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*Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Siege of Lothal.”

“The fear. The anger. The hate.”

With the Inquisitor gone, the thing that the Pau’an feared more than death has arrived on Lothal and our rebels have become part of a larger, much more dangerous world. In true Star Wars fashion, “Siege of Lothal” drops us directly into the middle of the action as the Ghost plays a vital part in a coordinated attack on the Imperials in order to acquire some much-needed fuel. The premiere episode of the second season of Star Wars Rebels (which actually doesn’t officially start until this coming fall) opens on a familiar tableau of starships locked in combat, but everything is much bigger, much more vibrant.

Now part of Phoenix Squadron (a clear homage to the established insignia of the Rebel Alliance still to come), the Ghost has gained the additional moniker of “Phoenix 2” to symbolize its membership in a larger group. And there are other changes among the group itself. Both Ezra and Sabine have taken on greater leadership roles within the context of the crew, and the latter has even graduated to solo-pilot-status as we see from her expert handling of the Phantom in the opening scenes.

As for Hera and Zeb, the pair seem invigorated by being part of a larger cause. But not everyone is happy with the new arrangement. Kanan is very hesitant to fully join another war having barely survived a previous one. “Fighting alongside soldiers is not what [he] signed up for,” and considering his last experience with soldiers culminated in Order 66, his is an understandable position. To deal with this, he ranges from cocky independence to overt insubordination during the course of the episode, and it is only after being made aware of the true nature of the rebels’ position that he fully accepts his new role.

kanan

In the wake of the destruction of Tarkin’s Star Destroyer Sovereign, Lothal has come under the watchful eye of Emperor Palpatine and his ultimate enforcer, Darth Vader, has been dispatched to ensure the planet’s citizens stay in line. Returning to perhaps his best known role, James Earl Jones imbues the Dark Lord of the Sith with a palpable menace that our heroes are completely unprepared for. Vader has never been a greater threat, and as he is at the height of his powers, he has never been more impressive.

Unsatisfied with Minister Tua’s efforts to quell the rebel uprising, Vader decries her lack of “imagination” with how to deal with them and promises to “squeeze Lothal” until the rebels are properly dealt with. Tua soon becomes caught in the middle of a game of cat-and-mouse in which Vader uses the terrified minister’s aspirations to defect as an opportunity to make a play for eradicating the larger group of rebels.

So, despite the obvious danger in trusting a well-known Imperial sympathizer, our heroes grudgingly accept Tua’s offer of intel on other rebels on the Empire’s radar as well as the “true reason” behind Palpatine’s interest in Lothal–all in exchange for helping her escape the reach of Grand Moff Tarkin. A plan is set (thanks in no small part to the burgeoning leadership of Ezra) and the crew of the Ghost returns to Lothal, albeit sans their regular starship as that vessel has become too high-profile for a stealth mission such as this.

Tua

But even with all the precautions they take, the mission is a complete failure. In accordance with a plan carefully constructed by Darth Vader, Tua is killed and the rebels are framed for it. Now forced to scramble for another way off-planet with the Imperials bearing down on them and a terrorized populace simultaneously fearing and despising them, Kanan leads his compatriots into the Imperial complex in a desperate attempt at securing a starship.

There are clever nods to A New Hope here with Kanan and Ezra in Stormtrooper guise (full and cadet, respectively) smuggling their friends past the guard a la Han, Luke and Chewbacca making their way to detention block AA-23 and also of Ben Kenobi using the Jedi mind trick to evade the troops in Mos Eisely. In one of the few light moments in “Siege of Lothal,” Ezra finds himself unable to properly persuade the guard and in need of Kanan’s assistance. “I wish that worked for me,” the Padawan quips. “I wish it worked on you,” replies his master.

The tone quickly shifts, however, as the crew make their way to the landing platform and both master and apprentice sense a “cold” neither can explain. Shortly, the source of the chill reveals himself as Darth Vader engages the Jedi and quickly establishes that the pair are hopelessly outmatched. Rebels gives us a towering Vader whose skill and power are far beyond anything Kanan and Ezra have ever faced. A Vader many fans have been clamoring for.

Vader fight

Supremely confident, Vader is slow and methodical in his duel with the two Jedi, and even when it seems Kanan and Ezra gain a measure of success against the Dark Lord by trapping him under falling rubble, the former Anakin Skywalker emerges unscathed and forces the rebels to quickly retreat before being destroyed. And even then, everything happens according to Vader’s plans. A large blockade is in orbit around Lothal and a homing device has already been placed aboard the stolen Imperial shuttle.

The burning of “Tarkintown” adds pressure to the freedom fighters to quickly leave Lothal for the rebel rendezvous and spare the planet’s citizens from further torment. The Empire is spreading fear as fast as the rebels are spreading hope, and though Ezra claims that he is not afraid of the fight, his master expresses concern that the odds are certainly not in their favor.

So, with a little help from Lando Calrissian (in a nice surprise return), the crew of the Ghost make their way off Lothal to rejoin their compatriots–and spring Darth Vader’s trap. Again, the legend of Vader grows as we witness the man whom Obi-Wan Kenobi called the “best star pilot in the galaxy” singlehandedly take on a fleet of rebel starships and begin to decimate their forces.

Vader TIE

Seeing her newfound allies in desperate need, Hera takes the Ghost and her crew (and eager volunteer Ahsoka Tano) into the fight. The Twi’lek pilot leads Vader on a thrilling chase and manages to draw his attention away from the rest of the fleet. It is during this chase that Ahsoka and Kanan attempt to ascertain the level of power in the Force their Sith attacker possesses.

Reaching out through the Force, the two make contact with Vader. It is a moment that ranks with the most powerful in Star Wars lore as Darth Vader utters the line, “The apprentice lives.” It is unclear whether or not Ahsoka realizes her former master is on the other end of the connection (I tend to think she does). But in any case, the level of fear, anger, and hate overcomes the Togruta causing her to first scream and then lose consciousness.

Ahsoka

In the end, Hera manages to evade the tractor beams of a pair of Imperial Star Destroyers who have recently joined the fight and instead causes them to capture Vader’s TIE fighter. The Dark Lord is obviously not pleased with this development, but remains focused on his overall mission. After clearing the bridge of the Star Destroyer he was brought aboard, Vader contacts the Emperor and reports that his former apprentice is alive. Together, the two Sith discuss Ahsoka’s potential use as a means of tracking down any other remaining Jedi–including Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Finally, the Emperor tasks his own apprentice with dispatching another Inquisitor to hunt down Ahsoka and the rebels. But surely, this will not be Darth Vader’s final appearance on Star Wars Rebels and our heroes will need all the help they can get. And if the preview for the next episode entitled “The Lost Commanders” is any indication, they’re about to gain some new, very familiar allies.

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 cdickinson@coffeewithkenobi.com. You can also contact me on Twitter @influxman or check out my Rogue page on “Star Wars in the Classroom.”

And don’t forget to check out Rebels Reactions for even more insight, discussion, and analysis of this episode.

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