On Rebels, Sabine Becomes Death, Destroyer of Worlds

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REVIEW: Salutations one and all! Brief reminder: this is not a full review. Here we just look at one or two things because I’m too busy crying into my Porg mug to come up with many cogent thoughts. As always, SPOILERS from here on out.

Rebels has returned this week with a one-two punch in the form of Heroes of Mandalore, though really it should be Heroines of Mandalore, as it was Sabine and Bo-Katan who got the job done, thank you very much, Filoni.

Building Up to Emotional Pay Off

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Well, that was quite something – and I don’t just mean the supervillain weapon, which I’ll get to in a bit, but the episode on the whole. This story is really only one that could have been told after three years of build up. First, with our newfound understanding and appreciation of what Mandalorian armour means to the Mandalorian people. This was a new element to viewers (discounting the now Legends Traviss books) but is one that had a solid foundation in the show proper. Each year we’ve watched Sabine redecorate her armour, seemingly as an expression of herself on an otherwise generic, possibly mass produced template – but look back and examine how and where she expressed her art. A noted vandal artist, her more public paintings were (if I remember correctly) expressions of her ideals and exclamations of her allegiance. She has often redecorated allied ships, friends’ equipment and, once, her shipmate’s bunks. Looking at these, though, we see that they’re often abstract shapes or explosions of colour (often followed, of course, by the more traditional boom-boom-kapow kind), or drawings that captured the essence of other people – such as the Ezra/Zeb (Zebra? How am I only figuring this out now?) mural. It’s really only when we catch glimpses of Sabine’s own room that we see artistic expressions of her core self. That last statement is also true of her armour. Without saying a word, previous to this episodethe show runners and the art department have shown how much her armour means to Sabine as well as her people. And they held back on saying that for three years!

And it’s not just in such small terms that the creative team have played the long game. The supervillain weapon*, and the introduction of which that occurred in the last series? Do you recall how it was introduced? We weren’t given much detail; merely that it’s a terrible weapon of Sabine’s own design and that which was later used on her own people. That’s it. This scant information makes it sound like an atomic bomb-like new development, and Sabine its Oppenheimer. And indeed in the first half the show visually reinforces this idea. Our first glimpse is a blinding flash, a mushroom cloud-like emission. Our second is the aftermath: scorched marks on the landscape, its victims reduced to ashes. A visual clue, one that harkens back to the atomic shadows in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

*I refuse to call it a superweapon because while it had the potential to be used on a larger scale, it never regained such lofty heights, and Bad Mando (his real name, honest) was just such a comically Bondian villain that the term seems all too apt.

But do you know what hasn’t changed? Sabine’s approach to weapons of mass destruction, and the use thereof. In an episode that highlighted her strengths and maturity, she has demonstrated that she’s still willing to use the sodding thing. We now understand that her revulsion at its first demonstration wasn’t so much that it was used but that it was used against her own people … except … she apparently designed it so that it could specifically be used against her own people, or at least people who wore beskar’gam, that Mandalorian armour.

So in a way she has changed and grown. She grew to understand how heinous it is to use a weapon that not only targets her fellow Mandalorians, but one that attacks them via a core part of their heritage. She is entirely okay with using the weapon when it suits her.

Speaking of which …

One Bomb, Two Bomb, Three Bomb, Four, This is How You Kill Some More

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Her desire, as we plainly saw, got her into hot water with her ally and fellow resident of the town of Bad Ass, Bo-Katan. Not only that, but Sabine’s desire to use the weapon on her enemies (I’d mention the revenge angle, but since they died anyway that’s rather a moot point) seems to have been what ultimately decided Sabine on the belief that she would be an unfit leader*. What’s more, it is Bo-Katan’s strength of will and strong moral fiber that marks her as the rightful leader of Mandalore. Right?

*This is an incomplete reading of the scene, admittedly, and there were a lot of other psychological factors at play, but for the sake of brevity, this statement will have to suffice.

Weeeeeell I disagree.

