The entire third season of Star Wars Rebels has been building up to this moment. From the moment Grand Admiral Thrawn was reintroduced into canon in the first episode of the season, Thrawn has been meticulously trying to figure out where the rebel base was so that he could make his strike. As such, to have such a huge figure live up to expectations that strike had to pack a punch.
In the season finale, the two-parter titled “Zero Hour,” that’s exactly what happened. Thrawn confronted Fulcrum and figured out the location of the rebel base on Atollon, launching a massive attack. For the most part, his attack lived up to expectations, though there are still a few things I didn’t love about the episode.
Here’s a look at my thoughts from the episode, and it goes without saying but there are ***FULL SPOILERS*** ahead for Zero Hour parts one and two.
- THRAWN! This was the largest role that Grand Admiral Thrawn had in an episode this season, and he most certainly didn’t disapoint. His fistfight (and defeating) of Agent Kallus, after letting Kallus get off a transmission to the rebels helping Thrawn figure out their location, was great. He was perfectly built up as an intimidating and very real threat: he was able to use his knowledge of art to piece together the location of the rebel base; he sent a transmission to the rebel leaders to make his presence known; and he always seemed to have an answer, whether it was with the attempted attack on the walkers or even eventually the Bendu’s crazy storm (more on that later). To their credit, the writers did a nice job of making sure that Thrawn didn’t fall into the line of incompetent Imperials, as everything that you could point to that went wrong was not Thrawn’s doing. If Tarkin didn’t want prisoners, if Konstantine didn’t defy orders with his lust for power, if Sabine and the Mandolorians hadn’t blindsideded Governor Pryce, or if the Bendu hadn’t gone crazy with his rage, Thrawn would have succeeded in completely wiping out Phoenix Squadron. Instead, he succeeded in crushing a devastating, but not fatal, blow to the show’s heroes.
- Commander Sato’s final act was a fine one. Of everything that happened in the episode, perhaps the least surprising thing was the death of Commander Jun Sato. It was established that he had a history with Thrawn (though that wasn’t really explored in the show), and it seemed clear that at least someone was going to need to die. Sure enough, Sato perished in this episode, but the way it happened was a heroic last moment. Understanding that Ezra needed to jump to hyperspace to get help if there was any hope of Pheonix and Massassi squadrons surviving, Sato led his cruiser forward into the fray, drawing Konstantine’s Interdictor away from Thrawn’s instructed location. Having Sato’s selfless act juxtaposed with Konstantine’s selfish act was a nice touch, and it provided a chance for Ezra to make the jump to hyperspace – ultimately bringing help that would change the tide of the battle to allow the remnant to escape. It was a bit strange that Ezra was still able to escape despite another Interdictor lurking among Thrawn’s fleet, but nonetheless Sato (and the two loyal soldiers that stayed with him) in a heroic moment.
- Kanan lives! It’s seemed as if Kanan has been sidelined quite a bit recently, but he had a big role in Zero Hour, which was very well done. His speech to the Bendu was a great moment, as he explained that he once tried to stay in the middle but came to the realization that “some things are worth fighting for,” after which the show cut to Hera and the Ghost in space facing the insurmountable odds of fighting Thrawn’s fleet. Additionally, the scene of Kanan showing up to slice the AT-AT’s legs and enter the cave on the run with Zeb and Rex was cool, and he even provided a moment of levity when he declared, “I think Thrawn’s actually trying to kill us this time” when talking with Hera (who, by the way, referred to Kanan once again as “love,” something we haven’t heard a lot of recently). And the final scene, with Kanan traveling throughout the Ghost consoling the survivors and encouraging them, was a tremendous addition as it showed not only the great loss that the rebels had suffered but also hope. One last thing regarding Kanan from this episode was that I thought the episode set it up very well for him to die. Near the beginning Kanan told Ezra that he had taught his padawan everything, and then later he gave a passionate speech to the Bendu about how he learned some things are worth fighting for. That, plus the fact that this battle was in a way Thrawn vs. Hera (who would have been very much impacted if something happened to Kanan), made it seem like it was a great time to kill off the Jedi. That would have created an even bigger impact of Thrawn’s attack, would have had a profound impact on the Ghost crew, and would have been fascinating to see play out in their interactions next season. But there’s still a lot they can do with Kanan so it’s not a bad move to keep him alive, but it felt like they were setting it up for his death – but it didn’t happen.
