Even the commanding presence of Ahsoka Tano couldn't save "Future of the Force" from being a generally lackluster Star Wars Rebels episode. The story was thin, the characters received scant development, and one plot point in particular defied all logic and proper characterization. It felt like most of the characters spent most of the time running, and as a result, the episode never had the chance to settle down and take on any coherent form. There might have been a way to rework the baby-snatching plot, which first appeared in The Clone Wars, to fit in the Rebels context. But this episode's story was so thin and empty that it's a wonder it took 22 minutes to tell.
In a sign of just how little happened in this episode, there aren't many genuinely good scenes to highlight. One was when Kanan anticipated Ezra eavesdropping on his and Ahsoka's conversation and said, "He's already briefed on the mission," as he opened the door to reveal Ezra. His apprentice responded with a characteristically witty line: "Heyyy. She did say this was Jedi business!" In an episode with few standout moments, I appreciated this one, because even though it was included for comedic effect, it showed that Kanan knew Ezra well enough to anticipate his snooping. (If he had sensed Ezra through the Force, then Ahsoka would have, too, and she wouldn't have told Kanan to brief him.)
I really appreciate this episode's continued focus on one of Ezra's Force talents: the "talent to connect," as Kanan put it. We previously saw Kanan trying to teach Ezra how to soothe a loth-cat. It was a clever way to instill discipline in a rowdy young man. As we've seen, true discipline mostly eludes Ezra. He can only summon it when the chips are really own. Throughout most of his time with the Ithorian baby Pipey, Ezra was too antsy and distracted to be calm enough to soothe him. When it was a matter of life and death, he figured it out. Those scenes represented welcome consistency in terms of Ezra's Force abilities.
The only really, truly good part of this otherwise tedious episode was Ahsoka. The writing for her in this episode was so economical; practically every word invited new questions, or at least new thought. I loved, for example, when Kanan said that he qualified for "Jedi business" and she replied, "You qualify more than I do." It was a nice reminder that, while there's no more Jedi Order, Kanan was at least a member of it until the end. Ahsoka left early to pursue her own path. While she was disillusioned, he remained committed to the Jedi until Order 66.
Another provocative moment was when Ahsoka mentioned that she had been monitoring information from Mustafar. Given what we know happened there, it would be fantastic if we got to see her visit the planet. I also wonder what resources she has brought to bear to monitor the planet, and whether viewers would be able to put together any of the snippets that she, as a character, might not understand.
Ahsoka's last-minute arrival on Takobo was the best part of the episode. With Kanan overmatched fighting two Inquisitors alone, her appearance was practically a deus ex machina moment—and she got the angelic music to match. One of the things that makes Ahsoka so valuable to Rebels is that she largely stands above the conflicts, stepping in only when absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the rebel movement (or of her favorite rebels). There's a certain dignity and power in that approach: when Ahsoka arrives on the scene, you know things have escalated to a new level.
And things really did escalated. Ahsoka wiped the floor with the Fifth Brother and the Seventh Sister, demonstrating a mastery of the Force far beyond what they possessed and easily batting back all of their attacks without so much as breaking a sweat. In a sign that this older, stronger, more composed Ahsoka was fully confident in her abilities, she accompanied her stern warning to Ezra that he should flee with a reassuring wink, as if to say, "Don't worry, I've got this."
When Ahsoka deactivated her lightsabers and bowed, in a gesture reminiscent of Qui-Gon Jinn, the Seventh Sister couldn't resist lunging. It showed how fundamentally undisciplined she was. Sure, compared to Ezra, she was the model of malevolent composure. But compared to genuine, serious Force-wielders like Ahsoka, the Seventh Sister is nothing. Ahsoka knew exactly what she was doing when she deactivated her blades, and the Seventh Sister never saw her perfectly timed move coming. Ahsoka grabbing the other woman's deadly spinning weapon was a true mic-drop moment, a sign of how monumentally superior she was to the Inquisitors.
Having praised the heck out of Ahsoka's role in "The Future of the Force," I now have to tear down another aspect of the story. The central problem with this episode, as I see it, is that Kanan failed to immediately recognize the Inquisitors' baby-snatching plan. That's just completely unbelievable to me. Agents of the Empire tasked to hunt down Jedi are apprehending children; what possible motive could they have other than to prevent Force-sensitive babies from becoming Jedi? At first, I assumed that Kanan was lying when he told Ezra that he didn't understand what was happening. But when he later revealed the truth to Ezra, I changed my mind. His reaction in that latter scene was so amazed, so alarmed, that it would have been an odd bit of overacting if he had known all along. Furthermore, if he did figure it out right away, why didn't he tell Ezra then? After everything that kid has seen, there's no reason to keep this truth from him.
Kanan's out-of-character ignorance with respect to the Inquisitors' plan was, frankly, troubling. There was no need to keep him in the dark for that long; he and the other rebels wouldn't have saved the day any sooner if he had immediately perceived the truth. Had there been a story-development reason to do it this way, I would have at least understood that. But there wasn't. The creative team did it because...well, I'm honestly not sure. Having Kanan fail to immediately realize what was going on is as nonsensical a decision as any I've seen on Rebels so far. Sure, he never completed his Jedi training, but it doesn't take Yoda to put two and two together here—particularly when Ahsoka initially briefed him by describing the mission as "Jedi business," which is to say, having to do with the Force.
Sprinkled in between these high and low-lights were a few other fun, but largely forgettable moments. Since this episode was so light, I'll briefly run through them. Zeb and Chopper acting as babysitters was positively perfect, because one would assume that they're the two worst rebels to take care of children. Indeed, Chopper suggested blowing up the Inquisitors' TIE fighters with Alora, the human baby, still onboard, prompting Zeb to act as audience stand-in and ask, "What is wrong with you?" Yet we discovered that Chopper was actually good at babysitting; Alora was quiet in his mechanical arms. And Zeb managed to quiet down Pipey, the other baby, at least until Ezra arrived.
There was also a moment between the Inquisitors that continued to show the contrast between them. The Fifth Brother acted more instinctively, rushing to the sound of a crying baby instead of stopping to seek out the baby in the Force. When the Seventh Sister doubted his instincts, he angrily said, "You would question me, Seventh Sister?" Not only do they not get along, but the Fifth Brother never seems to learn that the Seventh Sister is smarter and more perceptive. He did seem chastened when he fell for Kanan's ruse, though. His partner, meanwhile, simply laughed when her doubts were validated.
The conclusion of "The Future of the Force" seemed to set up three important developments. First, Ezra slipped up and mentioned the rebels' location, and the Seventh Sister's reaction strongly hints at an impending Imperial raid. Second, after defeating the Seventh Sister, Ahsoka heard her old master's new name for the first time—though she obviously didn't recognize it as such. "Tell your master he'll have to wait," she replied, in obvious and tantalizing bit of foreshadowing. Third, Kanan recognized that it was now the rebels' job to protect Force-sensitive babies from the Empire, suggesting that he, Ezra, and Ahsoka might step more fully into the role of keepers of the Jedi flame. "Future of the Force" wasn't that great of an episode on its own, but it might have set the stage for more interesting stories in the months ahead.
You can read all of my Rebels reviews right here.