What is heinous about the weapon is that it is one that the Empire, an oppressive force, would use against a smaller, oppressed dissident military force – a group that the Empire would once have called their subjects but now brand terrorists, but that which we would call freedom fighters. Revolutionaries. Not only that but this is a weapon that strikes at the very heart of Mandalorian culture. It destroys, turns poison, that valuable piece of Mandalorian heritage. It is those two points, rather than its mere use, that makes this weapon so devastating.

So what if Sabine were to use it? Would that be the same? On the face of it, yes. Both she and the Empire would be using the same weapon to further their goals, but that is where the similarity ends. In Imperial hands, it would target those in armour – which, as far as we know, is a statement that would only apply to combatants. Even by our own Earthly rules of war, this is an acceptable act. In Sabine’s much more capable hands, the weapon would, as far as we can ascertain, target stormtroopers only or people who wear stormtrooper armour. In other words, it would only attack a military target. There would be little to no collateral damage – which, again, is agreeable to our rules of war, and also surpass in ability our own weapons; since our own bombs all too often provide quite a bit of collateral damage (we also seem to be fine with this). Granted, were Sabine to fix the machine so that it was fully operational, the number of targets would be significantly increased. But again, the targets would be mostly, if not all, Imperial soldiers. And let’s not forget that this episode ended with the destruction of an Imperial Star Destroyer, which Wookieepedia tells me has a crew of 9,235 officers, 27,850 enlisted personnel and 9,700 stormtroopers. As they were docked at the time, it probably wouldn’t have had a full crew aboard, but that is still a casualty rate in the high thousands. Not to mention that this is a spin off to a film series that sees two Death Stars, with a full crew compliment of over a million each, destroyed by Rebels. If Sabine and Bo Katan balked at the killing a few Imperial soldiers, I’d imagine that they’re in for a rude awakening.

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Caption: ‘Not that kind of awakening. Calm down, dude.

 

On a symbolic level, too, the two actions are miles apart. Beskar’gam is intrinsic to Mandalorian culture. The armour is military in its function, true, and it’s no doubt committed a few atrocities in its time, but it is still a link to their family and culture*. And the Empire wants to wipe that out.

*I mean, it’s going to provide some complicated feelings, of course. Look, I’m a Brit, the history of my country is one of invasion and suppression; I get what Sabine would feel – or at least that part of it. I can’t listen to Men of Harlech without having complicated feelings, and my people were on the side of the oppressors!

Compare that to its use on the Empire, on stormtroopers. Does the stormtrooper armour have that same link to its heritage, to its culture? No. For a start, it’s mass produced junk that barely protects its own people, and has, thanks to the atrocities committed by those who wear it, come to be known as a symbol of oppression, of injustice, hatred, bigotry and fear across the galaxy. To destroy that, to strike the Empire at the very heart of their symbol of oppression is nowhere near the same as wiping out an entire culture. And that’s what they’re fighting for, after all; the preservation of their people, their culture. Surely, when viewed in such a light, it would be not even a bad act for good reasons, but a good act for good reasons?

Just One Last Thing…

Folks, I wonder if I may be permitted to stray from your regular programming, just for a second? This being the beginning of the end of the series, there’s something I want to get off my chest.

Rebels is not perfect: It has its fair share of weak episodes. Occasionally questionable acting and directorial choices. A central character who never really settled and lacked any redemptive qualities. A lack of artistry and depth to scenes – and some other imperfections that I’m probably overlooking.

Despite that, I love this show. It is, I feel, one of the best Star Wars stories to date; and I will miss it dearly. I love the animation, which started out great and has only got better; it is a visually stunning series. I love the very feel of it, the places, the vehicles and the story itself all have weight and depth to them that is very amiable to watching. I love the characters; you can feel that the love and the camaraderie between them is real (or at least the actors are phenomenal in making it appear so), and they are so utterly charming – as exemplified in this very episode.

But what I love most is how the show has developed. From a small group of plucky malcontents to this, a rebel faction that has played a key part in several Rebel victories, that have fought the best of the Empire and survived. That united a people and took out a Star Destroyer and a supervillain weapon in a single episode. As the story, and the stakes, have grown, our Spectres have grown with them, they have gone from strength to strength.

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Look at them. They’re no longer dissidents. This isn’t a revolt, this is a revolution.

And they’re just getting started.

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