'Rebel Assault' is a lackluster entry as a midseason finale, but it features a tour-de-force from Hera and is another exciting entry in Star Wars Rebels' final season.
WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 4, episode 9
To be fair, a midseason finale is more a construct of how a television series is aired rather than the intention of the show's creators. There are some shows that use the midseason split as a way to break a season more or less in two, with each half exploring a different arc or theme. But this final season of Star Wars Rebels is not only a shortened season but a more serialized one, and forcing the series into a hiatus only hurts the momentum that's been building all season long. This isn't to suggest that tonight's episode, 'Rebel Assault', is a bad installment or that it takes the season off track - quite the opposite, in fact - but having it serve as midseason finale makes for an arbitrary point in the action to hit pause.
After her stirring speech to rebel command, Hera leads a squadron of X-Wings through the Imperial blockade of Lothal in an attempt to destroy the TIE factory. It's an exhilarating Rebels debut for the X-Wings and only another instance in which Hera shines as an incredible pilot and leader. Unfortunately, all her fancy flying is for naught because Grand Admiral Thrawn - who has been absent for much of season 4 - is not only expecting the attack, but has a second wave waiting for when the rebels inevitably make it past his blockade. Before they can even reach the surface, Hera's entire attack force is shot out of the sky.
With the attack thwarted, the crashed rebel pilots are on the run as Thrawn orders their capture - dispatching Rukh to personally see that Captain Syndulla is brought back alive. While Hera, Chopper, and rebel pilot Mart Mattin sneak through the city, her fellow rebels, knowing their mission has failed, head back to base. But Kanan decides to turn back, needing to save Hera. It's the sort of moment that makes all the Kanera shippers swoon, but it's also just further evidence of Kanan's impending doom - something the Loth-wolf's sudden appearance only cements. (And for those playing along, the closed-captioning does reveal that this time the Loth-wolf really is growling "Doooooom.")
What exactly the Loth-wolves are remains this season's biggest mystery, and all the scene of the wolves interrupting Kanan's daring rescue accomplishes is to further confound that mystery. They're clearly connected to The Force and have displayed incredible abilities; they are reaching out to Kanan specifically, and to a lesser extent, Ezra; they seem to know something of Kanan's true identity as a Jedi, one of the remaining few still alive; and they are warning of an impending doom, one that may be coming for all of Lothal. That's all we know and that's all we're going to know until Rebels returns next year. (Sure makes the final shot of that smug-looking Loth-wolf extra infuriating, doesn't it?)
Though the scene of Kanan and the Loth-wolves is another curious moment in a list of curious moments this season, 'Rebel Assault' is really the Hera Syndulla show. Her initial attack on the blockade impresses even Thrawn, earning her more of his respect and interest, which really can't be a good thing. After crash-landing, Hera is able to easily evade capture, and it's only when she fights Rukh in order to buy time for Mart and Chopper to escape that she gets overtaken. The whole episode is a tour-de-force for Hera, reminding us why she's such a fearsome rebel and why it is that she's able to survive all the way through the events of Return of the Jedi.
Having Thrawn back in the fray is another reminder of what a menace he was last season, so it's hopefully a sign he'll have more to do in the final batch of episodes. His plans to produce more of those TIE Defenders still needs to be stopped (seeing as those ships aren't around in Rogue One or A New Hope), so either by another, more successful Rebel attack or Imperial interference, the TIE Defenders won't be getting mass-produced any time soon. And judging by how ineffective the Rebels have been of late, it's seeming more likely Thrawn will be defeated by bureaucracy sooner than anything else. (Don't forget that the Star Wars Rebels season 4 trailer included Tarkin warning Thrawn that his TIE Defender program is at risk from Lieutenant Commander Krennic's own pet project, a scene which has yet to come up in the series.)
'Rebel Assault' is a lackluster entry as a midseason finale, but it's another exciting chapter in the story being told across this season. It's frustrating that we'll have to wait until next year to find out what happens to Hera while she's Thrawn's prisoner or what it was the Loth-wolf told Kanan he must do. And it's downright weird that Disney XD had been airing two episodes of Rebels a week, but then only airs one episode before going on hiatus. Still, Star Wars Rebels remains one of the best stories being produced in a galaxy far, far away, and with only a handful of episodes left to go, fans don't have much longer before the many fates of its characters are revealed.
Star Wars Rebels season 4 will return to Disney XD in early 2018.