different goals, priorities and beliefs. That is another direction in which I see the series developing in the last season – knowing e.g. about Saw Gerrera and his ruthless way of fighting for freedom, he represents the same diversity on the Rebel side.
“It is how we chose to fight” – the sentence that appeared in the season 4 trailer – starts to make sense in the context of Heroes of Mandalore. Tiber Saxon, the deceased Gar Saxon’s brother and now the Governor of Mandalore, seems all too happy to refer to Palpatine and the use of fear as means of control – words too similar to Tarkin’s in Episode IV. Saxon’s weapon project is therefore, metaphorically, a “mini-Death Star”. His willingness to go against his people’s values puts him at odds with his lieutenants and even Thrawn. We know how much value Thrawn gives to different cultures, his despise towards a man who does not seem to understand his own was a great touch. It also makes one wonder if Thrawn is going to start finding the Empire’s methods more and more problematic in this season.
Overall, I would say this opening double-episode starts as not particularly amazing, but the plot gets moving eventually and there are important themes circulating: in retrospect, quite significant ones. Sabine’s entire character arc is brought into full closure in such a way that if she now disappeared from the show, it would still be okay, because there is very little needed to add, if anything. The Rebels’ debt to Mandalore can be considered paid as well, and the planet is also left at a stage where some other show or other medium can take over its story. As the last thing, I should also remark about the use of Mandalorian lore – the introduction of more clans, plus the first new canon mention of beskar (aka the Mandalorian iron) are welcome little details.
Heroes of Mandalore presents a worthy opening of the last season of Star Wars Rebels and, more importantly, sketches out certain themes which – I hope – will come into play later. Add to that some very nice characterisation and we have a start full of promises.