Star Wars Rebels review: "Legends of the Lasat"

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Like the Ghost itself, this episode broke new ground.
Lucasfilm

I have never found Zeb, the loyal muscle on Star Wars Rebels, to be particularly interesting, so I never expected "Legends of the Lasat" to be one of the best episodes to date. But here we are. This episode didn't just advance Zeb's story by providing closure for his biggest regret; it also connected the resolution of this guilt to the most sweeping Star Wars story of all: the essential nature of the Force and the way it shapes the future of the galaxy. I have never been so impressed by the portrayal of the Force in an episode of Rebels. Simply put, it has never been so profoundly important to a story, nor has it manifested itself so directly and visibly in the events of the narrative. It is a testament to the talent of the Rebels crew that, from music to dialog to plot to animation, they wedged this sweeping exploration of the Force into a story about a former honor guardsman coming to terms with his past failure and future potential.

As Ezra observed at one point, Zeb was profoundly uncomfortable around Chava and Gron, the two Lasat refugees, for most of the episode. This was understandable. Zeb's identity up to that point was built around the notion that he was the last survivor of the Imperial massacre on Lasan. The fact that there were other Lasat still alive gave him cause to reevaluate everything, but he dared not hope for much. He had been trained as a warrior, as a stoic individual not given to flights of imagination, and he tried to shut out what the other Lasat were telling him because even thinking about his people was too painful.

But the other Lasat persisted, and in doing so, they revealed something about Zeb that even his fellow rebels didn't know: that he was a captain in the Lasan honor guard. It was easy to understand why Zeb hadn't told them: it wasn't a particularly bright moment. He blamed himself for his failure to protect the Lasan royal family from the Empire. "They call me captain," Zeb told Ezra later. "I don't deserve to be called that." Zeb's sensitive, reserved, and uncomfortable side was a welcome dimension to his character. He is always confident and strong in battle, but in this episode we learned about the part of himself that he kept hidden. His eagerness to fight the Empire has been concealing his immense regret at failing to stop them on Lasan; he has been pushing aside thoughts of his people ever since his failure.

What really set Zeb off, though, was the other Lasat's insistence on fulfilling their people's ancient prophecy: the discovery of the long-lost world Lirasan, with the fool, the child, and the warrior working in concert to lead the way. Zeb hated talk of Lirasan, and it was easy to see why. There were two basic reasons. For one thing, the Lasan massacre had sapped all of his hope for his people's survival, and he wasn't ready to believe in prophecies or other hopeful ideas. Even when he listened to the others describe the fool, the warrior, and the child, Zeb refused to accept that he was anything other than the warrior. It was the only life he knew. He didn't want to play some other role in the prophecy, because the whole thing seemed too disconnected from his reality. He thought he was singlehandedly carrying forward the torch of the Lasat, and he had oriented his life around being that fragile avatar of a dead race; the idea that things weren't so fragile must have seemed too good to be true.

The other reason for Zeb's discomfort with the prophecy was his warrior spirit. Zeb is firmly grounded in the here and now. He's not a spiritual person. There's a reason why the writers of Rebels gave him an exaggerated version of Han Solo's role as the naysayer of the Force in A New Hope. When Zeb interfered with Ezra's Jedi training, it was like Han dismissing the idea of an all-powerful energy field while Luke trained with Ben Kenobi. Zeb's warrior spirit, like Han's scoundrel personality, made him want to fight, not pray.  He actually seemed angry that Chava and Gron were perpetuating what he considered to be a myth by discussing Lirasan. Not only, he thought, were they misleading the other rebels, but they were getting his own hopes up—and hope is a dangerous thing for someone who has built mental walls around hopeful ideas.

