The Myth of "Filler" Episodes

Images Used Courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd. 

Filler episodes. That’s the phrase many fans have used to describe various episodes of Season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels. They would say, “Oh, that episode with the Iron Squadron was just a filler episode.” This is hardly something new to Rebels though. Fans were crying “filler” all the way back to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. When an episode about droids or pirates kept us from getting back to Darth Maul’s story, fans would cry “filler” because they were so excited to find out what would happen between Maul and Kenobi that they didn’t want anything else. “Filler” became synonymous with “episode that’s keeping me away from a story I’m more interested in.” This doesn’t seem to fit with the way “filler” was used to describe this season of Star Wars: Rebels though. The word’s usage this season seems to have been used in a way that means “episode that doesn’t advance the plot.” After having seen the whole season, all the episodes that fans called “filler” episodes actually contributed to either our depth of knowledge of the characters or to building the overarching plot.

Many fans were not thrilled with the episodes “The Wynkathu Job,” “Warhead,” and “Double Agent Droid,” but these episodes all helped build the characters of the crew of the Ghost. In “The Wynkathu Job,” Ezra is tricked into helping Hondo once again. While both fans and the crew of the Ghost were getting tired of Ezra’s naivety in trusting scoundrels and former Sith, it’s in this episode that we see Ezra begin to catch on. After watching Hondo choose his score over the life of another “business associate,” Ezra begins to realize that Hondo will always look out for Hondo over everyone else. Ezra applies this lesson during his interactions with Maul later on in the season as well. Compared to how Ezra kind of trusts Maul at the end of the second season and the beginning of the third, he doesn’t past this point. He has learned that even though he wants to believe others can change just as he did, not everyone wants to.  

In addition to providing a lot of humor through AP-5’s constant disparaging remarks about Zeb’s intelligence, “Warhead” also provided our favorite Lasat with the opportunity to show exactly why he was a Captain of the Lasan Honor Guard. While he physically wrestles with the droid, he also wrestles with how to preserve the secrecy of the Rebel base while also preventing the infiltrator droid’s self-destruction. Through a clever plan, Zeb is able to stall the completion of the droid’s detonation until it is back in Imperial hands. It turns out that Zeb is a lot more than just muscles and loyalty wrapped in a cuddly, furry exterior.

“Double Agent Droid” provides a plethora of small character moments. Wedge learns that he’s not a fan of bickering droids (Welcome to Star Wars, Wedge!); AP-5 shows depth in how he’s able to piece together that Chopper has been hijacked; and Hera shows her terrifying side when she reroutes power back through Chopper in order to blow up the Imperial Controller’s station. All of these small moments add another piece to the puzzles that are those characters, and we’re left getting a more developed idea of who they are.

Other episodes have moments of character development but exist mostly to set up emotional payoffs later on in the season. Despite the inherent coolness of seeing Mandalorians, the real strength of the episode “Imperial Supercommandos” is how it sets up Fenn Rau as Sabine’s mentor in the ways of Mandalore. We see this relationship pay of when we get to the superb “Trials of the Darksaber.” Rau is able to provide Sabine with the tools and tutoring to spar against Ezra. He also advises her once she is reunited with her family.

The most consistently powerful thread throughout the third season was Agent Kallus’s espionage. Two episodes in danger of being labeled “filler” move this story along: “The Antilles Extraction” and “An Inside Man.” After initially revealing himself to Sabine when she rescues Wedge and Hobbie from the Imperial flight academy, Kallus cements his role as a Rebel spy when he helps Kanan and Ezra escape Lothal. This thread culminates in the exceptional “Through Imperial Eyes” in which Thrawn deduces that Kallus is the spy before springing his trap and capturing Kallus during the season finale.

Perhaps the episode most labeled “filler” throughout the season was “Iron Squadron.” While many fans celebrated the return of the YT-2400 freighter made famous by Dash Rendar’s version called “The Outrider,” the story and characters were met with a lukewarm reception. This episode gains profound significance given Commander Sato’s sacrifice in the season finale. The leader of the Iron Squadron is Mart Madsen, who came into “command” because his father was killed in the fight against the Empire. Commander Sato was the only blood he had left, and now he’s gone, too. This one “filler” episode makes Sato’s death more poignant because we’ve seen who he’s left behind.

The term “filler episode” is unfair. It assumes that we fans (who haven’t seen the entire season) know where things are leading better than the actual creators of the show. It would be fairer to just admit that we didn’t enjoy the episode then wait in anticipation to see if later episodes add more value to them. When Star Wars: Rebels returns for its fourth season, we should all try our best to avoid crying “filler” and just enjoy the journey of the season instead.

Was there a “filler” episode that gained more importance for you as the season went on? Do you have comments, questions, or concerns? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 !