Star Wars Rebels review: "Relics of the Old Republic"

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The tension between Rex and Kallus is palpable—and it was key to the episode's success.
Lucasfilm

"Relics of the Old Republic" was everything I could have wanted from an episode of its name. It advanced the story of Kanan's tense relationship with the clones, as well as Ezra's more easygoing friendship with them. It brought back memories of The Clone Wars animated series by giving Rex a few bouts of nostalgia. And it did something that no canon Star Wars story has done before: It showed us clones reacting to the new and darker regime that grew out of their own war, offering a contrast between the competent and loyal "relics" of the Republic and the shiny but heartless war machine of the New Order.

The clones occupied the thematic and emotional center of this episode, which focused heavily on their legacy as survivors of one war trying to avoid another one. "Our war's over, kid," Rex told Ezra at the beginning. "Don't much care to get mixed up in another." But the truth was, they were mixed up in it from the moment they met the rebels. These three clones were good people; they knew they had to help the rebels, because it was the right thing to do. (I'll note here that Rex gave Ezra intel on secret "Mandalorian bases," which was a nice callback to the Mandalorian heritage of the clone army and a possible nod at the Expanded Universe backstory of the clones' Mandalorian trainers.) Even later, as Kanan criticized them for not repelling the TIE fighters, the clones didn't mind. They had an aged, weary calmness to them. They just shrugged off Kanan's jabs and prepared the missile launcher. Rex calmly offered "the shot" to Gregor as if there was not a concern in the world, despite the TIE screaming down at them. You could tell that they were slipping back into their old ways, and that some part of them seemed to relish it. ("We haven't been shot at in years!" Gregor crowed.)

"Relics of the Old Republic" was our first real glimpse at clones—the living embodiment of the old war—engaging with the Empire and the new war. There was a great, brief scene early on in which the clones leveraged their training to predict the Empire's next move, with Rex guessing at how the Imperials would proceed "if they follow procedure." He had no knowledge of Imperial procedure -- how could he? -- so he must have been referring to the Republic's old procedures, which clearly hadn't changed significantly. That in itself was a nice reminder of how much consistency there was in this era.

But of course, there was something different now: the galactic government disdained the clones and ruled through arrogance instead of justice. The interactions between Kallus and Rex showed this perfectly. Their conversation was itself like a bridge between the eras. You could tell that Kallus looked down at the clones, dismissing their ingenuity and hard work in years past. He truly considered them "relics." The clones, of course, looked down on Kallus' stormtroopers, and rightly so. They have shown themselves to be inferior to clones at every turn in Rebels. Nonetheless, Kallus proudly noted that he had "a great many" stormtroopers, which was the perfect elucidation of the differences between the Empire and the Republic. Imperials took pride in overwhelming numbers of TIEs and stormtroopers, whereas Rex and his fellow clones remembered a time of individuality and perseverance that came not from breeding but from personality and training.

I loved seeing the clones take an interest in the technical details of the AT-ATs. It spoke to the fact that much of the Empire's technology was new to them. They had essentially lived as hermits while Palpatine built up his new and improved war machine. The word "relics" in the title of this episode was a perfect way to cast the clones—old, outdated, but not useless, just overlooked. Here was a shiny new Imperial weapon, and the clones—again, falling back into their old ways—simply analyzed it as a part of the battlefield, forgetting for the moment that it was their enemy. In many ways, "Relics of the Old Republic" was about the clones peeking out of hiding and examining this new Imperial era in its unfamiliar, but at the same time deeply familiar, ways.

The contrast between the Empire and these living vestiges of the Republic—which was the most interesting part of the episode—came to life during what seemed like the clones' final moments. Kallus, in true Imperial arrogance, told his pilots to "teach these clones just how obsolete they are" by steamrolling their AT-TE with his AT-ATs. Rex, meanwhile, bucked up his troops not by promising survival but by validating their honor, bravery, and persistence: "At least we'll go down fighting like a clone should." Between those two sentiments yawned the vast gulf separating Empire and Republic. The government that Palpatine methodically built may have been more efficient than the one he subtly took apart, but at least the latter was a safe place for brave people committed to doing the right thing—and the Republic, for all of its faults, undoubtedly was doing the right thing in the Clone Wars.

