One of the most common complaints levied by fans against the first season of Star Wars Rebels was that it was too limited in scope, specifically in that it was set almost entirely on or around the planet of Lothal. This was never something that bothered me, and to be honest, I actually quite enjoyed the smaller, more intimate scale that differentiated Rebels from other Star Wars stories. Regardless, in the show’s second season, the series’ creators have made a point to expand the scope of the show and force our Lothal rebels to go out and explore other parts of the galaxy. Yet after half a season of this, all of Rebels‘ best episodes are still the ones set on Lothal.
“A Princess on Lothal”, as the title suggests, is one such episode. Picking up right where we left off before the winter hiatus, Ezra is back on his home world struggling to deal with the news that his parents are dead, something that Ezra hold himself somewhat responsible for. On top of this, the rebel forces are reeling from their defeat on Garel and are in desperate need of resources to regroup and rebuild. Enter Bail Organa, Imperial Senator for Alderaan and secret leader of the rebel movement. He commissions three Hammerhead Corvettes to be sent to Lothal under the guise of providing relief aid for the planet, but he intends the rebels to capture these ships, allowing him to supply the cause while still maintaining his standing in the Imperial Senate. To ensure that all of this goes according to plan, he sends his daughter – Leia Organa.
At this point, I should clarify that Lothal itself is not some secret sauce that makes the show work. Lothal is just a location, functionally the same as any other. The reason why the episodes set on Lothal tend to be better has less to do with Lothal itself and more to do with how it plays in relation to the characters. As far as planets go, Lothal isn’t terribly interesting – it’s essentially a Tatooine stand-in with a bit more grass – but it’s that unassuming quality that allows it to exist as a backdrop for the real focus of this show: our titular rebels. The thing that makes Rebels special is that it’s an exploration of these characters who are playing a small part in this larger conflict. While the movies are sweeping tales of heroes chosen by fate to fight in an epic struggle of good versus evil with the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance, Rebels is just about a handful of freedom fighters trying to do their part to help those around them. Highlighting these characters and their personal challenges and victories is at the heart of what this show needs to be, and in the first half of this season, a lot of that got lost in an attempt to introduce all sorts of extraneous elements of Star Wars lore. There was all this time dedicated to clones and B-Wings and irritating recurring characters from The Clone Wars, meanwhile the rebels started to become sidelined in their own show. Returning to Lothal, a planet nobody cares about, allows them to filter out all this noise and focus in on what’s really important.
To that end, this episode really succeeds. Yes, we have Leia – one of the big three – entering the mix, but even she doesn’t overshadow our heroes in the same way dumb stuff like Hondo Ohnaka did in past episodes. Leia fits seamlessly into the dynamic of our heroes, allowing them to take center stage while she plays an important supporting role. And Leia’s presence here is a lot of fun. She’s slightly less confident (arrogant?) than she was in the original film, but never-the-less she proves that she’s a force to be reckoned with, thinking on her feet and playing both sides of the field to accomplish what she set out to do. Her portrayal here reminds me in a way of the opportunistic nature of a character like Jack Sparrow – characterizing either as being one step ahead is not exactly right, instead they’re able to navigate the conflict around them until they’ve found the most advantageous opening and instantly recalibrate to seize it. Things might not go exactly according to plan, but Leia somehow manages to come out on top in spite of it all.
But again, this isn’t just Leia’s story, and it’s only with the aid of the Ghost crew that she’s afforded the resources to pull off her plan. The Lothal rebels provide both the firepower and the alibi she needs to ensure that the ships get to their intended target, while also ensuring that she appears blameless in the operation. The Ghost crew is wholly reunited once again for the first time in half a season, and it remains a delight to see these characters work together to pull off this heist. There’s not a ton in the way of new character developments, but after keeping this team apart for so long, it’s enough just to see them together again. That said, there is a touching moment between Leia and Ezra, where the princess assures our young Jedi that he’s doing the right thing, and that the transmission that inspired his parents to rise up has had a greater effect than he knows on the fight against injustice in the galaxy.
Ultimately our heroes complete their task and manage to get the ships off Lothal in order to add them to the growing rebel fleet, while Leia is able to navigate all of this unscathed and still walk away with her reputation intact. In the grand scheme of things, this was definitely a minor episode, but it was a fun, well executed episode that stands as a return to form for a show that’s been floundering for the last several episodes. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come and as the season progresses and our heroes travel away from Lothal once again, the show doesn’t lose sight of the focus on character that makes these Lothal-based episodes work.