*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Call to Action” and mild spoilers for James Luceno’s Tarkin.
Even though the show is still in its freshman season, several characters from the Star Wars films have already appeared on Star Wars Rebels. But with the possible exception of Darth Vader, none have seemed to be such a natural fit as the one featured in “Call to Action.” Already referenced in “Spark of Rebellion” with that episode’s inclusion of Tarkintown, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin makes a grand entrance into Rebels that immediately calls to mind the opening of Return of the Jedi.
To the accompaniment of the majestic Imperial March, Tarkin’s shuttle disembarks from a Star Destroyer and lands in the hangar of an Imperial base. Much like Moff Jerjerrod nervously awaited the arrival of Darth Vader in the Death Star II hangar bay, Agent Kallus, Minister Maketh Tua, and the Inquisitor politely but apprehensively greet the regional governor of the Outer Rim territories. For like Vader’s arrival on the mobile battle station, Tarkin’s visit is unexpected and something to be dreaded.
Tarkin has come to Lothal because the insurgent actions of our heroes aboard the Ghost are now becoming a viable threat to Lothal’s place as an Imperial industrial center and as a crucial piece in the expansion of Imperial control of the Outer Rim. Reprising the role from The Clone Wars, venerable actor Stephen Stanton presents a Tarkin that is both mesmerizing and terrifying as the Grand Moff reprimands his subordinates for failing to properly quash the local resistance.
Not in the mood for excuses, Tarkin dismisses Tua’s assertion that this particular band of rebels is more formidable because they have a Jedi as a leader. Having served alongside the Jedi during the Clone Wars and witnessed their annihilation due to Order 66, the Grand Moff disregards the validity of this report. Furthermore, Tarkin taunts the Inquisitor by suggesting that if even if these rumors were true, he should have been able to easily dispatch any surviving Jedi. However, the Pau’an refuses to take the bait, remains silent, and (as evidenced by his later actions in the episode) rededicates himself to his mission.
As if to demonstrate the reasoning behind Tarkin’s visit, “Call to Action” cuts to scene featuring Kanan, Ezra and Sabine racing away from Imperial troops shortly after stealing a supply crate. With Commandant Aresko and Taskmaster Grint closing in, the rebels lead their pursuers away from the Ghost and into a nearby town. After a speeder chase reminiscent of Jedi‘s sequence on the forest moon of Endor, our heroes escape once again and rejoin their friends on the Ghost.
As Kanan and the others walk in, they find Zeb, Chopper and Hera watching a Holonet transmission of Senator Gall Trayvis publicly re-committing to the Imperial cause and appealing to his followers to join him in doing so. The senator goes on to condemn the actions of the crew of the Ghost, reveals their identities to all those watching, and offers a reward for their capture. The senator’s speech generates disgust from Hera and Ezra, but it inspires Kanan to raise the stakes by sending out their own message to counter the Imperial propaganda. An Imperial communications tower must be infiltrated in order to properly carry out this mission, and the remainder of “Call to Action” is driven by this objective.
As the episode’s focus returns to Tarkin and the Imperials, the tone of “Call to Action” takes a decidedly dark turn. Back at the Imperial base, Aresko and Grint are called in to report to the Grand Moff and to answer for their failure to catch the rebels. The two officers relate that although the insurgents escaped, there were no Imperial casualties–a point that is of great interest to Tarkin who describes this group as more principled than others he has encountered. It is not stated directly, but one can make the assumption that the Grand Moff is referencing groups like the ones he dealt with in James Luceno’s excellent novel Tarkin.
It is because of this experience with the independent rebel cells that Tarkin sees a need to keep the groups independent and to eliminate any possible catalysts to unifying them. The introduction of a Jedi into the equation is an unacceptable risk because of what they represent, and Aresko’s and Grint’s failure to properly address Kanan’s potential as this symbol results in a form of discipline indicative of man who calls Darth Vader a friend.
To the shock of Tua and Kallus, Tarkin silently instructs the Inquisitor to execute Aresko and Grint. The violence is technically off-screen, but the reactions of the other characters leave no doubt about what is taking place. True to his reputation, Tarkin is merciless, and his statement that “Failure will have consequences” is just as much a warning to Kallus and Tua as it is a commentary on the final fates of Aresko and Grint.
