Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ first arc gave us insight into the damage its titular perpetual conflict was having on the soldiers on its front line. Its second is taking a step back, examining the people behind those front lines, and Ahsoka Tano is beginning to realize the world outside her old window is not as bright as she thought it was.
Last week’s episode introduced us, and the newly exiled Ahsoka, to the Coruscanti underworld, and the people struggling to make ends meet there now that the Jedi’s focus is not on helping the people it’s sworn to defend, but commanding the Grand Armies of the Galactic Republic. In particular, it introduced us to the Martez sisters: hopeful pilot Trace, and her older, blunter sister Rafa.
While both have been hit hard by the unkind world they’ve been thrust into due to the Clone War ravaging the galaxy, Trace at least keeps some sense of optimism that one day she and her sister will be free of their debts and fly away from Coruscant, the war, and their troubles. But Rafa, unburdened by the innocent of Trace’s youth, has realized she and her sister are going to have to adapt to some harsh realities of the galaxy in order to make that escape—realities that, for now, are serving only to plunge them both ever deeper into its darkest clutches.
“Deal No Deal” sees Rafa bring Trace (and, reluctantly, Ahsoka, who cannot shake her desire to help others even as she tries to distance herself to avoid revealing her past) along on another of these harsh realities. In order to try and pay off some of their debts to a local gangster, she recruits Trace and the ship she’s dedicated her time to building for a courier job that takes them to the mining world of Kessel. It doesn’t take Ahsoka’s worldly knowledge granted from tutelage as a Jedi for us to figure out quickly where it’s going: Rafa has gotten her sister into the dangerous, grim, and exploitative world of spice smuggling.
The arc of the episode from that point on becomes a slow unraveling of the desperate scheme Rafa’s put together. Not just because Trace’s piloting skills are not quite as vaunted as she had boasted to her new best friend Ahsoka, but because the layers upon layers of twists and double-crosses Rafa has baked into her plan in an attempt to get the most credits out of it possible means the minute things start going wrong—and with spice, that’s pretty much guaranteed—everything feels doomed to collapse before their eyes.
First, it’s Trace and Ahsoka’s horror upon realizing the slavery Kessel’s spice-mining industry is built upon, leading to an argument between the trio ending with Trace rashly dumping their cargo mid-hyperspace jump. Then, it’s Rafa’s admittance that her real plan was to trade the spice with the Pyke Crime Syndicate, a lethal cabal who wouldn’t just use that spice for nefarious means, but with a rogue ex-Jedi now on the crew, probably wouldn’t mind taking a few kids way in over their heads hostage in the process. Especially when said kids find themselves forced into trying to fleece the Pykes out of their credits with now-empty crates, leading to the cliffhanger of Ahsoka, Trace, and Rafa’s escape cut off by Pyke gunships training their blasters on Trace’s ship.
The rapid spiraling of all these events paints a fascinating picture, not just to show how destabilized the galaxy has become while the Republic turns its eye away from its member worlds and onto the matters of war, but because it shows the kind of person you have to be to survive this chaotic landscape. Rafa, with no other choice to save her and her sister, has been flung into it whether she wants to be or not. You can tell from the get-go just how tragically cynical her worldview has been twisted by the war’s impact, not just for her ethically and structurally rickety scheme, but the way she treats Ahsoka throughout the episode.
Rafa is so unwilling to believe that someone could want to help her and her sister out of the kindness of their heart that she constantly needles Ahsoka with questions about what her real motivations are for landing on their doorstep, unable to assume anything but another scheming lowlife out to exploit her family for their own gain. And that’s without her realizing that, well, she’s doing exactly that to save herself and Trace too, uncaring for her sister’s feelings—nonchalantly reminding her that without the spice, Trace’s beloved ship will have to become collateral, regardless of her dreams of being a pilot. Rafa’s desperation to get out of the unfortunate hole she’s found her family in doesn’t just spiral the situation ever further out of control—it also makes the audience confront the harsh realities the ordinary citizens of Star Wars’ galaxy have to resort to, even as we marvel at the spectacle of grand conflicts, space battles and clashing laser swords abound.
It’s a realization for Ahsoka as well, not just the state of the galaxy that the Jedi and Republic are now ignoring, but for another reason too: She no longer has the authority being part of that establishment entails. No matter how many times she tries to tell Rafa and Trace just how dangerous a deal they’re getting into, she’s ignored. And every time she tries to find the moral high ground for them—why engage in a business that supports slavery, why not take the supplies and distribute them to medical facilities, why deign to work with a crime syndicate in the first place—she’s constantly batted back down by Rafa and Trace alike with the harsh, simple answer: They can’t afford that high ground if they want to survive in a galaxy at war. The Jedi can afford to moralize as they run headfirst into interstellar conflict, but the people they’ve left behind to deal with the decay and rot that war has brought? This is their reality.
It’s a harsh lesson for our former Padawan to learn. But it’s one she’ll have to, as she continues on her path away from the Jedi Temple.
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