This was an awesome episode! I believe that in it’s quiet moments it hid several bombshell messages that look forward to the season’s finale next week. On the surface it seems to tell a straight forward adventure story of securing a new base. But actually it was a story of goodbye’s foreshadowing that this was the last time our Star Wars: Rebels family was together like this. This review is full of spoilers, including potential spoilers for the Season’s finale.
After last week’s episode it is clear why this base is called Chopper Base, as our moaning and occasionally psychotic droid is the one who led the Rebels there. In several reviews the last episode, The Lost Droid, had been criticized as being very low key and even as a waste of time. Yet when viewed in the light of The Secret of Chopper Base I think we can see that the new episode concluded a storyline that already started with the previous one.
The basic story line of this 18th episode of the season was really very simple. The Rebels have found what looks like to be a good candidate for their secret base but they need to set-up a security perimeter to detect intruders and as protection against the local fauna. In that process they lose a pilot and the search for her reveals the exact threat of the local fauna and the answer to the question ‘how to keep these predators out’. As a result at the end of the episode we seem to know that the Rebel Alliance has found and successfully secured their first hidden base from which to operate.
Yes the closing shot of this episode is unsettling. It focusses for a brief few seconds on one of the cuddly creatures, that have been crawling all over the place during the episode, sitting on a ledge accompanied by the distinct slow notes of the Imperial March as the screen switches to the Rebels Logo. I don’t think Filoni wanted to hint at these creatures being potentially lethal (which of course they could still be despite appearing cute, scared and cuddly). Rather I interpret this as a sign telling us that all pieces have been put in place for tragedy to unfold. I viewed it as a warning that everything we saw in the episode was not the end of a new beginning, but rather the beginning of the end.
Ezra vs Kanan
This episode starts out by showing us, for the first time, Kanan and Ezra actually in saber-training. Their fight is fierce and there is a bit of banter between the two, as well as with Sabine, later joined by Hera, who is watching. But from the looks on the faces of particularly Ezra and Kanan we see that in their eyes there is no banter rather that for them this is dead serious. Throughout the whole episode there are moment where Ezra’s blue eyes seem filled with anger, very much in the way we have seen him display anger when he called upon the dark side, even as early as Season 1. Kanan’s tone has changed as well and through out much of the episode it is as if he is avoiding Hera.
There are two shots which I believe to be absolutely crucial in that opening sequence. The first is in the last half of the training battle between Kanan and Ezra. After Kanan has impressively taught Ezra a lesson about there not being such a thing as a ‘tie’, because ‘surviving is winning’, Ezra turns his back on him to exchange some banter with Sabine. But Kanan attacks Ezra telling him to never turn his back on an enemy. Kanan’s threat hangs in the suddenly thick air and Ezra’s rebuke ‘but you are not my enemy, are you?’ is left unanswered by Kanan who looks at Ezra with grim determination. Stop it right there for a moment!
If we think back to the Jedi Temple episode in which Kanan was confronted, in a Force vision, by the Temple Guards we recall that the lead Temple Guard was absolutely clear: This Boy must be killed! At no point in that episode was that command withdrawn. The Temple Guard did not, at a later moment, say anything that would suggest to us that earlier he was merely taunting Kanan. Kanan’s almost public refusal to withdraw his identification as Ezra’s enemy in the scene now suggests that the seed planted by the Temple Guard has taken root. I think Kanan has come to realize, in the face of Ezra’s growing powers that he as Ezra’s master can no longer restrain or control, he must face up to the real possibility that Ezra would turn against him, the Jedi teachings and away from the cause of the Rebellion.
After Ezra’s ‘but you’re not my enemy’-call has been left unanswered by Kanan there is a hard-cut to Hera’s face and Sabine’s expression. Both have noticed. Sabine seems to merely reflect her slight surprise and looks to Hera for guidance on what this means. Hera however looks inwards and seems to come to a realization that profoundly saddens her. Just before there is a cut to the next scene you can just see how, ever so slightly, Hera’s chin drops just a little as her eyes turn sad with disbelief.
I have little doubt that off screen Hera and Kanan will have shared Kanan’s worries. He might not have let her in on his deepest fears, but I am sure that Hera can read off his face what ever he is not telling her. She is starting to realise that the danger that Kanan and Ezra’s presence expose her Rebellion to does not only come from the ability of the Inquisitors and Vader to locate these two. That the danger may very well come from this potential threat of conflict between Kanan and Ezra.
