Spoiler Warning: If you haven't seen the most recent episode of Star Wars Rebels or don't want to know what happened, turn away now. Or, y'know, go watch and come back so we can talk about it.
Before I say anything, can I just say ... wow. I mean ... damn ... did that just ... wow.
Okay, consider me collected.
Things have definitely changed since we last saw our rebels, especially when you consider that it's only been six months since Malachor (according to Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo). But a lot can happen in six months, especially when people are in emotional turmoil.
The changes in Ezra are readily apparent; he's taller, more cocksure, and in charge of a mission to break Hondo out of an Imperial prison. Sabine's got a new paint job from head to toe, Zeb's new armor is sleeker and makes him look even bigger, and Chopper? Chopper's Chopper.
What's really different about Ezra doesn't come to light until the team find themselves stuck between Imperial forces and freedom –– and when it becomes apparent, it's more than a little worrisome.
As bad as that moment was, it was the one after it where Ezra kept walking. It's not a surprise to see Imperial forces being shot, or even flung off high places, but Ezra using the Jedi mind trick to not only force someone to kill his fellow soldiers but to then make him kill himself ... that's not something we've seen before. It horrified me, and I watch true crime shows to relax!
It doesn't take long for us to figure out where he learned that terrifying little trick. Ezra's been using the Sith Holocron, and it's definitely got a hold on him. It's given him some impressive new lightsaber skills, to be sure, but what has it taken in return? Especially when it's telling you exactly what you want to hear. Of course, it's hard not to be entranced by Nika Futterman's voice. There's just enough Asajj Ventress in the Presence's voice that I'd be swayed by pretty much anything she said.
Still, Sith Holocrons don't give the best advice, and when Kanan finds out, he's not happy. Totally understandable, right? Unfortunately, Kanan's also been somewhat absent of late. It's hard to get a teenager to listen to you at the best of times, but if you've been moping around and feeling sorry for yourself for months, forget it.
When Jedi find themselves in that sort of doubt and alone, it's easy for them to spiral into their feelings instead of finding the serenity they seek. Luckily for Kanan, that emotional disquiet has woken the Bendu.
How amazing it is to have Tom Baker as the voice of Bendu? It really couldn't be more perfect. The scenes between Kanan and Bendu feel mystical and still manage to be both raw and emotional. Freddie Prinze, Jr. deserves a lot of praise for this performance. It left me in tears multiple times and it takes a lot of skill on everyone's part to pull off a catharsis that big in one episode and have it feel organic.
Then there's Hondo. Hondo Ohnaka may be the most self-serving, double-dealing, lyingest, cheatingest pirate in the entire galaxy, but you can't help but love him. "Purple guy! Mando girl!". He's priceless. Sure he's going to make sure things work out for him in the end, but his intel was good and he did help during the mission to liberate the Y-Wings. So, don't judge me.
We also know that there are plans to give Sabine more time this season and I have a feeling part of that is going to include her being the one to stand up and do what she can to keep Ezra in check. She's already chafing at having to take orders from him, especially when they're reckless. If she's co-leading, she has just as much say in what they do, which may be the one thing that keeps Ezra from going too far down the rabbit hole. Plus, we know we're getting more Mandos and there's a jetpack and the dark saber in her future. How can you not be excited for that?
All of that said, let's get to the heart of what made this episode so good. Grand. Admiral. Thrawn.
The announcement of Thrawn's presence in season 3 set up a lot of expectations from fans of both the main saga and expanded universe. Other elements of the EU have been reintroduced into the current canon, but Thrawn is a legend among Legends. Dave Filoni took on that challenge and, in my mind, delivered. Actor Lars Mikkelsen brings a stillness to the character that feels doubly menacing. Everything, the dialogue, the animation, his voice, evokes the aura of a Grandmaster chess player surrounded by amateurs.
We also learn through Governor Pryce (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) and Tarkin that any rebellion on Lothal has been quashed and Darth Vader has been cutting a swath through the galaxy killing Jedi. This isn't about killing or capturing Kanan or Ezra anymore. This is about killing off the entire rebellion by cutting off the head of the snake –– and Thrawn's the best hunter the Empire has.
Think about how much went wrong on Reclam station with just a small amount of Thrawn's influence and he let them get away. He connected two occurrences that you just know would have flown right over Konstatin's head; Hondo's escape, the waypoint stop, and the ships on Reclam station. He only sent 1 ship. He didn't even have to be there. As far as he's concerned, this was just another game and he definitely took this round.
I sense that this is just the beginning. I see defeats in our rebels future. The season three trailer hinted at it, but I think we're going to see it get much, much worse. Ezra's impatience and stubbornness are going to get deeper now that he's lost his very brief promotion. His resentment is going to be rich fodder for the Presence in the Holocron. Anakin Skywalker thought he was doing good. He thought others were holding him back. He had a voice whispering in his ear. Just like Ezra.
We all know what happened to Anakin Skywalker.
If we're looking at all of this turmoil and upheaval in the first episode of the season, can you imagine the ride we're in for? I can and I'm going to take Han Solo's suggestion and strap in.
A few interesting tidbits:
Kallus' response to Thrawn's recent battle is to comment on the number of civilian casualties. Could he be rethinking things thanks to that little vacation with Zeb?
The Jaig Eyes on Kanan's new helmet. Sabine can't let a good surface go to waste.
Rex and his battle with the clankers. Clone Wars flashbacks!
Ezra was willing to destroy an entire station for 5 ships.
I'm gonna miss the Phantom.
Star Wars Rebels airs Saturdays at 8:30 PM ET/PT on Disney XD