Rebels is much loved for its phenomenal episodes, such as “Twilight of the Apprentice,” and much maligned for its “filler” episodes, which is what most would consider the most recent episode, “Warhead.” However, this episode is not a filler in any way, because it shows us exactly why the Rebellion was able to topple the Empire.
Trust. Loyalty. Respect.
It is no accident that this episode starts in the same manner as The Empire Strikes Back. Such is when the Galactic Civil War is coming to a head and the rebels are at their most desperate. It is very reminiscent of where the rebels are at the time we are seeing currently in Rebels.
How then, did an undermanned and under armed Rebel Alliance overcome the most powerful, deep fighting force ever created in the galaxy? Through trusting each other, being loyal, and respecting that, even if they did not like each other, they were all fighting for the greater good.
We see all of these qualities in Zeb, AP-5, and Chopper in this episode, especially as far as AP-5 and Zeb are concerned. Throughout this episode they have to learn to trust one another or else be caught by the Empire. Through the trials fighting the Imperial droid, they gain a better understanding of each other, and begrudgingly come to respect one another. This respect will builds a loyalty because they both want the same thing.
This is the same thing we see throughout the original trilogy. Luke’s loyalty to his father redeems Anakin. His trust in his friends is what helps him save Han from Jabba’s palace. Leia’s respect for the cause is what allows her to overcome any grief she is feeling at the destruction of her home planet and continue fighting the good fight.
Even in Rogue One, trust, loyalty, and respect are essential to the stealing of the Death Star plans. Jyn Erso says it herself when speaking to Cassian, “Trust goes both ways.” The crew’s loyalty to one another is what binds them, and even if they are in the fight for different reasons they learn to trust and respect one another in the same way that Zeb and AP-5 do here.
In contrast, the Empire as all about deception, destruction, and power plays. The Imperial droid at first appears simply to be a protocol droid, but that is a deception aimed at destruction. Sending the droids is a power play by Thrawn, showing that he does not even need to get his hands dirty in order to topple the Rebellion.
Grand Moff Tarkin and Director Orson Krennic are the pinnacle in this type of leadership during the time of the Death Star’s construction. From Catalyst all the way through Rogue One we see the two tugging back and forth like little children with a toy, trying to gain control over the Death Star and please Papa Palpatine. They don’t trust each other, and thus they have to shield themselves in their own pride and arrogance. This is the same arrogance that bleeds through when Krennic proclaims, “I have lost nothing! Just time.” Mere minutes after that he dies, ironically by the thing he was so proud of building. And who pulls the trigger? Tarkin. The same Tarkin who days later would arrogantly say, “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.” His arrogance, bred through deception, destroying others, and building power, is the death of him. And the death of the Empire.
Without trusting each other, the Rebel Alliance would have been decimated. They were undermanned and overpowered, but like a championship football team they each did their job to the best of their ability, trusting the man or woman next to them to do the same. Look at what happened when Zeb trusted that the Imperial droid was harmless. It almost cost the entire Rebellion because one of their leaders trusted the wrong thing. However, when he trusts in the right thing, AP-5 and Chopper, he is able to win the day. Just like the rebels in Rogue One. Just like the overmatched in A New Hope. Just like the Alliance in Return of the Jedi. As much as love is a theme in Star Wars, trust, loyalty, and respect are why the Rebellion won the war.