Review: Star Wars Rebels ‘The Last Battle’

Since its abrupt 2013 cancellation, fans of Lucasfilm Animation’s debut series The Clone Wars have been clamoring for new episodes. Tonight’s Star Wars Rebels episode, The Last Battle, will undoubtedly help to whet their appetites. From start to finish, this episode is a love letter to the earlier show while still functioning as a worthy, if slightly predictable, story on its own.

The basic premise for the episode is that on a mission to secure munitions for the growing rebellion, Rex, Kanan, Ezra, and Zeb are captured by a surprising old foe of Rex’s, General Kalani, a super tactical droid who fought for the Separatists in the Clone Wars. Fans of The Clone Wars will recognize him from the Onderon arc early in season five, when he replaced General Tandin, a human who was growing conflicted about his role, as the leader of the occupation of a planet plunged in revolution and civil war. This episode, set eighteen years after that, finds Kalani on a backwater world with a unit of droids he ignored orders to deactivate at the war’s end. When Zeb is taken hostage, Rex and the Jedi must fight their way out of a staged, simulated Clone Wars battle with Kalani’s army, all to prove to the analytically-minded machine that the end of the war was not a ruse and the Jedi and the Republic truly deserved to win.

Any Star Wars fan who has seen even just the movies alone knows, of course, that this is not true. The Clone Wars were a trap from the very beginning, with villainous Palpatine/Darth Sidious secretly controlling both sides. The episode’s handling of the conspiracy, its effects, and people’s realizations almost two decades later is definitely its strongest point. The episode really is not the most suspenseful, lacking the big twists and narrow escapes that characterized the first couple of episodes of the season, but it works on a deeper level, finally depicting some of our characters facing down the truth about the Clone Wars.

The episode begins in media res, with the mission already underway. The first minute or so lacks music, and the eerie atmospheric wind sounds underscore how lonely Rex, whose post-traumatic stress disorder is more present in this story than any other yet seen, is feeling as he explores the old Separatist base. The twilight lighting in Kalani’s command center, appropriate for what two old veterans consider the end of a war the galaxy left behind 17 years earlier, is gorgeous. Models of all returning The Clone Wars droids have been updated to better fit the softer, more Ralph McQuarriesque stylized look of Rebels, and for the most part, it translates brilliantly. I actually prefer the sleeker look of destroyer droids in this. Battle droids pretty much look just as they should. Kalani’s model seems to be rounder than it was on Clone Wars, which doesn’t entirely suit the character, but he is still recognizable despite his limited role in the earlier show, appearing in three out of 121 episodes.

Old battle droids roll explosives towards a new enemy

Early on in Star Wars Rebels, especially in the first season, the show seemed to consciously avoid The Clone Wars references, minus elements like a clone trooper helmet behind a bar as a souvenir from an earlier time or some recycled starship models. The reasoning, of course, was to establish the show’s core cast on its own so they didn’t have to rely on heavies from the prior show, including such popular original characters as former Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, battle-ready Captain Rex, and slippery pirate Hondo Ohnaka. Early in the second season, of course, all of these characters and more had returned, but the show’s focus had always remained on Ezra’s journey. This is probably the first episode to put a Clone Wars character (in this case, Rex) in the central spotlight. Ezra has one big moment, but this is Rex’s story. It works.

General Kalani in Rebels (left) and The Clone Wars

The episode’s echoes of The Clone Wars, from the story to the characters to the subtle echoes of music from early in the show and, in one very appropriate instance, the wholesale recycling of one track from the pilot episode of The Clone Wars, the theatrically released film with the same title, are obvious nods without being distracting. The ending titles and credits are totally reworked to incorporate Clone Wars visual style and music, a fitting tribute in itself. The presence of Kalani especially calls back to one of the original show’s most popular and important arcs. Of all the villains to introduce, the use of a character as obscure as Kalani is curious. At the end of the Onderon arc, Dooku sends him to Agamar in what seemed like a throwaway line referencing a planet from classic Star Wars novels. In this episode, however, Kalani is still on Agamar, exactly where he was left at his last appearance. The large amount of shared crew and creative team between the two shows allows these very acute connections between the two shows to continue the earlier story in a new time period.

This may, however, be foreshadowing a different connection. The same arc that introduced Kalani introduced his nemesis Saw Gerrera, the Jedi-trained volatile revolutionary originally created for one of George Lucas’s live-action Star Wars television shows, which never got out of development due to their financial inviability. Saw is famously appearing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story later this year, portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Could he also be coming to Rebels?

Experience The Last Battle tonight at 9:30 PM on Disney XD or right now on watchdisneyxd.com with your cable provider login information. I’ll see you back here next week with my review of Imperial Supercommandos, for Mandalore!

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