Zeb's frustration with the other Lasat was understandable. You don't maintain your warrior instincts by indulging in fantasies. Zeb had scrupulously built up the narrative, the self-image, of himself as the last Lasat, the keeper of the flame, the living memory of his race. Anything that threatened to undermine that narrative—such as two hopeful, mystical Lasat—was a danger to his understanding of the galaxy and his place in it. So he rejected what the others were saying, even as it sounded like a wonderful thing. "Everything is gone," Zeb angrily told Chava at one point. "We are not gone!" she indignantly replied. What she said was true: As long as any Lasat lived, the spirit of their people lived, too. But Zeb was too demoralized by the destruction of his society to think like that. It had become easier for him to wallow in despair.

After Zeb explained his failure to protect the Lasan royal family—and revealed that he had been "as good as dead" until Kanan found him, thus teasing a story that many Rebels fans will want explored—Ezra encouraged him to open his mind to new approaches, to seek redemption for his perceived failures by pursuing something that could build a better future. It was a sign of how close the two had grown that Ezra was able to convince Zeb—who had previously said that "chanting isn't going to help save anybody"—to give the Lasat mysticism another chance.

At that point, Zeb seemed to become a totally different for the remainder of the episode. The writers represented this physically by having him transform his bo-rifle into its original form and purpose, as a sort of divining rod for prophetic knowledge—"as the ancients used it," in Chava's words. Zeb's friends watched as he transformed his weapon into something they had never seen before. You could see, on their faces, a fascination with Zeb's culture, a part of which had been hidden in front of their eyes the whole time, concealed in a more militaristic form.

Zeb's inner conflict was interesting enough, but the prophecy itself, and the way this deeper dimension of the galaxy played out amid the practical conflict of Rebels, was immensely more engaging. The music during the chanting scene did a great job of bringing this larger-than-life element to life, showing the audience that the Lasat were tapping into something bigger than themselves, bigger than their immediate predicament. They were trying to draw on the Ashla itself.

One of the most amazing things about the Force is its universality—the fact that, while it presents itself to different spiritual cultures in different ways, it is essentially always one thing, uniting everyone. We're mostly familiar with it as the Jedi and the Sith experience and manipulate it. But in other parts of the galaxy, in other stories and legends, it has a different name, a different form. The witches of Dathomir drew on it to perform primitive, arcane magic. The Lasat, meanwhile, recognize it in the form of the Ashla.

Ben Kenobi and Yoda were right that the Force binds the galaxy together. But the Force doesn't just bind things on a mystical level, in the sense that it creates one universal destiny for everyone. The Force also binds things on an experiential level: it connects people, because all of their different forms of spirituality come from the same source, even if they don't know it. It truly is, in Chava's words, "the spirit of the galaxy."

The grand scale of "Legends of the Lasat" is what made it such a great episode. While the rebels were ostensibly on a refugee rescue mission, they were really participating in something much bigger than that—and a force much bigger than all of them was guiding events, in ways they couldn't fully understand.

I am in the middle of re-watching Battlestar Galactica with some friends, and one of the best things about that show is the fact that all of the characters' actions and decisions play into something bigger than all of them. Some of them are more aware of the prophecies and religious undertones than others, but all of them participate in foretold events and play fateful roles. There is an invisible hand guiding all of the story arcs, pushing things forward. And at times, event happening on the mortal plane brush up against forces beyond the characters' comprehension. There are high-tech ships and advanced weapons, but ultimately all of that sophistication pales in comparison to the scale of destiny itself. I was constantly awed by how Battlestar combined those two planes of existence to tell a sweeping story of humanity's struggle for survival.

I felt a similar sense of awe watching the more spiritual scenes in "Legends of the Lasat." When Zeb brought his transformed bo-rifle into the holographic map's projection field, he wasn't consciously doing anything specific. But the energy from his weapon combined with the light from the map to highlight a single floating world: Lirasan. The best way I can describe the power of that scene is to say the following: Despite all the Force powers and Jedi wisdom in Rebels so far, Zeb's unconscious discovery of Lirasan was the first time I felt like something bigger than the characters was interceding in their affairs. The Force itself seemed to be directing the energy charge from Zeb's rifle, and that was fascinating to watch and consider.

