[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 3.]
Thus far, Star Wars Rebels season 3 has kept its focus almost exclusively on Ezra's growing interest in the dark side and Kanan learning to accept and manage his blindness. Those are important story beats, for sure, but it's left Star Wars Rebels' non-Jedi characters with very little to do.
That changes with its third episode "The Antilles Extraction" - directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Gary Whitta - which sees Sabine infiltrate the Empire's most elite flight academy and aid defecting pilots to join the Rebellion. There is, of course, a bit of tiff when Ezra learns Sabine is chosen for the mission over him, but she was a former Imperial cadet long before Ezra was masquerading as a stormtrooper in training.
The episode also reintroduces a long time, fan-favorite character: Wedge Antilles (hence the title) and gives him a new origin story that falls more in line with the direction of the Star Wars canon in a post-The Force Awakens world.
Sabine Has Got This
If there's a blanket statement that can be applied to all of Star Wars canon after being acquired by Disney, it's their aggressive effort to give impactful and varied roles to female characters. Ahsoka (who is mentioned in this episode, so obviously not forgotten) was certainly a step in the right direction, building on attributes of both Leia and Padme and adding in the daring exploits of a young Jedi in training. Then came The Force Awakens and its protagonist, Rey, followed by this December's Rogue One and Jyn Erso, as well as the many female characters having their stories told in the pages of Star Wars books and comics.
Star Wars Rebels features two female leads - Hera and Sabine - and both are confident leaders and competent fighters, yet each bring their own unique skills to the team. Sabine is a Mandalorian with a love of art and explosives, but the more we learn about her the more intricate her backstory becomes. As this episode reminds us, she was once a cadet in the Imperial Academy and wanted nothing more than to loyally serve the Empire. That quickly changed, obviously, but it does make her someone who can sympathize with those who guilty of just following orders.
With "The Antilles Extraction", Rebels gives Sabine the opportunity to again prove her worth, showing her to be cool-headed under pressure and just as capable in hand-to-hand combat as she is with firearms and explosives. Watching her beat the snot out of the haughty Governor Pryce was a real treat, reminding us that she can more than take of herself, no matter the mission, no matter the risk.
Welcome to the Rebellion, Wedge
In its first season, Star Wars Rebels introduced Lando Calrissian, and in last week's episode, the series made an obvious allusion to Tattooine. As the series progresses and draws closer to the events of Episode IV, we should expect more characters and places that had significant roles in the original Star Wars trilogy to keep popping up.
This week it was Wedge Antilles - everyone's favorite Rebel pilot not named Luke (or Porkins) - who made his debut in the newly forming Star Wars canon. First appearing in A New Hope and later Empire and Jedi, Wedge's backstory as it was originally told in the now defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe is here rewritten to better align with our new understanding of the Rebellion's beginnings. Like Finn in The Force Awakens, Wedge is an Imperial who defects - something the Rebellion learns of through one of their Fulcrum agents. As it turns out, Fulcrum no longer relates directly to Ahsoka, but is rather a code name given to anyone who's identity needs to be kept under wraps.
Much as expected, the kinds of tasks fighter pilots are asked to do by the Empire - like firing on unarmed transports - don't sit well with Wedge. He initially joined the Empire because he was a cargo pilot looking for adventure, but ever since has had trouble rectifying the Empire's actions with his own sense of right and wrong. Of course, if it's adventure he wants, there's no better place for it than the Rebellion where there are constantly making up plans as they go and flying by the seat of their pants. Welcome aboard, Wedge, hope to see you play an even larger role as the season continues.
In addition to giving us more reasons to love Sabine and reintroduce us to Wedge, "The Antilles Extraction" also hinted at an increase in Imperial intelligence. Not only did it seem the Empire was quick to uncover a plot of defecting pilots, but once they did, the trap with the rigged TIE fighters was downright brilliant. Had it been anyone other than Sabine on the mission - and had Agent Kallus not felt a debt was owed - Wedge and Hobbie would have no doubt both been executed for treason.
What's interesting to ponder is if this increase in the Empire's aptitude is an effect of Grand Admiral Thrawn. He was brought on board for that very reason - to help the Empire with changing their way of thinking about fighting the Rebellion. Something as clever as sabotaging their own TIE fighters, though enacted by Pryce, may have very well been a trap of Thrawn's planning.
"The Antilles Extraction" was an exciting and at times strikingly beautiful episode (seriously, just look at the above image) that peeled back the veil a bit more on what goes on inside the Empire, exposing what it's like to be an Imperial fighter pilot in training. It also set the stage for us to learn more about Sabine's Mandalorian heritage later in the season, and hinted the Empire is getting wise to even more of the Rebels' tricks.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday, October 15th with ‘Hera's Heroes’ at 8:30PM on Disney XD.