(Warning: spoilers below)
From the opening moment, “Call to Action” had me. As Grand Moff Tarkin arrived on Lothal aboard an Imperial Shuttle, with troopers lined up and waiting, all the while accompanied by the “Imperial March,” I was overjoyed. The only two other characters in canon who have had the same style of entrance have been Darth Vader and the Emperor, and it was a great way to instantly place Tarkin on those guys’ level for long time fans while giving him one heck of an introduction for those who have only recently discovered the saga.
It doesn’t hurt that Tarkin lived up to his grand opening, instantly establishing himself as dominant among the villains we’ve had in the show thus far, putting Kallus, the Inquisitor, and Maketh Tua (aka “Hat Lady”) in their places. But he also backed his verbal lashing with action, proving to his subordinates via Commandant Aresko and Taskmaster Grint just how unwilling he was to tolerate failure. It was a chilling scene, one that harkened back to some of Star Wars darker’ moments, and which simultaneously thrilled and unnerved me. Having such ruthlessness on display upped the stakes considerably, and I felt it throughout the entire episode.
Which brings me to Kanan. I know that Freddie Prinze Jr. has said they’re recording the second season of Rebels and it’s almost twice as long, but I actually thought a few times during the final act, “Are they going to kill off Kanan?!” (spoiler: they don’t). It’s a testament to the Rebels team that they successfully set up a situation where there was a viable threat introduced early on and then framed the heroes’ infiltration of the communications tower in such a way that the whole event had weight and felt of consequence. When things started going bad for the Ghost’s crew, it was easy to believe that they all might not make it out alive (spoiler: they do) and the most likely victim was the Jedi.
It helps that Prinze gives his finest performance in the series to date. More than any other time, he reminded me of a Jedi in the tradition of Qui-Gon Jinn: noble, roguish, and a leader. It’s as if the events of the series have finally caught up to him, and he’s become the kind of Jedi he’s meant to be. Even the Inquisitor notices the change during their lightsaber duel, quipping “You’ve been practicing.” I’d like to see more of this Kanan, and I hope the show delivers going forward.
I also like that the the heroes finally realize, “No one’s going to do this for us,” and take definitive action towards instigating a rebellion on Lothal. Early on, the show’s creators talked about escalation and thematically, this episode brought it all together, with the group’s actions catching the eyes of the higher ups (who acknowledge pockets of rebellion across the galaxy but point out they lack unity — the key to threatening the Empire) even while they are planning to take things to the next level.
Another thing often brought up in convention panels by the show’s creators was how Star Wars Rebels was really the origin of the Rebel Alliance. I think a lot of fans (myself included) took that to mean it’ll end with the theft of the Death Star plans, but now, it really does feel like the birth of the Alliance is the end goal — with one group slowly inspiring others and figuring out what it’s going to take to win wars. If that really is the story they’re telling, I’m pretty happy with it and can’t wait to find out what comes next.