REVIEW: Star Wars Rebels “Droids in Distress”

Story

The story aspect of “Droids in Distress” was certainly a lot more focused than the premiere episode. We follow the crew of the Ghost in a much more properly-paced adventure to steal controversial cargo from the Empire. The lighthearted action is offset by some dark undertones, as the cargo is revealed to be a devastating weapon: a “disruptor” that was used to slaughter Zeb’s people. When it is revealed that the Imperial agent hunting our heroes down was also the commander in charge of killing Zeb’s people, a goosebump-inducing smackdown ensues between the opponents. Maintaining a fun, playful atmosphere while still dealing with darker themes – in this case genocide and vengeance – seems like mighty challenge, and the writers pull it off excellently. Definitely a strong-point of the episode.

So where does the “Droids in Distress” title come in? Well, that’s due to a major point in the story: the introduction of C-3PO and R2-D2. While their inclusion seems a little tacked-on, it was interesting to see some heavy-hitters from the main cast making cameo appearances. There was a little too much throwback to original lines and cues in my opinion, but they actually served a fun role in the story. I was especially pleased when the heroes of the show treated them like ordinary droids – unaware of their larger roles in the Star Wars universe. Sabine casually suggests they sell the droids for some extra pocket cash, and Kanan agrees in a deadpan, nonchalant way that definitely made me chuckle.

Characters

While C-3P0 and R2-D2 might be the primary sellers of the episode, Zeb is definitely the main character. When we find out that the disruptors were used to massacre his people (in a way that is implied to be too horrible to describe), Zeb’s true colors show. He quickly (and once again) rises above his “big brute” archetype and reveals himself to be a somewhat wounded man with a lot of emotional baggage. When Agent Kallus confronts him, we see Zeb give into rage and charge the man screaming – a chilling moment to be sure.

Zeb is horrified to see that their stolen cargo are the very weapons used to kill his people.

Zeb is horrified to see that their stolen cargo are the very weapons used to kill his people.

That brings me to another character who gets a great moment in the spotlight: Agent Kallus. In this episode, it’s revealed that Kallus was the commander in charge of subjugating Zeb’s homeworld of Lasan – giving the order to use the disruptors on the Lasats who lived there – something for which he seems very proud (almost disturbingly giddy) to have done. While it was a tiny bit convenient that Kallus just so happened to be the one responsible for killing Zeb’s people, it creates a personal connection between Zeb and Kallus, and now I’m very, very interested to see their next showdown.

Agent Kallus' reveal as a cunning martial artist was a very interesting development.

Agent Kallus’ reveal as a cunning martial artist was a very interesting development.

Artistic Style and Music

Man, oh man, I’ve been really excited to tackle this one. While I loved the art from the premiere, I literally had to pause the video to soak in some of the visuals in this episode. The crew visits a new planet in this episode: Garel. This planet – steeped in oranges and blues – had a mysterious, twilit, retro vibe that made me smile with delight. When the ship whooshes past the camera over a city on this outer-rim planet, I was awestruck with the beautiful scenery. It has been a long, long time since Star Wars has been able to do that to me, and there are some serious thumbs-up to the scenery in this episode.

The spaceport was steeped in retro Star Wars atmosphere.

The spaceport was steeped in retro Star Wars atmosphere.

Star Wars has rarely looked this beautiful.

Star Wars has rarely looked this beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The music in this episode stood out to me in several moments. Particularly when the heroes landed on Garel. We were treated to a stunning anthem that amplified the alien scenery. The feeling of wonder immediately reminded me of the whimsical music that heralded the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

A second moment that the music jumped out at me was when Ezra readied himself to Force-jump across some rooftops. I really got a sense of his unease at doing a mission on his own, and then gathering his courage to take the jump. The music communicated everything perfectly, even conveying a sense of wonder about the Force-assisted act he was about to commit. In the Prequels and in the “Clone Wars” series, the Force was so mundane and matter-of-fact. In this show, it’s really something special, and the music helps sell that beautifully.

Technical Details

The animation continues to impress me. The naysayers complaining that the animation isn’t up-to-snuff with “Clone Wars” really need to get their eyes checked. The level of character expression is off the charts with this show. It stood out to me in the premiere, but it keeps getting better. The characters – free from the blocky, wooden feeling of the Clone Wars animation – now have a full range of facial expression and body language. The animation is extremely high-quality. Even cinematic at times.

The ONLY thing that has consistently bugged me about the visuals is that on extreme closeups, I can almost see the pixelation on some environment textures. I understand rendering for television isn’t quite so high-fidelity as rendering for cinema, but it would be nice to see some more high-resolution textures on some of the environment closeups. Overall, however, it’s not a big deal.

Final Thoughts

All in all, “Droids in Distress” was a great episode, and a worthy follow-up to the premiere. Maybe even better, in fact! The classic cameos were a little forced, but definitely enjoyable, and the added character depth given to Zeb and Agent Kallus was very welcome! If you haven’t caught this episode yet, I’d definitely say it’s worth the watch!