This Star Wars Rebels review contains spoilers.
Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 Episodes 21 & 22
Now that’s a Star Wars war story. “Zero Hour” featured plenty of space battles, Force mysticism, and suspense. Although some characters’ stories fizzled out just as they seemed to get going, the season finale brought Rebels into what might be an exciting new era.
In order to head off a Rebel attack on Lothal, Thrawn doubles his efforts to find the Ghost crew’s base. All of the major players meet up again in this episode, which also marks the first major gathering of Rebel forces. Overall, this episode gave me some of what I’ve wanted from Rebels all along: a glimpse at some more of the large-scale battles during the Galactic Civil War. Now that we’ve gotten to know more characters like Wedge and Pryce, the battles feel full and busy. I’ll never get tired of watching Rebel ship movements, even if the addition of Rebels’ kaleidoscopic hyperspace is jarring.
One of the best characters in that fight is Fulcrum. The more I see of Agent Kallus, the more I like him. He had perhaps the most to lose in this episode, with both the Rebellion and his life hanging in the balance. We’ve known since “Through Imperial Eyes” that Thrawn wanted to use Kallus for his own ends, and here he does that, cross-referencing Kallus’ calls with other information to find the Rebel base. And after that, Kallus … escapes. He has some great dialogue (“You talk too much.”) and clearly suffered at Thrawn’s hands, but what could have been a confrontation with another Imperial officer instead becomes a relatively straightforward dash for the door. Kallus’ story definitely pulled at my heartstrings, though, especially because he’s not protected by the need to include him in other episodes or movies.
Kanan too never has a particularly triumphant or cathartic finale; he summons Bendu, who does a lot of the work of protecting the Rebel base. Although Kanan and Hera’s relationship is endearing, it’s also still in such a gray area that their reunion feels cursory, neither a restrained meeting between two soldiers nor an expression of their more personal bond. On the other hand, it’s entirely appropriate that a gray Jedi weaponizes a force of chaos in order to save the day.
The relationship that’s really in the spotlight is Kanan and Ezra’s, and as usual, it swings between very sweet and a bit too on-the-nose. Their conversations clearly wrapped up what the season was supposed to be about – family bonds – in ways that were conveyed better in other scenes. It was nice to hear Ezra express that he wanted to learn anything from Kanan, not just about the Force, but even the visuals of the Ghost crew all standing back-to-back pushed the theme more subtly. I was also a bit thrown by how the crew insisted they were family, but Kanan didn’t tell Hera about the Bendu. Why not mention that there was a Force-using hermit on the planet? Unless I’m missing something, he doesn’t seem to have gained anything by not telling her, especially since she sees the resulting Force storm eventually.
Ezra gets some moments to shine on his own, too. I love that when the Rebels have their backs to the wall, both separate groups realize that the person they should really turn to is Sabine. The scene in which Sabine, Ezra, and the Mandalorians sabotaged the Interdictor from the outside was very cool. Smoke and fire effects make for some beautiful scenes, and the Mandalorian jetpacks add a spacewalking element not often seen in the Original Trilogy setting. Sato’s sacrifice was also a vivid visual reminiscent of some of the more direct ship-to-ship fights in Rogue One. Star Wars is certainly not lacking for novel ways to wreck Star Destroyers.
Other parts of this episode felt very reminiscent of Rogue One, too. Hera staring down the orbital bombardment reminded me of Saw watching the Death Star’s shockwave hurtle toward him, and served as a nice reminder of how vastly the Imperials outnumber the still-scattered Rebels.
Thrawn was interesting in this episode in part because he stands near the top of that Imperial food chain. One thing I love about Star Wars is how it tends to write its villains as powerful but also as their own greatest weaknesses. Several times in this episode we see Imperials jockeying for prestige and paying the price. Their reasoning is laid out in a short scene between Tarkin and Thrawn: hierarchy is everything, and disobeying one’s superior is a carefully calculated gamble which works out better for Thrawn than for Konstantine. (He was so ambitious – I’ll almost miss him.)
Thrawn has successfully set himself apart from the villains that came before, and in this episode he’s most frightening when he’s rooting people out of hiding, as he does with Kanan and the Rebels. I still don’t feel that his character is particularly deep, though, although his voice actor tries powerfully. The utter disregard in his voice when he says “I’m not accepting surrenders at this time” is convincing. He doesn’t sound like he’s trying to be cold; he just doesn’t care about how the Rebels might react to his plans. This confidence makes him frightening when he confronts Fulcrum, too. I like his dialogue, but the fact that he refers to the war as a “performance” never comes back again after a few dramatic lines.
However, his role felt oddly … inconsequential, especially for the season finale. He faces the Rebels personally, but there is no twist in his plan. I was expecting a revelation or a shocking death, and did not get one. His final confrontation came neither against Hera nor Kanan, but against the Bendu. While it was certainly new to see Thrawn seemingly shaken by the Bendu’s unsettling prophecy, it also seemed to rob us of what could have been more compelling character work. Neither Thrawn, Hera, nor Kanan were stretched in this episode, except perhaps when a worried Hera calls Kanan “love” after a narrow escape.
“Zero Hour” used its cast to the fullest, and at the same time would be an episode I might want to recommend to a Star Wars fan who had never seen the show before. If someone really wanted to see what the Galactic Civil War looked like, I could point them at these space battles. I just wish the characters had through-lines as strong as those fights.