Season Three, Episodes One & Two — “Steps Into Shadow, Parts I & II”
By Jason Gibner. If the Ghost crew can be considered a family, then let’s hope they get all this inter-personal drama taken care of before Life Day or it’s going to be a really awkward holiday season.
Last time on Rebels, the very old (and very pissed off) Darth Maul stirred the pot by blinding Kanan while introducing young Ezra to the dark side. Then, after a duel with someone named Darth Vader, the beloved Ahsoka Tano wandered off into what may very well be another realm of existence. Some time has passed since then, and our little motley crew looks a little older (new haircuts will do that to you), but their situation has definitely not improved.
Still stuck on the dreary Rebel base on the spider-filled planet of Atollon, our little band of scrappy heroes still appear to be quite fractured. Blinded and wearing a helmet covering his burned eyes, Kanan sits alone meditating on the Force while Ezra sits alone in his room, brooding and chit-chatting about straight up evil with the Sith Holocron. A little family counseling might be in everyone’s future, but for right now a mission to liberate some old Y-Wings for the fledgling Rebel Alliance might be just what the doctor ordered.
In this bombastic Season Three premiere, we find Ezra Bridger stepping out of a literal shadow of darkness to save his friends through the use of some pretty dark tactics. (Making Stormtroopers basically kill each other? That’s about a 9 on the Anakin scale there, Ezra.) At the moment, Ezra is so teenage angsty he’s one step away from getting a My Chemical Romance t-shirt at Hot Topic and getting totally wasted on wine coolers on a Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Kanan continues his deadbeat dad status by being completely oblivious to his padawan’s rapid descent into the dark side: He stumbles into the discovery of Ezra’s Sith Holocron like a parent discovering their kid’s secret porno mags under the bed. A lot of these clunky character moments fall into Rebel‘s “faster, more intense” brand of storytelling, as this week’s two-part episode tries to pack in a lot of information early on, making the first half feel overly rushed and frantic. All this narrative havoc, and we have to make room for our Expanded Universe poster boy, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
The introduction of such an important bad guy should have been major moment, but with so freaking much going on before and after his introduction, it ends up feeling like an afterthought. I feel like the ultra-evil Thrawn will be an interesting threat for the Rebels going forward, so I continue to hold out hope that this season will really dig into what makes this Chiss tick.
Thankfully things pick up and slow down, as Kanan goes off on a vision quest to find an old force user (who just so happens to look like a giant space mule) known as The Bendu. As this fascinating Bendu (voiced by Doctor Who himself, Tom Baker) does some Yoda-esque Force therapy for Kanan, Ezra leads a doomed mission to retrieve some Y-Wings for the Rebel Alliance. As these two storylines move along, the episode begins to find a much more comfortable (yet still chaotic) Star Wars brand of rhythm. With Force mysticism and TIE Fighter dog fights packed in 40+ minutes, the episode just manages to maintain balance.
As “Steps Into Shadow” reaches its stunning (and surprisingly touching) final moments, it becomes even more clear that showrunner Dave Filoni has traded his approach to episodic storytelling for a wider cinematic canvas, where there’s plenty of time and space to tell the sort of heartfelt, epic Star Wars stories we’ve come to expect. One thing’s for certain: Rebels is definitely growing into itself.
Ezra: “Hondo, it’s good to see you!” Zeb: “Not really.”
“Ooh, Mandalorian! I can get a lot for this on the black market!” – Hondo.
Hondo: “Is that really Ezra?” Sabine: “Most of the time.”
“Your presence is like a violent storm in this quiet world...” – Bendu.
“Jedi and Sith wield the Ashla and the Bogan, the light and the dark. I am the one in the middle… The Bendu.” – Bendu.
“Be empty and continue onward.” – Bendu.
Sabine: “Karabast!” Zeb: “My thoughts exactly.“
“If you can see yourself, you will never be truly blind, Kanan Jarrus Jedi Knight.” – Bendu.
“I’ll always come back.” – Kanan.
“Pretty wizard, eh?” – Zeb.
BEST MOMENT: With Ezra hanging on for dear life on the side of a giant crashing Imperial salvage yard, he uses the Force to call out to his master. Kanan releases his anger at his padawan and risks everything to go and rescue him. As the Ghost flies closer, Kanan spots Ezra riding what very soon will become a giant fireball. When called into action, Kanan rushes through the hallways of the Ghost like a father rushing off to save their child. It’s a moment where both characters, who have spent the entire episode looking inward at themselves, let go and realize that for either of them to get out their funks, they need each other. Kanan reaches out to his padawan surrounded by beams of brilliant white light, and we’re reminded that sometimes subtlety is not always Star Wars’ strongest suit, but it’s that struggle between the light and the dark that keeps bringing us back.
EPISODE’S MVP: Kanan Jarrus. In 40 minutes, Kanan was provided more growth than the entire length of the last two seasons. Blinded by Maul and ashamed of his failure to protect his padawan, Kanan begins this episode looking very much like a lost samurai, but ends up finding a renewed sense of purpose. In the family unit that is the Ghost crew, Kanan is the father figure who spent all of last season off on a business trip. This humbled, enlightened and determined Kanan Jarrus is an exciting development for Season Three. Now all he has to do is buckle down and take away the allowance and iPad privileges from the bratty kid with anger issues and a Sith holocron addiction.
– R.I.P. Terba, Hondo’s little Ugnaught buddy. You tasted that freedom a little too hard, buddy.
– Several times during “Steps Into Shadows,” the show makes it clear that it’s come a long way visually from Season One. The colors pop, the animation is smoother, and much like how Clone Wars progressed over time in terms of quality, this show continues to look better and better.
– So that Force Owl leads Kanan to the Bendu? Is this The Daughter from the “Mortis “arc? Ashoka in another form watching over Kanan? The mystery of the Convorees continues.
– On the subject of the Convorees, did you catch that Sabine has the owl drawn on her shoulder pad?
– Really great to see Irina Spalko, Russian psychic and Stalin’s favorite fair-haired girl, got a job in the Empire and changed her name to Governor Arihnda Pryce. Just goes to show that you should never, ever give up on your dreams. Welcome back, Agent Spalko!
– The Bendu is left with the Sith holocron but in trailers for this season we can clearly see Maul and Ezra sitting around having a little pow-wow with the evil triangle. So does that mean Darth Maul pays a visit to the Bendu? And what would that be like?
– Thrawn, unlike most of the Empire, seems to know that the Rebel Alliance is amassing a much larger fleet than it may appear. The rescued Y-Wings are to be sent to General Dodonna’s rebel cell on Yavin. This finally acknowledges the growing size — and might — of the Rebel Alliance. Makes me wonder if this is Rebel‘s first steps towards what we’ll soon be seeing in Rogue One.
– Hanging up in Ezra’s very dark teenager bedroom is podracing poster featuring the one and only podracing legend Ben Quadinaros. I hope the Sith holocron saw it hanging there: “Use your anger to save your… wait… is that Ben Quadinaros?!”
– If the names Bendu, Ashla and Bogan sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. In George Lucas’ first drafts for Star Wars, the Jedi Knights were known as the Jedi Bendu and the light side was called Ashla. The dark? That was called the Bogan. Now Bendu has reclaimed those names some 41 years after Lucas left them aside. Much like how these are older names, the character of Bendu represents an older version of the Force. It’s just another example that we’re looking at a mere sliver in time for the Star Wars universe. Also it shows that Dave Filoni is a maniac.
8 out of 10
Next: “The Holocrons of Fate,” soon.
Before: “Twilight of the Apprentice,” here.