One of the best parts of Disney’s ownership of Star Wars has been its commitment to supplementary stories outside of the franchise’s main movies. It’s given us everything from comic books to companion novels, as well as a brand new animated series, Star Wars Rebels.
Currently in its third season on Disney XD, the show has made a point to bring in a cadre of iconic characters, all of whom serve a key purpose in moving the Rebels story forward. Its latest run of episodes though has proven to be wildly problematic, and there are a few reasons why.
1. The filler. So. Much. Filler.
The basic format for Rebels throughout its three seasons has been to front and backload the series. What that ends up doing is making the only truly compelling episodes the season premiere and finale, with a whole lot of boring in between. In past years, it’s worked well enough, with the show filling the interim episodes with interesting, high-stakes standalone stories, each of which has built out character development in its own way.
Season 3 though has subsequently fallen flat. The “in-between” episodes have largely featured the same basic plot: Our heroes get into trouble with the Empire, and then stage a daring escape. The end result has given the distinct feeling that Rebels is simply spinning its wheels until the finale, content to roll out subpar, vanilla episodes in the meantime.
And while you could point toward the fact that 22 minutes simply isn’t enough time to tell a well-rounded story, we saw Star Wars: The Clone Wars get around that obstacle with a series of multi-episode arcs, a strategy Rebels has failed to replicate.
2. Thrawn has barely been a factor
Season 3 of Rebels was billed as the triumphant return of a fan-favorite baddie, Grand Admiral Thrawn. In the old Expanded Universe (EU) novels, Thrawn was the primary villain for our post-Return of the Jedi protagonists. He was a master strategist, a formidable foe, and arguably an even more effective military commander than anyone we saw in the original trilogy. With that all in mind, he seemed primed for a sizable role in Rebels this season. What we’ve gotten instead is a small handful of appearances where he’s mainly kept to the background.
Of course he’s likely to play a larger role in later episodes, but if you’re going to make him a central part of the early advertising for the season, you’d best be sure you utilize him accordingly. To boot, even when we have seen him, he’s been far from the cunning military genius he’s painted as in the EU novels, with our heroes slipping through his grasp at virtually every turn.
3. All the interesting character development has gone out the window
Toward the end of Season 2, we saw young Jedi-in-training, Ezra Bridger begin to slowly slip down a path to the dark side. Season 3’s premiere picked up that plot thread, showing a version of Ezra that bordered on violent, ruthless, and at times, desperate. Secretly using an ancient Sith holocron to hone his abilities, he gives us a sense of a newly-found, developed, and complex character arc.
Then, one episode later, it’s gone, just like that. Ezra returns to being a morally grounded character in the blink of an eye, showing none of the complexity that made his late-Season 2/early-Season 3 arc so interesting to begin with. Meanwhile, Ezra’s mentor, Kanan, gets little screen-time, as the show’s only link to the Jedi Order rides the pine for a large swathe of the middle-season.
4. Season 3 has doubled down on their commitment to be a kid’s show
You can’t exactly fault Rebels for aiming toward a decidedly younger demographic, especially airing on a network like Disney XD. That said, the expectation for a series following The Clone Wars was that there’d be something in the way of crossover appeal. Unfortunately, we’ve seen little (if any) of that in Season 3. The character arcs have been dumbed down, the story has been simplified in almost every way, and the narrative maturity that was the hallmark of The Clone Wars has been in short supply. There absolutely needs to be a kid-friendly gateway into the Star Wars saga, and yet still, that doesn’t mean Rebels needs to get away from its roots as a crossover hit.
The hope for now is that the finale will bring Season 3 in for a smooth landing. Even that won’t solve many of the show’s myriad problems, but at least it would be a start.
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