"Star Wars: Rebels" 1.5 – Rise of the Old Masters (9 out of 10) – Directed by Steward Lee; Written by Henry Gilroy; Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas; Starring: Freddie Prinze, Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Tiya Sirca, David Oyelowo; Guest Starring Brent Spiner; Rated TV-Y7, Airs on Disney XD 10/27/14.
Right off the bat, I can tell you that "Rise of the Old Masters" is the episode of this show I've been waiting for after the promise of the pilot episode of the show. When "Spark of Rebellion" closes, we're treated by the sight of the Sith Inquisitor all but promising to deliver Kanan and Ezra into the hands of the Empire. For the last two episodes, we've been sidetracked by other missions, but this brings us back on track.
After intercepting a message on the Holonet regarding the whereabouts of Jedi Master Luminara Unduli, the crew of the Ghost decide they have to drop everything and do their best to rescue her. Aside from the value she could add to their team in disrupting Imperial operations, Kanan feels like she would be a much better Jedi instructor for Ezra than he would be.
It's interesting to note that the message they intercepted is from an exiled Imperial Senator named Gall Trayvis who is voiced by Star Trek actor Brent Spiner and bears a striking resemblance to David Niven. When the rest of the episode plays like Guns of Navarone and other standard World War II "mission" movies, it seems as though this is probably not a coincidence.
This episode visits many themes and ideas from both the classic and prequel trilogies to excellent effect. The beginning of the episode starts with Kanan working on Ezra's Jedi training, with Kanan using Master Yoda's most famous quote as its basis. "Do or do not. There is no try."
Hearing it come from Kanan in the way you do makes you wonder if Kanan really is worthy of passing on Jedi training to someone like Ezra, or if he's just a pretender doing his best. Kanan seems feel the same way, which is why he's so eager to find Master Unduli.
For the rest of the review, we head deep into spoiler territory, so be warned.
My favorite part of the episode is the central hook that brings the Ghost crew to the fortified prison on Stygeon Prime: Luminara Unduli. Unduli is one of my favorite prequel-era Jedi and her fate was never addressed on screen anywhere in the current canon. The idea that should could have not only survived the Clone Wars, but be rotting, alive and well, in an Imperial prison is a tantalizing story hook. After the dangling threads left by the early cancellation of "The Clone Wars," seeing any definitive answers on this show is good news.
But how it's handled, as part of the Inquisitor's plan, is brilliant. The moment Kanan arrives at the prison he can sense Master Unduli's presence, knowing that she's really there. But when they arrive in her cell, they discover a terrible truth. The images of her in prison garb are a hologram and the presence Kanan felt was her mummified corpse.
That's when the Inquisitor reveals himself and enters into a high stakes lightsaber duel and conversation with Kanan. It's a wonderful piece of televised cinema. "Her bones serve the Empire," the Inquisitor states, and sets the mind racing. What other things could a Sith-run Empire do with the corpses of Jedi? The whole thing brings to mind the idea of Catholic reliquaries, where they keep every bone and fingernail clipping of dead saints. So, too, it seems the Sith might keep the bones of fallen Jedi for uses later?
It's an intriguing idea.
And that's just the opening move in the emotional battle between Kanan and the Inquisitor. It builds capably, adding drama to the fight with the story in a way that just puts a smile on my face.
As ever, this episode gives us many classic elements from "Star Wars," both used and unused. There are lots of little things, like Hera's radar panel looking exactly like Vader's in "A New Hope," or the look of the hallways in the prison. But the biggest throwback I noticed was that the design of the creatures that want to mate with Hera's ship (hilarious, by the way) bear a striking resemblance to this Ralph McQaurrie painting from the pre-production of "The Empire Strikes Back:"
And that was a fun nod that I enjoyed seeing. Even their introduction evokes the scenes from "Empire" where the Mynocks are introduced.
This episode has been the best so far since the pilot. And I might have actually liked it a bit more than the pilot, to be honest. This is the most complete and well balanced episode we've seen and I hope they continue on down this path.
- Spark of Rebellion: 9 out of 10
- Droids in Distress: 7.5 out of 10
- Fighter Flight: 8 out of 10
- Rise of the Old Masters: 9 out of 10