This past Monday the two-part season premiere of Star Wars Rebels fourth and final season aired on Disney XD. There are plenty of reviews out there of the episode, so instead of another one of those, I want to critique a couple issues that I had with the episode and what larger implications we might draw from them. Before I do this however, I want to be clear that as a huge fan of Mandalorians I am very happy that Sabine’s past has become a major storyline in the series and that we have gotten a deeper understanding of canonical Mandalorian history through this series. I also enjoyed these episodes despite the imperfections a great deal. So this is intended not to be negative but more as constructive criticism and comes from a place of passion and love for Star Wars.
1) WHAT IS HOME?
In the season three episode, “Legacy of Mandalore” it was revealed that Sabine’s family comes from the planet Krownest, a planet within the Mandalore sector. Previously we had learned that Sabine attended the Imperial Academy on Mandalore, which was previously the Royal Academy in the capital city of Sundari. In this episode Sabine speaks of the planet Mandalore as her home, which is explainable but its just odd dialogue given what we have seen in the series so far. It is perfectly legitimate for Sabine to consider Mandalore her home if she began attending the academy at a very young age and grew up there as opposed to on Krownest. It would also be perfectly legitimate for Sabine to feel that as a Mandalorian, Mandalore was her homeworld even if it wasn’t where she or her family technically came from. But either explanation really needed a line or two of dialogue to make it work properly.
2) BO-KATAN’S ARC
There are two main story arcs in this two-part premiere, the first is Sabine facing and defeating her demons and the second is Bo-Katan accepting her true role as Mandalore. Naturally Sabine as a main character in the series is going to get the focus and the most development and in these episodes. Sabine is able to rescue her Dad, see the destruction her weapon causes and ultimately destroys the weapon and the plans for it.
On the other hand the way Bo-Katan is handled is relatively clumsy. We get a big info dump by way of exposition by Fenn Rau, we get a bit of dialogue that says her rule as Regent didn’t go well and we get her refusal to take the Darksaber. Later we get her anger at Sabine, respect for Sabine when she faces up to angry Mandalorians and ultimately in the end the acceptance of the Darksaber. Bo-Katan is a bit like the character of Aragorn or any other character who refuses the mantle of leadership but ultimately through the course of the battle comes to accept their true calling and the necessity to accept it. The problem is that B0-Katan because it is Sabine’s story doesn’t get enough development by the end of the episode to make her change of heart have the emotional impact that such a momentous moment should have.
This arc really needed to be three or four episodes and Bo-Katan needed more development, further building out Sabine recruiting more Mandos for an attack on the Star Destroyer would have benefited the story by giving fans the headfake that Sabine may actually be the leader she was looking for before the ultimate reveal at the end that it would be Bo-Katan after all. Initial concepts for the story included Sabine knighting followers with scorch marks from the Darksaber which would have fit into such a story path.
In the end it is terrific that Bo-Katan’s backstory from The Clone Wars unproduced episodes is canon, but more time needed to be given to it in this story and it seems like a missed opportunity for Ahsoka not to be mentioned given her role in those events and in this series.
3) MANDALORIAN DEPOPULATION
Where are all the Mandalorians? On rewatching the episodes I took some notes and we are dealing with a minuscule number of Mandalorians in these episodes. The first scene features approximately 8 Mandalorians around Sabine and Ezra coming out of the trench and another six or so still in the trench, but once the battle begins we don’t see anywhere near that many and it is downhill from there.
- During the first battle 3 members of Clan Kryze appear including Bo-Katan.
- When we cut to Ursa and her crew we get a close up shot and only see around 4 members of Clan Wren as they are engaged with the Imperials and the Duchess.
- When we get to the transport raid we get the Mandalorian Captain Hark inside and 4 Supercommandos on the roof.
- At the end of the episode we get maybe 50 black scorch marks seen from far away and a handful of piles of armor and ash up close.
- In the second episode we see a far away shot of maybe a dozen Supercommandos fly in but as soon as they get into frame properly we only see four.
- In the video replay of the Duchess’ test we see only about 5 of Clan Wren.
- At the Mandolorian base camp we see 4 more from Clan Vizsla.
- On the strike teams at the end we see around 8 Mandalorians leave the battle.
When we get back to the base their are four ships we see and in the crowd outside the landing ramp we get four named clans who pledge their loyalty to Bo-Katan, these are Clans Vizsla, Rook, Eldar, Kryze in addition to Clan Wren and Fenn Rau speaking for the seemingly extinct Protectors. Best headcount I could get is around 21 Mandalorians in the crowd.
These 5 clans plus the Protectors are said to show the unifying of Mandalore around Bo-Katan, but there are some problems here. We have seen a huge number of Mandalorians in Sundari in The Clone Wars and on Concordia and Carlac as part of Vizsla’s Death Watch. Yet in these episodes we get no evidence that there is any population left on Mandalore, no sense of scale on how large the clans we meet are or if there is much left of Clan Wren after they meet the Duchess.
I am left with the inescapable conclusion that Disney’s spending on animation was simply not enough to do this story properly to convey a sense of scope and scale. They simply needed more animation models and assets on screen and had to try to work around this limitation.
At one point in the episodes Sabine mentions that her weapon at full power could take out entire armies of Mandalorians, but judging from what we see on screen that is not anything to worry about because in Star Wars animation under Disney I suspect they won’t pay to animate armies of Mandalorians.