That is the single word one could use to describe the finale of Star Wars Rebels‘ third season. After Twin Suns, and compared to the final episodes of previous seasons, the bar was high, but I feel confident to say that Zero Hour has managed to pass it. I am not going to repeat the plot of the episode here, those of you who have watched it know, and those who haven’t can read onwards without the fear of (major) spoilers.

I can’t say that there would be a single thread left hanging loose from the tapestry of third season’s story. Thrawn has finally executed his master plan. Bendu and his mysterious presence has been set in a firm place and any possible speculations whether or how could he take part in the Galactic conflict have been solved. The story of Sabine and the Mandalorians has been connected to that of the Rebels in a way that allows (or even calls for) future cooperation or mutual aid. The double agent’s storyline has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion as well. And with the appearance of larger Rebellion, the leaders like Mon Mothma and general Dodonna, and the change of former Phoenix Squadron’s placement from Atollon to Yavin 4, we are getting closer to the situation we have seen in Rogue One and A New Hope.

That said, we have roughly one year left until the Battle of Yavin inside the Rebels chronology, and we also have one more season of Rebels to look forward to. It should be a great ride to the finale.

Visual Feast

I have said it before, but I believe Rebels has evolved greatly in terms of visuals since season 1. The style itself hasn’t changed, of course, but it seems to me that there are many more moments where the show’s creators did something to the picture that it makes certain scenes stand out.

Zero Hour itself has many such scenes. The most prominent ones being probably the scene where Hera is looking towards the barrage of laser fire from the Imperial cruisers overhead and the “Bendu storm”. Given the way Rebels is animated, especially the latter surprised me by its vividness.

And speaking of animation, I really appreciate that the makers took the effort to change some minor details about the character models just for the purposes of this story. Because of the way Rebels is made, it is a pain to make changes in the character models, but it was nice to see Kallus’s loose strand of hair, Thrawn’s assault helmet or (nitpicking here) the new adornments on Sabine’s brother’s Mandalorian armour, obviously painted there by his sister.

All in all, Zero Hour‘s visuals kept the pace with the story. The music did too (Thrawn’s theme was right at home here), even though I must confess I don’t recall much about it specifically. But I remember it being there, and that is right: music should, in most cases, just become part of the overall atmosphere of the scene. And Zero Hour‘s atmosphere was just right.

Something Negative?

Despite all the praise I have for Zero Hour, let’s step back for a moment and look at the episode critically, especially in the perspective of the whole season.

Zero Hour featured Thrawn’s masterstroke: the outcome of his strategy we have all been waiting for throughout the whole season. But was it really necessary to wait the whole season?

After having finished Zero Hour, I found myself wondering: what was Thrawn’s long-term plan? He had found the Rebels’ base on Atollon thanks to his earlier use of probe droids combined with calculating the trajectory of Fulcrum’s transmission. But what would he have done had there been no Fulcrum? The only obvious conclusion is that he actually didn’t have a clear game plan, rather, like a good chess player, he kept probing and evaluating his opponent and waiting for an opening he could use – which could have been now, but also months later (or months earlier). Flexible Thrawn actually makes much more sense than Thrawn who has some stagnant, unchanging scheme from the beginning.

Still, I expected a bit more from the Admiral. I expected to see more show of his use of information and knowledge of his enemies, something that would turn the tide of the battle once or twice. The kind of intelligence he expressed when he discovered the location of missing planet based on ancient cultures’ depiction of the sector. Let’s say I expected Thrawn to, for instance, to ruin some Rebel strategy by expecting their moves: “ah, of course Hera Syndulla attacked from the left flank, for twi’leks, the left side is symbolic in this and this way”.

Admiral Konstantine’s insubordination at one moment was another thing I have some issues with. Would the Imperial military with all its focus on order and hierarchy stand for this in the middle of a battle? Sure, Imperial officers are also known to be rather foolish and their ambitions often cost them, still, this felt a bit like exploiting such trope for story reasons.

What I am somewhat happy about is the use of “deus ex machina” in this episode. All right, actually, there are two such “miraculous interventions from the outside” in Zero Hour. But one is predictable aid from allies who, despite being “on the outside”, appeared in organic continuation of previous plots. The other one, the real “deus ex”, did not at least appear as some miraculous saviour, but rather as a force of nature. The last-minute save thanks to him could have been done better, but I was appeased by everything surrounding the scene, especially the way Thrawn reacted to it. The ever-rational, cold and calculating chess master was certainly not prepared, even though he managed to put himself together pretty quickly. It felt, however, like a bit of cheating to me: Thrawn cannot be defeated by any rational means, so let’s pull up something absolutely unpredictable from our sleeve. The whole sequence could have been constructed differently.

Forth Towards the Fourth

That is about all there is to criticise about Zero Hour, however. Objectively, it was great. Thrawn, Kallus, governor Pryce, Hera, Kanan, Bendu, Ezra, Sabine’s family – I really enjoyed seeing all of them showing their classic personality traits in their respective situations (especially Kanan’s “trip” to see Bendu and Kallus baiting Pryce, playing on her desire to be appreciated, were my favourite moments).

I feel happy that two predictions I have made already half a season ago (regarding the Mandalorians and commander Sato) came true exactly the way I had envisioned them – and I am sure I wasn’t the only one who expected similar development. The downside is that Zero Hour lacked any completely surprising developments which fans could not see from miles away.

Nevertheless, it was well delivered, and that is what matters. Many series nowadays work with the assumption that you need to have as many plot twists as possible, and the effort to create unexpected developments becomes self-serving. A well-written story can have a predictable outcome, as long as you can find joy in just following what’s happening.

So, here we are, at the end of the third season, and looking forwards towards the last one, this autumn. Much still needs to be resolved, most of all everything that is at odds with the film continuity (meaning the presence of Jedi inside the Rebellion). What is going to happen to the Mandalorians? What is going to happen to Thrawn (and does his future look scary after Bendu’s words)? Will new additions to the Rebel crew find it difficult to fit in? How is Hera Syndulla going to become a general (remember, we heard it in Rogue One)? And how close to Yavin or Rogue One are we going to get, anyway? Dave Filoni has already hinted at the reappearance of Saw Guerrera and explanation of his confict with Mon Mothma. If the fourth season remains as good as the third, it should be good – there certainly is enough plot material to work with.