When we finished with Star Wars Rebels at the end of season two, we were left at an incredibly compelling point in Star Wars lore. Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice who was introduced in the Clone Wars animated film and TV show, was last seen locked in combat with her former master in the form of Darth Vader. Darth Maul had emerged from hiding in an attempt to take in the Rebels lead, Ezra Bridger, in as his apprentice while advancing a then unknown goal. Ezra kept the Sith Holocron that Maul was after, hinting at a potential turn to the dark side of the force, while his master, Kanan Jarrus, had been blinded by the former Sith Lord. Things looked pretty bleak for the Ghost crew as we stepped into season three, a more well rounded, but ultimately inconsequential chapter for the group of rebels. With that said, it’s not to say that there wasn’t plenty of compelling material filling up the 23 episodes, but most of the highlights revolved around the characters we’ve come to know outside of the show rather than the ones introduced within it.
The season starts off with one of its highest points, exploring the fallout of the events between Maul and the Jedi of the Ghost crew. With Kanan blinded, he has essentially resigned as the combat leader of the group, leaving Ezra to fill his shoes. Sporting a new, more mature look, the Padawan has been successful in his new role, but this is partially due to him seeking guidance from the Sith Holocron in secret. Seeking guidance, Kanan eventually finds a way to adapt to using The Force as his sight and uncovering a Jedi Holocron to offset the influence of the Sith. When it seems like Ezra’s potential fall has been averted, who would return but the one who was seeking to corrupt him in the first place. After taking his friends hostage, Maul forces Ezra to use the both Holocrons to unlock both of their memories of the secrets they contain. When it’s all said and done, all signs point to one planet, a desert world with twin suns…
This sets up the much talked about return of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which pays off at the end of the season when the two rivals have one final duel, finally tying up a long lasting loose end. But aside from a handful of episodes, Maul never makes another appearance. Considering his importance in the previous season and the start of this one, it was strange that he ultimately becomes a footnote seemingly written in for the purpose of being written out. Ezra’s more mature personality fades pretty quickly, with little reference to a potential turn after the first three episodes, rendering one of the most anticipated cliffhangers from the previous season moot.
Instead, the main plot of the season focuses on the war with the Empire, or more specifically, against Grand Admiral Thrawn. As an immensely popular character from the now non-canon Extended Universe, officially bringing him into the fold came with high expectations. The master strategist is as cold and calculated as you would expect, developing into a fun antagonist for Hera, the leader of the Ghost Crew who often took a backseat to the Jedi in the past. As the polar opposite of the Rebel leader both in demeanor and tactics, Thrawn always feels like he’s one step ahead of our heroes, as if anticipating Hera’s small victories building a path for him to crush the resistance under his boot. Even with former enemy, Agent Kallus, acting as a double agent after secretly siding with the Rebels as a result of his meeting with crew member Zeb Orrelios in season two, (still one of my favorite episodes of the whole series), the whole season builds to what could be Thrawn’s ultimate victory.
And yet, it never comes. In fact, the big finale just feels like every other episode, except Thrawn acts frustrated instead of stroking his chin while touting his mental superiority when he’s ultimately defeated. If I had one major complaint about this season, it’s that it felt largely inconsequential. The Rebels had their liberation of Lethal, Ezra’s home world, delayed, but not halted. Thrawn wasn’t captured, and is confirmed to return for the show’s fourth and final season. The crew is largely in the same shape it was in when the season started aside from the loss of a core side character, and with the exception of the death of Maul, you could seemingly start season 4 and not realize you missed a whole season of content. While that sounds harsher than I mean it, there is one character who is an exception to the season’s rule…
Enter Sabine Wren, the Mandalorian youth who struggles with her role when it comes to uniting her people after fleeing from them when they had sided with The Empire. After a double cross from the captured Mandalorian warrior Fenn Rau from last season leads to the pair discovering his crew either dead or on the side of the Empire after vowing to be a neutral party, Rau then joins the team, becoming a sort of mentor to Sabine as she’s drawn closer to returning home. It’s not until an unexpected encounter with Maul that she confronts her true destiny, obtaining an ancient weapon that legends say would unite all of Mandalore when a leader with the blade emerges. This Darksaber leads to one of those moments that I didn’t know I wanted to see until now, which was Sabine being trained by Kanan and Ezra as if she were a Jedi. While still unsure about her ability to lead her people by season’s end, it’s a bittersweet moment when Sabine leaves the crew in order to re-establish her relationship with her family. It doesn’t seem to be long lasting by the time the season comes to a close, but who’s to say what will happen between the two seasons?
Watching Sabine’s character growth throughout these episodes was the peak of the season for me. Seeing non-Jedi take center stage is always appreciated, but seeing a non Force wielder show signs of becoming just as proficient as they are in combat with her own special weapon is something that I want to see more of in future episodes. After all, the show started off as a coming of age story for both Sabine and Ezra before the latter took on more of a central role, so it was great to see that there are still plenty of interesting stories to tell when it comes to Sabine and Mandalore.
While the overall story didn’t move too much by the end of the season, it was appreciated that almost every episode did contribute either to the overall plot, or to Star Wars lore in general. Throughout the season, we see how Wedge Antilles defected from the Empire to the Rebellion, what the transition looked like as Saw Gerrera, (voiced by a returning Forest Whitaker from Rogue One), transformed from the no nonsense soldier in The Clone Wars to the radical freedom fighter during his days in live action, a sadly nostalgic ending to the war between the Separatist droids and the Jedi when the crew comes across an abandoned planet full of robots who couldn’t let the Clone Wars go, and a few humorous filler episodes focusing on the Rebels versions of C-3Po and R2-D2, AP-5 and Chopper. But most importantly, nearly every episode was exciting to watch, even if the ultimate payoff falls flat.
Once the episodes wrap up, the Blu-Ray edition has a wide variety of special features to go through, including the return of Rebels Recon, the post show making of and discussion featurettes, and timeline showing how Rebels fits into Rogue One. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray copy are audio commentaries for five key episodes, an in depth explanation of the history of Mandalore and where Sabine fits into its tumultuous history, a feature exploring Grand Admiral Thrawn’s reputation and his possible role in the future of the franchise, an overview of the rivalry between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul, and an interview with Forest Whitaker about his take on Saw Gerrera in both Rebels and Rogue One. These are all must watch segments for any Star Wars fan who either wants to be introduced to some of the content outside of the films, gain additional insight about some of the world’s side characters, or teased by what may come going forward.
Overall, Star Wars Rebels season 3 was a more consistent, often compelling season that fails to accomplish anything meaningful once the final episode wraps up. Especially coming off of last year when we were left with Maul resurfacing and a duel between master and apprentice that we’ve been waiting for for years, this year felt solid, yet anticlimactic. It does have its highlights, including the tense final duel between Kenobi and Maul, seeing younger versions Gerrara and Antilles as they find their role in the rebellion, and Sabine’s excellent story arch. As we head into the fourth and final season, I’m concerned that the show will have trouble tying up all of its loose ends. What will happen with Thrawn? Ahsoka wasn’t seen all season, so what happened between her and Vader? With Luke and now Rey being “the last Jedi”, what is going to happen to Ezra and Kanan? And what role will Sabine play as she continues towards uniting Mandalore? That’s a lot of ground to cover, some of which I wish was resolved in this season, but what we did get was an exciting watch for those who want to tie up the story between the prequels and sequels, or for those who just want to watch a cool sci-fi cartoon. That alone is worth the purchase.