‘Steps into Shadow’ is the premiere episode of Star Wars Rebels Season 3 and sets the scene for what promises to be an explosive season. At the end of Season 2 the Ghost crew were left in turmoil after Ezra was tricked by Darth Maul into helping him acquire an ancient weapon – the Sith Holocron. Ezra’s unwitting error in judgment left his Jedi mentor Kanan blinded, and the fate of Ahsoka clouded in mystery after an epic duel with her one-time master Anakin – now Darth Vader. Both Vader and Maul escape to cast their villainous shadows over Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels.
‘Steps Into Shadow’ is a big step down in pace from the conclusion of Season 2 as it takes time to explain the current position of the heroic rebels since season 2 ended, the formation of the rebellion, the ever-growing might of the empire, and introduces a new villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen).
For those of you that still haven’t familarsed yourself with the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn I will take a second to fill in the blanks. Now, it must be said that all current Thrawn information is based upon the now defunct expanded universe canon. So there really isn’t anything we know about Thrawn until this season of Rebels plays out and the new “Thrawn” novel is released by Timothy Zahn in early 2017, but they do seem to have stayed true to the spirit of the old-canon character.
Thrawn is a master military strategist and leader of Empires 7th Fleet. Cold and calculating Thrawn is different from any other Star Wars villain we have ever seen. Rather than force choking his troops in submission Thrawn encourages his subordinates to learn from their mistakes. This motivation tactic has led to his crew becoming known as the most skilled and loyal troops in the Empire. He has also discovered a way to protect him from force wielders thanks to a lizard-like creature called the ysalamiri. These creatures could create a bubble that suppressed the powers of the Force. Genius.
Planning to methodically rip the Rebellion apart, piece by piece is exactly how Thrawn operates. A student of the arts, Thrawn studies how his enemies tick, how they think, what they like. He then devises precise strategies tailored to exploit their weaknesses in order to defeat them in the most efficient manner possible.
In the season premiere of Rebels Thrawn is brought in to snuff out the growing rebel threat which brings him into contact with the Ghost Crew. The premiere introduces Thrawn’s methodical nature brilliantly. He isn’t Darth Maul, he isn’t Darth Vader, he isn’t Emperor Palpatine. He is a completely new non-Sith super-villain and it’s like a breath of fresh air to the Star Wars universe.
To balance this the Rebels now also have their own super-hero – Ezra.
Ezra left season 2 a talented but raw young Jedi learner, but as we learn in the series premiere Kanan hasn’t been mentoring the young Jedi as much as he should since he was blinded at the Sith Temple on Malachor. Leaving Ezra alone with the temptation of the Sith Holocron – something Ezra has found irresistible.
Ezra has used the Holocron to quickly improve his battle abilities and force skills. However, as we all know, taking the quick and easy path is never a good idea and his impatience to improve his powers and skills take him down the path to dark side. After several impressive wins in battle Ezra is promoted and put in charge of a mission to recover Y-Wing fighters for the rebellion – a position of leadership he is ill-equipped for. Ezra’s new darker demeanour is not lost on his friends with his emotionally driven decisions leading to a series of tactical errors that put his team, and the entire rebellion in jeopardy.
The Ezra storyline is reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, with the Sith Holocron being Ezra’s “precious”. He now seems infatuated with the teachings of the Sith and it will take some serious work for Kanan to bring him back from his descent into darkness. Will it lead to a future Kanan-Ezra duel? One can only guess, but I am going to say it will based upon the history of the franchise and its other Master vs Apprentice confrontations (Kenobi-Vader, Ahsoka-Vader).
One of the other highlights of the Season 3 premiere was maturity of Sabine. The young Mandorlian is set to play a major role in the new season of Rebels. We have already seen this during Star Wars Celebration Europe panels and in this episode we saw how much she has developed as a skilled warrior and leader. Challenging the decisions of Ezra to point out flaws in his decision-making, and leading the team of Rex, Zeb and Chopper while Ezra is off trying to fix his mistakes.
On the downside, there was the Kanan-Bendu scene which seemed to lead Kanan down a path of enlightenment he was already on. The Bendu really didn’t give Kanan any answers he didn’t already have, just the clarity to recognise them. He was like a force wielding Dr. Phil but I understand it was an important scene that re-defined the character after he works to re-discover who he is after he lost his sight in the season 2 finale. I just felt it wasn’t as enlightening to the ways of the force as it could have been, but it will be interesting to see if the Bendu play any role in Ezra’s story arc as Kanan tries to bring him back to the light. Especially as the Bendu now possess Ezra’s “precious”.
‘Steps into Shadow’ was a near perfect premiere for Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels after what was an action-packed Season 2 finale. The season was off to a slow methodical start which could be a reflection of the personality of its central protagonist Thrawn. In addition to our new villain we were introduced to the new Ezra’s story arc for season 3; the early formation of the rebellion we are familiar with from the original trilogy; given a sense of nostalgia which only rebels can do with Y-Wings and Rex; introduced to the Bendu and new information about the Force (did they genetically engineer the Midi-chlorians ha ha!?), and the development of Sabine as a leader. How Maul fits into all of this is still to play out.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next week, October 1st with ‘The Holocrons of Fate’.