Friday, June 21, 2024

Rebels Season 3 Gave Us A Persistent Sense of Hope

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Cameron and Zach have really enjoyed reviewing this season of Rebels. Despite a rocky start, we are both happy to give the series a final overview and slight analysis. It’s been a fascinating ride, and we’re eager to see where the series goes next season.

Started with Meh, Ended with Yeah!

This season started off with a lot of issues. The plot was only okay, Ezra was all over the place, and the series seemed to lack direction. But everything changed when the Empire attacked. Soon we started to see excellent episodes, rich in themes about familial connections, biological or not, issues concerning social identity, a slight redemption-ish arc, and a slight but ever present sense of hope.

This season solidified itself into the Star Wars canon. Clone Wars fanservice with was provided with Rex (plus whatever the heck the Hondo episodes were… Cameron is not pleased), as well as general fanservice with Maul and the closing up of his arc. The appearance of Mon Mothma and Saw Gerrera tied the show to the Original Trilogy and Rogue One. So much of the season is spent balancing the canon with itself. The attempts are admirable, and hit the spot when they need to.

Our thoughts on Rebels can be mixed, but we both agree this series has found itself, and are both eager to see where the show goes from here.

Ezra’s Character Improvement

Ezra’s writing was hit or miss this series, to the point that Cameron and I developed a rubric for which version of him would appear in each episode. They were:

  • Emozra: This is the Ezra that taps into The Dark Side. For example, in “Steps into Shadow,” Ezra’s struggle with the Dark Side made him emotionally unstable, and he frequently lashes out at the people he cares about.
  • Stezra: This Ezra personality is basically an expy of Steven from Steven Universe. He’ll approach any conflict and hostile entity with an open heart and mind and use the power of conflict resolution to calm himself and others. He appeared in “Ghosts of Geonosis,” which provided no development for anyone, even Saw Gerrera, and used his conflict resolution skills to convince Saw to spare Klik-Klak.
  • ¿¿¿EzRa???: This Ezra is confused as to what he is doing, not just in the present moment, but in his life in general. This Ezra forgets all his character development and street-smarts in exchange for asking questions so that exposition can happen.
  • Cornflakezra: This Ezra is vanilla Jedi No. 8. There is nothing special, he might remember he has a lightsaber, and he will deflect some shots but not at a target. Find an example of him can be found in “Imperial Supercommandos,” wherein he is just … there.

This writing was annoying and downright lazy, especially when it appeared in otherwise spectacular episodes like “Hera’s Heroes,” or “Imperial Supercommandos.” Having a character yo-yo so wildly between episodes also hampered our ability, as an audience, to connect with him, especially when the first episode of the show crapped all over him.

Yes, we both have salt about Ezra’s writing in the first episode of the season. For one, Ezra did nothing wrong. The whole episode was supposed to show “the danger of the Dark Side,” and “Beware of the Dark Side,” but it waffled all of that. Sure, we can talk about the morals of how Ezra mind-controlled Stormtroopers into shooting their comrades, but that aside, everything he did would have been lauded or at least not punished if the episode was not focused on punishing Ezra. His decision to destroy the TIE fighter to cover their tracks? Totally reasonable. His decision to redirect from reconnaissance to recovery? It was the only good response when there was no time for any alternatives, and it was this action that made the attack on both Scarif and the Death Star possible. Things beyond Ezra’s control interfered with his plans, and he was forced to take on all the the blame for it.

Thankfully, though, Ezra completely rejects the Dark Side and it is never really a great point of contention after the premiere. Any time Maul shows up it is dangerous in the sense that he might kill or maim someone, but never that Ezra will fall to Maul’s side. His devotion to the crew of the Ghost is never in doubt, and even though Maul might convince him to use the Dark Side to protect them, he can never convince Ezra to defect. It gets to the point that one might think of Maul as an annoying villain almost like Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible: he tries his best to be scary and intimidating, but really is not. It plays into Maul’s desperation as a character that he continues to pursue such a hopeless cause.

As the second half of the season progressed, the narrative stopped punishing Ezra and he became a well rounded character, displaying multiple facets of his personality in the same episode. Good examples of this come from his interactions with Sabine in “Trials of the Darksaber,” “Twin Suns,” and “Zero Hour.” Two of these episodes are not even Ezra-centric episodes, but with consistent writing his character really shines. He is complex and sympathetic, and we cannot wait to see how his character progresses in the future.

The Rebellion is Coming Together

This season is when we really start to see the rebel factions becoming the Alliance to Restore the Republic of the Original Trilogy. What started out as a small rebel cell has grown into a full blown rebellion spanning multiple factions. Governor Pryce even lampshades it, noting that coordinated attacks by multiple cells were “unprecedented.” The Empire is so threatened that it sends in its most formidable admiral, Thrawn, to clean up the house and whack the dirt out of the rug.

