In an unusual twist, neither Hera's wise leadership nor Kanan's faith in the Jedi philosophy carried the rebels to victory in "The Protector of Concord Dawn." Instead, the continued safe movement of Commander Sato's rebel fleet depended on Sabine ignoring her doubters and fighting an enemy she knew all too well—an enemy was as much a part of her past as her rebel family was a part of her present. It's been a while since Sabine has carried an episode, but "The Protector of Concord Dawn" reminded us that, when the chips are down, Star Wars Rebels can always count on her for an explosive resolution.
This episode did not go well for Hera, and I'm not talking about her injuries. When she and Kanan learned that the Mandalorian forces of Fenn Rau, the "protector of Concord Dawn," stood between them and a safe route for their fleet, they displayed an alarming naivety about the Mandalorians. Given how worldly both of them are—and given that they have an ex-Mandalorian on their team—I was pretty surprised that neither of the Ghost crew's leaders understood Rau's people well enough to know that diplomacy wouldn't work.
Sato trusted Hera, and by misjudging the situation, she let his entire battle group down. In an unexpected turn of events—given how tactically savvy she has been in the past—Hera's ignorance got two of her pilots killed and almost cost her her own life. Sabine later said that Hera's near-death experience was her fault, but that wasn't fair to her. It was Hera's fault for underestimating Fenn Rau and his people. Hera's failure allowed Star Wars Rebels to convey an unexpected lesson for a children's animated series: that sometimes you have to be aggressive in order to survive. You can't always befriend everyone who stands in your way.
If Hera was naive almost to the point of her own demise, Kanan wasn't much better. While he told Sato that his trip to Concord Dawn was about sabotaging Rau's ships so they couldn't intercept the rebels again, in reality, he was still pursuing Hera's dangerously naive diplomatic strategy. Luckily for the entire rebellion, Sabine—the only member of the team who could see reason, due to her familiarity with Mandalorians—stowed away on his ship.
As mistaken as his approach was, I did find Kanan's role in this episode fascinating. With Hera barely surviving their last encounter with Rau's forces, I could completely understand Kanan planning a revenge mission, even if it just involved grounding Rau's ships. Yet Kanan still found the strength to shove aside his anger and try to make peace with Rau. That's impressive, given how much he cares for Hera. (Sabine noted that he was too distracted to sense her presence on the Phantom, and that was clearly because he was thinking about Hera.) While it almost led to the rebel fleet's ruination, Kanan's fidelity to the Jedi code showed the strength of his character.
Even so, part of me wondered if Kanan was pursuing diplomacy out of respect for Hera's intentions or out of personal conviction. When Sabine stated her willingness to crack some heads and Kanan said, "Let's hope it doesn't come to that," I wondered for the first time if Kanan weren't just going through the motions of non-violence. How could he really believe that there remained a chance to negotiate with Rau's people?
I suspect that part of Kanan—the cowboy part of "cowboy Jedi"—was screaming at him to abandon his pretensions and accept the necessity of violence. Yet his belief system told him to cling to peace at all costs, so that's what he did. After Sabine engaged her plan, and the two of them had to escape Rau's base, Kanan told her, "We are still not killing anyone." Sabine astutely noted, "You love making this hard for me." This exchange offered the clearest contrast between their approaches to fighting. Kanan, to Sabine's astonishment and dismay, would almost rather lose the battle than kill enemies who had no compunctions about killing him first.
In an episode with so much incompetence, the star of the show was the only person who seemed to know what she was doing. I loved the opportunity to explore Sabine's Mandalorian heritage, especially through a mission that pitted her against opposing members of her own people. As much as Hera and Kanan's naivety galled me, I did enjoy watching Sabine play the exasperated voice of reason. In scene after scene, she drew on her past to point out flaws in everyone else's arguments. "My people don't need a reason to pick a fight," she warned presciently.
Sabine didn't start the fight that resulted from Hera's poorly thought-out strategy, but she certainly had a reason to continue to it—and after watching Rau's forces destroy two of the rebels who followed Hera to Concord Dawn, I was right there with Sabine as she expressed her anger at Fenn Rau for hurting her friends. She wanted revenge, and we haven't seen that side of her before. I liked it quite a bit. Sabine has been on the sidelines in nearly every previous episode. Finally, she got to do things her way.
Before she could carry out her plan, however, she had to maneuver around Kanan as he tried his own approach. I liked that she made no secret of her disdain for that approach. "What's the plan?" she asked as they neared Rau's base. "I mean, if diplomacy doesn't work." That last line, delivered with unmistakable sarcasm, perfectly conveyed that she wasn't holding her breath for a kumbaya moment. No, she knew what had to happen, and while her motivation—"Rau has to pay for what he did to Hera"—wasn't the most virtuous, the outcome would serve the rebels well all the same.
Sabine's extreme competence was on full display on Concord Dawn. We have already seen that she's proficient with explosives, but in this episode, we also saw her demonstrate great stealthiness and athleticism as she snuck around planting charges and evading detection. She also deftly manipulated her enemies using their shared heritage. When she demanded a duel to the death, one Mandalorian observed, "No one has invoked the code since the Empire took over," to which she cannily shot back, "Well, who's in charge here: the Empire or Mandalore?" It was the perfect thing to say, and she got what she wanted.