The climactic fight between the clones' battered mobile home and Kallus' shiny, looming behemoths was another great metaphor for the new era. I got a distinctly David-vs.-Goliath vibe at the sight of the clones' walker relentlessly advancing on the AT-ATs and charging straight into one's legs. The clones' thought that the end was near, but they pushed their walker to the limit and never shrank from their responsibility (covering the Phantom's escape). As before, they even seemed to relish the overwhelming odds, delighting in confusing Kallus as they pursued their decidedly unconventional strategy.

The vehicles themselves spoke volumes about their owners. The AT-TE, like the Millennium Falcon, had become an intimate, personal space for the clones. They surely knew every inch of it the way Han Solo felt at home on the Falcon. It wasn't just a tool; it was part of their livelihood, as the Falcon was for Han. To Kallus, meanwhile, the AT-AT in which he rode was the furthest thing from a home. It was a walking weapon that he was commanding for that mission, nothing more. In that contrast—as with the two quotes previously discussed—one saw the sharply different lifestyles of rebels and Imperials. To be sure, part of this had to do with resources; the rebels simply couldn't afford a fleet large enough to afford them constant turnover of ships and bases. But on another level, the clones (and rebels') appreciation for their resources and living quarters spoke to their humanity—they imbued meaning into their locations and experiences, whereas the Empire viewed its tools as mere instruments. To crystallize my point, consider this: You would never catch Kallus saying, "You hear me, baby? Hold together."

Captain Rex occupied a particularly important role in "Relics of the Old Republic." His fond memories of fighting Separatists alongside Jedi weren't just a reward for fans of The Clone Wars animated series; they represented his moral compass, his unswaying sense of rightness, an honorable personality that would eventually convince Kanan to give some ground in his attitude toward clones. One of my favorite Rex moments was him referring to "the general I fought with" during the Clone Wars. I had to laugh at the phrasing. As in the pilot for CBS' new Supergirl series, the larger-than-life figure is never named, but there are glancing references to him that show, by dint of the speaker's tone and phrasing, what the figure means to all of those he has affected.

Throughout the episode, Rex seemed to fall back into the old ways of warfighting, despite his professed discomfort with rejoining a conflict.  I saw it when he said, "I do love a battle, but on my terms"—evidence that he retained his sense of tactics and his ability to size up a fight. I saw it when he told Kanan, "I always trust my general," momentarily taking Kanan aback (he had gone a long time without experiencing that unwavering, almost programmed battlefield loyalty). And I saw it when he looked on in amazement as Kanan, Ezra, and Zeb dropped down onto the roof of a walker—the two Jedi with lightsabers blazing—to continue the fight. There was a reverence in his voice as he gazed up at them and muttered, "Just like the old days." Think about how long it had been since Rex had seen a sight like that. Think about what it must have meant to him to see it again. He was clearly remembering the good times during the Clone Wars, when he served with Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka and their bond was unshakable.

Rex also had the saddest line in the episode, which he delivered when Kanan was having a hard time convincing Ezra to leave the clones behind: "We're soldiers, Ezra. This is what we were born to do." It's true— they were literally born and bred for the job of fighting noble battles and protecting their Jedi leaders at all costs. But this is still a heartbreaking notion. It might even be sadder now, after the war's tragic and unexpected end, than it was when the conflict was raging and the clones' breeding was vital to the outcome. Everything the clones were grown, programmed, and trained to do was in the past, but they remained trapped by their genetic code and their nearly-genetic code of conduct. Despite their retreat from the galaxy, when it came right down to it, they weren't comforting doing anything except protecting their Jedi. They embraced what they thought would be their final mission because they didn't really know how to do anything else. What made it even sadder was the way Rex conveyed this message in a reassuring tone, as if to tell Ezra, "Don't be afraid for us. We're not scared of what we have to do. It's the only thing we're truly good at."

