How ‘Star Wars Rebels’ Finally Showed Us the Rebel Alliance

James Akinaka
TV Star Wars
TV Star Wars

TV shows must always evolve as they enter their third or fourth seasons. Suffice it to say that season three of Star Wars Rebels did exactly that, and more. The recent season three finale, “Zero Hour,” capped off a whirlwind of a season filled with some of the best Star Wars stories of all time. Even though our intrepid heroes suffered a major setback, they have at long last helped create the Rebel Alliance.

It was a slow build, but after three seasons, Star Wars Rebels has finally given rise to the Rebel Alliance. What’s more, the series is racing toward its inevitable collision with Rogue One and the original trilogy, which means that next season could very well be the show’s last one. We’ll know more once Celebration Orlando provides our first glimpse at season four this weekend. Before that happens, let’s take one last look at what made the final episodes of Star Wars Rebels season three so spectacular.

Fan Contributor Robert Mitchell contributed to this article.

The Long-Awaited Debut of Mon Mothma

When fans think about the Rebel Alliance, the first names that usually come to mind are Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo. However, one character stands out within the Rebellion’s core leadership: Senator Mon Mothma. Something about Mothma exudes charisma, at times even more so than Leia’s feisty temperament. Moreover, Mothma finally brings the true Rebel Alliance to Star Wars Rebels.

Fresh out of her supporting role in Rogue One, actress Genevieve O’Reilly returned to voice the character in the Rebels episode “Secret Cargo.” The TV show has already begun to feature another famous Rebel leader, Senator Bail Organa. But O’Reilly brings so much heart and empathy to her portrayal of Mothma that you can’t help but believe in her commitment to the Rebel Alliance.

With Mothma as its star, “Secret Cargo” shows us the pivotal moment when the Rebellion becomes the Rebel Alliance. Following her resignation from the Imperial Senate, Mothma puts forth a call for the galaxy’s rebel cells to unite for the first time. And unite they do. It’s an emotional moment for the series when rebel ships from across the galaxy arrive over Dantooine, ready to do their part to stand up to the Empire. With that, Mothma solemnly declares, “This, my friends, this is our rebellion.”

Now that she’s finally entered the show’s purview, this isn’t the last we’ve see of Mon Mothma. There’s so much more that Rebels has to explain about Mothma’s and Bail Organa’s roles in shaping the Rebel Alliance. Chief among those stories is the ideological schism between Mothma and Saw Gerrera, who will return next season. Mothma’s Rebels debut has been a long time coming, and it shows just how far the show can still go.

Maul Meets His End in “Twin Suns”

When Lucasfilm teased the return of Darth Maul for The Clone Wars, fans were ecstatic. The ferocious horned tiger of a Sith Lord had far too little time on screen. But, by the end of his run in the new canon, it could be argued that the baddest Sith to only be in one movie had long overstayed his welcome. But when you look at the overall arc he brought to The Clone Wars and Rebels, the sum of Maul’s legacy is a net positive for the saga.

Maul was famous in The Phantom Menace for his relative non-character. He was fast, silent, and lethal. He showed the raw power of Sith anger. In both The Clone Wars and Rebels, he became something else: a living example of Sith treachery. He was presumed dead and discarded in favor of Darth Tyranus. As another victim of Darth Sidious‘s maneuverings to become emperor, Maul transformed into an almost pitiable character. He became the Tom Riddle of Star Wars, promising power to those around him but only amassing more power for himself to prove his own greatness. He was bluster with deadly skill.

Maul proved himself meaningful as an addition to Rebels. He served as a frightening temptation to Ezra Bridger, and a wonderful foil to Kanan Jarrus. His obsession with revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi, though, was poor motivation for a show in which Obi-Wan is not a major character. Still, their final showdown in “Twin Suns” was the most magnificent and oddly-satisfying anti-climax in recent memory. Staged like a duel from an Akira Kurosawa film, their final battle is simple. It has no grandiose acrobatics or explosive use of the Force. These are blades of pure energy that can cut through almost anything in any direction. You don’t need fancy twirls or brute strength to win in a lightsaber fight, you just need timing.

Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi

That final duel is a perfect demonstration of how far Obi-Wan has come by A New Hope, while Maul has stayed much the same. It demonstrates that true skill is often silent and rarely showy, and brings the fencing in line with what we see in the original trilogy. Obi-Wan, holding the dying Maul in his arms, also shows that there is room for sorrow and compassion even for our greatest enemies.

