The following review was written based on an early screening of the Star Wars Rebels season 3 premiere as screened at Star Wars Celebration Europe. It will be as spoiler-free as possible, and will only discuss things that were announced in the live-streamed panel and trailer. Spoilers for the season 2 finale will be preset, however. Proceed with this in mind.
Since before The Force Awakens, the animated worlds of Dave Filoni and his team have kept the Star Wars dream alive on TV, while faith in the films had been all but lost. With Star Wars: The Clone Wars, he was beholden to a very particular period of time and yet still introduced many great characters and themes under the tutelage of George Lucas himself. With Star Wars Rebels, he’s given an even freer hand and the show truly IS the continuity in television form. With the premiere of season 3, the show brings in characters both old and new as the danger of the Empire and the urgency of the Rebellion deepens.
It’s been an unidentified amount of time since the finale of season 2, in which Darth Maul introduced Ezra Bridger to the Sith Holocron, which awoke in him the Dark Side. Maul also blinded Ezra’s mentor Kanan Jarrus, while Ahsoka Tano’s fate is uncertain following a duel with Darth Vader. Ezra is older, taller, with shorter hair, and a much firmer grasp of his Force powers, both light and dark. The season opens with him, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper on a mission to rescue their old pal/nemesis, the pirate Hondo. During the rescue, Ezra proves his leadership ability, which will ultimately lead to arrogance for a time.
Meanwhile, Kanan has been despondent in his blindness and has removed himself from all Phoenix Squadron activities, and specifically seems to have abandoned Ezra and the others. While meditating on the planet, he’s called toward a strange voice. It is the beast known as Bendu (voiced by the amazing Tom Baker!), who is a “Force Wielder,” but one the likes of which we’ve never seen. He’s neither Jedi nor Sith (“I’m the one in the middle”) and he begins to teach Kanan about the balance he is missing.
The final piece of this puzzle is the Empire, which is not having as much luck as they ought to be having in the fight against the Rebellion. Governor Pryce asks Grand Moff Tarkin for a larger fleet, and along with that comes a new enemy–Grand Admiral Thrawn (voiced by Lars Mikkelsen; yes, Mads’ brother), made canon again through Filoni and company’s doing. His plan is to let the Rebels become their own downfall, looking for the bigger picture. We don’t get to see much of him in the premiere, but he certainly makes an impression.
The big takeaway of this two part episode–aside from the always-awesome action and visuals–is just how much more grown-up it feels. I’m finding it hard to think back to those seemingly carefree days on Lothal when Ezra was an annoying kid who eventually joined up with the Ghost and her crew. He’s become a young man, and his skills are truly impressive, though his awareness of it has made him think he knows best when he clearly doesn’t, and a rash decision made on the big mission puts the lives of Sabine, Zeb, Chopper, Rex, Hondo, and himself in jeopardy, not to mention getting dangerously close to wanton murder of Imperials. Maul isn’t done with him, and though the character himself doesn’t appear in the episode, his reach is very far, and Ezra is clearly somehow enthralled.
Kanan will have to face his own fear and uncertainty and I think it’s awesome that Bendu seems to be the one to do it. Kanan needs to understand elements of the Dark Side if he’s going to keep Ezra from falling down the quick and easy path. Bendu perhaps best understands that the force itself cannot be used for good or evil, but it’s the will of the user that makes it go one way or the other. Just like in the cave in The Empire Strikes Back, you’ll find only what you bring.
The fight feels more immediate and much grander. Things are set in place that puts Rebels firmly in the continuity leading up (eventually) to A New Hope. I wouldn’t be surprised if, eventually, characters from Rogue One start to show up, since that will all happen before Luke and the Death Star. As it stands, though, Rebels is not just a repository for film continuity as something like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to be, but is its own rich and deep tapestry. It’s certainly not all fun and games anymore, but it hadn’t gone full darkness yet. It hasn’t lost the spirit of hope that it’s always had, which made it so special in the first place.
The third season of Star Wars Rebels will premiere this fall. I’m already way excited. Can’t it happen now?!?!
Images: Lucasfilm/Disney XD