The clones' loyalty and competence clearly rubbed off on Ezra. He remained deeply respectful of and impressed by Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor. At times, Rex even seemed to treat him like his son, teaching him about the walker's main turret in a warmer version of the scene with Anakin and Ric Olié on Queen Amidala's royal yacht. Ezra's time with the rebels had taught him to identify fundamentally good people—beings whose hearts and minds were in the right place—and he clearly sensed that about these old clones. It was this respect for the clones that led Ezra to urge Kanan to turn the Phantom around and rush to their aide against the AT-ATs. Ezra saw and said what Kanan could not bring himself to admit: that Rex was Ahsoka's true friend, despite his being a clone, and that this said something important about Rex. Kanan was too old and set in his ways by the time he met the clones, but Ezra met them at a time when his moral compass was still being molded by the morality of the rebels, and that allowed him to treat the clones more compassionately.

We continued to see the contrast between Ezra's open-minded compassion and Kanan's prejudiced bitterness. Asked to work with the clones, Kanan said gruffly, "Tried that once; didn't work out so well." While this was obviously true, it showed Kanan's sad, historically motivated myopia. He either couldn't see or couldn't admit that Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor were different. I did like that he later began to soften as he saw how much Rex had revered his Jedi general during the war, but clearly that recognition was not enough to dispel his prejudice. Kanan continued to reevaluate Rex as the clone explained the importance of the Jedi's Force senses to their plan—another sign of his admiration for Jedi—but even that wasn't enough to topple Kanan's bitter memories.

When it came time to abandon the clones, Kanan readily pressed ahead, focusing on the larger mission of safeguarding their intel. Perhaps he was taking solace in the fact that the mission allowed him to disregard the clones' humanity. Perhaps he was just shutting out extraneous factors because he knew that the rebels badly needed those secret locations. Either way, he was in no mood for Ezra's protests. He did, however, seem to grudgingly appreciate the clones' selflessness, which was another good sign. After the battle was over, he seemed to take a significant step away from his earlier coldness, returning the clones' salutes with a curt nod. He was clearly still uncomfortable playing his part in that Clone Wars-era dynamic, but at last he accepted that the clones were playing their part out of respect and admiration.

On to my miscellaneous thoughts. I absolutely loved the sights and sounds of the walker hunt—the swirling dust, the clunk of the AT-ATs' feet echoing in the AT-TE, the larger walkers silhouetted in the haze with only their searchlights piercing the storm. This was accompanied by a great back-and-forth, move-and-countermove dynamic, as Kanan steered the AT-TE to avoid Kallus' shrewd maneuvers and each side waited to see if it would encounter the other. "Relics of the Old Republic" was also the most reference-heavy of any Rebels episode so far, from the frequent use of pitched-down Battle of Hoth music to Kallus' lines "Prepare for ground assault" and "Intensify forward firepower." I thought that dialog was a bit much, but I did love the reimagined version of the snowspeeder assault music. And those were just the references to The Empire Strikes Back. There was also Zeb dropping into the walker cockpit and bashing the pilots' heads together, a clear reference to Return of the Jedi. Finally, I loved hearing Sabine point out the AT-ATs' weak point in their neck. It was a great reminder that she once attended the Imperial Academy.

I only had one real problem with this episode. Imperial incompetence is real, and there are believable examples of it strewn across Rebels and the original trilogy. But it was completely ridiculous—even jarring to the point of taking me out of the story—that both the TIE fighters and the AT-ATs missed when they targeted the walker. TIE pilots are supposed to be the Empire's elite fliers; they may be cannon fodder for veteran X-wing pilots, but that AT-TE was a large, exposed, and relatively stable target. AT-ATs, meanwhile, can rip apart an armored Hoth bunker at medium range, but we're supposed to believe that they not only missed the AT-TE in their first engagement but then didn't destroy it in one shot when they later hit it? It was absolutely absurd. It ripped me out of the moment and reminded me that these incidents were storytelling necessities rather than believable occurrences. I tried so hard to suspend my disbelief in these scenes that I think I accidentally expelled it instead.

At the end of the day, this was a good, solid episode. The plot was vastly more compelling than the relatively empty previous episode. There were plenty of nuanced emotional beats, the contrast between clones and Imperials was rich and fascinating, and Kanan's evolving attitude toward clones was a reassuring sign of his maturity. As a fan of The Clone Wars, I found Rex and Ahsoka's reunion very touching, and I hope there's a place for Rex in future Rebels episodes. But for now, I'm looking forward to seeing the Fifth Brother, the Inquisitor introduced at the end of the episode, in action.

You can read all of my Rebels reviews right here.
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