With Tarkin taking over the task of apprehending the insurgents, probe droids are dispatched in order to accelerate the process. Once caught, these rebels will be made examples of, and one can only assume that the ruthlessness applied to the failure of the Imperial officers will only be multiplied when directed toward the captured rebels.
The probe droid strategy pays immediate dividends for Tarkin as one of the mechanical scouts locates the trio of Kanan, Ezra, and Sabine during a reconnaissance mission to plan their attack on the Imperial communications tower. The rebels do notice the probe droid first, and nearly avoid detection as Ezra applies the lessons he learned in “Empire Day” about connecting with nature and employs a nearby Loth-cat to dispatch the robotic sentry. Unfortunately, the damage to the probe droid is not as severe as hoped and it still is able to transmit back to the Imperials and make them aware of Kanan’s plan.
Rather than fortify the tower, Tarkin opts to set a trap for the rebels and to give the Inquisitor a chance at redemption. The Grand Moff wants Kanan alive and knows now that he can use the Jedi’s own plan to lure him in.
As the time to attack the tower draws near, Ezra seems very hesitant to follow the legacy of his parents. The fear of losing his friends as a result of the operation is sapping the boy’s courage and he expresses this sentiment to his friends. They are sympathetic, and Kanan takes this opportunity to share in Ezra’s burden and encourages him to realize that, “When the time comes, we have to be ready to sacrifice for something bigger.” And with the fates of the Ghost’s crew members yet to be revealed in established Star Wars canon, one has to wonder if this statement foreshadows what is planned for the characters in Rebels.
In any case, the night raid on the communications tower proceeds as planned and seems to be going well. The rebels have successfully infiltrated the facility after a clever diversion by Sabine whose entrance (featuring a spectacular double-barreled blasting of a pair of Stormtroopers) into the tower echos Trinity’s assault on the power plant in The Matrix Reloaded. Zeb has commandeered a canon by the time Kanan and Ezra arrive and Chopper begins to upload the data spike that will enable the rebels to transmit their message.
But then things take a turn for the worse. The Inquisitor springs Tarkin’s trap and arrives on scene in the company of a small fleet of gunships. The others make their way to the top of the tower, but Kanan stays behind to buy them time by facing off with his Dark Side nemesis. The gambit works as the Inquisitor takes Kanan into custody after a brief lightsaber battle and Hera arrives to extract the others. The mission is technically a success, but Hera and the others are forced to accept Kanan’s sacrifice as payment for their escape.
A bit later on, Grand Moff Tarkin arrives at the communications tower and congratulates the Inquisitor on a job well done. Kanan is defiant and claims that whatever they want from him won’t be given. And as Agent Kallus reports that the “insurgents” did in fact take control of the tower’s transmitter, Kanan exudes confidence that his role in the operation aided in its completion.
And as Ezra begins the first of the next generation of “Bridger Transmissions” and calls for the people of Lothal to remember how things were before the Empire took over and to band together to fight against further oppression, his master swells with pride. But even Kanan is unprepared for the lengths Tarkin is willing to go to crush the burgeoning rebellion.
By ordering his troops to destroy the communications tower and silence Ezra’s call for unity, Tarkin makes clear to his prisoner why (in his estimation) the rebels will be defeated. One can be sure that the Grand Moff is referring to not only his service during the Clone Wars but to his brutal training on the Carrion Plateau of Eriadu when he tells Kanan, “You do not know what it takes to win a war, but I do.”
Back on the Ghost, the mood is somber with the loss of both Kanan and the ability to spread the rebel’s message. “Was it worth it?” is the primary thought pervading the starship, but a combination of anger and determination is now providing extra motivation to continue the fight. With Kanan still held prisoner and Tarkin still on Lothal, the stakes have never been higher and Rebels has never been better.
Thank you for reading! If you have feedback or just want to say hello, you can leave a comment on this page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me on Twitter @influxman or check out my Rogue page on “Star Wars in the Classroom.”
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