A cult hero from the Original Trilogy returns for another ride in the Star Wars Universe…
It is always a special moment in Star Wars canon when a classic character from the original trilogy makes their triumphant return in one of the great animated series’ spawned from Dave Filoni and his incredible team at Lucasfilm. Episode four of this season’s Star Wars Rebels was no exception.
We were treated to the return of not one, but two vintage Star Wars characters from the original trilogy who were in desperate need of help from the Rebellion.
From the episode’s fast paced introduction, we were thrust into a maelstrom of welcome nostalgia when a rebel transport ship, reminiscent of the classic vessel used in the Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth escape exploded out from hyperspace accompanied by an armed A-Wing escort. The transport was quickly intercepted by an Imperial frigate which deployed a trio of vintage TIE Interceptor craft that proceeded to eliminate not only the A-Wing escort but the actual transport itself. The introduction climaxed with the entire Rebel fleet being destroyed and the three TIE Interceptors returning to their mother ship in victory as the Star Wars Rebels logo erupted across the screen.
With such a fast paced opening sequence, I expected the episode to be a pinnacle of nostalgia that would go on to capitalise upon the draw of the character revealed in the episode’s title. A legendary character whose fabled exploits turned him into an unsung hero of the Galactic Civil War.
That character was none other than Wedge Antilles.
The synopsis of the episode was a simple one. A second Fulcrum spy, one of many in the same mould as the departed Ahsoka Tano, had transmitted new intelligence pertaining to a small band of Imperial pilots who had revealed their intention to defect from the empire and join the Rebellion in opposing their tyranny.
It was a teasing premise.
From amidst the ranks of our band of Rebels, the feisty Sabine Wren was selected to infiltrate the Imperial facility where the pilots were stationed and liberate them from their subjugation. Her experience as a one-time member of the Imperial academy made her the obvious choice to slip in undetected and hatch a cunning plan to escape with her newfound friends. Upon her insertion into the flight school, the brave Sabine — sporting a somewhat mundane looking brunette hairstyle, one previously unseen from her habitually colourful character — was introduced to our gallant title character along with a second member of the original trilogy fraternity, Rebel pilot Hobbie.
With Hobbie, of Empire Strikes Back fame, ready to join Wedge in his defection to the Rebellion, we were teased with an episode of daring escapes and action packed exchanges with the forces of the dreaded Empire. Despite the tone of the episode being charmingly reminiscent of the vintage style of A New Hope, that is sadly where the comparison ends. The glossy animation of the series was as clean and seamless as ever but that could not conceal the overall lack of depth of the episode — which was written by Rogue One screenwriter Gary Whitta — a flaw that ultimately spoilt the overall splendour of the story.
Whilst attending the Star Wars Rebels panel at Star Wars Celebration Europe back in July, my party and I were elated to hear of Wedge Antilles’ participation in the series but sadly his arrival was not worth the wait.
At the time of his entrance, Wedge was introduced as an up and coming ace pilot cadet but unfortunately suffered from being written as a generic and wooden character who sadly wasn’t allowed to demonstrate exactly why he was worth all of the effort to extract in the first place. His dialogue was as underwhelming as it was inorganic and the character’s charisma gets lost amongst the noise of the episode which is regrettably focussed, once again, upon Ezra Bridger’s learning curve story arc, albeit from his command position aboard a Rebel blockade runner.
With Wedge, Sabine, Hobbie and another potential defector named Rake, all planning a daring escape from the facility they are alarmed by the arrival of Imperial security agent Kallus and his sinister superior Governor Pryce, who had tracked the defectors’ transmissions back to their source.
An internal investigation follows and soon after their arrival, the defectors had been identified and Rake eliminated by the base’s devious commandant Skerris. Once in custody, we saw Sabine interrogated by Pryce, who all too easily discovered her true identity via an uncharacteristic slip of the tongue from Wedge. A face-off between Sabine and Pryce resulted in our Rebel heroine overcoming her adversary and freeing the potential defectors from their holding cell. This encounter was a welcome change of pace that allowed Sabine to demonstrate her Mandalorian training and elaborate further on her mysterious past.
A character building battle cry of “my clan taught me better” from Sabine signalled the end of the confrontation and resulted in Pryce falling unconscious to the floor in defeat.
