[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 14.]
Last week's two-part, midseason premiere firmed up many of the connections between Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, featuring another appearance from Saw Gerrera and more hints of the superweapon the Empire is secretly building (psst! it's the Death Star). "Ghosts of Geonosis" was an exciting episode, filled with thrilling action and important character beats - just an all around great start for season 3's back half.
Tonight's episode, "Warhead" - written by Gary Whitta and directed by Bosco Ng - naturally dials things back just a bit, strictly focusing on a smaller adventure for Zeb, Chopper, and AP-5. While the rest of the Ghost crew are off on a training exercise, Hera leaves Zeb in charge of Chopper base. Everything's quiet (apart from AP-5's complaining) until Zeb comes across a strange droid while investigating some unusual meteor strikes. Bringing it back to the base, the droid is reactivated and quickly begins cataloguing everything in sight. However, a message from Fulcrum informs Zeb that this unassuming logistics droid is actually the Empire's latest weapon - an Imperial Infiltrator Droid, programmed to seek out Rebel bases and report back with intel.
"Captain Orrelios, At Your Service"
If there's one member of the Star Wars Rebels' ensemble who hasn't received quite as much focus this season as everyone else, it's Zeb Orrelios. (Excuse me, Captain Orrelios.) When it comes to missions, Zeb is more often than not limited in his roles - the grunt work, AP-5 calls it, "lift heavy things and punch anything in your way." But in "Warhead", Hera leaves Zeb in charge, and just as he did in an earlier episode this season, Zeb more than proves himself trustworthy of being given such responsibility.
After bringing the innocent looking droid onto the base, it doesn't take long before it transforms into a murder machine and Zeb, Chopper, and AP-5 are hunting it down like a scene out of Aliens. Zeb takes point, and while AP-5 initially scoffs at his suggestion - "Grab it? That's your plan!?" - it all ends up working out perfectly, with Chopper acting as bait, Zeb tackling and restraining the droid, allowing AP-5 to shut it down.
Of course, shutting down the Infiltrator Droid only initiates its Imperial anti-capture fail-safe (AKA a proton warhead embedded within and armed to explode), but again, Zeb has a rather ingenious plan to deal with that, too. (After Chop's quick-thinking to freeze the countdown circuits, that is.) Unable to just move the droid a safe distance from the base and risk the Empire coming to look for it, Zeb instructs AP-5 to reprogram it so that the countdown is only re-initiated when the droid returns to the Empire. Upon arrival back on the Star Destroyer, the droid connects with the Empire's system and just as it begins transmitting all the valuable data it's collected - BOOM. Hey, that Lasat is more than just a pretty face.
Way back in the very early days of pre-production on the original Star Wars, illustrator Ralph McQuarrie worked on several concept designs for the film and was enormously instrumental in nailing down the style of Star Wars. McQuarrrie's work continues to have a strong influence on the look of Star Wars even today, and in fact, his original concepts for both Chewbacca and R2-D2 would later become the designs for Zeb and Chopper on Star Wars Rebels.
In this episode, we're introduced to a new Imperial droid, and wouldn't you know it, but it appears that the Imperial Infiltrator Droid also pulls inspiration from McQuarrie's artwork. While in its unassuming protocol mode, the Infiltrator Droid looks noticeably similar to McQuarrie's initial design for C-3PO (minus the gold paint job, of course). It's a minor detail, but it's only further proof of McQuarrie's enduring influence on the Star Wars universe - something Rebels is always keen to remind us of.
"But The War Will Be Ours"
The Infiltrator Droid is a wholly new idea for Star Wars and one that no doubt will irritate those who don't like new technology being added to already established eras. Still, it's a brilliant addition to the Empire's arsenal, using the Rebellion's predilection for stealing Imperial droids and reprogramming them (see AP-5 and Rogue One's K-2SO as evidence) against them.
And even though the Infiltrator Droid doesn't work quite as intended when it shows up at Chopper Base, we learn during a scene between Grand Admiral Thrawn and Agent Kallus that this particular failure wasn't a total loss. Ever the tactician, Thrawn finds the silver lining - in sending back the sabotaged Infiltrator Droid, they can now significantly narrow their search for the Rebel's base from thousands of planets to just the 94 planets he deployed the Infiltrators. So while the Rebels may have kept their base a secret this time, it won't be long before the Empire is knocking on their door.
"Warhead" was, as expected, a smaller episode than the midseason premiere, but it was no less entertaining. The interplay between Zeb, Chopper, and AP-5 was great fun, and the whole scenario with the Infiltrator Droid served as a reminder that Zeb's capable of more than just lifting and punching. Though, even Zeb's (and Chopper's) quick-thinking won't be enough to defeat Thrawn, and for every move the Rebels make, the Grand Admiral remains two steps ahead.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday with "Trials of the Darksaber" @8:30pm on Disney XD.