- Sabine’s return. Though it was predictable, Ezra going to get Sabine for help was a cool moment, and the scene of the Mandolorians rushing in to the battle and then launching their attack on the hull of the Interdictor provided some tremendous visuals and a great battle. It was the perfect time to bring Sabine back into the mix, rushing to the aid of her friends, but I hope next season the show doesn’t rely too much on Sabine’s relations with the Ghost crew but rather explores the Mandalorian plotline more (something I’m sure they’ll do).
- Kallus joins the crew. Though he wasn’t the focal point of the episode, we got some great Kallus moments. His fight with Thrawn, his barbs aimed at Thrawn while on the Chimaera, and him eventually joining the Ghost survivors added an interesting storyline. There was no reason to throw him out the airlock to a painful death, but that’s what Governor Pryce had done – well, she tried. Kallus escaped, and jettisoned in a pod. That provided a nice moment of tension in the episode: Kallus sitting in the battlefield in a pod, as it was unclear whether he’d live or die. Hera picked him up, and he had a touching exchange with Kanan at the end of the episode. It will be fascinating to see how his storyline progresses next season.
- The Bendu. If there was one thing about the episode that I’m still not sure what to think of, it’s the whole plot line with the Bendu. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense: he’s a powerful character who we haven’t seen display that power much yet, and he provided a true surprise for Thrawn that helped the rebels escape. Ok. But at the same time, it felt kind of forced that Kanan went to the Bendu instead of helping Ezra. And the Bendu turning into a storm felt a lot like an easy plot device to allow the heroes to escape without any of the main cast dying, which is exactly what it was (though it led to a fantastic Thrawn line: “What Jedi devilry is this?”). I did like the Bendu’s conversation with Kanan, and it was important that the Bendu didn’t take a side with his lightning wrath but instead hit both sides. In the end, the storyline with the Bendu worked, but it’s not something that I thought was fantastic.
- Aerial assault. As Thrawn bombarded Atollon from space, it was a great decision by the developers to focus in on Thrawn and Hera. The look on Hera’s face of terror and desperation, eventually readying for her sure death, while also showing Thrawn supervision the attack, was well done.
- Hera’s influence. There were also some great Hera moments as she faced off with Thrawn’s fleet, and the path is paved for her to become a general in the rebellion (something we know happens since she’s a general in Rogue One). I also loved the line, as she’s heading back to her ship, that, “If I go out it’s going to be on the Ghost.”
- Death troopers! Fresh off of their appearance in Rogue One, we got our first glimpse of Death Troopers in Rebels as they served as Thrawn’s bodyguards and personal squadron. Protecting Imperial officers and officers of the Tarkin Initiative, we’ve now seen them protecting Director Krennic and Grand Admiral Thrawn. I’d love to see more of them in future Rebels episodes, but they have to be used in the right way in certain situations. This episode was one such perfect occasion to use them.
Overall, this was a very strong episode of Star Wars Rebels. Grand Admiral Thrawn was terrific (and Lars Mikkelson was once again perfect with the voice), and the rebellion suffered a damaging loss. The show didn’t try to pretend like it was a victory, and even though the main characters survived, it felt like the Battle of Hoth – they survived, but it was a crushing loss (and Hera even gave the emergency evacuation code K-one-zero, the same code given at Hoth). If not for an incompetent Imperial (Konstantine) and unexpected occurrences (Sabine’s arrival and the Bendu’s wrath), Thrawn would have completely decimated Phoenix Squadron. Instead, they live to fight another day – but not without suffering a big defeat at the hands of the Empire’s smartest Grand Admiral.