Agent Kallus, who has slowly faded into the background of each and every episode was given very little to do until the Rebels attempted to flee. After blocking their path, Kallus eventually revealed his intentions to let them escape, citing his debt to Zeb (from Season 2) being repaid in full. This abrupt change in his character, a direct result of their encounter may well signal the instigation of his defection to the rebellion, either that or the revelation that he himself is the clandestine Fulcrum spy that fed the Rebels the original defection intelligence.
Selecting a TIE Bomber to make their escape, Wedge took command of the flight controls and launched their desperate attempt at escape, but with Skerris in pursuit at the helm of his sleeker TIE Interceptor their quest seemed to be in vain. It was here I expected the legendary Wedge Antilles to demonstrate his amazing piloting skills, but whilst Skerris was on the verge of eliminating our Rebel heroes, the fan favourite, vintage pilot was betrayed by a lack of characterisation.
Instead of employing a daring series of moves designed to showcase his unswerving piloting abilities, he sat at the helm of the TIE Bomber in a clueless fashion, completely incapable of even the most basic of evasive manoeuvres.
Needless to say this was not the Wedge Antilles of the original trilogy.
Instead, Ezra Bridger rushed to their aid and thwarted Skerris’ killing shot with the frame of his blockade runner before allowing Wedge’s TIE to initiate the docking sequence. A jump to light speed later and the defection was complete, leaving Skerris to fume at his failure. With both Wedge and Hobbie returned to the protection of the command base controlled by Commander Sato’s forces, the pilots were welcomed into the ranks of the Rebel cause without hesitation, bringing the episode to an inevitable close.
In summary, the episode may have sounded fantastic on paper but a fundamental lack of depth left the returning characters coming across as a little valueless, Wedge Antilles especially. Hobbie fared worse and faded into the background as a token character inserted only to make up the numbers and give the fans another returning vintage character to cheer for.
In contrast, Governor Pryce was as sinister as ever and appears to be the perfect antagonist when Grand Admiral Thrawn takes a backward step. Her cold and calculated manner is a breath of fresh air and when in conjunction with Thrawn, brings a welcome and very real threat to proceedings. The sudden transformation in Agent Kallus’ character is most welcome change of pace, one that hints at a grander role in store for the overlooked villain of season one, and deservedly so.
Commandant Skerris was a genuine and worthy adversary, well capable of eliminating his fair share of enemy combatants but with only one expendable defector, he was hardly afforded enough to do.
It was a delight to see Sabine entering the fray and revealing more of her Mandalorian heritage, but if not for her token Imperial training, any other member of the Ghost crew could have filled the role just as easily as our feisty artist. The episode seemed tailor-made to accentuate the story arc of Ezra once again, where an Ezra-free episode seemed prudent. The series’ predecessor, The Clone Wars managed this with ease with episodes like ‘Rookies’, ‘The Hidden Enemy’ and ‘Darkness of Umbara’ that for the most part removed the main Jedi characters from the crux of the story, choosing instead to focus upon the less utilised Clone Troopers Rex and Cody.
Kevin Kiner’s sublime score was as good as ever, utilising many of John Williams’ original themes to add a much needed feeling of nostalgia to proceedings and the warm and colourful palette was as clean and as glitzy as ever. However, these small bonuses could not make up for my disappointment at Wedge’s lack of character depth. From what should have been a triumphant return for his story arc, I came away with a feeling of overwhelming disappointment. I appreciate that at the time of his arrival, he is a fresh faced cadet, inexperienced in the art of war but being such a high valued member of the Original Trilogy collective, I had expected to see at least a glimmer of his amazing potential.
We can only hope that the new characters of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story do not suffer from the same lack of depth afforded to one of the most revered icons of the original Star Wars trilogy by a generally talented screenwriter whose other credits include After Earth and The Book of Eli.
It was an episode of moderate highs and extreme lows but in complete honesty I expected more from a story that boasted the inclusion of one of the great heroes of the Rebellion. Thankfully this episode is the exception rather than the rule and the series has gone on to correct any failings with more earnest efforts like ‘The Last Battle’.
Don’t forget to catch Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD on Saturday mornings and source your copies of the first two seasons, available on Blu Ray and DVD now.
And as always…
May The Force Be With You