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Josh Reviews Star Wars Rebels Season 3

April 24th, 2017
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I was dubious about Star Wars Rebels when it first launched.  I was still sore over the premature cancellation of The Clone Wars and not that interested in what looked like a very kid-centric new show.  But I gave it a try with an open mind, and the early episodes were enough to keep my interestThe final episodes of season one were terrific, and I was thrilled by the involvement of Darth Vader and Ahsoka (a popular character with an unfinished story from The Clone Wars) in season two.  There were moments in season two that were as good as Star Wars had been in twenty years, in my opinion.  With The Force Awakens and then Rogue One bringing back Star Wars in a big way, I was eager to see where Rebels would go in season three.

While season three does not have the incredible high-points of season two (am I exaggerating to say that Ahsoka’s discovery that her master Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader is one of the greatest moments in the entire Star Wars saga?  It’s a shocking and heartbreaking scene), it is nevertheless a very solid, very entertaining season filled with some wonderful episodes and exciting connections to and expansions upon the wider Star Wars universe.

It’s tough to beat using Darth Vader as the main villain of season two, but showrunner Dave Filoni and his team made the perfect choice to use Grand Admiral Thrawn as the villain here in season three.  Thrawn was introduced as the villain of Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire, way back in 1991.  Back then, Star Wars was only the original three movies.  Mr. Zahn’s trilogy of novels was the first attempt at continuing the Star Wars story beyond the events of Return of the Jedi.  The success of those novels led to the explosion of Star Wars novels (the “expanded universe”) and comics and, I am convinced, had a hand in the eventual return of Star Wars to the big screen with the Special Editions and eventually the prequel films.  (But don’t blame Timothy Zahn for that!!)  Mr. Zahn’s novels are terrific, and Thrawn was a spectacular villain.  So the idea that Thrawn would finally be brought into “official” on-screen Star Wars canon was a delicious prospect for fans when this was first announced last year.

Rebels season three did not disappoint.  Thrawn looked perfect, and he was wonderfully brought to life by Lars Mikkelsen, who perfectly voices the silky-smooth manipulator.  I loved seeing Thrawn popping up throughout the season.  While of course his appearances aren’t as exciting as those of Vader, the show admirably took the time to develop Thrawn as a patient schemer, just as he was in Mr. Zahn’s novels.  It takes the whole season for Thrawn to bring his hammer down on the rebels, but when he does, it works.  More on this in a moment.

Rebels season three was filled with connections to the broader Star Wars saga.  I liked seeing Wedge in “The Antilles Extraction.”  I loved how the final episodes of the season featured all the famous rebel leaders, from Mon Mothma to Bail Organa to even General Dodonna.  (I believe the finale, “Zero Hour,” was the first time that General Dodonna’s name was actually spoken on screen in any Star Wars iteration!)  I loved seeing Tarkin again (who, of course, was also back in a big way in Rogue One.)

Following Rogue One, I was hugely excited that Saw Gerrera (who had first appeared in the animated Clone Wars series) was incorporated into the two-part “Ghosts of Geonosis”.  That was a very cool idea, and I was thrilled that Forest Whitaker, who played Saw in Rogue One, returned to voice the character on Rebels.  Unfortunately, that episode was a bit of a disappointment, as they didn’t really flesh out Saw the way I had hoped.  Still, cool idea.  I’d love to see more of Saw next season.  (And maybe some other characters from Rogue One like Cassian Andor…??)

One of my favorite things about Rebels season 2 was the way Dave Filoni and his team brought back characters from The Clone Wars, as a way to give some closure to fans of that cancelled-before-its-time show.  To my delight, Rebels season 3 continued this.  I loved the return of Hondo Ohnaka in the premiere, “Steps into Shadow,” and then again in “The Wynkahthu Job”.  Hondo was a great character from The Clone Wars, and I like the way Rebels has developed his relationship with Ezra.  I also continuing to see Rex this season, and it was fun to see Battle Droids and other Clone Wars style droids and equipment in “The Last Battle.”

The standout episode of Rebels season 3 was, of course, “Twin Suns,” in which Ezra discovers that Obi-Wan Kenobi is still alive and tracks him down to Tatooine, where Obi-Wan and Darth Maul have their final confrontation.  This episode is great on so many levels.  First of all, it is amazing to see the Alec Guinness version of Obi-Wan.  I love the way they designed and animated this older version of Obi-Wan (transitioning from the character’s appearance in The Clone Wars and the slightly different look they gave him when the holographic recording of Obi-Wan was featured early in season one), and he was perfectly voiced by Stephen Stanton.  The moment in which we see Obi-Wan’s lightsaber stance shift from his Episode III style (with two fingers pointed forward) to his Episode IV style (with his lightsaber held back over his shoulder, like a baseball bat), was genius.  And then that confrontation with Darth Maul.  Wow.  I loved that The Clone Wars brought back Maul and was able to flesh him out and give him his due as a villain.  It was so painful when Clone Wars was cancelled and Maul’s story was left unfinished, so I was thrilled when Rebels brought back an older, broken version of Maul.  How perfect that his story ends where it began, in battle with Obi-Wan.  I was expecting an awesome fight and so, like everyone, I was shocked that the Maul/Obi-Wan fight lasted only seconds, but what a perfect choice that was.  Of course Obi-Wan could kick Maul’s tuchas at that point.  I loved that Maul tried to use the move that beat Qui-Gon on Obi-Wan, and I loved that of course Obi-Wan was ready for it.  I loved that Maul died in Obi-Wan’s arms, just as Qui-Gon did.  And I was fascinated by the reference to Luke as “the chosen one.”  I wrote a lot about that just the other day.

One of the most interesting new developments about Rebels season 3, which also featured into my recent blog post, was the Bendu, a mysterious creature who incorporated both the light and dark sides of the force into itself.  Voiced by Dr. Who’s Tom Baker, I loved this enigmatic new character, and I wonder whether the Bendu isn’t a hint as to where the Star Wars saga is heading with The Last Jedi and beyond.

Rebels season three spent a lot of time developing the Mandalorians and the backstory of Sabine.  None of this quite landed for me the way I think it was supposed to have.  It was all OK, and Sabine is a great character, but I just wasn’t as interested in any of the many other Mandalorian characters as I should have been.

Conversely, I loved the way Rebels season 3 continued to develop Agent Kallus, to the point that he was fully accepted by Kanan as a rebel in the final moments of the finale.  I’ve grown to love Kallus, and I can’t wait to see where his story goes.

The season ended with the very strong two-parter “Zero Hour,” in which the rebels assemble as prelude to an effort to liberate Lothal (the planet from which Ezra hails that served as the main location for much of season one), just in time for Thrawn to bring down his hammer in a massive Star Destroyer assault on the rebel base, that smashes the assembled rebel fleet.  It’s a pleasure to see Thrawn’s machinations finally bear fruit, and the episodes features a glorious extended space battle that I adored.  The animation was gorgeous and thrilling.  I love the way many of the season’s story-lines came together, from the use of the stolen shield generator to Sabine and the Mandalorians coming in for a rescue.  I loved how Thrawn refused to consider accepting the rebels’ surrender.  I loved the lightsaber fight on the hull of a starship — what a cool Star Wars idea!  One might argue that, in the end, Thrawn’s victory should have been more complete (quite a few rebels do get away from him, in the end), but I can live with it.

There were a few weak spots, but over-all Rebels season three was a very entertaining, well-crafted season and a wonderful expansion of the wider Star Wars saga.  I can’t wait for season four.  Let’s watch that trailer again, shall we?

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