Galactic Hunter Video Theater Presents: Star Wars Rebels - Droids in Distress

By Adam Pawlus — Monday, October 13, 2014

Star Wars Rebels returns to a normal, shorter format with Droids in Distress. Is fan service enough?

If you know your sci-fi history, it's not uncommon to trot out guest stars early on a spin-off. Star Trek: The Next Generation's first regular episode was basically a remake of the original series' second episode - crazy drunk sickness crew, swapping the super-cool Sulu fencing for the super-creepy Data nailing Tasha Yar. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had guest stars Lursa and B'Etor on its first regular installment, and The Clone Wars' first real installment? Yoda reenacts (preenacts?) Luke's Jedi training from The Empire Strikes Back. What Rebels does is bring back R2-D2 and C-3PO! The snappier exposition dump has more interesting battles than the pilot movie, and manages to do some more worldbuilding while having a bit more fun. Read on for more - and download the episode for free on iTunes until Apple changes their mind!



If you're an old fart who hates everything, this was basically fun enough that even as a one-off, you'll like it. Thematically, though, it's sort of just more exposition.


The original Star Wars cartoon Droids was one of my favorite things on TV in the 1980s, so this episode gets to make a few nods at it with the brighter colors, stylized designs, and R2-D2 and C-3PO serving a previously unseen master in the form of Minister Maketh Tua. Clad in a swell hat that looks just like some of the various concepts but more colorful, Ms. Tua turns the Imperial British pasty guy cliche on its ear and instead gives us a competent young woman in the role of oppressor instead. You also get another big nod to one of the more popular droid-based events of the 1980s, as the great Paul Reubens returns as RX-24, Star Tours' original Captain Rex. As much as the first episode felt like a cynical obligation, this one feels like a warm hug. I love seeing new people come up, especially if they're just around for a while - the Aqualish Amda Wabo was fun too.

2764 The story is fun and familiar - R2-D2 and C-3PO show up with some Imperials looking to make a gun delivery for very new, very fancy, very Zeb-genociding weapons. The crew is hungry and wants to make some money, so they argue about selling weapons to Quark Hondo Ohnaka Cikatro Vizago, the Devaronian arms dealer. The plot is a lot more interesting than the usual "let's go in and kill" vibe of many action shows, as the team basically splits up on a space bus to cause havoc. Chopper and Ezra bicker with Kanan, while Zeb and Sabine pretend to be Empire-friendly travelers with the ability to help translate Aqualish after their translator droids get sent to the back of said space bus. A little obfuscation through translation, and presto - guns stolen! It's a brisk caper that reveals that these guys are all getting along quite swimmingly.


This kicks open the door to what the show seems to be about - there are apparently quite a few Rebel cells out there, Bail Organa (also appearing in this episode) is looking to meet them, and clearly the Empire's unemployment checks aren't good if you're essentially an intergalactic terrorist. The tease of the Inquisitor from last week was left for a future installment, but we did get to see Agent Kallus deliver some heavy-handed exposition about being the person responsible for slaughtering pretty much the entirety of the now very-endangered Lassat people. But why? Who knows - but it gives us a reason to hate Kallus more than just being the token British jerk who's set out to make things difficult for a roving band of criminal arms dealers/thieves/refugees from Joss Whedon's Firefly fanfic.


One of the delights and dangers of prequels is we spend a lot of time with fan service shots that serve few purpose other than to nudge the audience, reminding them of where this is all going. Seeing Bail Organa be the second person to use R2-D2's floppy disk drive on the Tantive IV was another wonderful nod to the original movie, but I'm sure it exists mostly just to make old fans happy. I mean, how many of you are old enough to have used a floppy drive?


One of the things about The Clone Wars, Rebels, and even Ewoks and Droids is that they have difficulty transcending their place as a kid show to sell toys and remind people of how much they love Star Wars in its many forms. The show wasn't designed to make people think about complex social issues or question who's right or who's wrong - the good and the bad are usually clearly defined. Even though our heroes are doing some morally ambiguous things, they're clearly the good guys - they never doubt themselves, and the Empire has a way to go before being cartoonishly evil British white dudes. The format and indeed the budget probably restrict such things, and we're seeing fewer characters per shot and "crowd" scenes aren't particularly crowded. I assume the first season - which I read is 16 installments - is largely going to be serving the purpose to remind everybody just how much they love the original trilogy, which will no doubt lead up to some new push on Original Trilogy wares next year before Episode VII stuff hits stores in, let's say, September. That's a good month.


If you were looking for a fun adventure with some old friends, plus a nifty and brief Stormtrooper shoot-out, plus a lady in a cool hat? This was a good time. It also will no doubt kick off the return of the proud tradition of showing us all characters of which there may never be action figures - but we've got an old Rex figure or two, so that's something. Sadly, TV shows rarely get the kind of love given to Star Wars where nearly everything of significance has a small legion of fans demanding a toy for it. Maybe in 20 years we'll see kids come back and demand it, but given the growing size of the Star Wars universe it seems that the biggest addition to the franchise is a character's right to be forgotten. There's so much to keep up on that something is going to fall in the cracks, rather than be the subject of Insider articles and RPG campaigns and trading card games.


Takeaway from this week:
The music is, once again, screamingly trilogy-inspired. You can totally hear bits of the music that played under R2-D2 and C-3PO's walk to Jabba's Palace, for example. It kind of works, but some new themes wouldn't hurt.
We get more explicit follow-through about Ezra wanting Jedi training - which makes sense, kids want power, and similar things came up at the end of Marvel's Star Wars run between Luke and aspiring post-Rebels.
R2-D2 was way, way too realistic. I'd assume it was the movie model if I didn't know better.
Bail Organa is Phil LaMarr, who does a fine job and is welcome.
The Stormtrooper officer is just a Stormtrooper with a pauldron, like every custom Sandtrooper from before Kenner relaunched the line in 1995
Hera is Kanan's "love"? Missed that.

Next time: "Droids in Distress." The law of the spin-off usually demands a familiar face during the pilot (see: Obi-Wan Kenobi) and a special guest star in the first 2-3 episodes. I'm banking on R2-D2 and C-3PO. See you in 10 or so days!