Star Wars Rebels Season Three Premiere Review: “Steps Into Shadow”

Steps into Shadow Grand Admiral Thrawn

Spoiler Free and Spoiler Filled Reviews Within

Star Wars Rebels Season 3 premiere episode, Steps Into Shadow, doesn’t quite match the spectacle of the season two finale, but it’s a good thing it didn’t as it rightfully deals with the fallout of “Twilight of the Apprentice” while pushing us towards the new, bigger galaxy the Ghost crew is finding themselves in. Below we’ll start things off without spoilers, but read beyond that (and all the clearly placed spoiler warnings) if you dare to know the full details.

Spoiler-Free Review: There’s some definite change in the air at the beginning of the season with Ezra’s darker, confident, and more commanding personality, Kanan’s aloofness from the group, and Hera’s increased role in the growing Rebellion. All those changes come with their own price or fallout and the stakes feel considerably raised compared to even last year, as missions and their consequences don’t just affect the Ghost crew anymore. We saw that in season 2, but the scale has increased accordingly across the entirety of the show, including for the villains.

At this point it’s no surprise Grand Admiral Thrawn has come to canon for this season of the show and while he’s not a terribly big part of the one hour premiere, his shrewd and calculating mind are shown off and fit well with the increase in stakes in S3. Thrawn is requested to deal with the rebels since other Imperials feel he is the only one they trust to smash the ever growing rebellion for good and while he doesn’t do anything drastic yet, Steps Into Shadow does set up his plan about playing a long game with the rebels. Will this be the one bad guy our team can’t win against? The answer to that question is something myself and Thrawn fans the world over will be eagerly anticipating. Overall, it was really weird but exciting to hear characters speak his name out loud, as the reality of his ‘return’ is still settling in for me (and I’m sure for many other fans).

Steps into Shadow Kanan's New LookFallout from Ezra opening the Sith Holocron and Kanan going blind last season is an important part of the premiere, but they were resolved a little too quickly…for now. There’s no doubt these things will continue to be part of each character’s journeys for the rest of the season, but it felt like the resolutions reached here were too snappy for all the build-up about them since the S2 finale. In fact, Kanan’s problems get some very convenient help from the new character Bendu, who was glimpsed in the trailer. The mysticism-laced discussion the character has with Kanan is both intriguing and insightful (pardon the pun), but he comes off slightly like a Dues Ex Machina for the timeliness (and other factors) of his advice.

Animation looks sharper than ever this year, as there’s a lot more happening on screen at one time, space battles feels denser and more epic, and the new character designs evolve with the growing nature of the characters. Overall, S3 is bigger and staying that way, which in turn impacts everything: the forces against the rebels, the forces within themselves, and the consequences for their actions. Every year this show changes for the better and you can expect nothing less when S3 premieres later this year.

UPDATE: “Steps into Shadow” Premieres September 24!!!

ALRIGHT YOU FINE FOLKS…SPOILER REVIEW INCOMING

DON’T SCROLL ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED

Spoiler Warning 8

You’ve been warned…

Everything starts with Ezra leading a mission to free Hondo Ohnaka from an Imperial prison, which we come in media res to the effort. When I say leading, I’m not kidding, as Ezra is calling the shots and Zeb, Sabine, and even Chopper are following his orders, though Chopper’s the only one not doing it as happily as the others (well, Ezra does ask him to jump off a cliff and have Zeb and/or Ezra catch him, but then again, is Chopper ever not grumpy about something?). Things get complicated when they find Hondo is not alone, despite his apparent assurances to Ezra, as he’s joined by an Ugnaught who actually has valuable information for the rebels but Hondo cut in to gain some profits, because of course he did. When the escape starts going bad (foreshadowing events ahead in the episode) including the death of the Ugnaught and the team being surrounded, Ezra uses some new tricks from his Sith Holocron: he mind tricks an AT-DP pilot to kill his fellow troopers and then walk himself off the edge of the landing platform, highlighted and darkly intensified by Ezra making the physical motions (UPDATE: you can partly see what I’m talking about in this newly released clip {via IGN}). Successfully escaping after Hera arrives to pick them up, the team gains valuable intel from Hondo about an Imperial facility tearing apart Clone Wars-era Y-wings, which they decide to steal. Ezra is given command of the mission thanks to the mostly successful one to free Hondo, but he quickly finds himself in over his head as things spiral even more out of control than the previous mission.