What didn’t work was bringing Ezra along for the ride. There was no reason for him to ever set foot on Tatooine in “Twin Suns.” He shrugged off Maul’s pernicious influence earlier in the season, so let him stay out of those affairs. We didn’t need him to be a surrogate witness to this fight, and it served to make a purportedly vast universe already accused of rampant, hyper-localized nepotism feel even smaller.

Yet one thing stands out above all else: Darth Maul died at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace, and he died again facing down the wizened wizard on Tatooine. Why bring Maul back at all if he is just going to meet the same end? We’ve seen this fated duel before.

Thrawn’s Destiny

Few things can top the raw thrill of seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn on screen. For many fans, he’s the ultimate Star Wars villain. He’s an inscrutable, cultured super-genius who masks his true viciousness and ruthless will to win underneath his calm exterior.

Thrawn clearly sees himself as a genius strategist. And who are we to argue? He views the universe and its inhabitants as a game to be mastered. What the Force-wielding denizens of the galaxy call Destiny, Thrawn sees as the intersection of choice and opportunity. The Bendu‘s ominous words for him in “Zero Hour,” however, show that not even Thrawn is above the vicissitudes of fate in a galaxy so driven by it. Hopefully it doesn’t mean doom for a compelling villain like Thrawn. It would be cool to see him get the Saw Gerrera treatment and grace us with a big screen, live-action appearance.

What’s been a true joy is watching him take on an action-hero-esque quality absent from his original incarnation. This Thrawn is a brawler. He’s a capable shot, and when he must he leads from the front. We had a taste of this brazen soldier in the novel Outbound Flight when Thrawn dealt with the Vagari, but nothing we saw in the old Legends tales could prepare us for his beating Agent Kallus in a mano-a-mano bout of fisticuffs in “Zero Hour.” Still, nothing takes a back seat to his use of material culture and art to understand and outwit his enemies.

Also preserved is Thrawn’s very carefully masked disdain for those serving under him. Like Darth Vader, Thrawn is not above summary executions or leaving subordinates to die for failure in the line of duty. It’s a surprisingly shortsighted management tactic for a tactical genius to employ. What’s hard to decipher is what motivates these occasional acts of casual violence. Is it a Darwinian desire to cull the weakness from the Empire so it can face whatever horrors lurk in the Unknown Regions? Or is it more that he resents being away from his people, the Chiss?

In many ways it feels like Thrawn’s game with the Rebel Alliance now is much smaller than what he really has in store. They’re a simple test before he faces greater challenges. We cannot know for sure what his grand plans are, but the newly-released novel, Thrawn, and the First Order‘s dealings in the Unknown Regions give us some inkling of greater dangers and more complex games on the horizon. Rebels, with Thrawn as its central antagonist, is headed for exciting territory.

A Believable Buildup to the Rebel Alliance

From the get-go, Rebels has shown us the slow but steady evolution of the Rebel Alliance. Whereas the Republic heroes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars had a wealth of resources to battle the Separatists, Ezra Bridger and his friends had to start from scratch. Rebels has always made a point of showing how the rebels are the underdogs in their fight against the Empire. And “Zero Hour” did a superb job of underlining that point.

The most gut-wrenching moment of “Zero Hour” was when Commander Jun Sato sacrificed himself to destroy Admiral Konstantine‘s Interdictor cruiser. Not only was it an emotional moment, but it also illustrated how every rebel victory comes at a cost. It’s a fight for the rebels to even just survive, and every action on their part elicits a counteraction from the Empire. Without Commander Sato’s sacrifice, Ezra wouldn’t have escaped to bring in reinforcements from Sabine Wren and her family. It’s that kind of story development that has made Rebels so worthwhile to watch.

Commander Sato probably won’t be the last Rebels protagonist to die in service to the Rebellion. And now that Rebels season four will send our heroes to Yavin 4, the stakes are even higher. We already know from Rogue One that Hera Syndulla, Chopper, and the Ghost survive until the beginning of the Battle of Scarif. But as Star Wars fans well know, anything can happen, especially with Grand Admiral Thrawn still in the mix.

Celebration Orlando has scheduled its Rebels sneak preview panel for this Saturday, April 15. So stay tuned to Fandom for your first look at Star Wars Rebels season four!

James Akinaka
James Akinaka arrives at Fandom by way of Wookieepedia. He covers Star Wars, superheroes, and animation and has mastered the art of nitpicking. Since he works in publishing, he reads far too many books.