Warning: This recap contains spoilers for the Star Wars Rebels episode “Steps Into the Shadow.” Jump into hyperspace and away from this page if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
It’s been a minute since the season two finale of Star Wars Rebels, hasn’t it? To be fair, it’s taken six months for me to process what precisely happened to Ahsoka Tano after her duel with Darth Vader. The crew of the Ghost is still wrestling with the repercussions of the fateful trip to Malachor, too. Six months has also passed for them, and the two-part season three premiere, “Steps Into the Shadow,” depicts the changes the crew has undergone in both obvious and subtle ways.
The superficial differences are the most noticeable. Ezra’s obviously hit a growth spurt of some kind; he has a less youthful, more militaristic hairstyle. He also has a new lightsaber since Darth Vader destroyed his first one. Kanan’s come up with a sort of half mask to cover his blind eyes–the shield is a symbol of how he’s added further obstruction to his vision. Zeb has different gear, and Sabine has changed her armor and hair. Note the convor painted on her shoulder armor now–it was the owl-like creature that appeared on Malachor after Ahsoka and Vader fought. A convor also shows up in this episode.
As the episode begins, it’s immediately apparent Ezra has leveled the heck up. Given the ominous tone of the scene with Ezra looking at the Sith holocron in the season two finale, it takes zero time to realize he’s probably been meddling with the Force in unhealthy ways. He’s in a leadership role with Sabine and Zeb deferring to his command, and Ezra is taking charge with confidence. Well, overconfidence, really. I realize he’s probably been proving himself, but I was still surprised to see him running the mission to rescue Hondo Ohnaka from the Empire. As powerful as he might be, he has some youthful tendencies that aren’t ideal leader qualities.
They go a little overboard commenting on Ezra’s increased abilities since his incredible actions are happening before our eyes. It’s a little scary. Ezra uses the Jedi mind trick on an Imperial walker pilot who is yards away, takes over the controls, and wipes out more than a few stormtroopers. Between those deaths and Hondo’s Ugnaught acquaintance being killed, I don’t know how anyone can insist Rebels isn’t sufficiently “dark.” When Hera collected her crew mates, she didn’t approve of Ezra’s actions but Zeb thought they were “pretty wizard.” Honestly, wizard doesn’t get used often enough.
With the mission over, the story wastes no time letting us know Kanan’s been adrift since they returned from Malachor. He’s distanced himself, and Ezra’s turned to the holocron for help. I get where Ezra’s coming from. He believes he’s controlling it and using the knowledge within the holocron to better himself. It’s an easy trap to fall into as an adult, and he’s an impatient teen. The Presence seemed to sense his vulnerability and from what we saw, it’s been spewing Palpatine level manipulations at Ezra. Unsurprisingly, Kanan was pissed when he found out Ezra was screwing around with the holocron and took it away.
Though he was punished in that regard, Ezra’s actions during the last mission were rewarded. Commander Sato promoted him to lieutenant commander and gave him control of a new assignment to recon an Imperial facility where Y-wings were being held for destruction. The plan was based on intel given to them by Hondo, so in other words, it was a mission destined to go wrong.
Before we discuss the mission, let’s catch up with Kanan. He stayed behind on Atollon. While meditating, he was contacted through the Force. When he traced the voice, he encountered the being known as Bendu, voiced by none other than Tom Baker. This is a wise being reminiscent of Yoda and the Father on Mortis. His name is a call back to George Lucas’ original drafts for Star Wars. The Jedi were known as Bendu. The being mentions the Ashla and Bogan; these were the light and dark sides of the Force in Lucas’ initial worldbuilding. No ideas or concepts go to waste in Star Wars.
The Bendu is something between light and dark. He wasted no time calling Kanan out for being afraid and pushed him to see. I couldn’t help but think of Obi-Wan coaching Luke through fending off blasts from the training remote aboard the Millennium Falcon. The Bendu wasn’t brutal, but he got to the point and pushed Kanan out of his cocoon of blame, anger, and grief. Kanan’s realization came awfully quickly, but then again, he’s not a stubborn kid like Ezra. I believe he knew he wasn’t in tune, so to speak, and it only took a bit of nudging from the Bendu. I doubt this is the last we’ll see of the being over the season, and I look forward to learning from him.
Elsewhere, the Imperials knew precisely what the rebels are up to because they brought in a fresh face to help with the rebel problem: Grand Admiral Thrawn, voiced by Lars Mikkelsen. His screen time in the premiere was brief, but oh boy, did he make his mark. His ability to look at the galactic-sized chess board was remarked upon repeatedly, but I think the most telling moment that made Thrawn stand out from the usual Empire leadership was when he let the rebels get away (I’m getting ahead of myself, bear with me) and the shortsighted Konstantine was utterly perplexed. The rebels have dealt with Tarkin and even Darth Vader, but they won’t see Thrawn coming. Governor Pryce shouldn’t be discounted either.
Kanan’s talk with the Bendu and Thrawn making an Impression (capital I) were the highlights of the episode. The mission to analyze the Y-wing situation was action-packed and featured a handful of key character moments for Ezra, but I was so annoyed with him acting like the super angsty Harry Potter of Order of the Phoenix that I wasn’t invested. I almost wanted him to fail so he could get slapped down a peg. And he failed. Miserably. He disobeyed orders by trying to recover the ships instead of only gathering information, and his arrogance got the crew in deep trouble and resulted in Hondo stealing the Phantom.
Ezra learned from his mistakes. I appreciate how Hera didn’t go easy on him. She told him how he failed and suspended his command. If Kanan wouldn’t have gone with Hera to save Ezra’s skin, who knows what would have happened. Everything shouldn’t be all fine and dandy between master and Padawan, though. They have past trauma and trust and more to work on together, and I hope we see those elements develop across the season. I also don’t think Ezra’s in the clear from the influence of the dark side; he’s walking the line.
I can’t wrap up without saying how much I’ve missed Chopper and his expressive little arms over the past six months. He was possibly more cantankerous than usual. I wonder if AP-5’s been rubbing off on him.
What do you think about Grand Admiral Thrawn’s first appearance? How many dollars do you want to bet on Ezra turning to the dark side? Talk to me in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.
Images: Disney XD