After Disney bought Lucasfilm and with it the Star Wars multi-media franchise, the studios announced the formation of the Lucasfilm Story Group: a collection of writers whose job is to make sure that story continuity is maintained between the various Star Wars movies, TV shows, video games, and comic books released under the Disney/Lucasfilm banner (save, that is, for the Star Wars LEGO video games). As a result, all events that transpire in Star Wars-related content outside the realm of live-action film is considered "canon" - whether it be the plot beats from the novel "Bloodline" (set six years before the events of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens) or the events that unfold in the Disney XD cartoon TV series Star Wars Rebels (set a few years before Episode IV - A New Hope).
Rebels first included appearances by famous players from the Star Wars live-action movies early on during its first season; then, in season 2, the series began to incorporate certain key players from the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series, while featuring even more beloved characters from the original Star Wars film trilogy (Episodes IV-VI). Now that season 3 is on the horizon, it seems the series may start to include direct connections to as-yet unreleased Star Wars films too.
Simon Kinberg, a member of the Lucasfilm Story Group and Star Wars Rebels' co-creator, is no stranger to the "shared universe" model now being embraced by the Star Wars franchise - as he's also serving as a writer and producer on 20th Century Fox's X-Men/Marvel movie franchise. Speaking with Moviefone, Kinberg expressed his excitement about the fact that Star Wars is now embracing the "shared universe" approach long utilized in the world of comic books:
"I'm very excited. I think part of the fun of the way they're building the universe is that it is interconnected between the different movies and even beyond the movies ... It's something that was true in comic books going back, the way that you'd have interconnections between characters and stories. Even sometimes from DC to Marvel. I like the way that those stories are told in the larger tapestry. And, also, getting to work with other artists and filmmakers and writers, and use their talents -- I like not being by myself in a room when I work. I like having other collaborators. You're with some of the world's best."
The "larger tapestry" of the Star Wars franchise (as Kinberg puts it) is one that has become increasingly tight-knit in its construction - what with novels such as "Bloodline" introducing plot points that will likely feed directly into the events of Star Wars: Episode VIII, and Clone Wars character Saw Gererra now being confirmed to appear in this year's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (where he's played by Forest Whitaker). Kinberg indicated to Moviefone that Rebels season 3 will include plot points and/or characters that may directly connect with as-yet unreleased Star Wars movies, in keeping with that trend.
"What's lovely is, obviously, we've brought in characters from 'Clone Wars' in the second season, and we keep sort of bringing characters from the original movies and sort of deepening the relationships between our core characters, the Ghost crew. So it's trying to balance the two different things, like the original cast from the first season with 'Clone Wars,' with characters from the original movies, and maybe even feeding into future movies."
It's plausible that Rebels season 3 will explore story material that leads into the upcoming young Han Solo movie in particular, given that there should be some overlap between them in the Star Wars timeline - not to mention, the main characters on Rebels frequently deal with members of the larger Star Wars universe's criminal underworld that young Han Solo could have (plausibly) worked for at some point too. On top of that, Rebels season 3 will also bring the TV series ever closer to Episode IV - A New Hope in the Star Wars timeline and begins airing on Disney XD a few months before Rogue One (also set just before the events of Episode IV) hits theaters, as it just-so-happens.
In other words: it may yet turn out that Clone Wars isn't the only animated Star Wars TV show with a direct connection to the first Star Wars anthology/spinoff film, as Rebels season 3 will be arriving at the perfect time for it to "cross-over" with Rogue One. If not, then there's still the young Han Solo movie and the mystery 2020 Star Wars anthology film that Rebels season 3 could help to pave the way for - especially if that 2020 Star Wars spinoff film takes place somewhere between Episode IV - A New Hope and Episode VII - The Force Awakens (e.g. in the aftermath of Star Wars Rebels).
Star Wars Rebels season 3 will premiere at Star Wars Celebration 2016, before it begins airing regularly on Disney XD this fall.