Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rebels Season 3 finale review

I suck at my job.
So, a few thoughts on the Star Wars Rebels Season 3 finale (spoilers, duh). In my mind, it was very splashy, but also a bit of a mess. The two biggest problems were Sabine and Thrawn. Both don't really work in this episode. Sabine first. Her arc, while consistent, saw her totally sidelined in the latter part of the season, which makes bringing her back a bit difficult, especially without any foreshadowing of this move. Thus, when with great sacrifices the Ghost made contact, I wasn't engaged.

This was worsened by the fact that the dithering of House Wren was totally unnecessary. The whole story structure screamed that they would come, and their reasoning made their about-face after unbelievable and a purely plot-driven rather than stemming from character motivation. So Sato's sacrifice didn't actually accomplish anything, because the objective was too detached from the plot these last episodes. Second, Thrawn. He sucks ass. Not as a character, necessesarily, he makes for a good villain with his chilling attitude.

Thus solving the problem once and for all. ONCE AND FOR ALL!
The problem is that the man is a walking cliche, and and not one of the good ones but one that never ever works, specifically: the STRATEGIC MASTERMIND (tm). Thrawn is so brillant as to even outwit the best thinkers we know, yet for plot reasons he has to fail anyway. So what happens? His supposed strategic brillance is entirely due to always knowing what the plot is. Seriously, this is like Sherlock in the BBC series. His deductions make sense with hindsight but there is always, ALWAYS, another solution that is equally likely. Or else the Rebels fuck up for no reason, as with Kallus. So Thrawn, the MASTERMIND (tm), does what this archetype always does and draws up a needlessly complicated masterplan to end the enemy in one giant, highly complex strike.

This of course fails because suddenly he forgets to take something in account - in this case, the force creature aiding (?) Kanan - which also fell flat for me by the way - and the insubordination of Konstantine that also has zero buildup and fails for the same reasons that the Sabine mission does. Konstantine's disregarding orders will end with his death even in the best of circumstances, and these are really not those. All he does is taking out a ship that isn't vital to the rebel cause anyway.

We really should be fucked now.
But even then, Thrawn would still win. At this point he destroyed five rebel ships, including their only carrier, has their base under siege and the rebels still can't get away. So instead of simply winning the space battle and then engaging in ground operations, he abdicates any control over the vital part of the mission by going down on the planet, where he is stopped only by the monster. Really, the efforts in defense are laufghable and token because of the lopsided strength. What exactly should those mines do?!

So deus ex machina again. At the same time, the rebels escape, losing another ship or two in the process. The thing is: if Thrawn had used just the most uninspired Imperial officer to follow protocol, the victory would have been much greater. Look at the picture: the Imperials lose two medium sized ships to six or seven Rebel ships. They also lose a bunch of AT-AT and AT-ST. Nothing of this is even noteworthy. On the other side, the Rebels lose their only other base besides Yavin, HALF THEIR FLEET even before Rogue One, and the Mandalorians lose a shitload of troops as well and are totally exposed to a takeover by the Imperial partisans, which Thrawn could throw some aid to in any case. This is an utter disaster for the Rebels. Had he not aimed to destroy them all but MOST of them, he would have defanged the rebellion then and there and most likely broken the alliance. All he gave them this way is a narrative for hope. And this always happens with the strategic masterminds, because as antagonists, they're really bad. With no flaws by design, you always have to cook shit up or let them start making mistakes for no reason. Nothing would be as terrifying to the Rebel cause as a mediocre officer following protocol, but instead they always get geniuses, evil lords with religious agendas or morons. Lucky rebels.


  1. An excellent argument for why Masterminds usually suck as antagonists. Thanks Stefan! Unless you have dueling masterminds, the brilliant antagonist usually has to lose because the Dungeon Master Hates You.

    I will offer some defense and say that I think you pointed to Thrawn's actual flaw: he's a hubristic artist, and has a compulsion for elegance and complete mastery over the world. The Mastermind Antagonist's flaw is often that he is too clever to be wise (metaphor for the dark side of the human race). A brilliant multi-faceted plan is a work of art, but it's not a good ROI strategy for exactly the reason you point out. It depends on dozens of things going right at once, which leaves so many vulnerable points for the heroes (or Deus Ex Machina) to poke at.

    One of the Empire's defining traits is that it seeks total mastery over all beings in the universe. Thrawn embodies that by requiring total mastery of the universe itself. He doesn't just want to win, history is his work of art to be shaped by his design and aesthetic whims. By insisting on perfection, he opens himself to vulnerability. The rebels, being more wise (if not as clever), stick to common sense and exploit what they can to win. It's not a perfect thematic struggle, but I do think there's more here than that The Dungeon Master Hates Thrawn.

    1. Thanks for the reply. I absolutely guess what you're saying. The problem is that the "brillant mastermind" stuff always pulls things and themes to the plot level, and said plot level sucks.

    2. Ahh, that's interesting. The more you depend on the plot to make your story interesting, the worse off you are (maybe there are rare exceptions). Are you saying that plot can be a nice part of a story but is primarily useful for pacing, and overreliance on it can kill the joy of a story? Kind of similar to your recent argument in the last BLAH episode that "mysterious backstory" is only interesting if you're already interested enough in the characters to care about their world?