"Star Wars: Rebels" Season 3 Premiere – Steps Into Shadow: Parts 1 and 2 (8 out of 10)  –  Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas; Directed by Mel Zwyer; Written by Steven Melching; Starring: Freddie Prinze, Jr., Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Tiya Sircar, David Oyelowo, Dee Bradley Baker, Ashley Eckstein; Special Guest stars: Tom Baker, Lars Mikkelson, Jim Cummings. Rated TV-Y7, Airs on Disney XD 9/24/16

After the events of last season's finale, it's hard to imagine where a show like this could pick up, but the emotional energy is maintained even though the proverbial fellowship is broken. Ezra is learning from the Sith Holocron, Kanan is a shattered shell of himself, Hera is busy with the larger Rebellion, and the crew seems more and more like it's core is now Ezra, Sabine, Zeb, and Rex.

The episode begins with them breaking into an Imperial facility to break Hondo from prison and very quickly we learn that things are not how we might have wanted them to be. Ezra is rash, angry, and using the Force in ways that are nothing short of shocking.

But really, none of this is what you're hoping to hear about. We all want to talk to about Thrawn, right?

This episode is notable because it brings into the new "Star Wars" continuity the most formidable villain of the old Expanded Universe: Grand Admiral Thrawn. Created by Timothy Zahn for 1991's "Heir to the Empire," Thrawn proved to be a genius. He would analyze the art and culture of his opponents and create grand, strategic plans that would put Palpatine's grand plan to shame.

We only catch a few glimpses of him as he's managing behind the scenes, but every moment he's in is cold and calculating and froze my blood. In fact, one of the final moments of the episode are given to Thrawn and I've never been more terrified of someone calling for ships to pull OUT of a tense situation with my heroes.

Lars Mikkelson brings his voice and there's a cold and calculating menace to it that is nothing short of chilling. And the dialogue and actions for the character are perfect for the character. He's not threatening as much as he is calculating. He puts together disparate bits of information and tells the Empire exactly what's going on. Seeing him in further action is going to be bad news for our heroes, but I'll be damned if it's not going to be fun to watch.

The next thing we have to discuss is the Bendu. Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor from "Doctor Who" fame, gives voice to a mysterious force wielder known only as the Bendu. He dismisses the Jedi and Sith's use of the Ahsla (the light side of the Force) and the Bogan (the dark side) as mere parlor tricks. He's a larger character, much more of a Tom Bombadil sort. His mastery of the Force is such that he's able to guide Kanan back to some form of sight. Much like Yoda, though, he speaks in riddles. 

For those who are familiar with their "Star Wars" behind-the-scenes history, Bendu, Ashla, and Bogan are all concepts that came directly from early drafts of George Lucas's scripts. It's more proof that George is here in the spirit of "Star Wars" every step of the way.

Baker brings an ethereal quality to the character and I'm excited to see more from him. Force mythology is something I love to learn more about and debate; the inclusion of the Bendu is going to add immeasurably to those conversations.

The next thing we need to talk about is Ezra: Put simply, he is going down a path I don't want to follow. What he did to that AT-DP driver broke my heart. He used the Force in a way that I've never seen from Sith or Jedi, but he did it in such a way that literally brought tears to my eyes. Kanan is going to need every sense at his disposal to right Ezra from his path. Taking the Sith Holocron was a good first step.

As for the construction of the episodes themselves: They're really hitting their stride in balancing the dramatic with the hilarious. One minute, you're laughing at Hondo speaking Ughnaught, the next you're terrified for the lives of the crew and for the soul of Ezra. The animation on the system where they're stealing Y-wings is beautiful. The wind and sky give it the feel of a combination of Tatooine in a dust storm and Cloud City, which is an aesthetic I can't quite remember seeing in "Star Wars" at all before. 

The voice acting is reaching new heights as well, with the characters settling into their roles. I was particularly impressed with the gravel Freddie Prinze, Jr., has added to his voice. Kanan has been through a lot and we can hear it. 

This episode is a welcome opening, but it's really just the prelude. I'm hoping for more. Much, much more. I get the sense that the team behind "Rebels" is hitting their stride in evening out the season-length trajectory of their episodes, giving us a careful episode-by-episode build rather than the slightly uneven nature of last season. For a base to start with, this episode was perfect. I'm giving it an 8 out of 10.

Season 1 Scorecard

Season 2 Scorecard

Season 3 Scorecard:

  • Steps Into Shadow (8 of 10)

Season Average: 8 out of 10

 

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Tags: thrawn , star wars , rebels