Quick note: this is not a full review. If you want that, that’s totally fine, and we can help you out. But here we take some aspects of the show for further discussion. And as always, SPOILERS from here on out.
(Sorry, I really couldn’t resist the headline. This isn’t an anti-rebellion themed review, honest!)
Constant losses amongst Phoenix squadron in this week’s episode of Rebels, entitled Homecoming, can only mean one thing: road trip! Yes, our Rebels head to Ryloth, Hera’s home planet, and meet up with Hera’s father, Cham Syndulla. Good times were had, stories shared, Kanan met the in-laws (well, half of them) and, oh, stole a big honking Imperial hangar ship. Like you do. Then they went for ice cream.
This episode presented an intriguing question, one which was slightly buried underneath all the family drama: what takes precedence, the small war or the large one?
The Large War
By large war, I mean saving your resources, sometimes to the detriment of local rebel cells, so that you may fight on a much wider front – and concentrate on no specific one. Hera, of course, represents this ideology – and is the one that wins out. Which is a little bit unfair, since we’ve had a series and a half to explore her side of the argument, and is the side that our Spectres tend to favour (but ever then they rarely left Lothal in the first series). This is in contrast to Cham Syndulla, Hera’s father*, who has less than half an hour (though Ezra does briefly share this outlook in the first half of the first series, and Kanan briefly in the premiere of the second series before both get a pep talk and say ‘eh, whatever. Let’s shoot stuff’).
*Or ‘papa’ if you are a) French/of French descent, b) a Twi’lek or c) a horribly pretentious Brit
This form of warfare has many benefits: you can stretch your enemy’s resources thin and force them to expend more effort and energy to perform various tasks. For example, during the Napoleonic Wars Spain and Portugal were mostly occupied by French forces who plundered, raped and murdered many of the native people. This was, I think we can all agree, not a good idea. And so the locals rose up and formed rebel cells, called ‘guerrilleros’, who attacked supply lines, performed hit and run raids on camps at night, tortured and occasionally made very public examples of their prisoners (which I don’t condone, but can understand). For an answer, the French dedicated more troops to the protection of supplies, taking them away from the front line, and came down harder on the populace … which only generated more guerrilleros.
It also has the advantage of propagating, without much effort on your part, propaganda for your cause. Simply put, the more visible you are to the wider galaxy, the better known you will be. The better known you are means more potential recruits. Even if they don’t join, they will still have ears (if their species’ biology permits) to hear and hopefully evaluate your reasoning and help – not by arms, but in a quiet way – your cause by not aiding the enemy, or sheltering you in your time of need or simply just cheering when you hear some old guy in a hood is dead. Because nothing beats tyranny better than having the courage to speak your mind when your voice can be heard by those who’ll silence it.
And being a smaller force does afford you more places to hide, and can make you much harder to hit, since you’re not wholly tied to one small area of operation (sorry, Alderaan). And though the entire galaxy is essentially hostile to you, you can quickly become safe because you can masquerade as civilians and simply blend in … with the other civilians being horribly repressed by the government. Bit of a trade off.
These are just a few examples, and there are downsides, too: your own forces can be stretched thin, and one serious defeat can knock you out of the game entirely. It also means your victories are going to be minor as well – and we actually see this in the episode itself. Cham’s goal was to destroy the ship, I remind you, so that the people of Ryloth can see that victory, know that there is reason to hope and may rise up. Any other episode of Rebels and this would have been the Spectre’s goal, too. Not today. Instead they want a place to hide. A place for supplies, rest, maybe watch space netflix (holoflix? Please let this be a thing) and generally ensure that they live another day. Not exactly heroic but still very important. And it’s generally a good goal. It’s like that old joke: ‘I don’t have to outrun the lion. I just have to outrun you’. If all else fails, if the Death Stars aren’t destroyed, if the rebellion’s fighting force fizzles out and their armies have about as much bite as a toothless granny, then that desire to survive and live on just might see them to victory. Because they may not have to beat the Empire, they just have to outlive it.
Still, it is a lot more fun to watch the Death Star blow up rather than watch Hera and our Spectres grow old.
The Small War
That said, there is some merit to fighting the small war (represented by Cham Syndulla’s crusade), to fighting for your home planet – and nothing more. This is somewhat lost in the episode, what with Cham’s becoming ever-so-slightly unhinged and inevitably betraying Hera.
I was a little miffed at this, mainly because the show implied (though never outright stated) that this was largely a bad idea. This is a common trope in storytelling, called ‘villain has a point‘, wherein the baddie brings up a valid idea, but it is then dismissed simply because the villain thought of it.
Let’s ignore that, because there are some solid reasons for waging the small war. The first is a similar fallacy that Cham buys into – and to a certain extent the Spectres also: false equivalence. This states that you can focus your efforts on A, or you can help B. You can’t do both. As the episode aptly shows towards the end, you really can help both parties – and that’s because people can generally care for more than one thing at a time, which is something this fallacy tends to forget.
Following that line of thought, it’s entirely natural and understandable for people to care more about their home than some far off place. The problems start when a person only cares about their home and not the far off places, as Cham perfectly illustrates, and which our Spectres, Numa and Unremarkable Background Twi’lek* admirably provide a counter example. That same love of your home can provide a very strong will to fight, one which can often eclipse ideological fervor.
(*Whose character went down in Star Wars lore as the one responsible for the famous joke:
A: Knock knock.
B: ‘Who’s there?’
A: Unremarkable Background Twi’lek.
B: ‘Unremarkable Background Twi’lek who?’
It never really caught on.)
But there are military benefits to fighting locally, too. Because it is your own home, you will naturally know it better than an invading force. And you are much more likely to come across aid and friendly civilians than not. Because the war front is necessarily much smaller than a galaxy-wide conflict, you’re better able to develop and concentrate your forces in larger numbers. And though that battles themselves may be smaller, that doesn’t mean they’re any less necessary or important. And the more of a nuisance that little local cell becomes, the more resources the enemy pours into it. Just look at Lothal – well, you can’t, because all those Star Destroyers are in the way. Due to the actions of one small yet effective splinter cell the Empire has poured a significant portion of its military to on fairly insignificant target.
But, of course, all this does paint a rather large target on your back. It being your home planet, you may be rather unwilling to leave it, to such an extent that even your planet, and not just you, becomes the target (sorry, Alderaan).
So, which is better? As stated, I personally believe each is a worthy fight. Different people can focus on different issues, just as long as they don’t impede or thwart the others’ attempts. If only Cham had learned that.