The inclusion of Mon Mothma and Jan Dodonna show that the Alliance is gaining a single, united leadership to challenge the Empire. Mon Mothma especially is a uniting factor; a charismatic Senator with political savvy and reputation enough to summon many rebel cells with words alone. General Dodonna, who runs one of the “largest rebel cells” shows the expansion and strength of the rebel fleet, and with the momentum the rebellion is gaining it is only a matter of time before they are ready to challenge the Empire directly. All of this is leading up to one of the series’ ultimate goal: the Battle of Scarif and beyond. There has been a serious growth one can see when analyzing the past seasons, and it’s going to be exciting to see how the Rebellion continues to grow.

Thrawn’s Excellent Introduction

Thrawn is unique, especially for a show like this. The usual cartoon villains are the intimidating and ruthlessly powerful, like Vader or Maul. Rarely do we have a villain who is calm, collected, and very articulate in their speech and actions. Even more interesting is his use of art analysis, which is frankly something we have never seen in fiction in general, much less a cartoon series. Even though a lot of what Thrawn says might go over a few viewers heads, the writers hold their ground and script him with a sense of finesse and intensity that the character demands.

Zach put it best when he described Thrawn as a knife. He is not brutish, he is skilled, focused, and terrifying. He will find the one flaw that will topple the even the best of plans, and make sure you know it when it’s done.

Thrawn could so easily be either overpowered or underpowered. Balance is hard with a character like this. Rebels was effective though, and was able to write a character like Thrawn without flanderization or ruining a character well beloved by the Star Wars fanbase. We have to pat the writers on the back for writing him so well.

Expanding the Galaxy

This season in particular has been expanding the galaxy in new and interesting ways. The Empire got a lot of development, specifically in how it functions. The Imperial leadership is cutthroat and while this encourages merciless behavior it also proves itself to be a liability. Sure, it shows the competency of officers when they take the initiative, but as Konstantine proves, it makes collective cooperation difficult, and it makes otherwise successful plans come apart at the seams. I think most Imperial Officers see themselves as fighting against each other more than against the Alliance, as for the last 15 years there has been no united threat against the Empire to encourage cooperation.

Skystrike shows the complicated role an Imperial soldier must play. On the one hand, TIE pilots are encouraged to never go by names or develop camaraderie, showing their devotion to their Empire above their own identity. On the other hand, the pure complacency shown by the instructors allows treason to flourish within the academy.

This season also focuses on other aspects of the Empire. The value of Lothal that Zach so long speculated was for the manufacture of Death Star components is actually in its production of TIE variants. Thrawn more than any other Imperial officer sees that if the Rebels should mass and launch a coordinated space battle, then the Empire is woefully unequipped to deal with them. TIE fighters are unshielded, have no life support, and are incapable of jumping to lightspeed. Compare that to the A-wings of Phoenix Squadron, which can do all of that. This makes for very mobile units, as an entire rebel fleet can jump to hyperspace and flee before a wing of TIE fighters can dock within a Star Destroyer for a pursuit. Thrawn has anticipated that if his plan to stop the Alliance before it can come together fails, the Empire must be ready to fight the rebels on a more even field.

Of course, the role of Mandalore cannot be ignored. Even under Imperial rule, the Mandalorians are fractious, clannish, and always ready to fight another faction. If the Empire were truly on top of things, it would nip these conflicts in the bud, supplying a leader like Gar Saxon with enough hardware to keep a lid on things. However, with Saxon dead and his Clan in disarray, the Mandalorians are out for blood again. Should a Rebel-friendly faction win, their strength combined with the growing rebellion would make for a dangerous mix. It just goes to show how thinly stretched the Empire is if it allows insurrections like this to persist.

Tying Up Loose Ends

Something fun was this season’s Clone War’s tribute episode. From the droids reveal, the joke about the Jedi rescue plot, the power of Stezra’s ability to help people, Captain Rex’s ability to get closure, to the fact that we had the Separatists and Rebellion fighting against the empire. It was an excellent send off worthy of mention in this article. Fanservice done right in our opinions.

Another Arc close is Sabine’s. Since her introduction, she was opaque and mysterious. She was a bit hard to connect to, but this season changed that. She became one of the series most fleshed out characters. Her issues with family honor, her own internalized guilt, her relation to her entire country and culture. All of these element emerged and combined, and gave us one of the best arcs of the entire series, plus one of the canon’s most intensely serene battles. It was a joy to see Sabine grow up into the leader she needed to be.

Kenobi’s Battle with Maul might actually be one of the best fights of the series. While The Clone Wars was bombastic and epic, this final battle is instead calm, foreboding and thematically complete. These seasoned veterans come against each other. However, the thing separating them is ultimately emotional maturity.

Maul is stuck in the past, so focused on vengeance he can’t grow past himself. Meanwhile Kenobi has matured, and even hesitant to fight Maul until he threatens Luke.

The Battle is swift, with Kenobi outmatching Maul. He tries the same trick that killed Qui-Gon Jinn, but Kenobi has moved on, and is efficient in hist battle. It may not be flashy, but its one of the canon’s most impactful and thematic battle, because it show the restraint it needs.

