Star Wars Rebels
Rebels is a series I prefer to marathon, which is why I didn't watch this series for quite a while -- despite this being a verdict I usually reserve for heavily serialised shows, and despite Rebels being firmly episodic, it really does work best when you're watching ten or twelve episodes at a time.
Part of that is that, while nominally episodic, Rebels actually does a great job of having a strong serialised story running through it: The plot threads with Maul and Thrawn run throughout the entire series and give us two compelling antagonists, and those plot threads are backed up with plots about Kallus as Fulcrum, the expanding Rebellion, Sabine, and Bendu. The show doesn't tie all of those plot threads up by the end of the series, but it ties up some, while clearly leaving others to be continued into the fourth series.
Picking up some weeks or months after the incidents on Malachor that capped off the second series, Rebels' third series sees the group settled at Chopper Base and making plans to launch an attack against the factories on Lothal, with the hope of eventually driving the Empire away from it. Before long, however, they come up against two problems: Maul's continued interest in Ezra, and his obsession with finding Obi-Wan Kenobi; and Grand Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant strategist who has been sent to deal with Phoenix Squadron once and for all.
|Ezra has villain hair now, and that's terrible.|
We'll run down the technical aspects first: The animation remains good but not stellar, although it does get its moments, especially in the last three episodes, where it manages to become something actually genuinely amazing; the soundtrack is solid and makes use of John Williams classics; and the voice-acting is uniformly strong. The show adds Lars Mikkelsen, who recently played Charles Augustus Magnussen in Sherlock, to the cast as Thrawn, and he does a really solid job; and Tom Baker as Bendu, who is brilliant.
In general, the strongest threads of this series come from the villains. Whenever Maul or Thrawn show up in an episode in any kind of major capacity -- which is infrequently for Maul, and much more frequently for Thrawn -- you know the episode is going to be a good one.
Maul's odd master-apprentice relationship with Ezra, partly but not entirely reciprocated, is one of the best parts of the series, and when Maul dies near the end of the series -- cut down by Obi-Wan in a short duel before dying in his arms, declaring that Luke will avenge both of them -- there's a genuine sense of weight to it, like Maul knew this would be the outcome but was compelled by their shared history to force the confrontation anyway. I've seen some pretty good write-ups of the weight of history that goes into the final confrontation between those two, how it ties off not only Maul's character arc, but also Obi-Wan's, and while it's a brief moment, it stands out as one of the best moments of the series.
|Thrawn, and his eyebrow ridge things.|
Thrawn's impact on the series as a whole is much bigger, given that he serves as main antagonist, and you can tell that the show has to have him take a back seat quite often, and force him to hold back, because Thrawn's an established character with a reputation as a strategic genius, and having him repeatedly fail would both undermine that and undermine his status as main antagonist. So instead, his underlings fail frequently, and Thawne comes away with a valuable strategic advantage in spite of it.
When Thrawn does step into the fray himself, it's a lot of fun to watch -- the last two episodes feature a tense and fraught battle for survival against the overwhelming force of Thrawn's strategies, with the rebels only surviving via a combination of Thrawn being handicapped by Tarkin's demand that he bring back their leaders alive, and the intervention of Bendu.
The other big, hefty plot thread that runs throughout involves Sabine and the Mandalorians, and while I won't say it wasn't interesting -- it really was -- it failed to catch my attention the same way that the Maul and Thrawn plotlines did, not least because it didn't really have a compelling villain. The closest thing to a villain was some Mandalorian clan leader, but he's so forgettable I can't even recall his name as I write this review.
Ultimately, this was a really strong series, and luckily for all of us, series four has already been announced. I have high hopes for it, especially as we're starting to get news filtering in that the fourth series will tie into Rogue One somehow. With only two years remaining in-universe until A New Hope, and a lot of plot threads to wrap up, it looks like we'll soon be heading into Rebels' final stretch. I suspect they will, at least, try to keep it going for two more series, though.