Apparently, Imperial TIE fighters, the staple one-man craft of the Imperial navy, are not only capable of atmospheric flight (as seen in The Empire Strikes Back) but also don’t have windshield wipers or even instrument-only flight capabilities, as seen in the latest episode of Star Wars: Rebels. Of course, we learn some more important things in this episode than what the shortcomings of a TIE fighter are: this episode is in fact, a pretty significant step in developing the relation of Zeb and Ezra, but overall, it’s pretty slight compared to “Spark of Rebellion” or even “Droids in Distress.” Guess what: there’s nothing wrong with that. Critics might say that “Fighter Flight” is a step backward in terms of storytelling compared to the first two outings, and doesn’t really add much to the “overall” story, that really shouldn’t matter. And it doesn’t.
First off, the show is targeted to kids, so having a breezy, humorous adventure once in a while should be expected and even welcomed. Secondly, despite the fact that modern television audiences are used to tightly-knit serialized storytelling in which each episode is an essential link to an overall arc, it wasn’t always that way. Episodes used to stand on their own. Even in the 80’s and 90’s when the serialization of episodes began to grow, it wasn’t so important that each episode slot served a story, sometimes it was enough to just develop a character or add to a relationship. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was one of the pioneers of serialized television, incorporating an ever-changing story against a lot of morally ambiguous scenarios, but even that show knew when to take a break and do episodes that stand alone. We’re still learning about the characters, we’re still enjoying the environment, but that doesn’t mean that each episode’s plot had to be as dire as the “event” episodes.
Such is the case with “Fighter Flight,” which sees Zeb and Ezra making a supply run and getting tangled up into a small firefight with some Imperial Stormtroopers. The skirmish heightens when the two of them steal a TIE fighter, which they later use to free some farmers that the Empire had arrested. The main point of this episode – that Ezra enjoys rubbing it in that he had saved Zeb in the last episode, and now Zeb just wants to even the score, is certainly not ambitious storytelling, but neither is the idea Quark bragged about killing a Klingon when in fact the Klingon was so drunk that he fell on his own knife during their barroom struggle, but it still made for a hoot of an episode for Deep Space Nine!
Rebels is a zippy show, and nearly all of the action scenes bring back memories of some of the best moments from the original trilogy. Another thing that’s present is a sense of gravity that was always present in those films: that everything is overseen by the Empire. Even in a light and fun adventure like “Fighter’s Flight,” it doesn’t take much to remind us just how dour it is to have live under the impression of the Empire. When the Imperial officers orders his troops to burn down the farm, we are reminded of the scene in A New Hope when Luke returns to his homestead to find that the Empire has burned it down and murdered his aunt and uncle.
That’s what makes Star Wars so unique: it’s an engrossing fantasy world of fun and adventure, but it’s set in stark relief to an overall grittiness that keeps the stories set in this universe more weighty.