"Star Wars: Rebels" 1.8 – Empire Day (9.5 out of 10)  – Directed by Steven G. 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 Sircar; Special Guests: Dee Bradley Baker, Brent Spiner, Jason Issacs; Rated TV-Y7, Airs on Disney XD 11/17/14. 

"Empire Day" is the episode I've been hoping for, and, I think by far, the strongest episode yet for this season. Set 15 years to the day after Palpatine's ascent to Emperor, we're given a look at what the Empire does to celebrate their regime. There are parades, Imperial Marches, and other massive displays of patriotism. Naturally, the crew of the Ghost find this the perfect opportunity to disrupt the Empire's celebrating on Lothal.

But Ezra is out of sorts. Distant. There's something more this day means to him that he's not letting on.

The opening to the episode (after Ezra and Kanan's training session) feels very much like the same tone as "The Train Job," the second episode of "Firefly". As Mal and the crew of the Serenity struggle with the ramifications of Unification Day, so too does the crew of the Ghost find repugnance in Empire Day.

But something else is going on, other than the day for celebration. The Imperials are hunting a Rodian named Tseebo, an old friend of the Bridger's. But since Ezra finds reasons to visit his old home, he also finds his old family friend hiding there. He's been abused by the Empire, his personality wiped clean to install an artificial intelligence unit (very much like Lobot's.) For me, this is where the episode kicks into high gear after an already solid start. After disrupting the celebration and stumbling on such an important intelligence asset, the crew goes on the run from the Empire and that's what occupies the rest of the episode.

But the way the mysteries are built here, and the way the information is revealed, is second to none on this show so far. The reveal of Ezra's age and birthdate is done in such a clever way in that it doesn't get us bogged down in what a calendar in the Star Wars universe would look or sound like, and it gives us a stunning piece of information. And it gives it to the rest of the Ghost crew (and, in turn, us) in a way that Ezra doesn't have to reveal it to them and he has no idea they know his secret. In fact, I've watched this episode twice and both times this moment managed to get something stuck in my eyes...

I think it's apparent that Henry Gilroy might be the standout writer of this season. His work has captured perfectly the spirit of Star Wars and added the most to the mythology of the Dark Times. He's also been able to handle the doling out of backstory in the most interesting ways possible. This episode gave us everything this show has been promising and gave us the serialized cliffhanger we've been yearning for. It adds to "Star Wars" in a way that is fresh but familiar and the vocal performances live up to every bit of the promise the written word has made.

The kinetic energy to the action sequences in this episode were a testament to the animators, FX artists, and editors. The pace was brisk and the action had a tension to it that I don't feel the show has come close to since the premiere. And while the explosions on this show never fail to stun me, the lighting in the bar at the beginning that paired Hera and Zeb in a very Han and Chewie like fashion, bathed in light just like Rick in Casablanca. It was beautiful.

Another touch I loved was the schematics broadcast by Tseebo's headset. They reminded me of the blueprints in the old West End "Star Wars" Roleplaying Game and it brought a smile to my face.

And wasn't it great to hear Dee Bradley Baker back in "Star Wars?" Baker, who provided the voice for all the clones on "The Clone Wars" came on to Rebels to voice the voice-modulated (another touch I loved) Ithorian bartender, Old Jho, as well as Ezra's father. His voice has become as vital to the sound tapestry of "Star Wars" as Ben Burtt's humming lightsabers and it's great to see him back.

But perhaps my favorite standout from this episode was the music. Kevin Kiner is knocking this show out of the park. His riffs on the Imperial March during the Holonet News broadcast and the actual parade march itself were fantastic, and his weaving of the classic force themes into the rest of the episode grounded it to the galaxy far, far away.

Adding it all together, you get a recipe for the best episode this season, so far. A solid 9.5 out of 10. I'd say it was a perfect 10, but then I'd be left with nowhere else to go if I see an episode better than this. This is certainly the one to beat, though.

Season Scorecard:

Season average: 8.25 out of 10

And don't forget to listen to the Full of Sith interview with Freddie Prinze, Jr.

 

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Tags: Rebels , Firefly , Star Wars , Empire Day