The third season of Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels will be remembered mainly for two things: the arrival of the legendary Grand Admiral Thrawn and the culmination of a long-simmering Jedi-Sith rivalry in the sands of a familiar desert world.
Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Season Three becomes available Tuesday on Blu-ray and DVD.
This season has special significance for longtime fans of the old Star Wars “Expanded Universe,” as it sees the TV debut of Thrawn, a character created for Timothy Zahn’s trilogy that kick-started the vast constellation of novels and comics.
But it also brought us “Twin Suns,” the final confrontation between Obi-Wan Kenobi — now settled into his exile as a Tatooine hermit — and the former Sith Lord known as Darth Maul.
Maul spent much of seasons 2 and 3 grooming Rebels’ street-rat-turned-Jedi-padawan Ezra Bridger to be his dark apprentice. While Ezra struggled with his darkness, his master Kanan Jarrus, blinded by Maul in their last battle, has struggled with his role as the young man’s mentor. He’ll get some help in this regard from the mysterious “gray” Force presence Bendu, as the Rebel fleet begins to take shape and their base grows on the remote planet Atollon — but Ezra takes defining steps into the role of a leader here that feel like a Jedi’s grim march to destiny (and adulthood).
After evading the Grand Inquisitor in the first season and escaping Darth Vader’s clutches (barely) in the second with the help of Anakin Skywalker’s former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, the Ghost crew finds themselves in season 3 hunted by the Empire’s coldly analytical Thrawn, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma who dissects the art of a society to learn their pressure points. He’s a perfect fit in this show, despite his distinctly un-Imperial heritage (explored more fully in Zahn’s recent novel Thrawn), and serves to give the heroes a foil without Jedi or Mandalorian baggage, allowing those threads to unravel at their own pace.
Thrawn plays the long game, frustrating the more traditional Imperial officials who have brought him in to do what they couldn’t — squash the burgeoning Rebellion before it can really take flight. And he does just that; by the end of season 3, the movement may have had most of the fight knocked out of it, if the fraying state of its union in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is any indication. As Season 4 of Rebels approaches, Thrawn will be more dangerous than ever.
The Mandalorian civil war subplot, with the dazzling Darksaber artifact in the hands of Sabine Wren, is developed here in a way that emphasizes family dynamics and character, playing to Star Wars’ most powerful themes of redemption and loyalty — while giving Kanan an apprentice he can truly challenge and push to their greatest potential, before letting go. Look for this storyline, with its tragic Clone Wars origins, to reach its peak in Season 4 with the return of a familiar yet surprising face.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray of Season 3 have bonus features that include all 19 “Rebels Recon” features plus “A Rebel Alliance,” a documentary of how the formation of the Rebel Alliance in this season ties into Rogue One. The Blu-ray edition includes five additional bonus presentations: “Return to Mandalore,” “Thrawn: A Legend Reborn,” “Apprentice to Outcasts: Kenobi and Mail,” an extended “The Original Rebel: Saw Gerrera Returns,” delving into the character created for Clone Wars and ported over to Rogue One, in addition to five audio commentaries with executive producer Dave Filoni and other production crew members.