Rebels continues with two new episodes, “Fighter Flight” and “Rise of the Old Masters”, and the contrast between the two episodes is striking.
“Fighter Flight” is, in many regards, a fairly lightweight episode: it doesn’t advance the plot nor does it expand the universe by including planets other than Lothal. It’s small, it’s self-contained and it’s the most “disposable” episode thus far. The closest comparison would be to something like “Bombad Jedi” from season 1 of The Clone Wars.
Under the hood, however, this is still classic Star Wars. Some may find it juvenile, but that’s the point—it possesses the giddiness of a child in 1979 being given a bumper crop of action figures for Christmas and wondering how the hell to incorporate the new Snaggletooth figure into a story involving a TIE fighter and an Imperial Troop Transport. This episode is a love letter to all our memories of playing with the original Kenner figures, and the fun and creativity those figures inspired. As a bonus, we get to see the relationship between Zeb and Ezra grow, their characters becoming richer as a result.
“Rise of the Old Masters” is the almost the complete opposite: the stakes are high and the events feel weighty and significant. What’s more, this is really the first time that the new canon policy has started to pay off.
Back during the Clone Wars, Darth Maul was being held captive in a prison on Stygeon Prime by Count Dooku. Only we never saw this happen on-screen, since the episodes weren’t fully produced—instead, telling that story fell to Dark Horse comics and their Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir miniseries. Nonetheless, this was still considered part of the canon, comprising part of the Clone Wars Legacy project.
With “Rise of the Old Masters”, the events of “Fighter Flight” are mentioned before the revelation that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli may still be alive… and imprisoned on Stygeon Prime. What’s more, Kanan’s history, as revealed in A New Dawn and soon to be explored in Marvel’s comic series Kanan, is touched on later in the episode. It’s these little moments that make Rebels feel like a legitimate part of the canon.
The other aspect that helps lift Rebels to that level is just how steeped it is in the tropes of Star Wars. Written by Henry Gilroy (the head writer for season 1 of The Clone Wars) “Rise of the Old Masters” recalls Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strike Back and, most obviously, the “Citadel” arc from season 3 of The Clone Wars.
Most importantly, we finally get to see the Inquisitor in action. The best way I can think to describe the character is a lightsaber-wielding, super-powered Grand Moff Tarkin: cold, confident, refined and full of menace. In short, he’s the stuff of nightmares.
Taken together, these two episodes complement each other nicely, representing the lighter and darker aspects of the Star Wars universe respectively. If this is what we can expect from this new era of Star Wars, things are indeed looking up.