[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 10.]
Star Wars Rebels season 3 started out strong, introducing Grand Admiral Thrawn, bringing back Maul, and exploring new aspects of The Force. However, the last handful of episodes haven't quite reached the same level as earlier ones, focusing more on one-off adventures which, while amusing, feel more like filler than integral chapters in the growth of the Rebellion.
This week, Rebels is back on course (and back on Lothal) with 'Inside Man' - written by Nicole Dubuc and directed by Steward Lee - which has Ezra and Kanan infiltrating an Imperial factory on a new tip from Fulcrum, only to find themselves needing to avoid suspicion from none other than the Grand Admiral. The factory is staffed with locals, many of whom are loyal to the Rebellion and they've been actively sabotaging their work. And though the factory's unusually high failure rate has gone overlooked, Thrawn isn't so easily fooled, using the facility as a trap to weed out secret Rebels.
More Than Saboteurs
A definite theme for this season of Star Wars Rebels has been exploring how the Rebellion, though desperate and laughably outmatched, continues to grow. Even some of those more filler episodes made sure to include this, demonstrating how the Rebels will find allies anywhere they can. It's paid off, too, with many of those allies helping the Ghost crew out of a tight spot more than once.
'An Inside Man' is no different, with Ezra and Kanan enlisting the help of Ryder, an old friend of Ezra's parents and leader of Lothal's Rebel cell. There's discussion early on in the episode of the Phoenix Squadron working with another group of Rebels, and Thrawn remarks on seeing the same symbol - a rising phoenix and a clear predecessor to the Rebel symbol seen in the later films - throughout the galaxy. As a whole, the Rebellion may not be the unified front we're familiar with from A New Hope, but all the signs of real opposition to the Empire are there. And while many within the Empire seem convinced these Rebels are a minor, isolated threat and are in no way colluding with one another, Thrawn believes otherwise. He recognizes that what's happening on planets throughout the Empire isn't just dissension, but a movement poised to become a full blown revolution. They are indeed more than just saboteurs.
Speaking of growing numbers, there's a new ally the Rebels can count on: Agent Kallus. Revealed to be the latest Fulcrum operative, Kallus has been feeding the Rebellion intel all season long and is now responsible for helping them escape the Empire twice. The Ghost crew may still be reluctant to trust him (and who can blame them?) but it's fairly obvious this is a genuine act of contrition. Whether it's specifically the time he spent with Zeb on that ice moon or the result of a number of experiences, Kallus has become disenchanted with the Empire. It's right there on his face while he's watching Thrawn force Sumar to overheat his speeder, killing him - he's horrified, disgusted. To make amends, Kallus is helping the Rebellion in the best way he can and risking his own life doing so. Near the end of 'An Inside Man', Thrawn and Kallus have an exchange that could read as Thrawn knowing Kallus is their spy, but it's left purposely vague.
(On the lighter side, let's hope for more scenes between Kallus, Ezra, and Kanan in the future, because those weren't only the funniest moments this episode, they may be some of Rebels' funniest moments ever.)
A Chiss With A Plan
So what is Thrawn's plan? This week we learned of a new TIE fighter he's having developed (with shields!) but that itself isn't particularly revealing of any master plan. And that may be the point, it isn't a specific detail but rather a sign of preparedness. Thrawn is a cautious villain, he plans and plans until every last detail is perfect, and TIE fighters without shields are useless against the Rebellion's pilots. How does he know this? Because he's been studying the Rebellion all season long. He knows they're recruiting the best pilots from right under the Empire's nose, so he needs his pilots to be better protected.
In many ways, Thrawn is simply planning for the Rebellion's eventual attack, not planning his own. He learns more about them from every encounter, and he's gathering a keen understanding of what fuels their rebellious spirit from their artwork. Whenever Phoenix Squadron and the rest of the Rebellion attacks, he'll be ready for them.
'An Inside Man' is the best episode of Star Wars Rebels in weeks, adding a new twist to the series by revealing Kallus as Fulcrum and furthering Thrawn's understanding of the Rebellion through another encounter. It balances the serious moments with humor, displaying Thrawn's brutality but also victorious moments for Kanan and Ezra. (Plus, it's unbelievable but hilarious that an AT-AT would just sit and squash another vehicle. How has this tactic never happened before?)
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday at 8:30PM with 'Visions and Voices' on Disney XD.