One of the biggest curiosities about Star Wars has always been the issue of storm troopers. The storm troopers themselves are just as iconic as just about anything else in Star Wars, and with countless memes everywhere on the internet, it’s amazing that these particular soldiers and their distinct armor – which, mind you, originated in the relatively low budget original film that had its money set aside for bigger things such as full-sized spaceship props, droids, and model work that had never been attempted before – have become so recognizable to even people who hate Star Wars, or science fiction in general. “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” was Leia’s big question to a disguised Luke in the original film, and since the prequels solidified the notion that Empire’s original armies of storm troopers were all clones, were the storm troopers shown in the original films clones as well? Well the general consensus from the Star Wars fan community has been that eventually, the Empire started recruiting their soldiers, and that the storm troopers that we see in the classic trilogy represent a mixture of clones and regular recruits. Since Star Wars Rebels is officially canon in the mind of Lucasfilm, we can say that this fan theory has been correct.
“Breaking Ranks” offers fans their first look at the Imperial Academy (first mentioned in A New Hope) and delves, for the first time, into the recruitment process for the non-clone storm troopers. The resulting story is much better as a television episode than something that should be included in the films. After all, there is something so ominous about storm troopers, and how their seemingly endless numbers remind us of the far reach of the Empire, that to learn too much about them in the classic trilogy would have belittled their impact. However, for an episode geared toward kids, it’s perfectly serviceable material. The episode finds Ezra on a long-term undercover mission posing as a fresh storm trooper hopeful and using his “see things before they happen” Jedi skills to excel in the various tests young troopers have in order to obtain a decoder from the office of a high-ranking official. What makes this plot unique, especially as a kids show, is not only how the various drills increase in difficulty, but that these children must turn on each other in order to have a chance of passing. All of the initial drills involve the children climbing out of a rather unique pit involving moving platforms, but, after the initial and relatively harmless first drill, the children are given guns that are to be used to not only activate the platforms, but to shoot and painfully stun other competitors to get ahead. This is a rather dark notion for a plot that features children we grow to like as the major players.
The B-Story involves the Ghost playing a dangerous gambit in a nearby sector to destroy the Kaiber crystal, which is stored on a large Imperial spacecraft that’s part of a convoy. Fans familiar with Star Wars probably know that, in his initial drafts, George Lucas imagined that perhaps the Force could originate from something like the mysterious Kaiburr crystal. Rebels has never been afraid to draw its inspiration from some of these original notions (as in Zeb posing as a hairless wookie to fool some storm troopers in an early episode is rather fitting since his own designs resembles Ralph McQuarrie’s original painting of what Chewbacca could look like), but we don’t get a lot of information about the crystal here. Instead, what we do get is pretty cool space battle between the Ghost and the transports that reminds us that there is no franchise that does space combat better than Star Wars. The skirmish here just “feels” right.
Back at the Academy, Ezra eventually learns that the top recruits will eventually be brought to serve the Emporer, and so he and his new friends hatch a plan to escape to steal a walker to escape. The resulting battle also “feels” right for Star Wars.
“Breaking Ranks” is one of the episodes intended to offer more detail to how the Empire works, and was, by design, not intended to reach the peaks of adventure as shown in the pilot and “Rise of the Old Masters.” The cynical viewer might call it a let-down, or a “filler” episode, but consider this: It was tough enough for the producers to keep the dark reality of who storm troopers are and what they represent despite the fact that plot itself is largely driven by the desire of hopeful children to become those very storm troopers and to serve this evil Empire. As a result, “Breaking Ranks” winds up being more intriguing than exciting, and for a show that must sustain itself over a long period of time, intrigue must sometimes be the priority.
My rating: 4.2/5