The Entrance of Thrawn
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Star Wars Rebels is crafting a tale quite similar to that of the prequels in relation to its chief protagonist. Ezra is walking down a similar path to that of Anakin Skywalker, slowly shedding his attachment to the side of the light for lack of a better phrase to achieve the goals that would, as far as he is concerned, allow him to ensure the protection of his friends. It’s a folly move, but one that would make sense as Ezra has never been formally instructed within the ways of the Jedi, with Kanan being a stumbling mentor in comparison to the education he himself received. Ezra’s past of being alone, growing up in the desolate alleyways of Lothal amidst a gaping hole that his parents left behind is slightly similar to that of Anakin’s, if even more remarkably isolating and dark. It’s no surprise that he feels a bitterness towards Kanan for becoming a recluse after he was blinded by Darth Maul, a bitterness that also reflects a sense of guilt for the dangerous position Ezra’s actions placed his friends within. He takes a bit of responsibility for Kanan’s blindness and what he presumes is Ahsoka’s death at the hands of Darth Vader and that sense of inward guilt drives him towards something that would maybe not rectify his mistakes but give him a pathway towards ensuring that he doesn’t make any more. But as Sansa Stark noted on Game of Thrones, no one can really protect anyone else and in his ill-guided pursuit of some semblance of power, Ezra is turning himself away from his friends even more. He of course doesn’t see it that way and his petulant, angry mannerisms after Kanan takes away the Sith holocron point towards as much. He feels alone, cornered, and abandoned by his master, who may or may not be infuriated with him for the injury he received. For all he knows, there isn’t anyone really around to talk to besides Nika Futterman’s holocron and therein lies the path to madness.i
The most promising note of this opening episode is the remarkable maturity of the storytelling on display. There’s no point in the story where Ezra really gets away with his mistakes, no holding back of what the consequences of his actions are and even more gravely, what they could have been. Sure, the Rebels garner a handful of bombers, but it’s (as a character astutely notes) a meager prize and the cost to garner that prize could have been far more disastrous. Whether or not Ezra completely understands that reality is a different instance entirely, perhaps. He certainly begins this episode on an incredibly ominous note as he is undertaking a mission to rescue Hondo for some potential bombers. His authoritarian character streak immediately rubs Sabine and Zeb the wrong way, a further indication of the alienation Ezra is embodying, but the frightening point arrives when he uses a Force mind trick against the pilot of an AT-ST. The pilot shoots his own troopers and then Ezra slowly walks him off of the bridge and towards suicide. Its stark power comes from the almost banal causality of it, as if there were little to nothing Ezra had thought of what he had just done. His embrace of violence in the heat of battles was one thing – enemy troops were actively trying to kill him and his comrades – but this was arguably completely necessary. That the methodology was cruel in the manner of the Sith is the less of a debate. There was a consistency within the narrative, however, where almost every single protagonist was within the potential grasps of death and all of those instances go into the mind frame where Ezra is trying to harness the power the holocron promises him without understanding the consequences of him trying to do so. The fear he feels as he is certain of his impending death (a direct result of his actions in the control room) brought him closer to Kanan after their separation, but it may not transcend that fear and into the maturity he truly needs to combat the darkness creeping up behind him. He understands why Hera suspends his command but it remains to be seen if he can take that same understanding towards his own internal conflict.
Season three of Rebels also taps into two distinct corners of Star Wars and both attempts, while vastly different in tone and scope, succeed on their own merit. George Lucas famously noted that Star Wars was in many senses a fantasy story and not one necessarily bound within the confines of what people imagined science fiction to be and the Bendu taps right into that sense of fantasy. Voiced by famed Doctor Who veteran Tom Baker, Bendu notes that he is a sort of bridge in the Force, a bridge that helps Kanan see that he was truly afraid of the grief, fear, and anger within himself and not within any outer object, creature, or individual. The second component was Grand Admiral Thrawn, introduced to great fanfare in Timothy Zahn’s seminal Heir to the Empire trilogy. When that was rendered to be a “legend” and thus non-canonical, Thrawn’s character seemed to be destined to remain a great read but that was all. With his appearance in Rebels and a new novel on the character from Zahn, that has changed and it’s thankfully just the right villain our protagonists definitely didn’t need but the show did. Thrawn, as Governor Pryce so astutely puts it, is a leader who’s simply beyond the minute perspective, choosing instead too focus on the larger goals at hand. A single rebel crew, as far as he was concerned, was irrelevant, negligible in the damage it could truly inflict upon the Empire. That’s the focus the show has shown so far, an Imperial bureaucracy rocked by inattention and inefficiency as they chase enemies who don’t have the resources but also the wide scope of attention to be beholden to. The Empire (as seen through the narrows lens of the show anyhow) so far was focusing on the small picture and grand designs rarely work through a narrow, limited scope. Thrawn, voiced deliciously by Lars Mikkelsen, looks to upset that reality and deal blows to the Rebels the likes of which they have never seen.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Governor Pryce; It’s great to see female Imperial commanders in canon material.
+“We’re not leaving any witnesses.”
+“They will be the architects of their own destruction.”
-The placement of the title card remains a problem
Episode Title: Steps into Shadow
Written by: Steven Melching & Matt Michnovetz
Directed by: Bosco Ng and Mel Zwyer
Image Courtesy: Star Wars