(Warning: Spoilers for Rebels Season 1 and 2 ahead… obviously.)
On the 16th July, at the Star Wars Celebration Europe, Rebels fans and fans of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe (nowadays dubbed Legends) experienced an earthquake, simultaneously. The trailer for third season of Rebels was released, and despite being packed with quite cool content overall, the appearance of a new major villain stole most of the show. When I saw Hera Syndulla face to face with admiral Thrawn, I realised this was what I’ve been waiting for, since the former canon became non-canon.

But let us start from the beginning. Season 2 finale left the Rebels with obvious foreshadowing of some things to come. With Kanan blinded and Ezra toying with his new holocron which he acquired from the ancient Sith temple on Malachor, nobody can doubt that Ezra’s Jedi path will become the focus of the show again. It is about time. Dave Filoni, the show’s creator, has recently hinted at heading towards wrapping up the Rebels characters’ storylines, and obviously, Ezra’s toying with the Dark Side needs to be addressed and resolved sooner or later.

The trailer confirms such assumption, given that it both starts and ends with Ezra and his holocron. I must confess, however much I did not care about Ezra so much in the earlier seasons and however I think his old hairstyle suited him better, the first moment he appeared in the trailer sent shivers down my spine. The fact that his fighting style seems to have developed greatly does not really come across as positive thing. It is good Asoka is not around anymore, because she might have a thing or two to say about how much he resembles the latter Anakin Skywalker now (including a nice scar on his face). The parallel is obvious, and Kanan’s warnings against using the holocron’s power only underline the warning for us: something is changing about Ezra, and not necessarily for the good.

It is also notable that Ezra has aged (and by my counting, he could be at least seventeen now). Everyone’s appearance has changed, for that matter. Kanan now wears a nice mask and even nicer full beard. Sabine has a new hairstyle (like in every season, it seems) and she too looks mature (and has such an air around her, too). Hera is now wearing official captain insignia. If you compare the visuals, and the characters’ emotions, to their looks in the first season, you can see the shift in the tone of the story. Season 3 continues down the deeper and darker path.

The trailer offered also a glimpse on some of the plots present in this season. The Rebels are going to get a few new recruits from among defectors from an Imperial piloting academy, including, probably most importantly, young Wedge Antilles. After princess Leia in the last season, it is quite nice to see another popular movie character making an appearance. On the other hand, from among recurring characters, the Rebels are apparently going to rescue Hondo Ohnaka one more time and join him in a scheme to acquire the Y-wing bombers. After Hera’s adventure with the B-wing prototype in the second season, this is a nice next step to completing the Rebel arsenal, and it is, after all, something one would expect to feature in the show, since we are learning how the Rebellion became the way we know it.

Next in the trailer, we are shown that the clones are not forgotten and we are also reminded about the existence of the Mandalorians, also on the side of the Empire. There seems to be a movement to bring Sabine’s arc and her history with the Mandalorians to some closure, which is great. If I jump ahead a bit, we are shown that Sabine will at some point wield the Darksaber, the artifact which had been held by Mandalorians for generations. Given the respect the one-time prisoner Fenn Rau, the leader of the Mandalorian Protectors, shows her, I am really looking forward to this arc. For me, Sabine started as fairly uninteresting character, but slowly, as her personal quests began to pile up, she gained more depth and I started to care what will become of her.

The action scene in the middle of the trailer contains some notable details. The appearance of old battle droids is one: where are they from, what are they guarding (?) and why are the heroes facing them? They certainly are not on regular Imperial army list. Strange black droids of a different type is another. Are these related? Is there some attempt – by the Rebels, or by some other faction – to use an old cache of droids, which turns out to be guarded, perhaps? We can only speculate. As a minor detail, in the space battle scenes, maybe you have noticed a starship somehow reminiscent of the Millenium Falcon. It does not look exactly like the Falcon, but it is quite similar in design, and it looks suspiciously like Dash Rendar’s ship Outrider from the old Shadows of the Empire computer game. Given that it only makes a passing appearance, I am not sure if its significance will be any bigger than that of the Old Republic “hammerheads” in season 2, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The breaking moment in the trailer comes right after we are merrily reassured that at least some comical relief and light tone of the earlier series will be preserved in the reappearance of the old criminal Azmorigan beside Hondo Ohnaka. But we can forget all about it when moff Tarkin and governor Arihnda Pryce of Lothal inform us that the Rebels require serious attention. That is when the most important new character enters the scene, complete with creepy music and even creepier voiceover by Lars Mikkelsen (brother of the more renowned Mads Mikkelsen). This blue-skinned, red-eyed villain is none lesser than Admiral Thrawn, the main antagonist of the first Star Wars book trilogy set after the events of the Return of the Jedi. The books are no longer canon, but given Thrawn’s significance for the fandom, Dave Filoni decided to bring him back. (It has also been announced that Thrawn’s spiritual father, Timothy Zahn, is going to write a book about him that will now belong to the same canon. That is very respectable treatment of the author, and also some assurance that Thrawn’s character in Rebels won’t stray away from the original, if we can assume that Zahn has been consulted.)

The several seconds of Thrawn’s appearance in the trailer presents him exactly the way he should be presented. His tactical genius, his drive to understand his enemy first in order to be able to overcome them, his interest in culture and art. This is the summary of Thrawn’s most important character traits, presenting him perfectly to those who did not know him before. If there was no other reason to watch season 3 of Rebels, this would be enough.

The trailer culminates with offering us only more epic content to look forward to. Darth Maul will continue to press his claim on Ezra as his apprentice, and Kanan is obviously not going to stand by. Ezra will continue his experiments with the holocron. I am also curious about the female Sith voice speaking out of the holocron (my hope that it might be Darth Traya, since it was found on Malachor, is probably just wishful thinking). Ezra’s experiments with the holocron (maybe on Maul’s prompt) will lead to the point of strange fusion of a dark and light side holocron – maybe with the aim to destroy the Sith, but with potentially terrible consequences. Poor Hera will end up apparently in a very scary situation at least twice – once being intimidated (maybe Force-interrogated?) by Maul, and once probably captured by Thrawn. There is at least one duel between Kanan and Maul that we can look forward to, and it is notable that Kanan seems to see in that particular scene. Or rather: there is strange green glow in his eyes, which seems to have something to do with the green ghostly fog we are shown afterwards. Is Kanan going to have his eyesight repaired by some ancient power? Also, is this related to the appearance of another strange entity – the Bendu, who claims himself to be “in the middle” between the Jedi and the Sith? This character (voiced by Tom Baker) was compared by Filoni to Tom Bombadil in the Lord of the Rings, because “he seems to not play by the rules of everyone else in the story”. Bendu’s name, incidentally, points to the original name George Lucas had for the Jedi Order – its full name was Jedi Bendu. But Bendu is obviously something else. I would not expect Bendu to have more significant role than in perhaps one episode, but it is an interesting character which gives more depth to the Star Wars universe as it is.

The Rebellion itself on the rise, the Empire’s change of tactics, wrapping up some individual characters’ arcs and a lot more about the Force and the role of Jedi and Sith in the Galaxy – that is, in short, what third season seems to bring in. Especially Ezra’s story has real potential to become a proper tale of a person torn between the light and the dark. If season one went very much past me, my expectations for the first half of season two were lukewarm and after the mid-season break I became fairly expectant, then I can say I am absolutely excited about season three. We’ll have to wait until autumn for it to start properly, however.