* This review contains spoilers.
The third season's finale of Star Wars Rebels had just about everything we fans could want – an epic space battle, a pernicious villain, heroic action from our Jedi, and the element of human trial and error that can make or break the rebellion.
That said, the two-part “Zero Hour” had to follow in the wake of last week’s powerful “Twin Suns,” the season’s penultimate episode featuring the long awaited battle between Obi Wan Kenobi (Stephen Stanton) and Maul (Sam Witwer). Still, this finale did have enough of everything that keeps Padawan hearts beating fast and, as the storyline keeps moving forward, we have the inevitable collision with characters from Rogue One and A New Hope, which are like enticing Easter eggs we can’t help but love finding.
The concern that keeps popping up in my mind is a great villain like Admiral Thrawn (dastardly played by Lars Mikkelsen) and the equally great Jedi Kanan Jarrus (Freddy Prinze Jr.) and his Padawan Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) are nowhere to be seen in A New Hope. Thrawn would seem to be quite integral to the Empire’s plans, especially since he frequently communications with Grand Moff Tarkin (Stephen Stanton) who is a key figure in A New Hope. Why would Thrawn not be involved unless he were dead?
Kanan, Ezra, and the rest of The Ghost crew are now equally integral to the rebellion – even rubbing elbows with the iconic figures Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Jan Dodonna (Michael Bell) – that it seems incongruous to think of them not being around when Han, Luke, Leia, and company come on board to join the rebels, unless they are dead. That prospect is upsetting, but then again an explanation could be that both Imperial forces and the rebel alliance are widespread, and thus Thrawn and the crew of The Ghost certainly could be deployed elsewhere during the original trilogy.
Getting back to “Zero Hour,” we see Thrawn take on undercover Agent Callus (a terrific David Oyelowo) and capture him, and then he begins the plot to destroy the rebel fleet stationed at Atollon. Thrawn, no doubt owing his blue skin to the ice in his veins, is the best villain in three seasons of Star Wars Rebels (if you don’t count appearances by Darth Vader), and his cunning and brilliant plan has been to get to know his enemies before destroying them.
On Atollon the rebels are preparing to attack the imperial forces on Lothal, and Ezra is happy to see this plan to liberate his home planet coming together. He shares a crucial scene with Kanan, where the Jedi master reveals that he is not sure there is anything more that he can teach Ezra. The Padawan responds by saying that Kanan (now blind due to an attack by Maul) has taught him more than just the Force – he has taught him about life. It is wonderful to see how the relationship has grown between these two and how Kanan now fully respects Ezra as his partner.
Once the rebels discover that Kallus has been compromised, they realize their attack on Lothal is not possible and that an evacuation of Atollon must happen immediately. In orbit above the planet Commander Sato (Keone Young) is surprised to see five Star Destroyers appear, and with his small contingent of ships knows that he is trapped.
The Battle of Atollon begins with the rebels, as usual, badly outgunned and outnumbered, but Hera (Vanessa Marshall) believes if she can get word out to the larger rebellion force out there that things can be salvaged. She sends Ezra on a desperate mission to get this extra help, while Kanan seeks a different kind of support in the desert of the planet.
While Sato and his small fleet put up a valiant fight above, Kanan goes to meet Bendu (Tom Baker) and things do not go so well. Though the Jedi has established a rapport with the powerful being who exists somewhere in the middle of the light and dark side of the Force, Bendu is angry and blames Kanan for bringing war to his planet. Instead of getting Bendu’s help, Kanan receives his wrath and a small sample of the scope of Bendu’s powers when his eyes illuminate and he churns up a dust storm.
On his journey in hyperspace, Ezra reaches Mon Mothma via hologram, but the wise leader of the rebellion warns Ezra that Thrawn is counting on the rest of the force to come to Atollon to destroy it in its entirety. Ezra realizes this is true, but then seeks help from old crewmate Sabine Wren (Tiya Sicar) who to his dismay is too busy helping her fellow Mandalorians fighting a civil war. When Ezra believes things are hopeless he prepares to leave, but Sabine changes her mind and convinces her mother, Countess Ursa Wren, to send ships and troops to help the rebels.
The final battle is fierce and spectacular – on the ground and in space – just what we would expect along with the heroism of the outnumbered rebel force. When it looks as if the Empire is going to have a victory in space, Ezra and Sabine arrive and prepare to clear a way for the rebel ships to escape.
On the ground Thrawn uses three AT-ATs and TIE fighters to pummel the rebels, eventually surrounding them with his force of Death Troopers (first seen in Rogue One). He demands Hera’s surrender and prepares to start killing her people with Kanan to be the first one, but streaks of lightning shake his resolve as he utters “What Jedi devilry is this?” That should serve as a classic line to be repeated from this point forward.
The “devilry” is Bendu, his glowing eyes in a black cloud that manifests itself powerfully, destroying the AT-ATs while the lightning takes out some of his troops. “Leave this place,” Bendu’s voice thunders, and this disruption allows Hera, Kanan, and the rest to get to their ships and escape.
After the initial shock, Thrawn is not impressed by this and orders the rest of his men to fire at Bendu, eventually causing him to collapse. The sinister Thrawn stares at the fallen being with disdain as Bendu warns, “I see your defeat.” Thrawn shoots Bendu but instead of killing him it causes him to vanish (ala Obi Wan and Yoda), making us believe that he has now become one with the Force.
In the end Hera rescues Kallus who escapes the Imperial ship in a pod, and the team is reunited. They are mourning because some of the rebels were lost during this battle, including Sato, but now they have to make plans to join the rest of the rebels on Yavin (yes, that rebel base on that planet), getting us closer to the events of A New Hope.
Kanan discovers a disenchanted Ezra, who is upset that his home planet could not be liberated. The episode ends with Ezra saying, “There is a future for us, one where we’re all free, but it’s up to us to make it happen.”
Overall, season three has been satisfying, but there certainly was the feeling that the impact of season two’s Ashoka-Darth Vader arc hung heavily over it. With their bruising light saber battle ending last season’s finale, it would have been hard for anything to top that – though the Obi Wan-Maul duel in episode 20 came pretty darn close.
For now it is exciting to see the convergence of Rebels, Rogue One, and A New Hope stories this season, and no doubt we can expect more of that in season four (due later this year). I must confess I did not have high hopes for this series initially, but the stories are so strong and with its indelible characters Rebels is now an essential part of the Star Wars canon. I really look forward to watching it each week (since it is animated, I make the excuse that I am watching it with my son). The truth is that Star War Rebels is so good that it is fitting entertainment for fans of all ages.
Until next time, may the Force be with you!