Fair warning: This episode has yet to air on DisneyXD and is available through the DisneyXD app so there are SPOILERS ahead!!!
Episode 7 – Empire Day – Henry Gilroy to the Rescue
After stumbling last week with the very forgettable episode, Out of Darkness, Rebels rebounds with a stellar follow up, Empire Day. Veteran Clone Wars writer Henry Gilroy pens another gem of an episode that is filled with danger, intrigue, excitement, and larger themes that are a staple of Star Wars story telling.
As our story opens, the crew finds themselves in a small town outside of Capital City. While Hera, Sabine, and Zebb make their way into town, Ezra and Kanan take in a quick bit of Jedi training. Kanan’s tries to teach his young Padawan how to connect to other living things through the Force, but Ezra is lost in thought and he finally reveals to his Master that today in Empire Day, and clearly the meaning of that day has a profound effect on Kanan’s young student.
Kanan and Ezra make their way to the local cantina where they find the rest of their crew. They also find trouble in three Imperial T.I.E. pilots who arrive at the bar and accost the local patrons demanding they reveal the whereabouts of a Rodian they are looking for. The pilots also demand the bar owner turn on the Holo Net, the Empire’s nonstop propaganda network, and orders the patrons to raise their glasses in a toast to the Emperor. It’s a great scene which shows just how intrusive the Empire has become in the average citizen’s life, and how fed up many citizens are with their Imperial overseers. Some appear willing to risk subtle defiance, but whether these civilians will be spurred to seditious action is another thing altogether.
Ezra immediately recognizes the Rodian the Imperials are looking for as an old family friend named Tseebo. He quickly flees the scene returning to his makeshift “home” in an abandoned communications tower outside Capital City. There, Ezra revisits ghosts from the past as he recalls the words of his mother and father. It is clear the Bridger family was sympathetic to the Rebel cause and actively aided some in resisting the power of the Empire. Ezra realizes that he must locate Tseebo, and he’s pretty sure he knows where the Rodian is hiding out.
Ezra reunites with the rest of the Ghost crew who have returned to Capital City. Imperial Forces are showing off their military might in a traditional Empire Day parade, and local Imperial officials roll out the latest T.I.E. Advanced that will begin coming off the assembly line soon; but the Ghost crew has a surprise in store. After distracting the crowd and the Imperials with an impressive fireworks display, courtesy of Sabine, Kanan detonates a bomb he placed aboard the prototype fighter sending the crowds running in a panic.
The Imperials give chase as the Rebels try to make it back to their ship, however Stormtroopers have blocked off many of the roads forcing our heroes into hiding. Ezra leads the crew to an abandoned building which has been condemned by the Imperials… Ezra uses an old key card and the doors to the building open. We realize this was once Ezra’s home.
Ezra finds Tseebo hiding in the basement of the building. The Rodian’s mind is a jumbled mess since the Empire implanted cybernetics in his brain to increase his productivity. These implants contain secrets into the Empire’s plans in the Outer Rim as well as detailed schematics of new Imperial weaponry which explains why the Empire is so desperate to find the runaway Rodian. While Ezra appears to want to help the Tseebo, he also seems to be highly suspicious of the Rodian as Ezra reveals that Tseebo began working directly for the Empire shortly after his parents disappeared.
Kanan concludes that the crew MUST get Tseebo off world, so Kanan, Sabine, and Ezra make a break for the ship which is waiting for their call. The Imperials are in hot pursuit led by Agent Kallus and the Inquisitor. Eventually our heroes board a Troop Transport and will rendezvous with the Ghost for pick up. The episode concludes in an amazing action sequence with the crew hurtling down a freeway as the Ghost comes in to pick them up. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor, flying one of the T.I.E. Advanced fighters is giving chase while Kallus tries to prevent the Rebels from boarding their ship.
Meanwhile, Tseebo reveals to Ezra that he knows what really happened to Ezra’s parents…
FADE TO BLACK
Henry Gilroy once again turns in a stellar script filled with tension, mystery and wonderful character moments which give us a deeper insight into Ezra’s past and what motivates him. The reveal that Empire Day is not only the birthday of the Empire, but of Ezra himself, packs an emotional wallop. In addition we learn that Ezra’s parents actively resisted the Empire which explains a lot of Ezra’s initial hesitancy to join up with the crew. Ezra wasn’t playing the “tough guy” part when he first refused to help the Rebels; Ezra likely blames himself for his parents disappearance in some way, and the fact that he shares the same birthday as the Empire probable adds to his feelings that somehow he was the catalyst to all of this madness on Lothal. It’s very weighty stuff, and gives the episode a deeper emotional meaning as not only does Empire Day commemorate the arrival of that destructive force on the galaxy, but it also signifies the rise of Ezra Bridger, a character that promises to have his own impact on the galaxy at large.
