Star Wars Rebels’s third season wrapped up just a few days ago. I can’t say the season had everything that I ever wanted, but it certainly had enough of those things, and even a few more storytelling decisions that I didn’t realize I needed in my life. The entire season, our favorite Rebel cell and the rest of the people under Commander Sato worked hard on plans to attack the Imperial factory on Lothal and deal a massive blow to the Empire. Unfortunately for them, the main villain this time around was Grand Admiral Thrawn, who spent the season searching for the Rebel base on Atollon, and it’s Thrawn’s plans that come to fruition instead.
Spoilers up ahead.
Let’s start with something I didn’t like. We finally learn more about Sabine’s past and her abandonment issues—why she initially joined an Imperial academy before signing up with the Rebellion and why she never talks about her home. She felt her family betrayed her, and they did. They more or less disowned her and called her a traitor for doing what she thought was best for her people. Although we get to see Sabine and her mother reconcile, Sabine follows that up by leaving the Rebels to rejoin her family on Mandalore and help her own people in a civil war against Imperial sympathizers. I can’t say her leaving the Ghost crew behind was unexpected, and I’m glad that she finally got some closure with her family, but it was only this season that we really started getting some character development from her, and that made watching her go all the worse. This is especially problematic considering that Sabine is a woman of color who brought some much-needed representation to the Star Wars universe—because, fun fact, an entire galaxy filled with humans should have more than just brunette white women. Sabine returned during the finale, and it was only through her efforts and the other Mandalorians that any of the Rebels escaped.
Considering that each season thus far has started after a time jump, it’s entirely possible that Season 4 will begin with Sabine back on the Ghost ship. However, as that would possibly mean skipping a giant subplot about the Mandalorian war, I can’t say I’d be surprised if she was still absent at first.
I was also a little disappointed in both Zeb’s and Hera’s roles this season. Hera less so, but neither she nor Zeb had nearly enough screen time, and between the two Hera at least had more importance to the plot and characterization. Zeb felt sidelined—he only had one episode dedicated to him, and although that episode was important, insofar as Thrawn was able to narrow down the location of their base, a lot of what Zeb did simply felt like filler.
Then there’s the matter of Kallus—I’m still totally for redemption arcs, and Kallus has made great strides to leave his Nazi past behind him. He becomes a Rebel spy, known as a Fulcrum, and doesn’t take an opportunity to escape the Empire before they discover his identity when given the chance, since he believes he can do more good by staying behind. Unfortunately, Thrawn is always one step ahead of everyone and figures out what Kallus has been up to. Thrawn only finds the Rebel base by tricking Kallus—though thankfully, Kallus was able to warn the Rebels of the impending attack so they weren’t completely unprepared. I worried a lot that Kallus was going to die—Thrawn even tortures him off-screen—but he survives, which I think is for the best. A few good deeds by former villains don’t make for a good redemption arc. Kallus needs to suffer and work hard for forgiveness—and while being tortured can make him sympathetic, what we really need to see is him working more closely with the Rebels and reconciling himself to them more fully. Hopefully now that he’s officially joined them, that will happen.
My favorite part of this season ended up being the Bendu, a mysterious and powerful Force user who lives on Atollon. The Bendu takes no sides, as he’s “the one in the middle” and uses both the light side of the Force and the dark side indiscriminately. We don’t know a lot about who or what the Bendu is, as he tends to remove himself from conflict and instead only gives guidance to Kanan and Ezra. I love that the Bendu’s inclusion both expanded on the worldbuilding and helped to establish what balance in the Force really means. He’s one of a couple mysterious Force users seen throughout both cartoon shows that tell us that the Force is a lot more complex than most people realize.
The Bendu’s pacifism came to an end, though, during the finale when Thrawn attacks. He grows angry, blames Kanan for bringing war to his peaceful world, even claims that the Jedi needed to be wiped out for the sake of balance, and then uses the Force to summon a giant thunderstorm that engulfs the planet. He ends up attacking both Imperials and Rebels alike. In the end, he also tells Thrawn that he can see his future and the defeat surrounding him.
This is an unsettling moment for Thrawn. Part of what makes him so scary is his ability to think ahead of the Rebels at every turn. Even the times the Rebels came out on top, Thrawn always learned something new to use to his advantage, but he couldn’t account for the Bendu. The only reason the Rebels survive the finale is due to forces outside Thrawn’s control. Not only does the Bendu show up, one of Thrawn’s admirals breaks ranks—and although that results in Commander Sato’s death, it was a massive mistake that only served to help the Rebels.
What was so great about this is how disturbed Thrawn is left by everything. He is not a character who is easily surprised, and unlike the past two seasons that ended with the main antagonist being removed from the narrative in some way, it looks like Thrawn is here to stay. The Rebels may not have been able to attack the factory on Lothal, but Thrawn also failed in his task to destroy their fleet and capture their leadership. Thrawn is also not aware that the Atollon base is not the only Rebel base out there—our characters are finally making their way to Yavin IV to join the other Rebels. The season ends with pretty much every character stuck in a place they don’t want to be. The Ghost crew just lost their base and all their hard work was for nothing; their leader Commander Sato sacrificed himself by purposefully crashing his ship into an Imperial cruiser; Thrawn just faced an embarrassing failure; Kallus is in new terrain; and Sabine needs to go back home to fight in a civil war.
A good many episodes this season felt like filler, but I can’t say that those filler episodes were unwarranted. A lot of dark, serious subject matter crossed our screens this season—we even finally saw Maul confront Obi-Wan—and the more light-hearted episodes breaking everything up was more than welcome. The droid AP-5 getting a spontaneous musical number while surround by random pink space birds was both completely ridiculous and one of the best things I have ever seen.
We are now one year closer to Rogue One, and next season promises more backstory into Saw Garrera’s confrontation with the Rebels as well. I really hope Hera and Zeb get bigger roles next season and that Sabine can return. I also want to see what happened to the Bendu and whether or not he will continue playing a role within the story. There’s a lot about the Force we still don’t know, and he was a welcome addition. Whatever is planned, I trust that Rebels will continue to deliver good, strong storytelling. Season 4 airs in the fall, and that is too far away.