Warning! Spoilers ahead! This recap contains major plot details for Star Wars: Rebels episode 1.02 “Droids in Distress”. If you haven’t seen the–oh never mind, of course you’ve seen it. On with the show!
Confession time: I wasn’t really excited for this episode. I think it was a combination of the previews we’d all seen a million times featuring only droids, and the fact that The Clone Wars had a particularly painful 4-episode arc an entire cast of droids. After riding the high that was “Spark of Rebellion”, it just didn’t seem like the title “Droids in Distress” was a good segue into the series proper.
I’m happy to report that I was dead wrong.
The episode opens up with a classic Star Wars shot, the Ghost coming out of hyperspace tailed by several TIE fighters and a Star Destroyer, capturing the essence of the Episode 4 opening sequence. Kanan, manning the guns, fends off the attacking fighters and there’s some banter here between Chopper and Zeb. Hera hits the jump to lightspeed (“Hello, hyperspace!”), Kevin Kiner’s score hits all the right notes and we’re off.
The thrust of the episode is one that I particularly liked. As would be logical, the gang all express concern about their alarming lack of provisions (and the cash to buy anything). We learn that the run-in with the Imperials earlier was a botched attempt at stealing some goods. So our rebels are basically dirt poor. I like this plot driver a lot. It does a lot to show that these guys are a small-time operation at this point and that they are probably viewed as hardly more than a small nuisance to the glory of the Empire. It just makes a lot of sense.
So Kanan’s got a tip from Vizago (remember the horned crime lord with the Puss in Boots accent?) about a transfer of rare weapons called ion disruptors that’s set to go down on the planet Garell. Everyone seems to be up for the job, although Zeb mentions that he’s seen these weapons before and the results were tragic.
From here, we head to a Lothal spaceport. There’s an absolutely gorgeous shot as they make their approach into the city that hearkens back to the great matte paintings that were used for similar shots in the originals, back before CG effects. The crew proceeds to board a very familiar transport – something resembling the StarSpeeder 1000 from Disneyland’s Star Tours! And who could be piloting said ship? You guessed it: RX-24, also known as Rex from the original ride and voiced once again by comedian Paul Reubens (you might know him better as Pee-Wee Herman). Nothing about the sequence felt out of place or hokey; it just had me grinning from ear to ear and wanting to head to Anaheim like right now.
On the flight to Garell we meet Minister Tua, one of Lothal’s top Imperial officials, and the alien from whom she intends to acquire the weapons, representative Amda Wabo. Minister Tua is accompanied by none other than R2-D2 and C-PO, who’s acting as translator for the pair. I was anxious about seeing the droids at such an early stage in the series. Whenever familiar characters show up in a galaxy of trillions, it’s impossible to avoid feeling like they were shoehorned in. And that may be the case here, which is how I’m sure I’ll feel about the upcoming Vader scene in the ABC airing of “Spark of Rebellion”. However, in the overall context of the episode, I feel that it was smartly executed.
The plan goes into motion when Chopper (yay, he’s finally funny!) causes a ruckus and prompts the pilot droid to order all droids to the back of the ship. Chopper makes fast and ironic friends with C3-PO, while Sabine steps in to translate in the golden droid’s absence. She learns the location of the weapons transfer and gives a false location to Minister Tua as the ship arrives on Garell. Ezra gets some of the spotlight here, Force-hopping across rooftops and into the hangar to let the rest of the gang in. Hijinks ensue, including some great funny moments from the droids and R2 rambling on about some secret mission of his (sound familiar?), before the rebels escape with the weapons and droids in tow.
From there, it’s back to Lothal to sell the weapons to Vizago. Along the way, we get to see some of that sibling tension between Ezra and Zeb, who share a bunk together. Zeb locks Ezra out of the room and there’s a touching moment where a very motherly Hera explains to him that Zeb’s people were massacred with ion disruptors by the Empire. Back on Lothal, right as the deal is going down, an Imperial transport shows up to bring in a couple walkers, a few dozen stormtroopers and Agent Kallus to retrieve the weapons and take out the rebels. Vizago grabs a few crates of weapons and takes off without paying, leaving Kanan and the bunch to deal with the Imperials. There’s some great action here, and the music to go along with it is just superb.
Finally, there’s a great showdown between Zeb and Kallus. It’s revealed that Kallus was personally involved in the near extinction of Zeb’s people, the Lasan. All Zeb’s frustration comes out in this fight, although all his brute strength just isn’t enough as he gets pummeled by Kallus. Ezra has his shining moment when a well-timed Force push knocks Kallus out of the way and gives the rebels enough time to get an injured Zeb onto the Ghost as they make their escape.
The episode ends with a great fan service moment when Kanan returns R2-D2 and C3-PO to their owner, the great Bail Organa of prequel and Clone Wars fame. Once Kanan leaves, Bail turns to R2 and asks him about the information he’s collected on the rebels, hinting at future plans to form a Rebel Alliance.
I still can’t believe the sheer amount of story that the writers are able to pack into these 22-minute episodes. Nothing felt rushed, nothing seemed to be left out for the sake of time. That’s the benefit of having a strong writer and director and not going the cheap route just because this is an animated kids show. If Rebels continues to pace episodes like this one, with a good balance of exposition and action, it will remain a critical hit. Even when episodes seem to be somewhat self-contained, as I feel this one was, it still conveys a sense of continuity that The Clone Wars just never grasped. Despite my initial reservations, I loved this episode.
Come join me back here each and every Wednesday as I recap weekly episodes. Also, leave a comment or tweet at me @dtippetts or @rotoscopers to get in on the discussion and possibly have your input featured in an upcoming recap. Here’s some reader feedback from “Spark of Rebellion”:
“Honestly, it felt FUN…. Something the Star Wars universe has lacked somewhat in recent years. Yes, there are dark things happening all over the place, but you get the feeling that these characters are just dealing with it in whatever way they can. Sometimes that means they get to celebrate the small victories. So, overall, I enjoyed it and will continue watching.”
“Thought it was great and the animation was solid but the major difference between this show (as with all Lucasfilm productions) and other animated shows is definitely the sound. It takes the show to a better and more enjoyable level and really draws you in.”
“I feel that Star Wars has always opened my inner child. Whenever I watch ‘A New Hope’ I feel young again.”
“My little bro and I aren’t the big star wars fans like everyone else, but we did love the clone wars as a show and we weren’t disappointed. I can’t wait to see what this show has to offer”