After two episodes of non-stop world building and driving action, Rebels paused to take some breaths in episodes five and six, “The Occupation” and “Flight of the Defender.”
The story finds Jedi Ezra Bridger and crew returning to Imperial occupied Lothal to investigate reports of a prototype TIE Defender. They discover that Lothal is now under martial law, and must avoid this increased Imperial presence while they attempt to learn about the new starfighter.
“The Occupation” served as a much quieter episode for Rebels. The highlights are powerful character moments, as Ezra discovers the extent to which Lothal has been occupied, and what it means for the people he once knew – some of which are no longer living.
It also provides internal conflict, as he – and the audience – struggle with the desire to return home and free his people, only to discover that Senator Mon Mothma is correct about resource allocation. In a situation so complete as the one on Lothal, are their resources not better spent elsewhere? The episode doesn’t provide an answer, but does leave you with the question lingering.
“Flight of the Defender” was the weakest episode of the season thus far. It focuses on Mandalorian warrior Sabine and Ezra discovering the TIE Defender, only to be surprised by Admiral Thrawn. The action is great, with the dogfight between the Defender and other TIE fighters a highlight. However, the character points of the episode revolve around Ezra and a white Loth-cat and -wolf that seemingly only he can see.
These two creatures fill the common “spirit animal” trope, guiding Ezra through the plot, despite being invisible to anyone else. But their real purpose is up in the air. The episode provides absolutely nothing in the way of bread crumbs down that particular trail. Ezra’s Jedi mentor, Kanan Jarrus, implies their future importance right before the credit wipe, but doesn’t provide anything of substance.
As a result, the use of this trope was distracting more than creative. How are they going to survive the wastes alone, escape the Death troopers, and avoid Admiral Thrawn? Don’t worry about it, here’s a spirit cat and wolf.
While certainly not a bad episode, “Flight of the Defender” feels like a build up to something much better. It’s too important to be called filler, but not significant enough to be required. However, “The Occupation” is a thing of beauty. If you’ve been sleeping on this show, it’s time to stop. Get to it.