After half a year of expectation, Star Wars Rebels fans finally got their long-expected sequel. Following the closure of last season, which was not so much of a closure but rather a cliffhanger, and with the rumours of fan-favourites like admiral Thrawn and a certain former Sith reappearing in the third season, the wait could not have been short enough.
Steps Into Shadow threw us right into the action, kicking off the season promisingly and addressing without delay the issues that have kept us on the edge of our seats. A familiar routine of yet another Rebel mission at first showed us that our heroes have grown between the seasons (season 3 takes place six months after Twilight of the Apprentice). Sabine has yet another hairstyle (as if we could expect otherwise) and a convor owl on her shoulder plate, Zeb got at least rid of his sleeves and adorned his outfit with the image of the “Big Bongo” he hunted in season 2 (not very obviously visible, it’s on the left side of his chest plate). The biggest change however came upon Ezra, who has not only grown up physically, but is also delivering the performance with the skill of a full Jedi Knight. Except…
…except it is very scary, as could be expected. Ezra is a spinning machine of death, precise but deadly. And when we see him finally use Jedi mind trick with absolute success, it is… probably scarier than most scenes we have seen even in the original movies. Of course we suspect, and later get the confirmation of what has been happening during the last half a year: Ezra has been listening to the Sith holocron, effectively adopting it as his new teacher while Kanan has apparently been detached and isolated himself from others after what happened on Malachor.
Kanan himself gets a little adventure of his own, meeting the mysterious Bendu, the creature “in the middle” between the Sith and the Jedi, who seems to have the answer to some of Kanan’s problems, not the least of which is for him to learn to “see”. In this respect, the episode is nice because it shows that not only the apprentice, but also the master needs to make some corrections along his path. What I liked about this episode was that the meeting with Bendu helped Kanan to eventually reestablish the bond with his apprentice, and be there for him when he needed it most.
Meanwhile however, with the help of the notorious trickster Hondo Ohnaka, Ezra led the first mission of his own into an enemy base. The goal of this mission once again nicely linked Rebels to the original films: the ships they were stealing were nothing less than Y-wings, which, as we learned in the end, were meant for general Dodonna’s squad – so they are the very same Y-wings which play a crucial role in Episode IV‘s final battle; the future Gold squadron. The habit of connecting Rebels’ actions to the original Star Wars has become more frequent throughout second season and I hope we are going to see more of such cases.
Ezra’s leadership is effective, but questionable, and his individual decisions even more so. The whole episode is basically showing how ruthless he has become and how his seemingly efficient choices are not always based on good judgment. Letting a whole station blow up while not really caring whether the personnel has the time to save themselves is certainly not the Jedi way. It is interesting to see, however, how different crew members respond to Ezra’s leadership. Especially Rex is obviously used to a Jedi in charge, however questionable his actions may be, and Zeb later tries to claim part of responsibility for Ezra’s failures. It is quite interesting to see how non-Force users see Ezra’s toying with the Dark Side; Zeb calls Ezra a “wizard”, Hera does not comment anything at all, but Sabine seems somewhat distressed, even though neither of them obviously has any concept of what the Force or the Dark Side is.
The light-hearted counterweight to the rest of the episode is supplied by Hondo and the Ugnaught workers, and also by the appearance of something resembling the bigger version of “buzz droids” from Episode III (even though that happens during action scene). One must wonder how, despite his growing Force connection, Ezra is still perfectly capable of trusting Hondo unquestioningly, even though the latter keeps stealing things right in front of the Rebels’ noses.
The last thing everyone’s been waiting for was the appearance of admiral Thrawn. Being called on the special request of governor Pryce, who has so far been only mentioned in the previous seasons but who also appears, this episode hosts a full complement of Imperial officers. One almost gets the feeling that there are so many of them that one must soon leave the group; for example by defecting…
Thrawn himself is only about introduced, but that is all well. What can be said already now is that he seems to be exactly the way he is in Timothy Zahn’s trilogy (yes, despite being a fan-favourite, he was an awful baddie at first, only a genial one, and that is all here). His cool, calculated approach, which is not something his fellow officers understand very well, shows us we have a brilliant strategist here, who is following a long-term goal: he even allows the Rebels to keep their prize if he expects allowing them to win this time will bring him closer to getting what he wants later on.
Altogether Rebels season 3 is off for a great start, the first episode would easily get nine out of ten stars from me, and actually could even get ten. I can’t recall a single thing that would disappoint me, and more than enough things which I liked, and it was even worth a re-watch.