Zeb and Agen Kallus find themselves trapped in a bromance and must rely on one another to survive an episode tailor-made for slash fic writers.
Well it’s true. All joking aside Rebels finally gave us something I never expected, that being an imperial villain with depth and humanity, and it came across completely credibly. Mostly. Kind of. Yet brilliantly. There are some minor and not so minor problems, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Zeb and Kallus find themselves trapped in… wait, I said that already in the intro already… well, they have a duel of low gravely sexy voices and learn they’re not so different from one another. How touching. No, really.
Upon first reading the synopsis for The Honorable Ones, I knew this would be a difficult story to pull off convincingly. I love developing villains with depth and dimension, but the big problem is the villain in question is Agent Kallus, who has been made out to be a complete bastard so far without much nuance, with crimes including genocide, kicking a hapless stormtrooper to his doom, leaving his men behind, murdering Minister Tua and burning down Tarkin Town with a smile on his face each time (also those muttonchops…). I realize Star Wars has a proud history of redeeming villains, but it’s normally force users and they’re sort of in their own category. Kallus doesn’t have the excuse of being corrupted by the dark side, especially since the ISB is the Star Wars equivalent of the Gestapo so it was a little hard to accept the premise for this episode.
So yes, the number one drawback is how hard it is to ignore the inconsistent feel to Kallus as a character. The only “human” moment he ever had was reacting with shock and appall to Tarkin’s execution of Grint and Aresko. Up until now he’s been portrayed as an ambitious, ruthless fascist who carries out his job with zeal, but here we’re supposed to see him as the man honor bound by duty with good intentions and obeying orders without question. As he is presented in “The Honorable Ones” it appears now this may have been his coping method for having to commit such horrible deeds. It would have worked better had Kallus had a few more human moments prior to this, as here his softening and even friendliness towards Zeb just feels abrupt.
And yet, in spite of this handicap Rebels is thankfully keeping up the drama it so masterfully pulled off in the previous episode, with plenty of pathos and empathy between the two characters. While it does seem a bit like backtracking and retconning Kallus’ character, in the context of the episode itself his character development was perfectly executed. One of the big reasons I accepted this new angle on Kallus is due to his actor, David Oyelowo, who (should have been nominated for an academy award last year) has an insane ability to convey a number of complex emotions in all his lines, even in season one his voice mixed confidence and malice with an undercurrent of fear. To see Kallus open up to Zeb in such a human and empathetic way did feel a tad rushed, and yet it was hard not to be moved by it with his performance. The new angle on Kallus appears to be that he is a misguided loyal soldier who believes the Empire is bringing peace to the galaxy, but has had to compromise his humanity and decency in the name of loyalty, and it plays out so well it was impossible not to feel sorry for the guy. They even retcon his offscreen actions from season one to lessen his evilness. We also get a bit of backstory as Kallus reveals his own squad was massacred by a Lasat (working for Saw Gerrera!), to which Zeb claims this isn’t a reason to judge all of his people, to which Kallus then questions if this logic applies to imperials. Given the imperials we’ve seen so far… not really, which Zeb fortunately points out. Still, I like the prospect of more complex villains from this point on, and this seems like a no turning back point for Kallus.
If I had one other complaint it would be the “bromance” aspect, but I’d be lying if I said these little moments weren’t getting little “Aw”s out of me, even if it felt a little fast. Overall Kallus acted just a little too nice towards Zeb for someone normally so callous. Whoa… I just got that. How subtle these villain names are in Star Wars.
Obviously Kallus gets the spotlight this week, but Zeb too gets plenty of development at the same time, with both Blum and Oyelowo playing off one another brilliantly. Without his big spiritual awakening a few episodes prior his actions wouldn’t be at all believable here, but to see him forgive Kallus and even see them both mutually respect one another was powerful and not what I expected from a show where the villains have been so one-dimensional. In the end we the audience, and Kallus, see the clear dichotomy of the Empire and Rebels. After witnessing the rebels warmly welcome Zeb home like family, Kallus limps home and is barely acknowledged for being alive by Admiral Konstantine. I have to say this was a very poignant little moment seeing Kallus with such a clear longing in his eyes for the sort of camaraderie his enemies share, and this realization clearly has him questioning everything as the episode ends with sad and bleak music. This strongly indicates that Kallus will become the “Zuko” of Star Wars Rebels. Do I unfairly compare this show to Avatar the Last Airbender too much?
“The Honorable Ones” focuses most heavily on the drama, but we get at least one great action sequence to kick off the episode in a new Ralph Mccquarie inspired setting over Geonosis. The rest of the episode is fairly tame in terms of action but the relationship between Zeb and Kallus is enough to sustain the rest of the story, all in all adding up to a pretty incredible episode even if hard to accept in some regards. I fear the first half of this season of Rebels left me feeling cynical and suspicious of each upcoming episode, and so I tend to harp on the negative and cover my enthusiasm with snark (wow, just like Kallus) so don’t mistake anything I’ve said for disdain. This is an incredibly moving and poignant episode of Rebels.
-In less capable hands this episode could have come off as a bad fanfiction. Seriously, from a critical standpoint I had to penalize this episode slightly, but as a Star Wars fanboy I wanted to just gush all over this one. And I did…
-So what does this mean for the future with Kallus? He was clearly rethinking his life at the end of the episode, having experienced genuine camaraderie with Zeb only to return to his empty imperial life. What I’m hoping is he stays with the Empire and becomes our POV character on the enemy side, maybe is put in a position later where he finally has to make a choice and then either joins the good guys… or tragically can’t get past his devotion to the Empire and goes worse…
-More Death Star foreshadowing… I expect it to be a few seasons before we see the thing, but it is nice to have the show giving the feel of a much larger arc in store.
-I assume the Geonosians were wiped out by the Empire as part of Disney’s “destroy all trace of the prequels” initiative.
-The plot point of Saw Garera was not lost on anyone I hope. This pretty much tells us he’ll be coming up soon… and possibly he’ll be the rebel who is more of a terrorist thus prompting that discussion? It was Cham… I keep predicting someone is going to fill that role…
-Zeb tells Kallus to call him by his name. I thought we were going to get Kallus’ fist name but alas not.
-“Karabast, karabast, what does that even mean?!” I’ve never been a fan of Zeb’s catchphrase so this line got a big laugh out of me.
-Chopper is such a little boner.