Fans are understandably eager to get every last glimpse of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and find out what this new era of Star Wars has in store, but the first piece of new-canon material—under the tutelage of new Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy—actually debuted last year in the form of the animated series Star Wars Rebels. What’s more, it was actually good. The Disney XD show’s second season kicks off this weekend with a one-hour movie event, Star Wars Rebels: The Siege of Lothal, and it hasn’t missed a beat.
The first season of Star Wars Rebels ended with the Ghost crew being greeted by Senator Bail Organa after their defeat of The Inquisitor, who subsequently informed them that they are just one cell out of many working towards the larger rebellion. This evolution from rogue group to part of an organized rebellion looks to be the theme of Season 2, as The Siege of Lothal sees the crew struggling to find their place in this grander plan.
As the film begins, the crew is in the midst of a space battle alongside the rebellion. After their victory, they receive a message from Minister Maketh Tua, who wishes to defect from the Empire and is willing to spill secrets in return for safe passage off Lothal, where Darth Vader has begun an aggressive campaign to weed out and neutralize the rebels. A rescue mission ensues, but things go horribly wrong from the word “go” as the Ghost crew faces their most formidable foe yet in Lord Vader.
Directed by Bosco Ng and Brad Rau and written by Henry Gilroy, The Siege of Lothal is chock full of swell action set pieces, with the cornerstone being a wonderfully staged lightsaber battle between Vader, Kanan, and Ezra. It’s thrilling in its quickness, but it’s also made all the more compelling by the fact that Kanan and Ezra are slowly realizing the power of this individual with whom viewers are very, very familiar. It’s this focus on character—even in the middle of big action sequences—that makes Star Wars Rebels work so well. Nothing feels perfunctory; everything feels like it’s in service of the story and character development.
Speaking of which, The Siege of Lothal finds Kanan struggling with his place in the larger rebellion. He admits he much preferred being a ragtag group of individuals flying from base-to-base, enacting their own secretive missions. The organization of the rebellion isn’t an immediately solid fit for Kanan, and it’s his difficulty to marry his desire to help others with the necessity of falling in line that drives his character arc.
A few of the story twists are somewhat obvious, but for the most part The Siege of Lothal kicks Season 2 off in solid fashion. It’s not noticeably better than Season 1 per se, but there’s certainly no sophomore slump. There are a slew of familiar faces from Star Wars canon scattered throughout, including Ashoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And the episode concludes with a fantastic cliffhanger that has large implications for the Star Wars Rebels universe going forward. Fans both returning and new are likely to find plenty to enjoy about The Siege of Lothal, which only serves as further proof that the Star Wars universe is in excellent hands.
Star Wars Rebels: The Siege of Lothal premieres on Disney XD on Saturday, June 20th at 9pm ET/PT. New episodes will follow this fall.