Maybe we’ve been spoiled by a traditional “flow” to movies and television shows by now, where we expect certain things to happen because of a specific placement of a story or episode. Case in point: last week’s Rebels had the long-awaited rematch between Obi-Wan and Maul, and it ended in an unexpected anticlimax. To be fair, a number of post-episode analyses of “Twin Suns” highlighted that Maul’s easy drop was a purposeful decision, and ultimately not a bad one. That said, we the viewers sort of geared ourselves up for something a little more epic…and then we didn’t get it. Maybe our disappointment is our own fault, but there it is.
“Zero Hour” ends up with the same disappointment against expectations. It’s the third season finale, and the show is getting intensely closer to the events of Rogue One (more on that below), so we kind of expect that something bad and important is going to happen. Last season’s “Twilight of the Apprentice” was kind of this show’s Empire Strikes Back moment with the Lothal rebels suffering the twin blows of Ahsoka (apparently) dying and Kanan going blind. It might have been too much to expect that we’d get another Empire type ending this year…and we really don’t. We end up with, at best, a stalemate between the rebels and Thrawn, and another clear sign that the show is trapped by established Star Wars history.
What we do finally get is Grand Admiral Thrawn sprining his season-long trap…which doesn’t have that much drama to it. He finally exposes Kallus as Fulcrum and discovers the Rebel cell on Atollon. From there, it’s a simple matter of catching the Rebels before they can launch their attack on Lothol’s TIE Defender factory, instead cutting off the system with an Interdictor Star Destroyer and leaving a limited supply of Rebels to try to escape.
From there, it’s a desperate ploy for Ezra to attempt to escape the system on his own to retrieve help—which isn’t coming. There’s minor aid from one General Jan Dodonna…you know, this very important guy…but beyond that, it’s a small team of characters and Admiral Sato’s small fleet. The other Rebel cells are simply not willing to come, realizing that the risk is too high if Thrawn catches them.
What we do get are a few very curious turns of events.
One, since Ezra can’t get help from any other Rebels, he ends up turning to—no surprises—Sabine and the Mandalorians. Mandalore as a whole is still caught in a civil war, but Sabine’s mom agrees to allow a limited Mandalorian strike force to aid the fight on Atollon. This in itself isn’t unexpected, since this was the logical way for Sabine to be reincorporated into the story. But it does raise questions about why we haven’t seen any Mandalorians in the post-A New Hope rebellion era, in the Marvel comics or elsewhere. Maybe they’re just trying to avoid spoiling those stories going forward, but Mandos as part of the Rebellion is a curious change we’ve never seen.
Two, we get a big space battle with Thrawn having a very precise battle formation he wants to maintain. This gets heavily disrupted when one of the Star Destroyers decides to showboat against Thrawn’s wishes. That doesn’t work out well. The upshot is that Admiral Sato—this episode’s big casualty—goes down fighting on a suicide run. The downshot is that we’ve already seen Star Wars do the “Rebel pilot does a dramatic suicide move against a Star Destroyer” twice now in the last few months—once in Rogue One and again in Empire’s End. In other words, Sato’s grand gesture is great, but it’s also nothing new if you’re keeping up with the franchise.
Three, it’s kind of weird how involved Thrawn gets on a personal level in this episode. In a traditional military structure, Admirals might do the grand planning, but it’s the subordinates who carry out the details. Thrawn gets his hands on everything here, including personally taking out Kallus in the beginning and later leading a ground assault on the Atollon base at the end. (And he’s a naval commander, not a ground one. It’s weird.)
The last really big, weird item this episode is that Kanan tries to enlist Bendu into the fight. Thus far, Bendu has been an…odd, ill-defined character—offering sage advice and trying to help Ezra and Kanan grow, but remaining neutral between the light and dark sides of the force. In this episode, though, Bendu gets really, really pissy about this. He resents that Kanan has brought war to Atollon and refuses to get involved in the fight. He doesn’t care if the Jedi go extinct, because he plans to stick around as “the one in the middle”—a big, happy rock in a river who never has to choose sides. Kanan at least tries to take advantage of Bendu’s hissy fit, because when it turns into a giant Force-storm cloud, Kanan uses that as an excuse to run and see if Thrawn will suffer as well.
And then it gets really weird, because the Empire is stuck taking out Bendu with their lasers and canons, and they do seem to end up killing him. We get this odd moment between Bendu and Thrawn, with the latter not really being sure what to do with this guy. It does lend some insight into Thrawn as a guy who really knows nothing about the Force—certainly respecting the Jedi as warriors, but not understanding the larger mysticism. So Bendu, moments before his apparent death, warns Thrawn that his death is coming. Thrawn doesn’t exactly know what to do with that, so he shoots him and, well, that’s the end of Bendu with no real explanation of what his larger role was.
Our end point…pretty much leaves us where we started, minus one Atollon base, and plus one base on Yavin IV (a clear setup for Rogue One and A New Hope since that’s where the Rebels are stationed by then). Outside of Sato and Bendu, nobody important dies in this episode. If you were expecting Kallus to die…no, he escapes, and the Ghost grabs him on the way out. Kanan seems like a logical loss so that Ezra can grow on his own…but no. And we certainly get a feeling like that’s going to happen with a touching speech from Ezra about how important Kanan is to him. Nope. Everyone gets away in the end, off to Yavin IV for another season of adventures.
It remains an odd question about what Rebels can do with itself its presumptive final year when Season 4 launches next fall. It’s been complained that the show now has some “plot armor,” wherein nothing really bad can happen to the Ghost, Chopper, and Hera given their appearances in Rogue One. Moving the show to Yavin IV is logical, but that base can’t possibly get into real jeopardy since the Empire doesn’t discover it until A New Hope. And like everyone knows, Kanan and Ezra almost certainly survive past the show’s end if Luke Skywalker is literally the last Jedi. Keeping Thrawn around is logical—he is a good villain, even if the show has simplified him on a cartoony level—but his future remains in doubt as well. The Empire has about five years (story time) of life left in it—if Thrawn doesn’t go down next season, he’ll go down eventually.
So just as the characters go into an uncertain future, so does the show. Many of the old plot points are wrapped up now, so if Season 4 is the last, it’ll be interesting to see what the show can do on its own without being caught in the shadow of Rogue One and A New Hope, which is inevitable. As I’ve said before, this show needs to tell its own story, and that’s going to be really hard to do with a massive plot funnel ahead of it.
Rating: Three stars out of five.