Star Wars Rebels: Season Two Episode Fifteen, “The Honorable Ones” has a conspicuous symbol: a glowing rock that radiates minimal warmth. And it’s the light that helps both villain and hero fight for survival on a frozen moon.
The Ghost crew head to the planet Geonosis to investigate the chillingly mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants (which fans know is connected to the Death Star’s construction). Sure enough, the chaos of the mission leads to Zeb and his enemy Empire Agent Kallus stranded together on Geonosis’s freezing moon. In this situation, they cannot afford to dwell on grudge and focus their energy in escaping the cold. Together.
I’ve seen classic Enemy Mine scenarios, such as in Clone Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender. The best utilization of these plots offer fascinating interplay between antagonist and protagonist and force young viewers to meditate on the blurred lines of good and evil.
This can be considered a Zeb episode. Steve Blum extracts the resentful but restrained grudge in his vocal performance. Zeb adheres steadfastly to his Lasat warrior honor despite the temptation to harm the weakened Kallus. There is the persistent tease of the standard betrayal, with the shots of Kallus staring at potential weapons to overpower Zeb, but the episode avoids it tacitly.
But above all else, this is the Kallus episode. David Oyelowo’s performance as the authoritative Agent Kallus has always been an underrated facet because he transcends what should be a paper-thin archetype. Kallus has the checklist traits: gratification of watching his opponent perish, stony about injuring innocence, satisfaction in his job. But Oyelowo’s performance provided an authentic human edge as if to emphasize Kallus’s professionalism rather than his wickedness. He’s low-key and wants to maintain self-preservation for his occupation. Now Oyelowo plays Kallus, reduced to interdependency with his sworn enemy, even betraying trepidation and confusion in front of his enemy. With powerhouse acting, Blum and Oyelowo both sell their characters’ seething venom and the fringes of budding respect.
Kallus isn’t exactly a case like young Prince Zuko, who served as a sympathetic antagonist in Avatar’s first two seasons. Kallus isn’t the case of Stormtrooper FN-2187, aka Finn of The Force Awakens, where he disobeyed a morally wrong directive and fled to the good side. Under orders, Kallus completed brutal tasks, even if he might have asked questions. This episode does not pretend that Kallus can ever be absolved of his blood-stained past, but it suggests that Kallus has the potential to question his future actions.
It was inevitable that the “tragic backstory disclosure” would slip out, but Kevin Hops’s script carves out compelling and complicated context to Kallus’s dark past without succumbing to sentimentality. Yes, Kallus did get his signature Bo-Rifle–an assumed battle trophy–from killing a Lasat, but the irony to this story must not be spoiled, and it’s clear that Kallus reflects on the perplexing irony. Kallus also mentions a fatal encounter with a Lasat that killed his boys—Oyelowo’s delivery of “the boys and I” is rife with wounded sincerity—something that did leave Kallus a personal prejudice against the Lasat, yet it’s clarified that Kallus’s contempt never stretched into genocidal intent. Rather he complied with the genocidal instructions of the Empire. Kallus’s never really apologizes–though his admission might be close to an apology–but he wants Zeb to understand the Empire’s genocide of his Lasat species was his unpleasant duty, an order carried out with disagreement but not regret.
This does add precarious retcon. I am not too sure whether this has been the Kallus backstory planned from the start of the first season, as Kallus did mockingly declared himself as the one who gave the order to massacre the Lasat back in “Droids in Distress” while in fierce combat with Zeb. Here, he admits he took his part, but was not in the top command that demanded the genocide (“I know I took credit before for it”). It’s possible Kallas was one lower-chain commander who did give the order in deference to higher ups’ protocol. I don’t know whether this was a writer’s sleight to slide Kallus away from the spectrum of irredeemability in order for the child viewers to easily accept Kallus.
Kallus can be considered a servant of the Dark Side. Here in the universe of Star Wars, there is rarely “equal truth” applied for both Dark and Light Side, though Expanded Universe material taps into the gray morality of both. But even in the classic binary good vs. evil story, Star Wars did depict the gray in both good in evil. Kallus have found himself on some equal footing with Zeb to gloat that more citizens would join “his cause.” He believes in his Empire.
With the stark sparsity of visuals and dialogue, Kallus limping across the Empire hallway is an inspiring image. His Empire did not neglect to rescue him, but he is greeted with coldness rather than warmth. Kallus drags himself to his quarters in the coldness of his job environment and settles down with evident yet stoic sorrow. Kallus may manage a redemption arc, or he might revert to the status quo, still chasing the Rebels, cutting down rations of starving villages, and carrying out the nefarious plans of the Empire.
Regardless, the villain keeps the stone of light that the hero had given him. He may resume his evil deeds, but the truce between him and Zeb would be an enigmatic chapter in his life, as poignantly perplexing as the time he attained his Bo-Rifle.
Image from http://www.flickeringmyth.com