Steps Into Shadow Holocron ChatEzra hasn’t fallen to the dark side, but it’s readily apparent his time with the Sith Holocron has changed him. And while some of the changes have certainly been for the benefit of the team, like his increase in Force-abilities and lightsaber usage, most of them are only better for himself, as he believes them all to be good in the cause of ensuring his friends never get hurt again when really he’s learning them due to his own thirst for power (something Yoda warned him about). He’s always been frustrated with himself when he isn’t strong enough to help the team, but being duped by Maul which led to Kanan being injured drives that frustration to anger, though Kanan isn’t helping things by distancing himself from everyone (more on that in a bit). At the end of the Hondo rescue mission, Ezra believes no one truly appreciates or notices his newfangled abilities (though it’s more like they were a tad shocked by them) despite Hera and Commander Sato giving him a promotion to Lieutenant Commander, so he consults with the Holocron: The device only encourages Ezra’s anger and he takes the lessen to heart (UPDATE: they’ve released a clip of the scene so you can see what I’m talking about). There’s been a divide between Master and Apprentice since we last left them and Kanan finally confronts Ezra (after some prodding by Hera) and only just now learns his apprentice has been using the Sith Holocron. I’m a little surprised Kanan didn’t know, but once the now-blind Jedi scolds his apprentice for using it and takes it away, the divide grows even wider, exemplified with Ezra’s snarky comment, “…I don’t need you either.” It’s uncomfortable to watch these two be at odds, but they are both dealing with their actions (or lack thereof) on Malachor in their own ways.

Steps Into Shadow PlanningEzra’s given command of the mission to Reclamation station, where the Y-wings are being taken apart, with the simple objective to gain intel and report back to come up with an attack plan. His unrelenting focus and anger shows here, as Ezra snaps on his team (Sabine, Zeb, and Rex) several times even though they are making valid points how to continue with the mission after an attack from the Mining Guild (last seen in S2 episode, “The Call”) and the likelihood the Empire will be on their way. The more things get out of hand, the more it feeds his frustrations and forces him to over compensate with his new found confidence, leading to one disaster in the mission to the next. Every member of the team nearly dies because of his actions (the whole fleet could’ve too if Thrawn got more involved), which is exactly what he’s trying to prevent, and his life comes the closet to ending once he over-confidently disables the floating station’s power, causing the entire facility to plummet to the planet’s surface with him still aboard.

Steps Into Shadow Ezra and SabineSabine and Zeb don’t seem like they’ve necessarily changed much since we last saw them (they didn’t have anything to do with Malachor so that makes sense), though they both are dealing with Ezra’s shifting moods differently. Zeb is relatively supportive, in his usual teasing short of way, and Sabine is as well at first. However, as the episode goes on and Ezra makes one bad call after another, Sabine distances herself from him slowly and doesn’t have as much playful banter with him anymore. Instead, she calls out the shortcomings in his command and the mission, specifically in a dry, scolding line about his desire to rush into things and how he would’ve known the Y-wings didn’t have any fuel had they slowed down a bit. Zeb and Sabine get a fair share of the action and humor, while also getting to show off their specific skills and abilities throughout. Both of their new designs are fantastic upgrades, especially Sabine with her armor and hair updates; the purple/white hair is the most striking one yet.

Steps Into Shadow The CrewHera doesn’t get as much love this episode, but her role as ship mother and higher command in the growing rebellion makes her scenes still as important even if she isn’t the focus. As I had put forth in my “Twilight of the Apprentice” review, I worried the finale’s final shot down the length of the Ghost gave us a clue all would not be well with the family upon the show’s return, and seeing Hera try to reach out to Kanan but get no where (as well as Ezra and Kanan’s divide) seems to support that view. As excited and focused as she seems to be about being a higher ranking member of their section of the alliance, she’s obviously saddened by Kanan’s separation from both her and the group and it’s certainly not fun to see. The sound of excitement in her voice and the look on her face when Kanan comes back to the team to help rescue the rest of the crew brought big smiles on my face, so here’s hoping there’s more joy between these two as the season goes on. Hera gets in on the anger theme, tearing Ezra a new one for his botched Y-wing mission and suspending his command (rightfully so). Since she’s a higher ranking officer now, it seems like she won’t be on the ground as much with the team, mostly in support role in the Ghost, so it’ll be interesting to see how that new position shakes out throughout the season. The team will need to learn to support each other more than ever with their mom not along for every step of the way anymore.

