[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episodes 12 and 13.]
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in theaters, Star Wars Rebels season 3 was bound to connect with the hit movie in some meaningful way. The film itself had already featured a handful of connections to Rebels, but now it's the television series' turn to reference characters and events from Rogue One.
In tonight's two-part midseason premiere, "Ghosts of Geonosis" - written by Saul Ruiz and Mel Zwyer, directed by Dave Filoni, Steven Melching, and Matthew Michnovetz - the Ghost crew again return to that desolate world. It was on their last trip to Geonosis that they discovered the Empire had been building something on the planet and that all of the Geonosians were gone, seemingly wiped out. That troubling information spurred the Rebellion to send another team to investigate - a team led by Saw Gerrera. Now missing, the Ghost crew must find out what happened to them, and perhaps finally uncover what actually happened on Geonosis.
Saw Gerrera, The Radical Rebel
When we meet Saw Gerrera in Rogue One, he's already parted ways with the Rebel Alliance. The formal Rebellion considers him too extreme, too erratic, too reckless, and no longer a fit ally for their cause. It's a big change from the young man he was back in The Clone Wars, though there were hints of the madman he would yet become. But now with this appearance on Star Wars Rebels (which seems to come after he's abandoned a young Jyn Erso) we can begin to more fully see that transition.
In "Ghosts of Geonosis", Saw is the only surviving member of his team, and when Ezra, Kanan, Zeb, and Chopper meet him in the tunnels under Geonosis, he's already displaying a little of the erratic behavior that comes to define him in Rogue One. Here, Saw acts overly suspicious, especially when it comes to the lone surviving Geonosian they find (who Ezra adorably nicknames, Klik Klak). We soon find out (or in the case of avid Clone Wars fans, are reminded) that Saw's sister, Steela, was killed by a Separatist gunship, which the Geonosians had constructed. Again, we're reminded that the wounds of the Clone Wars run deep, just as they did for Rex earlier in the season.
Though Steela's death certainly provides an explanation for Saw's behavior, the episode does a good job of pointing out that his blaming of Klik Klak isn't acceptable. In war, everyone loses, and the Geonosians were just as much victims as anyone else. Saw does eventually reel in his emotions, recalling that their true enemy is the Empire and helps the Ghost escape, but still, shades of the behavior that will eventually get him cast out of the Rebellion remain. Hera wisely recognizes he isn't exactly the sort of fighter the Rebellion will always want, but she knows that for the moment they need all the help they can get, and Saw has proved himself formidable. Chances are, this won't be his final appearance on Star Wars Rebels, and his falling out with the Rebel Alliance is still to come.
"He's No Skywalker"
This midseason premiere is mostly concerned with investigating what happened on Geonosis (more on that later) and filling in the gaps of how Saw goes from a fearless young man to a terrorist madman, but there's a quick line of Rex's which stands out - his comment that Kanan is "no Skywalker." The line sticks out for many reasons, and most obviously because the name Skywalker looms large in the Star Wars saga. But more importantly, having it applied to Kanan feels like a bad omen - for perhaps both him, Ezra, and even Ahsoka.
With Rogue One having made a point of including no Jedi (unless we're counting Darth Vader), the fates of any Jedi characters still alive in Star Wars Rebels are immediately called into question. What happens to them? Hera and Chopper survive until the Battle of Scarif, but what of the rest? There are still years between where Rebels is now and when Rogue One takes place, meaning there are likely casualties between now and then, with any Jedi perhaps being chief among them.
What spurs Rex's comment also seems to hint at the Jedi's downfall since it's one of those moments where having a Jedi or two around is essential. There haven't been a ton of moments in Star Wars Rebels where a Jedi really displays the full power of The Force, but Kanan creating a bridge for Saw and Rex feels like one of them. Without a Jedi, Sabine and Zeb are killed by those droids, Saw, Rex, and Chopper are trapped in the tunnels, and maybe Hera escapes in the Ghost, but it very quickly becomes a desperate situation. At some point in the future, Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka must either die or abandon the Rebel Alliance, because otherwise, the Rebellion wouldn't be nearly as desperate or hopeless as it is in Rogue One.
Circle Inside of a Circle
The Death Star's construction had a tremendous toll on Geonosis, leading the Empire to eradicate the planet's entire population in order to keep the existence of their superweapon a secret. At least that's what the Ghost crew discovered on their first trip to Geonosis, but in this episode we learn that as least one Geonosian survived. When asked, though, what the Empire was forcing the Geonosians to construct, the language barrier leaves Klik Klak the only option of crudely drawing his answer in the sand - a circle inside of another circle. Immediately, we recognize it as the Death Star but none of these characters are capable of making that connection.
Still, it's a wonderful tease and one the episode even subverts for a moment by revealing the last remaining Geonosian egg to have a similar design, almost leading us to question what we saw. But we know the truth, and in this episode we also learn the truth of what happened to all the Geonosians (save Klik Klak) - the Empire gassed them. And it's interesting that the intention had been for the Ghost crew to recover solid evidence of the Empire's involvement in the genocide and present it to the senate (via Senator Bail Organa) with the hope of convincing the senate to somehow undermine the Emperor. This obviously doesn't happen and by the time of Episode IV: A New Hope, the senate is officially dissolved. But we can think of what might have been had they not lost those canisters, and more people learned the truth about the Empire before it was too late.
"Ghosts of Geonosis" is another of Star Wars Rebels season 3's best episodes. It begins with an eerie atmosphere, helped along by our understanding that terrible things happened on Geonosis, and it ends with great action reminiscent of The Clone Wars. They fight battle droids, droidekas, and rocket troopers; Sabine gets to make good use of that sweet new jetpack; and Hera in the Ghost splits an Imperial cruiser in half. It's an all-around exciting episode that firms up the connections between Star Wars Rebels and the live-action Star Wars canon, even if some of what's teased could be rather foreboding.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday, January 14th with "Warhead" @8:30pm EST on Disney XD.