Rebels has grown up as a show. And this season showcases that. Despite rocky beginnings, the series finally has a grasp on what it wants, how its writing its characters, and understanding the subtle and nuanced in those characters and plots. Now that it’s finally found itself, we are eager for a new look into the Rebellion leading up to Scarif and even Yavin itself.

Zach Theory Hour Deluxe

If the timeline continues as it has through the rest of Rebels, the Battle of Yavin is only about a year away, and through Rogue One we know that General Syndulla, Chopper, and the Ghost are on Yavin and participate in the Battle of Scarif. Scarif might even serve as the season finale for Season 4. Considering the timeline and the introduction of many of the other characters from the Original Trilogy, it seems likely that next season will focus on the Rebel Alliance coming together as we know it and really starting to get into it with the Empire. What exactly does that entail, then?

For one, we can expect a more prominent presence of the Mon Calamari, especially the likes of Admiral Raddus and Gial Ackbar (who probably replaced Raddus after his defeat on Scarif). A quick look at the Alliance fleet in Return of the Jedi shows that the majority of the rebel capital ships are of a Mon Calamari design, and canon sources confirm that, after the rise of the Empire, the Mon Calamari abandoned their homeworld in massive “city ships.” There will probably be an episode that centers on the Rebel Alliance recruiting these ships into the fleet.

Since the Rebel Alliance is coming together, we can expect to see more of the Alliance command structure. Specifically, we hope to see more of Bail and especially Leia Organa taking an increasingly active role in the Alliance, foreshadowing her role as a leader of the Alliance and its successor, the Resistance. In the finale’s Rebels: Recon, the writers confirmed that we would see the conflict and falling-out between Saw Gerrera and Mon Mothma, but we would also put forward that we will likely see Cham Syndulla return as a foil to Saw, joining with the Alliance for the greater good instead of pursuing his personal vendetta. We might even see Tynnra Pamlo from Rogue One make an appearance.

However, as the Alliance becomes more of a threat to the Empire, the Empire will likely step up its game and we will see more of the Imperial command structure as well. Tarkin, Thrawn, and Pryce, of course, will get more screentime, but probably others as well. As the Death Star nears completion, we would expect one of its more vocal supporters, Conan Motti (the one who popped off to Vader), and one of its skeptics, Cassio Tagge (the guy who disagreed with Motti) to make appearances as well. Also, as the Emperor’s most trusted agent and enforcer, we would expect (and hope) to see more of Darth Vader. Since most of the Jedi and Inquisitors are dead, Vader will be allowed to focus on the Rebels. We might even have an appearance by the Emperor himself.

On a much smaller scale, we can expect more development for our characters. For one, the most change will likely be from Kallus, who has just defected to join the Alliance. Moving from such a spartan lifestyle with the Empire to the more relaxed and individualistic Alliance will likely provide for some humorous culture shock. We might even expect him and AP-5 to become friends through a shared longing for the order and structure provided by the Empire.

Hera too should be getting some significant development. Since the demise of Commander Sato, and considering she is called “General Syndulla” in Roge One, it is not unreasonable to assume that she will replace him as head of Phoenix Squadron. Perhaps this is just Zach’s wishful thinking, but he hopes to see Hera forced into a moral dilemma, things like which troops must die so that the mission can succeed or what imminent Imperial attack to ignore to preserve the secret that the Rebels have hacked the Imperial codes. In any case, Hera taking a more active role in Alliance command is expected.

Ezra too is likely to get more of a role within the Alliance. He was named Lieutenant before the nonsense that was the premiere episode, so he has the desire to take a role in command, and with his lightsaber he would make a good field-commander. He is also empathetic, which would make him a good choice to negotiate between the various Alliance factions. With Maul dead and Ezra freed from that arc, we can expect his character to get a better role than “the Dark Side and ambition are bad burr durr hurr.”

Sabine will almost certainly take on a leadership role as well. Since the end of “Legacy of Mandalore,” and her appearance in “Zero Hour,” we know that Sabine is helping her family fight a Civil War within Mandalorian space, and since the Mandalorians have a huge emphasis on family one would expect the oldest child of the Duchess to be a part of the command structure.

On the other side of things, we think we can expect Kanan to take more of a back seat. Even though he will continue to fight, Kanan has never savored the idea of leading anything more than a few people, and even then always on the bidding of someone else. In the aftermath of the Bendu, Kanan will probably take on more of the role of Ezra’s spiritual advisor rather than fighting on the front lines.

An interesting note is that, while Zeb got a few episodes focused on him, we do not really have a plot for him yet. His people are safe on Lira San, and he has made peace (to a point) with the man who ordered their genocide. There might be some conflict between him and Kallus, but it seems very unlikely to be the dominant force of Zeb’s arc. In truth, there is very little to go on about Zeb’s future in this show. With all of his arc complete, he may very well die next season.

Chopper … will be Chopper.

All Images Courtesy of Disney

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