The wait has been long and painful since the world-shattering Season 2 finale, but finally Star Wars Rebels returns this Saturday, Sept 24. Disney and Lucasfilm were kind enough to give us access to the two-part Season 3 premiere titled Steps Into Shadow and the return starts off impressive… most impressive.
The story picks up after an indeterminate amount of time following the events of Twilight of the Apprentice, but enough time has passed for Ezra to have gotten a haircut and look a bit older, while Kanan has grown a beard and sports an awesome battle worn shield over his now blinded eyes. Both Ezra (Taylor Gray) and Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) take the main focus in both episodes and are noticeably lost after the events of last season.
Ezra is in far deeper trouble within his dabbling into the dark side thanks to the Sith Holocron he recovered from Darth Maul. The young Jedi is older, angrier, and more powerful while also badly in need of a mentor – especially since he’s the current leader of the Ghost’s crew for the Rebellion while Kanan is on sabbatical.
So where is Kanan? He’s on Atollon (the Rebel base from last season with the sand spider things) seeking enlightenment and perhaps a way to regain his sight so he can rejoin the Rebellion. His quest leads him to the being known as Bendu (voiced by scarfed Doctor Who himself Tom Baker) – an old god-like being, strong in the Force that is neither light side or dark.
Meanwhile, Grand Moff Tarkin and the Empire are repositioning their approach on the Rebellion by bringing in the newly promoted Grand Admiral Thrawn. The beloved blue skinned, red-eyed tactician is back from expanded universe “Legends” hell and officially injected back into canon with his appearance in these episodes. Lars Mikkelsen voices Thrawn with wonderfully cool and calculating calm, and the fans should rest easy knowing the character is perfectly portrayed – although don’t hold your breath for a huge Thrawn presence in the two-part premiere as he only appears in roughly one scene in each part of Steps Into Shadow.
The episodes go to some dark places with Ezra’s leadership of the Ghost crew taking them down dangerous paths as the team follows their leader loyally, but seasoned vets like Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) are visibly disturbed by his aggression and recklessness. The sequences with Kanan and Bendu are quite trippy and scenes like these on Clone Wars and Rebels always throw me for a loop, but Tom Baker is so fantastic as Bendu and the end result for Kanan makes it all worth it.
These episodes excel at really selling the fallout from the last season without trying to top what Twilight of Apprentice achieved. There’s still plenty of action though, and the final sequence at an Imperial outpost has all the perfect Star Wars moments, – space battles, lightsabers, rescues etc. Steps Into Shadow is also impressively patient in building the new dynamic for Season 3, while establishing these characters have changed greatly – but makes it clear that this is still the Star Wars Rebels you know and love by the time the second part wraps up.
Star Wars Rebels Season 3 premieres Saturday, September 24, exclusively on Disney XD.
The show continues its run of telling the greatest 'Star Wars' stories anywhere since the original trilogy, with a great balance of action and poise in a two-part premiere that sees our characters greatly affected by the events of the previous season finale. A darkness looms, but this is still the show that fans know and love and Thrawn's debut just whets the appetite for more of the character in Season 3.