The story threads begin to tighten in this thrilling season of Star Wars Rebels, drawing connections to The Clone Wars, Rogue One and the original Star Wars trilogy into the series' epic storyline. Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Three delivers some of the most critically-acclaimed Star Wars storytelling to date, with engaging characters, harrowing conflicts, and spectacular space battles on par with those seen in the films.
While Star Wars: Rebels has built a loyal following among many of the franchise's fans, it has been a series that has been continually frustrating for me. I enjoyed the first season immensely, but during its second year, the show started to become very much a sequel to the previous Clone Wars animated series and less of the fun romp it was earlier. For better or for worse, that trend continues in Season Three, although I've finally thrown in the towel and tried to be more accepting with this latest batch of episodes, which are at least a little better overall than the ones from last season.
One of the things that Rebels does in Season Three that I admire is that it allows some time to pass and lets the characters age a bit. Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) is only supposed to be six months older as this latest season begins, but he must have had a growth spurt during that time, because he looks and acts as if several years have passed. Another thing I appreciated is the fact that the character of Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) – who was blinded during a lightsaber battle with Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) – has been made permanently blind. A lot of series (yes, even animated ones) would have found a "cure" at some point for the hero, but the fact that he has to deal with his handicap makes his character all the more appealing.
The biggest news in Season Three is the introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) as the main villain. Thrawn, of course, was originally created in the Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn back in the 1990s. Thrawn was always a fan favorite, but his story got wiped from official canon when Lucasfilm and Disney decided to nix the Expanded Universe stories, saying they were basically all apocryphal. So while the Thrawn seen here isn't technically the same Thrawn from Zahn's novels, he pretty much looks the same and acts the same – meaning the character is finally firmly planted in Star Wars official canon once again.
Darth Maul is also back this season – and obsessed with finding and killing Obi-Wan Kenobi (Stephen Stanton). Sadly the build-up is more entertaining than the actual showdown, and when Obi-Wan finally does appear toward the end of Season Three and confronts Maul, the face-off between the two is a bit of a disappointment.
As you can probably guess from the above, Rebels does spend a lot of time focusing on characters who originated in the movies or in the prior Clone Wars series. In addition to Thrawn, Maul, and Kenobi, this season also crosses paths with Mon Mothma, Saw Gerrera, Captain Rex, and the ever-annoying Hondo Ohnaka, who series Executive Producer David Filoni seems to love using in episodes, but who manages to sink the quality of every storyline he appears in.
Yes, I would like Rebels a whole lot more if it would just keep its focus on its main characters, but too often they feel like guest stars on their own series. Which doesn't mean they don't get a few good story arcs this season – most notably Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), who makes a decision regarding her family and homeworld in these episodes that was surprising to see (and a bold move by the showrunners). Other characters though – most notably Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) and Zeb Orrelios (Steve Blum) – don't get a whole lot to do.
It was announced earlier this year that Season Four will be the final one for Rebels, so hopefully the focus in the last season will be less about fan service and more about giving these main characters the attention they deserve. Yes, Rebels can be a very fun show for Star Wars fans, and this well-put-together Blu-ray set is still getting an endorsement from me, but I can't help feeling that this series still hasn't lived up to the promise that it showed back when it first started.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The third season of Rebels blasts its way onto Blu-ray in an eco-Lite Vortex keepcase, which houses the three 50GB discs on a pair of slightly oversized hubs, with the third disc placed directly overtop the second disc (at least I'm assuming that's where it's packaged, as my set arrived with that disc actually loose inside the case). There were no inserts in the review copy that Disney sent my way; however, this release is listed as a Disney Movie Rewards-eligible title, so I'm wondering if the insert containing the code for this was just missing from my case. There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the three Blu-rays, whose main menu is consistent with the two prior season releases: an animated viewscreen with scenes from the season playing on it and menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are region-free.
Each episode of Rebels is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. As with prior releases of this series, Lucasfilm/Disney has done an excellent job with color reproduction and an image that – given the animation style used – really pops in 1080p. The detail throughout is pretty impressive.
Black levels are strong, which is always helpful when so much of the series takes place against the darkness of outer space. Noise is kept to a minimum, as is aliasing and banding. In other words, if you're looking for it, you'll probably see a spot here and there, but otherwise, these are pretty much glitch-free presentations. As animated titles go, this is one of the better-looking series you'll find in terms of crispness and clarity.
Despite an outcry from virtually every Rebels fan I know, Disney/Lucasfilm continues to release Blu-rays with lossy audio tracks for this series, so once again we get a less-than-spectacular-sounding English Dolby Digital 5.1 as the featured audio.
Which is not to say the audio here isn't serviceable. Dialogue (almost exclusively front and center) is still quite clear, and the series makes plenty of use of the surrounds, using them for directionality and lots of ambient noises. LFE use is quite frequent as well. The problem is that these tracks aren't nearly as dynamic or crisp as they could be/should be. Sadly, they're just "okay", but still on par with what we got on the last two season sets.
In addition to the English track, each episode has 5.1 Dolby Digital options in French and German, as well as a 2.0 Spanish Dolby Digital option. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, French, and Spanish.
Rebels Recon (HD 51:26) – As was the case with the prior two season sets, each episode here has an accompanying Rebels Recon segment that gives viewers some insight into the story. Hosted by Lucasfilm Social Media Correspondent Andi Gutierrez, each of these can be watched individually or all together. Disc one contains Rebels Recons for the episodes "Steps into Shadow" (8:08), "The Holocrons of Fate" (7:39), "The Antilles Extraction" (6:24), "Hera's Heroes" (7:34), "The Last Battle" (7:24), "Imperial Supercommandos" (7:25), and "Iron Squardron" (6:49).
Sneak Peaks (HD 2:10) – For those of you wondering, yes, this release does contain the first teaser trailer for The Last Jedi.
Rebels Recon (HD 46:24) – Disc 2 contains Rebels Recons for the episodes "The Wynkahthu Job" (6:10), "An Inside Man" (6:56), "Visions and Voices" (6:17), "Ghosts of Geonosis" (7:43), "Warhead" (6:32), "Trials of the Darksaber" (6:40), and "Legacy of Mandalore" (6:02).
Rebels Recon (HD 44:48) – Disc 3 contains Rebels Recons for the episodes "Through Imperial Eyes" (7:49), "Secret Cargo" (6:03), "Double Agent Droid" (6:36), "Twin Suns" (12:16), and "Zero Hour" (12:02).
A Rebel Alliance (HD 6:10) – This featurette, which includes comments from Executive Producer Dave Filoni, talks about how Rebels tries to fill in some of the gap between Episodes III and IV of the movie saga, as well as tying the show into the movie prequel Rogue One.
I have mixed feelings about where Rebels is as a series and where it seems to be going. While it, no doubt, thrills fans in the way it tries to tie itself into the stories of the main saga, both future and past, I often feel like the series fails to keep focus on its main characters as a result. Still, Season Three was an improvement over Season Two and the upgrade in bonus features (for the first time, audio commentaries for some episodes) helps boost this release firmly into Recommended territory.