Kanan's ignorance proved an impediment until the second Sabine put her plan into action. As she and Rau prepared to draw their weapons, Kanan urged her not to make new enemies—to which Sabine accurately replied, "He's already the enemy." While Kanan was right that Hera wouldn't want the rebels making enemies, Sabine was right that that ship had already sailed. Kanan, frustrated with Sabine for seemingly ignoring the principles of their movement, failed to see Sabine's true plan.
The next sequence unfolded brilliantly. Sabine proved herself to be a better shot than Rau—a stand-up-out-of-your-seat moment for many young Sabine fans, I'm sure—and she also demonstrated superior tactical skills, outwitting both him and Kanan. "There are alternatives to killing," she said, echoing Ben Kenobi aboard the ensnared Millennium Falcon in A New Hope. In that moment, Sabine showed that she knew both what to do and how to do it. She was the clear winner of this episode.
One of the coolest things about "The Protector of Concord Dawn" was Fenn Rau. Well, not Rau himself—he was a pretty two-dimensional character. But Rau's appearance on Rebels represented exceptionally well-timed synergy. The day this episode aired, Marvel released an issue of its Star Wars: Kanan comic book that featured Rau saving Kanan, his master, and their clone troopers from Separatist forces, in the battle that Kanan referenced in this episode.
"I was younger and more reckless then," Rau told Kanan of his heroics on Mygeeto. He either didn't see his current self as an extension of who he was back then, or, if he did, he was uncomfortable with how much he had changed, and he didn't want to admit it. Perhaps Imperial credits had turned him into someone without the scruples that led him to save Kanan's life during the Clone Wars, and he was cloaking this corruption in the guise of maturity. Or perhaps he was never cut out to work with others. "Alone," he said of the Mandalorian people, "is who we are." Yet that clearly wasn't an absolute truth, as Sabine could attest.
The tension between Kanan and Sabine's strategies was the heart of this episode, but the Rebels crew sprinkled in other notable as well. The premise of the story—that the Empire was squeezing the rebels' movements and forcing them to turn to unreliable hyperspace routes—gave us a sense of the larger dynamics of the brewing conflict. The fact that the Empire was paying Rau's Mandalorians to keep their system rebel-free also helped show how Imperial tactics extended beyond their own fleet's movements.
Sabine's membership in House Vizsla linked Rebels to The Clone Wars and opened up new storytelling possibilities, given that Pre Vizsla's Death Watch society is evidently anathema to mainstream Mandalorians, and given that Sabine seemed to distance herself personally from the house when challenged about it. On a different note, Rex's mention of Mandalorians training clone commandos offered what I believe is the first canon reference to that Expanded Universe concept, so that was nice, too.
Strong voice acting, animation, and music also enhanced "The Protector of Concord Dawn." The opening dogfight featured excellent camerawork, with the focus switching seamlessly between various rebel ships and their pursuers. The decision to play a Western-style musical cue when Kanan revealed his lightsaber to Rau helped emphasize that Kanan's people were more of a rumor than a reality at that point. And Freddie Prinze Jr. and Tiya Sircar's performances, which were strong throughout the episode, were particularly impressive at conveying the emotional tension as Kanan and Sabine watched Hera's battered A-wing emerge from hyperspace.
If there was a moment that encapsulated the central conflict of this thoroughly exciting episode, it was this telling exchange between Sabine and Kanan: "This Jedi philosophy stuff doesn't work for everyone." "That's why we're at war." It's true, as Kanan observed, that the New Order was the result of the forces of darkness eschewing peace in favor of order. And Kanan was right that, on a higher level, the forces of good relied on the Jedi approach to fight the Empire. But even the people who want peace sometimes have to fight, and Sabine seemed to be the only one willing to admit this in "The Protector of Concord Dawn."
"I hear we're taking prisoners now," Hera said at the end of the episode. "It was better than the alternative," Sabine replied. It should surprise no one that Star Wars Rebels, which is essentially a children's program, tried to spin the outcome of the episode as Sabine learning a lesson about the wisdom of not killing people. But that was only a small concession in Sabine's combat-centric philosophy. No matter what the tone of that last scene, her strategy of confrontation proved to be the correct one.
Kidnapping Rau—which resulted in him granting the rebels safe passage through his system, albeit under duress—might have been Kanan's idea, but Sabine's strategy made it possible. Indeed, it was her insight into Mandalorian culture, and not some Jedi theorizing, that laid the foundation for Kanan's gambit. Grabbing the leader of the interfering forces should have been the plan all along, but Hera and Kanan misjudged Rau and cost the rebels time and manpower. Diplomacy is a noble approach, but ultimately, what Sato and Sabine said at the very beginning of the episode proved correct: Mandalorians only understood strength, and showing strength was how the rebels won the day.
Dave Filoni has said that Sabine will prove to be as important to Star Wars Rebels as Ezra, and I'm glad that's true. If "The Protector of Concord Dawn" proved anything, it's that Sabine is the right kind of fighter for the fight ahead. Despite her age and the misgivings of her diplomatically minded friends, she knows how to handle herself, how to size up her enemies, and—perhaps most importantly for the rebels—how to blow a lot of things up at precisely the right moment.
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