But that scene was nothing compared to the rebels' arrival at the space anomaly on their way to Lirasan. I've praised Kevin Kiner's music before, but the difference between the anomaly music and all of his previous scores is night and day. I have never heard anything that powerful, that haunting, and that mysteriously important on either Rebels or The Clone Wars. With one piece of music, Kiner perfectly conveyed the stakes of discovering the anomaly: the rebels were dipping their toes into something far, far bigger than themselves—they, like the characters on Battlestar, were brushing up against fate itself.

The prophecy came more fully into focus in that scene, as the mundane came into contact with the eternal and the epic. Zeb learned that he was both the fool for denying his destiny and the warrior for charting his own path forward. Kallus unwittingly became part of the story, playing the role of the warrior, a role foretold ages ago, without even realizing it. Zeb instinctively began guiding the Ghost into the anomaly with his bo-rifle, using it to shield the ship from the damaging effects of the anomaly while Kallus's TIE fighters were torn to shreds. Kanan and Ezra placed their hands on Zeb's back, as if to steady him not just physically but also spiritually—to buck him up so he could meet the weight of the prophecy bearing down on him in that moment.

A brief moment at the end of the Imperial pursuit helped convey the clash of the mundane and the eternal, as even Kallus's Star Destroyer was force to pull back from the anomaly. The greatest machines, this episode seemed to be saying, are no match for something bigger than all mortal beings and material things. The Force itself was protecting the people who were furthering one of its teachings, interlopers were denied that protection.

Without his conscious direction, Zeb's bo-rifle activated the Ghost's hyperdrive and guided the rebels to Lirasan. Watching this beautifully designed sequence of lights, colors, and music, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Kara Thrace guiding the Galactica through a FTL jump to humanity's new home, escaping a Cylon onslaught and fulfilling her destiny. What these two scenes shared, beyond the use of unforgettable music, was the intercession of something unknowable but instantly recognizable. Zeb's weapon wasn't magical, and he didn't input the coordinates manually. Instead, it was the Force itself that pulled the Ghost where it needed to go. Just like on Battlestar, a higher power was at work here.

Having said all of this about the spirituality of "Legends of Lasat," I would be remiss if I didn't also praise the inclusion of Hondo Ohnaka as B-plot. Hondo is one of the greatest inventions of the last ten years of Star Wars storytelling. He makes every episode in which he appears significantly better. Every writer seems to know how to write him, and Jim Cummings's performance is consistently perfect. I loved seeing him continue to work with Ezra, subtly training him to be a different kind of rebel/Jedi hybrid than Kanan by encouraging Ezra to adopt his own roguish tendencies.

After Ezra refused to pay him for leading the rebels to the Lasat, he said, "Perfect answer. I am so proud of you right now," which was just textbook Hondo. (Also textbook Hondo was the fact that, by selling out the Lasat to the Empire and tipping off Ezra, he was (1) playing both sides against each other, (2) counting on others to do his dirty work, and (3) correctly estimating everyone's interests and abilities.) In every scene, Hondo was just solid gold, such as when he tried to schmooze with his Imperial captors by patting a stormtrooper on the back and asking him his name.

Where does this episode leave Zeb? In a much better place. Even though he failed the royal family and the rest of his society on Lasan, he didn't fail his species. Arriving on Lirasan, he learned that it was the original home of the Lasat and that millions of his people were still living there. Zeb was clearly buoyed by this news; he wasn't the last of his kind, or even one of a surviving few. He had helped rediscover his people—and now, he could be a guiding force (no pun intended) if others emerged. "Legends of the Lasat" may not have directly served the meta-plot of Rebels, but it certainly served Zeb, by giving him a character-defining story, and viewers, by showing them another aspect of the spirituality and power of the Force.

You can read all of my Rebels reviews right here.
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