Ezra (Taylor Gray) has proved himself to the crew of Ghost enough to be assigned his first solo mission on Star Wars Rebels. Then again, since the mission is to enlist as a cadet in Lothal’s Imperial Academy, he’s really the only member of the team young enough to fit in. In “Breaking Ranks”, Ezra has to obtain an encoder from Agent Kallus in order to learn about the course of a shipment of kyber crystals. The Empire can’t have good plans for the crystals that power lightsabers, and Hera (Vanessa Marshall) and Kanan (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) plan to destroy the precious cargo.
I’ve always been interested in seeing the inside of an Imperial Academy, and this episode didn’t disappoint in that regard. Remember, this was the fate that Luke Skywalker dreamed of pursuing. While the Empire appeared to be shiny and good to many around the galaxy, it offered an additional lure to residents of backwater planets like Lothal and Tatooine: a way out and into a different life. It’s easy to imagine the appeal of the Empire’s propaganda; they played up the “glamorous” side of joining their ranks.
When we enter the story, Ezra’s already part of a class of cadets slated to become stormtroopers. I’m curious about the Empire’s screening process, but they may be so desperate for new recruits that they’ll let anyone sign up without background checks. Ezra has an alias, and it’s clear he’s already moved to the top of the class and made a buddy: Jai Kell (Dante Basco). The tests through which Commandant Aresko (David Shaughnessy) put the class through don’t strike me as being overly difficult. We didn’t see all of them, but this round is all about agility and intelligence. There’s an emphasis on shooting targets too which I admit made me laugh out loud.
It soon becomes apparent that besides looking for more stormtroopers, the Empire is using the classes to identify children who may have Force abilities. Aresko notes Ezra’s performance in the tests, and even though Ezra doesn’t perform any insane Jedi leaps, it’s apparent he’s a step ahead of the remainder of the class. Another cadet notices it, too. It had to be tricky for Ezra to control himself, and I think that shows one way the character has developed since the beginning of the series. Anyway, Aresko passes along his notes to Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) who informs the Inquisitor. Insert a “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” here.
Ezra nearly swipes the encoder when a fellow cadet prevents Ezra from blowing the op. Meet Zare Leonis (Bryton James). He’s at the Academy because his sister Dhara enrolled and then disappeared. He’s determined to learn what happened to her. Since he’s already suspicious of the Empire, he’s in Ezra’s corner immediately. While I think it was incredibly foolish and dangerous for Ezra to reveal his identity and the fact that he can use the Force to Zare, he wouldn’t have succeeded without assistance.
“Breaking Ranks” showed us that Ezra has become more compassionate since the premiere and since he’s spent more time around the rebels. Thinking of others is becoming second nature to him and when he learns Jai might be carted off to the Inquisitor, he hands off the encoder to Sabine and Zeb and stays behind at the Academy to help everyone escape.
And they make quite the dramatic exit, wrapping up the episode on an action-packed and fun to watch note. The Imperial walker battle was topped off by a brave move from Zare, who decided to stay behind and figure out what happened to his sister. I hope we haven’t seen the last of him in the series, and there’s already a book centering on Zare on the market (Star Wars Rebels Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy).
Given the attention being called to Zare, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll have ties to someone in Star Wars: Episode VII.
Hera got some standout moments over the course of this episode. She’s the definition of determined when she has a mission, and I nearly cheered out loud when she jumped into hyperspace to go after the kyber crystals even when Kanan was worried about Ezra’s new plan. She didn’t hesitate. We also saw more of her exceptional piloting and targeting skills. She knows her way around a fight and doesn’t necessarily listen to Kanan. She waited until she knew it was the right time to take down the transport ship. I have nothing but mad respect for her.
Sabine (Tiya Sircar), Zeb (Steve Blum), and Chopper kept busy, too. The missions we’ve seen keep showing how well our rebels work together. They’ve been running ops long enough to rely on each other one hundred percent, and that trust shows. It’s like they work from the same brain – even Chopper.
Though tonight’s installment didn’t quite have the weight of last week’s “Rise of the Old Masters” (read my review/recap), it offered plenty to chew on and showed us that the rebels on Ghost aren’t the only ones who think something smells rotten with the Empire.
What did you think of “Breaking Ranks?” Share your thoughts with me in the comments or on Twitter.