Last Saturday (September 24), Star Wars Rebels launched its third season with the extra-long, extra-exciting “Steps into Shadow.” And while the story answered some questions (including one I’d never thought to ask: How did the Rebel Alliance get its Y-wing fighters?), it raised some more.
1) Just how far under the dark side’s influence will Ezra fall?
Given that the season kicks off with Ezra “mind-tricking” an AT-ST driver into gunning down his fellow Stormtroopers and then walking himself off a cliff, it seems we’re in for some serious poodoo.
Rebels has already shown us it’s not afraid to drift into darkness; Kanan’s blinding and Ashoka’s (apparent) demise in last season’s finale are perfect examples. But Ezra’s dabbling in dark side power could cast a much darker shadow over the show.
Sure, the Sith holocron is gone for now. But this episode made the device seem a lot like the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. It’s seductive, deceitful, addictive; it seems even to have a will of its own. I’d bet Republic credits to rankweed it shows up again.
Even if it doesn’t, who knows whether Kanan took it away from Ezra in time to prevent lasting damage? Ezra’s promise to “never let [his] friends get hurt again” loudly echoes the rash vow that committed Anakin Skywalker to his destiny as Darth Vader. While I don’t think Ezra will wind up a Sith lord (how many kids’ hearts does Dave Filoni really want to break?), I do think the hubris-tinged turn his attachments have taken may end up costing more than the destroyed Phantom.
2) Will we learn too much about the inner workings of the Force?
The Bendu’s scenes were my favorite in this episode – not least because he’s voiced by Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor himself! (Maybe the Bendu will offer Ezra a jelly baby next week.)
Still, I wonder whether the introduction of a Sphinx-like beast living in between “the Ashla and the Bogan, the light and the dark” springs from the same misguided impulse that led George Lucas to inject midichlorians into The Phantom Menace.
How much do we really need to know about the Force?
In his outstanding book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, Chris Taylor praises Lucas for having had the good sense, in 1977, to restrict information about the Force to the “twenty-eight well-chosen words” Ben Kenobi says: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power…” “Indeed,” writes Taylor, “later attempts to examine the Force in more detail seemed out of keeping with the movie’s space fantasy origins.”
So far, the Bendu (so named as a nod to Lucas’ original terminology for the Jedi Knights) is a gentle giant version of Yoda: ancient, wise, mystical but mirthful. If Rebels’ writers can resist the temptation to have him spout off more about the Force and its component parts, the Bendu will be a welcome part of the series’ legacy.
If not, the compelling mystery that is the Force may be diminished.
3) What has Grand Admiral Thrawn got up his sleeve?
I’ll make a confession that may hurt my geek cred: I’ve never read Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels.
I remember the hubbub when Heir to the Empire saw print 25 years ago (!), and many Star Wars fans I respect have told me how good the “Thrawn Trilogy” is. I’ve simply never made the time to crack those books open.
But this gap in my Star Wars knowledge means I have no assumptions, no expectations about Thrawn’s role in Rebels.
The show’s characters know his ruthless reputation, but he doesn’t immediately fill me with dread. He’s not a hulking monstrosity in metal like Vader, a doppelganger for the Devil like Maul, or a Nosferatu-like predator like season one’s Inquisitor. He’s big, he’s blue, and cuts a sharp figure in those dress whites of his.
But what he says in his surprisingly soft-spoken voice gives me pause. He says our rebel heroes “will be the architects of their own destruction.” He’s got a long game in mind.
What could it be?
And – considering we don’t see any of the Ghost crew in the original film trilogy – could Thrawn actually win it?
What are your biggest questions from “Steps into Shadow”? Let’s talk in the comments!