Spoiler Warning: If you haven't seen the Star Wars Rebels Season 3 finale, "Zero Hour," 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.
Wow. Star Wars Rebels never fails to bring a season to a close with a bang, does it?
I watched this episode several times, and it's taken me a bit of time to digest everything, but new thoughts keep burping up, like "What do you think the conversation between Thrawn and Tarkin was like after everyone got away?" Do you think Thrawn lost his cool and, if so, what does that look like? I honestly can't picture it, so if you have a thought, feel free to share.
But let's talk about the episode.
The stage is set early in that meeting between Thrawn, Tarkin, Pryce and Konstantine. Thrawn's ready to strike. Kallus and his Mouse droid listening system pick up the information, and Kallus goes off to warn the Rebels. I'm still on the fence on whether Thrawn knew Kallus was listening or not. I lean toward yes, but it's pretty gutsy to drop that information and then hope you get what you need before he can warn anyone. It did lead to one hell of a fist fight. Kallus telling Thrawn that he talks too much? Priceless.
Transitioning to Atollon, we see the progression of the base. Kanan and Ezra's discussion about how much has been done since this all started is on point. They've come a long way and Chopper Base is as prepared as they can be for their assault on the Lothal Imperial factory. The larger point of Kanan and Ezra's discussion wraps up the dynamic of the last three seasons and neatly dovetails into the question for Season 4: What does Kanan have left to teach Ezra? Personally, I think that's a question Kanan's going to get an answer to.
Swell of pride time. General Dodonna and Commander Sato arrive, and our little Rebellion is growing up so fast! They're definitely prepared to attack Lothal. Unfortunately, Lothal has shown up to attack them. The shot of all those Star Destroyers and Interdictors was impressive enough, but when Thrawn's Chimera dropped out of hyperspace ...
Thrawn's firepower and shields were superior to the Rebel ships. That meant the rebels had to outsmart Thrawn. No easy feat.
Thrawn, of course, takes this time to gloat. He's so sure of himself. So sure he'll win. I wanted to smack him, which I think was exactly the point. Thrawn has leapt waaaaaay up on my list of villains I love to hate. Hera believes Thrawn thinks this is the entire Rebel fleet, so her plan is to send someone out to get a message to Mon Mothma. For her part, Mon Mothma believes Thrawn's trying to pull the entire fleet into the fight for one big confrontation. I wonder, who's right? Hera or Mon Mothma?
As I notice I'm starting to ramble a bit, let's tighten things down here and focus on a few things ...
Where to begin? I don't know why I think creating these sorts of sequences in animation would be different from doing it in CGI, but there's something about the way it's all put together that feels so cinematic. The ships and space battles in Rebels feel the closest to live action in both their look and feel, so it's easy to get sucked in. The swoop of the Y-Wings, the speed of the TIEs, the massive presence of the Chimera. There's something about the uniformity of the Imperial ships that makes the rag-tag nature of the Rebellion ships feel more ... I'm going to use the word "plucky," but that's not quite it. The Empire would fire on a ship and each explosion made an emotional impact. All of it was beyond gorgeous.
The orbital bombardment.
Pardon me but, dude. DUDE. First of all, I loved seeing the shield Sabine found on Geonosis being put to use and protecting the base. Even if she hadn't shown up later in the episode, I would have felt her presence strongly thanks to that shield and its ability protect everyone from complete obliteration. Part of me wondered why Hera was just standing there watching it all come down until I realized that she already knew that if the shield went down, they were all dead anyway. The lighting in this sequences was also amazing. Just the play of color across everyone's faces and the bolts bouncing off the shield.
Sabine and the Mandos.
No matter what I said above, though, HOW COOL WAS IT TO HAVE SABINE BACK? The Mandalorian arc this season not only gave Sabine's story a lot more scope, but it wraps in perfectly with the finale. Seeing those ships fly right into the battle complete with deployment right onto the hull of the Interdictor, are you kidding me? That's the kind of maneuver you can pull off in an animated setting to great effect. Star Wars needs more outer ship battles if you ask me.
Commander Jun Sato.
Grand Admiral Thrawn made one tactical mistake in his initial planning that actually lost him the battle before it started. He gave Admiral Konstantin a place in the battle group. Sato's misdirect works because he understands the Empire well enough to know the thirst for glory and advancement lives at the heart of many an Imperial officer –– and he uses that knowledge with deadly efficiency. Sato is also willing to give his life because he believes he's fighting for a better world. His sacrifice is worthy of recognition and gives the Rebels a chance to get Ezra through that blockade. His heroism will not be forgotten.
ISB Agent Kallus aka Fulcrum.
Talk about a story arc. Kallus' journey over the last three seasons is a fantastic look at how even the staunchest Imperial officers can defect given the right reasons. I'll admit, I full on expected Kallus to die in the finale. I thought he'd give his life to save someone, but I'm so happy to be wrong. Kallus' needling of Thrawn was perfection. If anyone knows what overconfidence can cost in a fight against the Rebels, it's Kallus, but the glee with which he imparted this nugget of wisdom was what made it so great. The moment between Kallus and Kanan once they're safely on the Ghost closed a chapter for Kallus, but I'm happy to see that we'll get more of his story in Season 4.
My mama told me early in life, "If someone tells you they're an a-hole, believe them." The advice extends out further to "If someone tells you who they really are, believe them." What did Bendu tell Kanan when they met? He told him he was "The one in the middle." Bendu never claimed to be anything but exactly that. Kanan's been talking to Bendu all season and Bendu's been more than honest about his orientation within the larger scope of things, but Kanan still thinks Bendu will pick a side. Ultimately, Bendu does pick a side; his own. Balance. In his case, balance means evening the odds between Thrawn and the Rebels and, once that's done, making sure everyone leaves him the hell alone. I don't know if we'll see Bendu again, but it's certainly been a trip having him around.
The season starts and ends with Thrawn so it seems fitting this post should, as well. Grand Admiral Thrawn came into Season 3 with a quiet menace and left in much the same way, but the path of destruction he left in his wake will reverberate beyond this season. Simply put, I think Thrawn is the best villain in Rebels so far. He's certainly been the biggest test of our heroes' skills, talents and plans. But we also learn that even Thrawn has a weakness when Bendu taunts him with the promise that he sees Thrawn's defeat. Thrawn may take losses, but I don't think they phase him all that much. This most recent one might sting for a bit. But defeat? Prophesied by a creature with supernatural gifts he can readily explain away as parlor tricks or nonsense? That seems to have rattled him. We won't know for a while how all of that pans out, but I definitely think we'll learn more in Season 4.
Okay, I lied. There's one more thing.
The final scene feels different than any scene we've seen in Rebels in the way it's shot. The camera follows Kanan through the ship as he passes Sabine, Hera, Zeb, Kallus, Rex, AP-5 and Chopper while allowing us to can check in with each of them and get a feel for the aftermath of the fight. We learn about Sabine's next move and the trip to Yavin but this scene also brings focus to the loss and pain of the Rebel soldiers in a way that really hits home. It's that loss layered with the resolve to succeed that underscores Ezra and Kanan's last conversation.
War has a cost and freedom will take time, but the future holds new possibility if everyone's willing to fight for it.
Isn't that what Star Wars is all about?
That does it for Season 3! Star Wars Celebration is next month, so look for news as we get it.
May the Force be with you. Always.