Steps Into Shadow BenduI really enjoyed what they did with Kanan here, but I wasn’t too happy with the convenient feeling of it all. The rebels are still on the planet Atollon (found in part by Chopper and his pal AP-5 in S2 episode, “The Forgotten Droid“) and Kanan is off at the edges of the base, meditating. A mysterious voice reaches out to him, calling him out into the land beyond the base’s safety net, where the planet’s aggressive and deadly spiders roam. He avoids being attack by them since he takes one of the devices keeping them at bay once he wanders off towards the voice, guided only by the Force (because he’s blind now in case you forgot), until he stumbles upon a creature (who looks like just another part of the planet at first) who claims he was slumbering for years until Kanan’s inner conflict awoke him (UPDATE: a clip of their first meeting has been released). This new character is Bendu, a creature who represents the “middle-way” of the Force, and he offers some very Yoda-like vague/metaphorical advice to Kanan about his current situation. Kanan believes he’s at peace and that everyone else is stewing with emotions, but Bendu’s teachings force Kanan to look inside himself and find out he’s in just as much turmoil as everyone else. Once Kanan truly sees himself, sees his fear and anger about wondering if he could still be useful blind, he’s able to squash those feelings and become more in-tune with the Force than ever before (exemplified by the spiders not attacking him after Bendu takes away the device keeping them at bay). He comes back from his self-imposed exile to help save Ezra and bring him back from spiraling out of control before it is too late, and they reconcile with one another, as they each apologize for how they’ve been acting towards each other since Malachor, though Ezra has the most to make up for. How fragile is their peace for now? Will Ezra continue to be drawn to the Holocron? Questions to ponder, folks. Anyways, why I felt this was all too convenient is due to the fact that Bendu just so happens to be slumbering on Atollon all these years and is ready with this exact advice right when Kanan needs it the most. It wouldn’t have felt so easy had Kanan needed to fly to a different planet and learn from Bendu there, thus making his return to the team to help Ezra and the crew that much more epic since he’d arrive just in time for the fleet to rush off to help; Instead, he just kind of wanders off into the plains and gets the answers he needs. But like I said, overall I really enjoyed the conversation and mystism between Kanan and Bendu, someone who I hope to see more of.

Steps Into Shadow Thrawn and PryceThought I forgot about Thrawn at this point, did you? The only reason it took so long to get to him is simply because there were tons of interesting things happening to our characters that even Grand Admiral Thrawn’s first appearance in canon wasn’t the biggest deal of the episode. In fact, I came away from the episode more interested in Governor Pryce, a character we’ve only ever heard about due to her absence from Lothal, since the early days of the show. Upon first meeting her here, we get to see her basically order Tarkin to get her Thrawn to handle the Rebellion growing in her sector. Is her title powerful enough to boss Tarkin around or is she more connected then we’ve ever known? What has she been up, especially with her apparent influence and stature, that has kept her away from Lothal all this time? With Thrawn, we kind of know what we’re going to get: smart to nearly omniscient, a habit of studying his target’s art and whatnot to understand them better, and always working at bringing his plans for the bigger goals to fruition first and foremost. With Pyrce, not only is she an unknown quantity, she’s seemingly more powerful than anyone realized (UPDATE: I’ve written an article about what clues I’ve uncovered that might just reveal what Arihnda Pryce has been up to). Thrawn (as I mentioned in the spoiler-free section) doesn’t get used much, but his line from the trailer about making the rebels be the architects of their destruction appears here, while his big moment in the episode is his decision to allow the rebels to escape with the few Y-wings they manage to steal because it’s all part of his grande scheme. His lack of action is a stark but important contrast to Vader’s vicious attacks in S2 opener, “The Siege of Lothal,” pointing him out to be a very different type of villain for those who might not know him well. Getting to see what his long game will be to destroy these rebels will be fun to watch and I can only bet he’ll be the crew’s hardest hitting villain yet.

Here are a few other things:

