Star Wars Rebels review: "Blood Sisters"
"Blood Sisters" was another uneven Star Wars Rebels episode. Chopper positively shined, Sabine's past started to come into the light, Ezra offered some welcome comic relief, and the walking, clanking, gonking MacGuffin brought some quintessentially Star Wars humor to the story. In short, most of the characters were great. But "Blood Sisters" turned on the involvement of a new character, brought in to highlight an unknown side of Sabine, and that newcomer was poorly written to the point of logical incoherence, casting a pall over the rest of the episode.
One of the strong points of this episode was the way it revealed more about Sabine's past. I didn't realize that she spent so much time alone on the Ghost—I'd assumed that she'd want to spend time with the only family she had. It never occurred to me that, for her, old habits might die hard. (By which I mean the solitary nature of Imperial service, as seen in the Servants of the Empire series and the novel Lost Stars.) Just as interesting as Sabine's current apparent loneliness was her suggestion, to Ezra, that she had "not always" been a loner.
Ketsu's arrival began to answer some of the unspoken questions. For one thing, we learned that it was Ketsu who instilled in Sabine a love of explosions—arguably her defining character trait up to this point. Learning where that part of Sabine's personality came from was a welcome part of this episode. It suggested, as did some later dialog, that Ketsu used to be Sabine's mentor—and given how worldly and experienced Sabine seems on Rebels, it's fascinating to ponder a time when she was the learner, not the master.
Sabine, it turned out, had been a bounty hunter. That's certainly a past that needs some exploring. I understand that there wasn't time for it in this episode; I wasn't looking for all the questions to be answered right away. But I found it interesting that Rebels would take a beloved main character—a role model, even, for young children—and give her such a dark past. Make no mistake, bounty hunting may technically be a "grey" activity in the traditional spectrum of Star Wars allegiances, but there's no moral ambiguity to kidnapping people and dragging them to their deaths, regardless of what they've done. That's a morally repugnant activity. The fact that Sabine left it behind speaks highly to her judgment, but the fact that she engaged in it in the first place raises questions about who she used to be.
Ketsu was clearly a highly competent bounty hunter. She took out an entire squad of stormtroopers on her own, which was very impressive to see. But as much as her role in this episode served to flesh out who Sabine used to be and why she was no longer that person, Ketsu herself was a disappointment. She underwent a dizzyingly fast change of heart, one that completely exceeded any notion of realism. Consider the following story beats. One of Ketsu's first lines was, "I've changed more than you realize." Yet in this episode, she seemed to change all the way back. Ketsu later criticized Sabine by saying, "She was always soft." Yet when Chopper refused to close the airlock and let her fly her ship away, she suddenly "went soft" by saving Sabine instead of closing the airlock herself and fleeing with her bounty. Ketsu also told Sabine, "You can't trust anyone." Yet, despite not having to do so (she could have overpowered Sabine and escaped), Ketsu simply began working with Sabine when the Imperials attacked. And at the end of the episode, when Hera thanked her, Ketsu replied, "It's only money." A bounty hunter would never speak those word.
Sabine was right, earlier in the episode: Ketsu was getting sentimental. A Black Sun bounty hunter would never revert to her old friendships so quickly and under such relatively light pressure. The fact that Ketsu did so made the episode feel rushed, which was disappointing. It was sad not just because the episode suffered in quality but also because Ketsu held such promise in Rebels. Here was someone with unique insight into Sabine's past, someone who could bring out that past in Sabine and more fully show us another side of this main character. At the end of the episode, Sabine hinted that we hadn't seen the last of Ketsu. If that's true, I hope the writers do better with her next time.
On the surface, "Blood Sisters" was about a human friendship: Sabine and Ketsu. But the best parts of the episode dealt with friendships between humans and droids. The Gonk droid EG-87, secret information courier for the Rebel Alliance, was a standout part of the episode. Star Wars has always been about humor and camp, and this episode did not disappoint in that regard. EG-87 was, to put it bluntly, cute and funny. Gonk droids have always been fairly adorable, but a Gonk droid on an urgent mission is a recipe for brilliance.
EG-87 proved to be a very personable droid. He was much closer to C-3PO than R2-D2—always jumpy, perhaps because of his clandestine activities—but perhaps because he was carrying secret information in an unassuming form, he inevitably drew comparisons to R2. (There was some payoff to that thematic connection at the end of the episode.) The Gonk droid clearly relished the chance to interact with another droid en route to the Rebellion. I loved the shot of him bouncing and gonking as Chopper approached the cargo hold of the Ghost on his rocket. EG-87 seemed to be saying, "You're back! Oh, thank god! Hurry! Almost there!"
We haven't seen much of Chopper early in season 2, which is why I was thrilled with his standout role in "Blood Sisters." Like R2 with 3PO, Chopper seemed exasperated by EG-87, as if here was this new droid that he had to look after, and why did these things always fall into his lap? The dynamic there was clear when Sabine told Chopper to get EG-87 onto the shuttle, and Chopper began poking and prodding EG-87 toward the ramp. I loved the idea of Chopper being thrust into the role of protector for this high-value target—and whether or not anyone else in the story saw it that way, that was clearly what Chopper thought his role was.
