The Star Wars animated series have done a good job of bridging the gap between movies and telling stories the movies don’t get to explore. Rebels is no exception to this. Set about 14 years after the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Rebels tells the story of how the Empire grew in power and how the Rebellion came to be. The Complete Season Three further explores the relationship between Ezra and Kanan and saw the onscreen debut of fan-favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn.
The season opener “Steps Into Shadow” finds Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) leading a mission to rescue Hondo from an Imperial prison. Ezra learns that the Imperials have acquired a number of Y-wing fighters and intend to destroy them. We also learn that Ezra has been using a Sith holocron, enhancing his force abilities, but making him reckless in the process. His master Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is none too pleased that Ezra has the holocron, fearing he does not understand its power and takes it, giving it to the Bendu (Tom Baker) for safekeeping. The Bendu is an early Star Wars concept and represents a non-Jedi or Sith force user who is neither light side nor dark side. This two-part episode brings the character Grand Admiral Thrawn into Star Wars canon. Though Thrawn was originally introduced in the early 1990s, the books he appeared in have since been determined not to be canon. Still, the current version bears many similarities to the old one, including his calm demeanor and military prowess. The show does an excellent job at bringing this modern classic villain to life and he is exactly how one would imagine him.
“The Holocrons of Fate” finds a group of rebels being captured by Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), who wishes to unite the Jedi and Sith holocrons. Doing this would give the user an incredible amount of power and knowledge. Kanan and Ezra visit the Bendu to get the Sith holocron where the Bendu teaches Kanan how to walk among the giant spiders without getting attacked. This enables the pair to retrieve the holocron so they can prevent Maul from harming the Rebels. Ezra joins Maul in combining the two holocrons against Kanan’s wishes and the Bendu’s warnings. The episode does a good job of exploring deeper into the Force and its vast powers. Free of the time constraints of the movies, the animated series can really get deep into character exploration.
The episode “The Antilles Extraction” is significant as it establishes the canon backstory for the popular secondary character Wedge Antilles. Here he is seen as an Imperial cadet who defects to the Rebellion with the assistance of Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), herself an Imperial Academy dropout. The Rebels had been losing a lot of pilots due to battles with the Empire, and Wedge’s defection, along with other Imperial cadets, marked one of the first turning points in their favor. His backstory is handled well and in a way that makes sense. Though Rebels is an animated series, it never dumbs down the material for children. The storylines and dialogue are every bit as complex as the movies.
“An Inside Man” finds a seemingly trustworthy Imperial officer assisting the rebellion, revealing that he is secretly Fulcrum. Kanan and Ezra pose as Imperials and go to a factory where Rebel spies are secretly sabotaging Imperial speeder bikes. It is not long though before Thrawn figures out that there are forces within the Empire conspiring against it, but rather than act irrationally, he chooses to let the situation play out so he can best use it to his advantage. This is very much in line with the characterization of Thrawn in the novels and shows the writers here have done their homework.
The season ends with a two-part finale titled “Zero Hour.” Always two steps ahead, Thrawn finds out who the mole within the Empire is and uses his information to find the Rebel base, where he launches an attack before the Rebels could mobilize. The Rebels suffer mass casualties and Kanan goes to the Bendu for help, who is reluctant to break his neutral stance until Kanan calls him a coward. Thrawn eventually tries to take on the Bendu himself, but he underestimates the Bendu’s abilities. These episodes stay consistent to the overall story in that the Rebels were growing in strength, but not yet powerful enough to defeat the Empire and they are a potent ending to a strong season.
The show is presented in 1080p High Definition Widescreen (1.78:1) and the animation looks great. While the humans look as if they are out of a video game, the ships, droids, and characters such as the Stormtroopers often look as if they were taken right from the movies. The Blu-ray has numerous bonus features, including five audio commentaries and several featurettes about the different characters.
Behind the Scenes: Thrawn
Disney has done great work with their Star Wars animated series, first with the Clone Wars and now Rebels. Season Three gave added depth to familiar characters and brought in new characters such as Thrawn and the Bendu in a way that makes one anxious for their live action debuts. Star Wars: Rebels: The Complete Season Three is essential viewing for Star Wars fans.