Hera makes her worry explicit later in the episode. As the Ghost crew unites to search for Rex, who has been abducted by some overly enthusiastic ‘spiders’ who see him as dinner, they split up into two groups. Hera demands that Ezra and Kanan are one group and she, Sabine and Zeb are the other. As these three walk into a tunnel and Sabine questions whether it wouldn’t be better to have one Jedi in every group she explicitly says that they need to learn how to deal with such missions without a Jedi around.
Hera is becoming increasingly aware of an upcoming separation of her and Kanan but she tries not to show her emotions in front of him. So is Kanan but his response is to unconsciously avoid her. It is Sabine which asks him to ‘wake up’ and go talk to Hera. In the final dialogue of the episode between Hera and Kanan she expresses her doubts about whether this upcoming mission will end well and she tells him that she can tell he has doubts about that as well. He promises that ‘we will see each other again’. Without mentioning any names the dialogue subtly shifts from a “we” that Kanan uses to tell her that he and Ezra will be fine … to a “we” that he uses to tell her that he and she will be fine. It is obvious that he is preparing for a mission in which he might lose Ezra, quite possibly by his own hand.
This puts the ‘tie’ of the opening sequence in an entirely different light. Kanan and Ezra are pretty much matched in terms of their abilities with a lightsabre. But already for a few episode have we seen Ezra’s force-abilities grow beyond Kanan’s. Ezra is reaching a point where, if he breaks away Kanan will probably only be able to stop him at the expense of his own life. The scene between Kanan and Hera concludes with two shots that I think are tremendously foreboding.
First of all is the embrace. It is the The Force Awakens embrace between Han and Leia after Leia asked Han to bring back their son. It is the same type of shot, including the closing eyes of, now, Hera and the cut to ,now, Kanan’s face that reveals doubt about his mission. Kanan and Hera know they are losing Ezra and this is Hera’s way of asking Kanan to find some way of bringing the boy back into the fold of their crew. Kanan’s doubt about his chances for success probably have mingled among them the same worries for his own life as Han’s face displayed in The Force Awakens.
But unlike in The Force Awakens, now Kanan closes his eyes and the shot cuts into a wide shot of Hera and Kanan embracing each other in a sad twilight. In that wide shot you can see how the hug becomes an even tighter hug. It is a shot that, had it been the closing shot of the episode, would stand out not only as one of the best closing shots Rebels has produced but also as a massive foreboding that Kanan may never return. It resembles the shot of Beru & Owen Lars at the end of Revenge of the Sith, although in a more intimate version because unlike Beru & Owen it is clear that Kanan and Hera are not holding ‘a new hope’ in their midst.
There is a similar ‘goodbye’ sequence that ends with a shot of the twilight that is engulfing the Rebels Series. But this one is in the middle of this episode. It is where Zeb turns up the volume of his favorite rock music after he shared a drink with Ezra and the two have essentially said their goodbye’s. It is a moment where Ezra utters his doubts about whether he and Kanan will becoming back from their upcoming mission with Ahsoka.
Before the episode closes on that final ominous shot I described earlier there is an encounter between Ezra and Ahsoka. Ezra has tried one more time to make a mental force-connection with one of the predator-spiders and failed again. As he lies on his back in the grass watching a bird in the sky Ahsoka comes into view in what I consider the sexiest shot in the entire series so far … but that’s just me so feel free to ignore that. It just reminded me in its whole set-up of that Rush song ‘Analog Kid’
Ahsoka teaches him that ‘ just when you think you get to know the Force, you find out how little you know’. All of this accompanied by Imperial March hints.
I think this was an absolutely beautiful episode to set us up for what looks likely to be a game-changing finale. After this episode I would be very tempted to say that ‘The Twilight of the Apprentice’ will actually be about Ezra going into the night of darkness, not about the end of Ahsoka. There seems to be a general consensus that a season’s finale without a shocking fatality is hardly conceivable and the fact is that we have in principle three candidates for this lines up: Ahsoka, Maul and Kanan. After seeing The Secret of Chopper Base my bets are on Kanan not returning as a result of his last ditch attempt to keep his ‘son’ from straying from the Jedi path … and a tri-bladed lightsabre plays a role in all of this as well.