I’m having a problem with the Star Wars Rebels show. It’s an odd problem, but it has to do with the way violence is portrayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against violence in “kid’s” shows. Far from it. I don’t see the point in isolating children from violence when they have the luxury of exploring it in a safe space so they are better able to deal with it when they encounter it in real life.
I also know that there is a whole “Wonder how Luke feels about murdering all the janitors on the Death Star” thing that some people like to preach about. That’s bullshit, and all I’m going say about it for now. There is also the fact that the series to precede Rebels – The Clone Wars – was a very dark and violent show portraying an awful war and its effects on so many lives. The Clone Wars was exceptional and done with a keen eye toward the massive scale of the violent conflict engulfing the galaxy.
What I’ve noticed about the violence in Rebels is that it is often thoughtless. Rebels is a simpler show than The Clone Wars, and that often shows in the writing. Rebels more often neatly ties up loose ends throughout the 22 minute episode and tries to steer clear of some of the truly dark moments of The Clone Wars. This is fine – but also what makes what I’m noticing so jarring.
In episode six – Blood Sisters – this often unsettled feeling was brought home for me in a scene which I am certain (though perhaps wrong) was meant for comedy. During the episode, Sabine and Chopper are on their own, trying to get a droid carrying important intel back to the Rebels. All well and good. They have to leave Ezra behind in a dangerous situation (problematic for me but actually understandable considering Ezra’s constant attempts to impress Sabine – she obviously trusts him to save himself). Sabine and Chopper are facing an opponent in the form of one of Sabine’s old friends – who is now a Black Sun bounty hunter.
This is where the episode upset me. Sabine and Chopper commandeer a vessel – a hyperspace shuttle of sorts, with a built in droid captain. Over its protests Sabine has Chopper “shut down” the Captain and take over the ship. They run. A fight ensues. Imperial entanglements happen.
Now Sabine, who has left Ezra behind, realizes that Chopper has been captured by her nemesis. She goes back for him, because Chopper is a friend and a valued member of the crew. But a short while later, in order save herself, she has Chopper turn the droid Captain of the shuttle back on, and overwhelms it with information about what has happened since it was shut down, and convinces it to initiate “emergency protocols” in an attempt to mask her own escape. Essentially, she sacrifices this droid knowingly and willingly by setting up a situation where the Imperials will destroy it with (seemingly) no remorse whatsoever. The plaintive “Where am I?” of the Captain resonated with me long after the episode was over.
Sabine clearly respects droids as more than just “servants.” She considers Chopper an independent personality capable of emotions. He’s worth rescuing, worth jeopardizing her mission to go back for. But a stranger, she kidnaps, traumatizes, and sacrifices with no second thought. Consider if this shuttle had a pilot of one of the recognizable species of Star Wars – a human or Sullustan – would Sabine, or the show-writers, have been willing to commit the same sacrifice?
This seems like a small thing. I’m sure it does. But again, it is not the act of violence itself that upsets me. It’s the un-examined, throw-away nature of the action in context. It is the clear horror and sadness on the part of the droid Captain and his death that, to me, make me not like Sabine very much. Even though this was clearly an episode meant to highlight her growth.
I have noticed other instances of this casual disregard for violence and deception in the series which disturbed me but this episode crystallized that feeling. The Clone Wars was a dark show with difficult themes about war and sacrifice. But those decisions often came with consequences and were placed into a context where you felt the emotional impact of those decisions along with the characters. Rebels may have less violence but it is much more casual and unconcerned about that violence.
And to my point about loose ends getting tied up… end of episode, there is Ezra, right as rain and still vaguely fascinated by Sabine in his adolescent way. Not even a question about leaving him behind – because of course he’s fine.