Empire Day is the best written episode of the show to date, and Henry Gilroy seems to be especially adept at writing in George Lucas’ enormous universe. He understands how to weave plot, action, and character into the broader themes that make Star Wars stories work. As a full time producer/writer on the series going forward, it is clear that Star Wars Rebels is in good hands. One Star Wars fan put it, “Can we just nominate Henry Gilroy to write every episode of Rebels?” I wholeheartedly agree.
Another great addition to Rebels is the arrival of the multi-part arc! Hurray! Finally, the writers get some room to breath and tell longer stories with deeper layers without limiting the story to 22 minutes. I was actually getting worried at the 15 minute mark that the producers were going to try to cram the finale in the remaining moments when there were multiple story threads still to be resolved. Fortunately the screen faded out, and the words “To Be Continued…” graced the screen… cliffhanger. And what a great cliffhanger it was. What will Tseebo reveal about the fate of Ezra’s parents, will Agent Kallus and the Inquisitor be able to stop our heroes, what exactly is the Empire’s Five Year Plan for the Outer Rim? Fortunately many of these answers will have to wait until next week, and I couldn’t be happier.
This episode also featured some tremendous vocal performances by our main cast, and from veteran actor, and guest star, Peter MacNicol as Tseebo, family friend of the Bridger’s and keeper of the Empire’s secrets. MacNicol gives a performance that is at times both funny and heartbreaking, but always tinged with some sadness as we come to realize Tseebo has lost what “humanity” he had left thanks to the cybernetics the Empire implanted in his brain. MacNicol’s Tseebo is a tragic figure stripped of his individuality except for brief moments of lucidity, and he is Ezra’s one tie to unlocking the secrets of his past.
Taylor Gray turns in another stellar performance as Ezra, but the actor that really caught my eye this time around was Tiya Sircar. Generally, I’ve found her work in Rebels to be fairly flat and limited, but like I’ve said before I suspected this was more a result of poor writing for her character rather than any lack of ability on Sircar’s part. Thankfully, Empire Day gives Sabine some real meat to work with, and Sircar turns in a stellar performance. There’s a great moment where Sabine is forced to punch a Stormtrooper in the head in a bit of close quarters fighting. The blow clearly hurts and while shaking off the pain in her fist she wryly comments, “I miss Zeb.” It’s a great little character scene that was missing from many of the previous episodes. In addition, Sircar does a great job of conveying Sabine’s sympathy for Ezra when we learn about his past. There’s a thoughtfulness and sense of compassion in her delivery which leaves the viewer want to know more about Sabine’s own backstory. It’s by far Sircar’s best work on the show.
I only have two minor quibbles about this episode that did nothing to distract me from the enjoyment of the story.
The limited character models on the show, and the sheer audacity of the plans of our heroes make it extremely hard for me to believe the Empire would really have that difficult a time locating the Ghost and its crew. From what we’ve seen of Lothal there’s the capital city surrounded by a number of small locales and farming communities, however, the crew jumps around from town to town without a care of being spotted. In the pilot episode it was established the Ghost was able to change its transponder code (basically its license plate) at any time allowing the ship to be identified as another ship. But how many freighters are crewed by a Lasat and a Mandalorian with brightly colored armor.
The crew attacked the Imperial Academy on Lothal, rescued Wookiees in the Spice Mines of Kessel, escaped from a high security Imperial detention facility, and destroyed a critical component in the manufacturing of the Death Star’s super laser (although they were unaware of it), wouldn’t the Imperials have sent in mass forces by now to root out these Rebels and capture them? It just seems odd at this point that the Rebels crew has the ability to freely roam Lothal without the threat of being recognized. Don’t get me wrong, this is a minor annoyance, and I’m still able to suspend my disbelief to a degree, but it seems to me that the limited budget of the show is actually hurting its ability to tell stories in the most effective manner possible.
My only other issue with this episode is the almost complete lack of Hera in this adventure. Hera appears briefly in two scenes, but for most of the episode she is stuck watching the ship so she is really not involved in the show’s action and is mostly relegated to being a disembodied voice on a comm channel. There are a couple of quiet moments that come across a little weird as Sabine takes on the “ship’s mom” role when talking to Ezra about his past on Lothal. The scenes still work, but it just seems a little odd that Hera could not be included in these moments.
Although this episode gets a slightly lower score than Breaking Ranks, Empire Day is my favorite episode of the series to date. It has a wonderfully engaging plot with a lot of great character reveals for Ezra. The action scenes are dynamic and exciting, and once again Kevin Kiner hits it out of the park with a stellar score. My only minor quibbles were some odd pacing issues in the beginning, and Hera’s inexplicable absence, but those minor gripes aside, Empire Day is an outstanding addition to the lore of Star Wars, and gives viewers an insight into daily life in the Empire living in the Outer Rim.
9 of 10
May the Force Be With You