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How Grand is Rebels Season Three?

It goes without saying that Disney has been very busy on the Star Wars front. Specifically where the Rebels TV series is concerned, quite a bit has happened already.

The end of season two saw some bold twists and a surprising level of drama. While it may have been a long time coming, the showdown between Ahsoka Tano and her Jedi-master-turned-Sith, Darth Vader, was nothing short of legendary. Whether or not she survived the encounter is a question that seems unanswered by season’s end. Then you have, yet again, the re-emergence of Maul, whose role left a mark or two – namely a blinding saber strike to the face for Kanan Jarrus as well as what may be a seed of darkness planted in the young and emotionally vulnerable Ezra Bridger.

So was Ahsoka’s encounter with Vader a fatal one? Will we see the resilient, insidious Maul finally meet his end? Will Ezra give in to the darkness that may be growing within him, and is Kanan’s influence strong enough to discourage him from doing so? These may have been the big questions at the end of season two, but as we roll into season three, there’s an even bigger question. I’ll get to that in a bit.

While some time has passed between seasons two and three, the drama picks up right where it left off, which is only to our benefit.

Ezra (Taylor Gray) has grown strong in the Force. Armed with a sweet DL-44 and a new green lightsaber, his usefulness to the rebel cause increases. But as this new chapter begins, a new blaster and saber are not his only tools – Ezra has been channeling the dark side, learning from the Sith holocron recovered from Malachor. His anger makes him powerful, but he is becoming abrasive, reckless, cocky, and hotheaded. His desire is to be stronger in order to better protect his comrades, but doesn’t understand that his methods could have heavy consequences. He is playing with fire, and seems unwilling to trust anyone but himself. Looking out for those we care for is a worthy cause, but like any other endeavor, the price of success should not be the mutilation of our own soul.

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Ezra needs a firm, but patient hand to guide him. However, since the events on Malachor, his master has become withdrawn, preferring seclusion as he struggles to come to terms with his handicap. The new-look Kanan is pretty cool. Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) bears the outer resemblance of a master, sporting his new beard as well as the scar beneath his half-mask. While these features would ordinarily imply age and experience, Kanan still has some growing and learning to do.

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In his solitude, Kanan is drawn to the Bendu, a highly intelligent Force-sensitive of unknown age and origin whose power resides between the dark side and the light . . . and if I don’t stop right now and mention that this character’s voice acting is done by Tom Baker, then I’m a criminal. This character is a worthy addition, but had it not been for the casting of the fourth Doctor himself, Bendu would not have been nearly as interesting. Baker is a master with his mesmerizing intonations. He does not just give voice to Bendu, he is Bendu, owning the character like no one else could.

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Bendu imparts sage wisdom, showing Kanan that his inhibition is more than just his lack of physical sight. Kanan’s mind is opened to a different kind of vision through his exposure to Bendu, galvanizing him to return to Ezra’s side where he belongs, and not a moment too soon. When we acknowledge and face our own weaknesses instead of blinding ourselves to them, we become better equipped to help others in their time of need. We may find that the more honest we are with ourselves, the more those around us will be inclined to trust us.

The tie that binds Kanan and Ezra is reinforced, but the bond between master and apprentice will surely be tested. The first test arises when Maul returns to cause more trouble. Ezra has a crucial choice to make: trust Kanan, or succumb to the temptation to gaze upon forbidden knowledge.

In addition to Ezra, Kanan, and Maul (Sam Witwer), other returning characters include Hera (Vanessa Marshall), Sabine (Tyra Sircar), Zeb (Steve Blum) Rex (Dee Bradley Baker), and Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo). It has yet to be revealed if Ahsoka’s run is indeed over, but I imagine we’ll find out in future episodes.

The Rebellion’s influence is spreading, its numbers increasing. It continues to gain resources and manpower, and among those added to its ranks are a couple of Imperial TIE fighter cadets whose defection is aided by an undercover Sabine. Enter Wedge Antilles.

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As much as I like having Wedge in this series and seeing how he switches sides, I have a slight beef with the casting choice here. In my opinion, Nathan Kress just wasn’t the best selection. Being that this season takes place just two years prior to the Battle of Yavin, Kress’s voice just makes Wedge sound too young. That said, I don’t intend to let this put too much of a damper on my enjoyment of the character’s presence in the show.

The thorn in the Imperial side that is the Rebellion is clearly not the small nuisance it was initially thought to be. But for all its unanticipated success, it has yet to face the greatest strategic mind in the Empire’s arsenal . . .

Part of what made the annihilation of the original Expanded Universe so frustrating is that it meant a lot of fantastic characters were no longer canon. There were those among us, however, who held out hope that maybe, just maybe, some of these characters would be reinserted. As we discovered a few months ago, that hope was not in vain. Just when we think Rebels is already getting interesting, Disney brings in one of the big guns. The most popular Star Wars villain in the Legends canon has been made part of the official canon, and has been given an onscreen presence for the first time ever. The burning question: how good is this book-to-TV translation?

Visually, Grand Admiral Thrawn is perfection. From his pristine white uniform to his light blue skin, dark hair, and piercing red eyes, it’s as if he’s been plucked right from the cover art of one of Timothy Zahn’s beloved novels. Voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, his personality seems on point as well. Thrawn’s cold, calculating nature is interpreted effectively enough that he makes his contemporary, Grand Moff Tarkin (Stephen Stanton), look almost angelic by comparison. That is no mean feat.

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At least, that was my assessment after the first handful of brief moments we see him in the season opener, Steps Into Shadow. But in Hera’s Heroes, rather than a couple of glimpses, we get a significantly more extended look at Rebels‘ take on Thrawn. Forgive me if I “fan boy” a little bit here but . . . oh. My. WORD. They nailed him. I don’t care if this is “just” an animated TV show. They didn’t simply give us their rendition of the character, they gave us THRAWN. His power of deduction. His cool, commanding presence. His uncanny calmness. The way you just know he’s in charge as soon as he enters the room. The masterful tactician who has you beat before the fighting ever begins. Before you even know there’s a fight. THRAWN. And let us not forget his most intriguing feature: his ability to know his opponents by studying their culture. Their art.

Early on I was concerned that the Grand Admiral would be just a sideshow, that the creators and writers would be too afraid that they might ruin the character and upset a lot of fans. I’m happy to say that they’re not playing it safe – it’s starting to look like a full-court press. I suspect we will see more of Thrawn, as it is becoming clear that he has a . . . grand scheme in the works. I cannot wait to see how this plays out.

Verdict: 8.5/10
While it’s still early, the third season of Rebels is already the best one thus far. The show continues to get deeper, less carefree, injecting more personal growth and personal struggle. The moral and philosophical conflicts are becoming more prominent, increasing the intensity of the tilt between good and evil. But if that isn’t enough to bring this program to the next level, then Thrawn certainly provides the extra umph it needs. The more we see of him, the better.

Andrew Walton

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