STAR WARS REBELS Season 3 Premiere Lays Dark Groundwork

Don't expect a big, sweeping season premiere.

It’ll be months before you have a chance to see the first two episodes of Star Wars Rebels season 3, but I was lucky enough to catch them here at Star Wars Celebration Europe, and now I bring to you my small review of them.

Small because it’s so far in advance that I don’t want to give too much away, but also because the episodes themselves were shockingly small - intimate almost. Yes, there was action as Ezra leads the Phoenix Squadron on a recon mission that becomes a heist, but most of the episode was about laying the groundwork for the season to come and addressing where the show left its characters at the end of last season.

A few months have passed - enough time for Kanan to grow out a full beard and lose that goddamned soul patch. Ezra has cut his hair and is now leading missions; he’s been secretly dipping into the Sith Holocron and learning all kinds of new techniques. The episode (I’m gonna refer to this two parter as ‘the episode’) opens with Phoenix Squadron breaking that old pirate Hondo out of Imperial clutches, and during that great escape we see that Ezra has come a long way in his training - he takes control of the mind of an AT-ST pilot and kills a bunch of stormtroopers before forcing the AT-ST to walk off a platform to its own destruction.

Ezra is, as you would expect from a guy dipping into a Sith artifact, darker and angrier. Following the seeming death of Ahsoka and the blinding of Kanan he’s desperate to get more power to defeat his enemies - a surefire trip to the Dark Side. He sits in his room and pulls out the Holocron and talks about how nobody else can see what he sees, all very sinister stuff.

Meanwhile Kanan is moping around because he’s blind. He says he doesn’t blame Ezra for what happened, but he never bothers to tell the kid so you sort of don’t believe him. Eventually Kanan hears a strange call in his mind and he follows it, encountering the Bendu. This enormous creature - it looks like if Jack Kirby drew a Shadows of the Colossus character - exists in perfect balance of the Force, operating a neither a Sith or a Jedi. It has much to teach Kanan.

Bendu is a cool character, voiced by Tom Baker, the best Doctor Who (at least the only Doctor Who about whom I have an opinion), and he has some of that wise old unknowable shit that Yoda had, but in very much his own way. I especially like his dismissal of the duality of the Force; Star Wars’ manichean worldview has always felt very limiting. I hope the Bendu shows up in the future, as his appearance here is too short.

Meanwhile the Empire is getting sick of the rebel cell that’s been operating around Lothal, and so Grand Moff Tarkin authorizes bringing in the Seventh Fleet, headed by Grand Admiral Thrawn. This character, a beloved old EU villain, is striking looking in his white dress clothes against his blue skin and red eyes, but in this episode it’s unclear why I should give a shit about him. He’s presented as a real threat, but he gets nothing accomplished this episode, although he’s clearly working on a long game. Still, for anyone not familiar with Thrawn from the old books (or for someone who dislikes Thrawn but would like to learn to enjoy him), his introduction is flat. Show us why he’s cool, guys!

The episode has some thrilling action - lots of characters dangling, being sucked out of doors and barely escaping alive. But most of the episode is about the relationship between Kanan and Ezra, and about Ezra’s growing recklessness and how the rest of the crew responds to that. I suspect that these will be guiding elements of the season to come.

After the epic emotional sweep of Twilight of the Apprentice it’s not surprising that the season premiere would be a little more low-key, but I was hoping for Thrawn to at least announce himself as a legitimate menace. Instead we’re stuck with shots of him looking scary… and telling the Imperial forces to let the rebels get away. I suspect that this season is going to get crazy - this episode lays the groundwork for both a dark and weird season - but don’t expect it to start off that way.