“Gathering Forces” picks up right where “Empire Day” left off, with our heroes attempting to escape Lothal in the Ghost even as the Inquisitor and his squadron of TIE Fighters chase them. In the battle, the Inquisitor manages to place a homing beacon on the hull of the Phantom before the rebels jump into hyperspace. Realizing that they are being tracked, Kanan and Ezra depart in the Phantom, leading the pursuing Imperials to the abandoned Clone base in the asteroid field (from the episode “Out of Darkness”), where they have a showdown with the Inquisitor.
Much like last week’s episode, this was an Ezra-centric story. It really opened up the character in a way we hadn’t much seen before, by playing up his insecurities and fears that resulted from the loss of his parents. It made him vulnerable, especially when his past loss was weighed against the possibility of future loss with his new family aboard the Ghost. It pushed to the forefront a level of emotional complexity that, while not lacking, hasn’t always been center stage in the series.
It also raised the stakes when it came time for the duel between Kanan, Ezra, and the Inquisitor. This is the second time in the series that these characters have faced off with lightsabers, and something that Star Wars Rebels has done an amazing job with both times is to give the fights meaning. With the first duel in “Rise of the Old Masters,” it hinged on Kanan’s own insecurities with his incomplete Jedi training. This time it came down to Ezra not wanting to lose his master. I absolutely loved the moment when Kanan was down and Ezra picked up his lightsaber to defend him, only for the Inquisitor to easily snatch it away from the padawan with the Force. It only strengthened the credibility of the Inquisitor as a threat, while validating Ezra’s fear of loss.
All of that, combined with Ezra’s inexperience with the Force, made the moment when Ezra began relying on the Dark Side feel natural and earned, while opening up a multitude of story possibilities. The show no longer hinges on Rebels versus the Empire, but has an added layer of internal conflict that should be interesting to explore. Will Ezra fall to the Dark Side? Can Kanan keep his student on the path of good? I cannot wait to see this new dynamic explored further.
The rest of the Ghost crew wasn’t given much to do, other than to escort Tseebo to Fulcrum’s people. I thought it was interesting that Fulcrum’s ship was a blue Alderaanian cruiser, and immediately my mind went to “It’s the Sundered Heart.” The conspiracy theorist in my would like to try and tie Fulcrum in to Bail Organa based on just the ship, but the realist in me suspects it was the Rebels animation crew reusing assets due to budgetary reasons. It was strongly implied in the Tseebo storyline that Hera learns what happened to Ezra’s parents, and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out over the course of the series.
I quite enjoyed “Gathering Forces,” and when taken with “Empire Day” believe it to be the strongest forty-five minutes of the series thus far. They did an excellent job in taking the series to “the next level,” and have done exactly what they should have as the show goes into its mid-season break: they’ve left me wanting more.
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