  • If you want to know a lot more about what to expect for the rest of the season, as well as see a pretty stunning new trailer, check out my impressions from the Panel and Press Conference!
  • Thrawn is being voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads Mikkelsen who plays Galen Erso in Rogue One! As Filoni joked at the panel, they’ll have plenty of Star Wars to talk about at Christmas. So far, I’ve liked his calm, steely delivery of the much beloved character. Bendu is voiced by Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor Who (and second Doctor in Star Wars animation, the first being David Tennant as Huyang in The Clone Wars).
  • It’s kind of nice to not have any Force-wielding villains besides Maul for the crew to deal with.
  • I wrote an article about how I imagined Thrawn would be as the Fleet Admiral from Aftermath and wasn’t against the idea of him being in Rebels, but without spoiling the second Aftermath, he’s certainly not the Fleet Admiral. So what will his ultimate fate be in the show?
  • I think outside of Maketh Tua, Pryce is the only female Imperial we’ve had on the show so far.
  • What species is Bendu? How old is Bendu? Has he always been on Atollon? How did he become a representation of the middle-way of the Force? I suspect all of these questions won’t be answered…at least anytime soon. However, I don’t think this will be the last time we see him, as Ezra’s conversation with Kanan about the Holocron in the trailer was not featured in the episode and Kanan leaves the Holocron with Bendu as a gift (which Bendu laughs about).
  • I don’t believe we’ve heard his name before in Rebels, but Hera comments that the few Y-wings they did get (5) will be going to General Dodonna’s portion of the fleet. There were a few at the Death Star attack, if I recall…
  • The Imperial in charge of the station is Brom Titus, demoted since we last saw him lose an Interdictor thanks to the rebels in S2 episode, “Stealth Strike.” The latest Star Wars Show episode has a clip of Ezra’s confrontation with Titus on the station.
  • Dismantler Droids were very formidable, operating with a true fury and passion for destruction. However, like most things, they were no match for Captain Rex.
  • Bendu refers to the light and dark sides as Ashla and Bogan, two terms used by the Jedi in the Legends era of Dawn of the Jedi, some 25,000 years ago. More recently, we learned the Lasats communicated with the Force in their own unique way, which they called Ashla.
  • Hondo speaking Ugnaught? Priceless!
  • Is that one of those strange owls, last seen flying around the rebels’ base and looking over the injured Vader limping away from Malachor (teased by Dave Filoni to be connected in some way to the Mortis arc from TCW) I spot on Sabine’s armor?
  • As always, Lorna-ka does some fantastic Rebels artwork, including Grand Admiral Thrawn and blind Kanan looking like a Samurai warrior.
  • Jay Shah at Eleven-ThirtyEight brings Thrawn down from his mystical heights in this excellent primer for the character’s return this season.
  • A preview of an upcoming episode has Hera running into Thrawn…that can’t be good!

Star Wars Rebels‘ Season Three premiere Steps Into Shadow might be long remembered for Grand Admiral Thrawn’s first canon appearance, but its ability to keep the show’s character focus despite the larger scale is what it truly should be commended for.

Images via Lucasfilm

+ Increase in scale all around…

+ …without losing the character focus.

+ Character changes (physical and mental)

+ Improved visuals

+ Villain upgrade: Grand Admiral Thrawn! And Governor Pryce

 Too convenient at times

 Felt like it dealt with issues a little to quickly

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

STAR WARS REBELS REVIEWS:
Season One: Spark of Rebellion | Ep. 2: “Droids In Distress” | Ep.3: “Fighter Flight” | Ep.4: “Rise of the Old Masters” | Ep.5: “Breaking Ranks” | Ep.6: “Out of Darkness” | Ep.7: “Empire Day” | Ep.8: “Gathering Forces” | Ep.9: “Path of the Jedi” | Ep.10: “Idiot’s Array” | Ep.11: “Vision of Hope” | Ep.12: “Call to Action” | Ep.13: “Rebel Resolve” | Ep.14: “Fire Across the Galaxy

Season Two: The Siege of Lothal | Ep. 2: “The Lost Commanders” | Ep. 3: “Relics of the Old Republic” | Ep. 4: “Always Two There Are” | Ep. 5: “Brothers of the Broken Horn” | Ep. 6: “Wings of the Master” | Ep. 7: “Blood Sisters” | Ep. 8: “Stealth Strike” | Ep. 9: “The Future of the Force” | Ep. 10: “Legacy” | Ep. 11: “A Princess on Lothal” | Ep. 12: “The Protector of Concord Dawn” | Ep. 13: “Legends of the Lasat” | Ep. 14: “The Call” | Ep. 15: “Homecoming” | Ep. 16: “The Honorable Ones” | Ep. 17: “Shroud of Darkness” | Ep. 18: “The Forgotten Droid” | Ep. 19: “The Mystery of Chopper Base” | Ep. 20: “Twilight of the Apprentice

Season Three: Ep. 2: “Holocrons of Fate” | Ep. 3: “The Antilles Extraction” | Ep. 4: “Hera’s Heroes” | Ep. 5: “The Last Battle” | Ep. 6: “Imperial Supercommandos” | Ep. 7: “Iron Squadron” | Ep. 8: “The Wynkahthu Job” | Ep. 9: “An Inside Man” | Ep. 10: “Visions and Voices” | Ep. 11: “Ghosts of Geonosis” | Ep. 12: “Warhead” | Ep. 13: “Trials of the Darksaber” | Ep. 14: “Legacy of Mandalore” | Ep. 15: “Through Imperial Eyes” | Ep. 16: “Secret Cargo” | Ep. 17: “Double Agent Droid” | Ep. 18: “Twin Suns” | Ep. 19: “Zero Hour

Season Four: Heroes of Mandalore Part 1

RELATED REVIEWS AND ARTICLES:

The Curious Case of Governor Arihnda Pryce

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The Last Padawan (#1-6) | First Blood (#7-12)

Thrawn (Novel)

A New Dawn (Novel)

Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir (Comic mini-series)

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