Star Wars Rebels – Season 3 Episodes 1 & 2
“Steps Into Shadow”
Star Wars Rebels returns for a third season with a time jump and a seemingly darker focus following on from the uncertainty of the season 2 finale.
Last season’s end had a lot of consequences to inform what this season will cover. Ahsoka is lost and presumed dead, Kanan is blind and Ezra seems to be sliding towards the Dark Side after opening a Sith Holocron. It isn’t quite Empire Strikes Back levels of bleakness but there’s a lot that can potentially cause issues for the characters.
The episode opens with a mission that in any other episode would be very routine but it’s an effective way to show us what has changed. Most obviously is the fact that Ezra is older than when we last saw him. It isn’t clear how much older but he is now very much a teenager in both appearance and attitude. The other major difference is that Kanan isn’t on the mission with them which makes a lot of sense considering he is blind and may be a liability out in the field.
It’s a fun sequence and makes for some entertaining viewing while setting up Ezra as being different to how we have seen him before. He is confident to the point of arrogance, reckless, impulsive and definitely more skilled with both his lightsaber and his Force powers. Basically he is everything we were told Anakin Skywalker was when Attack of the Clones begins.
That comparison is an important one as I have always thought Star Wars Rebels is attempting to develop the master/apprentice relationship in a way that works better than the prequel trilogy. To my mind they have more or less succeeded and have gotten to the point that Ezra’s slip towards the Dark Side feels natural. The key thing here is that Kanan has always been shown as a teacher who doesn’t have all of the answers so is unable to impart the necessary knowledge successfully. If he doesn’t understand then he can’t make Ezra understand. As a result Ezra asks questions that he never has answered and that frustration causes him to look for answers in other places.
For now there are only hints at Ezra’s leaning towards the Dark Side and the most interesting thing is that hints of darkness seem to be well intentioned so far. Both major concerning moments are fuelled by a desire to help his friends. When he mind controls the Imperial Walker pilot to walk off a cliff he is doing so to even the odds and ensure that his friends aren’t killed. Later when he cuts the power to the facility housing the Y-Wings it is so that the mission can be a success and his friends can get out safely. He even says that he has faith in his friends and uses that to justify his actions.
I would say he’s a long way off from becoming truly evil but his arrogance is causing him some problems and so far he has nothing to temper it. Kanan has retreated into himself so can’t offer him guidance so most of the advice in this episode comes from Hondo who definitely isn’t the best of role models.
The one thing that doesn’t quite work about this is that there seems to be a lack of concern from the other members of the team. Zeb and Sabine seem more surprised at how powerful he is rather than concerned though Sabine does comment that he is Ezra “most of the time” which suggests there is some level of concern that she isn’t talking about as yet. Hera doesn’t really bat an eyelid at his display of power but maybe she sees that as being the only way to solve the problem in a combat situation. It’s possible that over the season Ezra’s friends will feel more uneasy around him but for now there seems to be a distinct lack of reaction.
Kanan is the one who reacts the most. He finds that Ezra has been learning from the Sith Holocron and simply confiscates it. Immediately this is the wrong thing to do because Ezra doesn’t learn that it’s dangerous that way. All it will really do is make him feel victimised and desire to get it back. Kanan making the wrong decisions in terms of teaching Ezra has been a common thread throughout and I’m glad to see that it is continued.
The brief use of the Sith Holocron was excellent. Ezra hiding it inside one of his helmets is an effective way of symbolising that it has got inside his head and the way it encourages him to use what it teaches him is really unsettling. Ezra may not realise how dangerous it is but the episode makes it more than clear.
Kanan has an interesting arc in this episode. He spends most of his time meditating to come to terms with his blindness and is clearly struggling with it. It is established that nobody really sees him any more and the mysterious voice calling him into the distance is appropriately mysterious. At first it’s unclear whether it will lead him to his doom or give him a deeper understanding of everything he needs to overcome his disability.
It turns out that the voice belongs to a strange creature known as the Bendu (Tom Baker), a large Force sensitive creature that doesn’t fall into the Jedi or Sith category. He is a creature that understands the Force and is able to help Kanan find a renewed perspective on his own situation.
The Bendu is an interesting character and Tom Baker fills him with personality as well as an implied sense of wisdom that comes across well. There was a huge risk of this character being a vague mystical figure but his function in the plot is significant enough that his presence feels worthwhile.
I really liked the way he takes Kanan on a guided meditation to understand the root of his current mindset and set him on the path to dealing with it. Instead of being told to avoid feelings like fear and guilt like we have seen from the Jedi in the past, he is told to embrace them and try to understand them. It could be argued that the Jedi fell because they were hiding from the things they associated with evil while failing to understand them so in order to survive then Jedi need to try something new. Being in touch with emotions that were denied definitely seems to be a way to do that.
Is the Bendu a one shot character? I certainly hope not because I feel that he has a lot to offer the show. The fact that he currently has the the Sith Holocron suggests to me that Ezra will definitely have some sort of interaction with him. It’s unclear whether the Bendu has a darker agenda but based on his appearance here my guess would be that he doesn’t.
Naturally the Empire are still around and there are more of them to worry about in this season. Agent Kallus is still around despite repeated displays of incompetence and Tarkin is leading the charge as you might expect but the new face come in the form of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen), a significant character from Expanded Universe lore. His appearance in this episode is brief but so far it seems like he has a good idea of what he is doing and has a strategy in mind to defeat the Rebellion. Lars Mikkelsen’s vocal performance is confident and creepy so he definitely makes an impression despite limited screen time.
The episode definitely wasn’t perfect as the final action sequence felt a little too mechanical. We’ve seen other similar things before and I would say there were a few too many moving parts to make it feel as tightly constructed as it needs to be. It does a good job of showing how reckless Ezra has become and allows Kanan to come back into the fold as well as show us that his bond with Ezra is still a strong one despite their differences.
Season 3 is off to a great start. The time jump seems necessary to continue Ezra’s development and his slide towards the Dark Side is handled well so far. Tom Baker’s Bendu was an interesting and enigmatic addition that will hopefully return but even if not his presence was memorable and helped Kanan deal with his emotional issues. Grand Admiral Thrawn has a small role here but seems interesting so far. There are a lot of interesting elements for the show to play with over the course of the season and I look forward to seeing how they develop.
- hints at Ezra’s slow descent into the Dark Side
- the Bendu and his contribution to the story
- Grand Admiral Thrawn’s effective first impression
- a lack of reaction to Ezra’s display of power
- the final action sequence feeling a bit overstuffed