The episode also developed Chopper's relationship with Sabine, using it as a proxy for his broader place in the Ghost family and even the Rebellion at large. Chopper and Sabine are an interesting pair: Both of them have strong independent streaks, both of them are annoyed by incompetence and amateurism, and both of them have an edgy side that sits uneasily with their friends. Perhaps for this reason, Chopper seemed unusually attached to Sabine. When Ketsu shot out the door to their shuttle and the air began rushing out, it appeared that Chopper released his magnetic lock on the cockpit floor to try to rescue Sabine, who was pinned against the open doorway. This action, which resulted in him falling out of the ship, spoke volumes about his loyalty.
Chopper wasn't just loyal. He was also inventive. He could have rocketed back over to Sabine's shuttle when he found himself out in space. Instead, he rocketed over to Ketsu's freighter and immediately set to work disabling her laser turret. What's so great about Chopper is that, as much as he's cranky, deadly, and a quick thinker, he's also adorable. His mannerisms, many of which come from his spindly claw arms, are inevitably cute, even if they're combative, like his "fisticuffs" gesture from "Always Two There Are." One of the best moments in "Blood Sisters" was Chopper waving his little mechanical arm in the background of Ketsu's hologram, signaling to Sabine that he was fine and he had a plan.
The entire Ghost crew—including the ever-reassuring Hera—might find Chopper annoying, but, as we saw in "Blood Sisters," his crewmates see him as one of them, as a true friend. Sabine even vouched for his commitment to the cause, telling Ketsu firmly, "He's a rebel." Few droids develop that kind of bond to their tasks. In fact, one of the main thematic roles of robots in science-fiction is for their programming—their automatic obedience to a job, no matter what its morality—to serve as a contrast with the free will of organic beings. Chopper's allegiance to the Rebellion thus marks him as a very different kind of robot—closer to R2-D2 and C-3PO than any other droid we've met, and apparently just as well-regarded by his friends as those two, more famous droids.
Chopper rewarded Sabine's devotion when it counted, refusing to leave her behind as the Imperials closed in. It's worth noting how unusual droids like Chopper are in the galaxy. We're used to R2-D2 and C-3PO, so we don't really think about how starkly they stand apart from their fellow astromechs and protocol droids because of their independence. This episode reinforced that Chopper was every bit the loyal companion that they were. It's fun to see Chopper in his usual cantankerous role, but it's equally fun to see him stand up for his friends when the chips are down (and, it should be noted, when Ezra and Zeb aren't around to rib him for having a soft side to his chassis).
Chopper got a nice moment at the end of the episode when he handed off EG-87 to R2-D2. Setting aside the obvious link between iconic Star Wars and new Star Wars that Chopper and R2's interaction represented, there was something else exciting about the scene. The droids weren't alone on the landing platform—Sabine and two of Bail Organa's guards were there, too—but it felt like a transaction between droids. Chopper, who had risked everything to stand up for Sabine despite approaching Imperials, was handling the transfer, walking the Gonk droid over to his new protectors, completing his team's mission. R2, who had proven himself to be resourceful time and time again, was representing Bail on the landing platform, imbuing a boring clerical role often given to droids with a sense of purpose and pride. Chopper even seemed to flex his muscles in front of R2, as if to say, "Well, there you go. We got the job done once again. You probably couldn't run this little Rebellion without us—and especially me."
There were a number of other things I enjoyed about this episode. I loved the comedic scenes, all of which relied on Taylor Gray's brilliant performance as Ezra. There were some very funny moments with Ezra and Sabine trying to find the courier and essentially harassing people disembarking from the shuttle. (They even tag-teamed one woman, who just looked confused and a bit afraid.) Ezra's continuing pursuit of Sabine, largely explored through fleeting dialog, resurfaced in this episode, with Ezra alluding to times when "I've maybe followed you, and you're angry..." Then there was that hilarious exchange between the two friends at the end of the episode: "Ezra, can I get a moment here?" "Sure...oh, you mean you two." I'm not sure why, but Ezra's shtick never gets old. For all the things that are special about him—his parentage, his life on Lothal, his Jedi powers—in many ways he's just a typical oblivious teenager, and the show does a good job of grounding his at-times over-confident personality in that inescapable context.
When it was all said and done, I felt conflicted about this episode. I enjoyed learning new things about Sabine, but Ketsu's transformation from ruthless Black Sun killer to warm and friendly ally made absolutely no sense, and the strain on credulity was enough to tarnish the episode. Chopper and EG-87 were simply wonderful, as main-character droids almost always are in Star Wars. And Hera even got to teach the arrogant Ketsu a lesson at the end of the episode, when Ketsu said, "I'm not sure I'm really for a full-on fight with the Empire just yet," and Hera replied, "No one ever is." Hera was right: Ketsu might have thought that the Empire was invulnerable, but it was only going to get more powerful over time, and at least the rebels were trying. "Blood Sisters" was a mixed bag as far as characterization was concerned, but it did open the door to Sabine's past, and perhaps Ketsu's next appearance will bring even more revelations about our mysterious Mandalorian.
One last thing: R.I.P., chipper and dedicated RX-series shuttle pilot droid, who gave his life so that a courier could deliver vital information to the Rebellion. We will not forget your service, and hopefully, neither will Star Tours.
You can read all of my Rebels reviews right here.