[This review contains SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels season 3, episode 17.]
Star Wars Rebels season 3 has expanded the ranks of the Rebellion, but it has also drawn back the curtain just a little on the inner-workings of the Empire. When Sabine infiltrated the Imperial academy and later when Kanan and Ezra did the same with an Imperial factory on Lothal, the daily life of those who serve the Empire was revealed -- and it is not a forgiving environment.
Tonight's episode, 'Through Imperial Eyes' -- written by Nicole Dubuc, directed by Saul Ruiz -- again gives an inside look at the Empire's operations, this time from the perspective of Agent Kallus. Earlier this season it was revealed that Kallus is now operating as Fulcrum, the Rebellion's spy within the Empire. It's been a risky endeavor but one he's so far managed quite well, continuing to hide his duplicity from his Imperial comrades. Kallus is so good at his job, in fact, it's tough for even those in the Rebellion, like Ezra, to fully trust he's actually on their side.
But Kallus' luck might be running out. Worried the Empire is getting closer to learning Fulcrum's identity, the Rebels plan to rescue Kallus before he can be exposed. Unfortunately for them, Thrawn is indeed very close to uncovering the spy in his ranks, making an unexpected visit and endangering not only Kallus but the future of the entire Rebellion.
Agent Kallus: A Day In The Life
Much like Ezra and Sabine, Agent Kallus has undergone a transformation this season on Star Wars Rebels. Witnessing the disregard the Empire has for those who devote their lives to it, he's begun working to dismantle the Empire from the inside, passing along valuable information to the growing Rebellion. It's a big change from the faithful ISB Agent he was in the beginning, serving as a primary antagonist for the Ghost crew, but those same skills that made him a thorn in their side have also made him an invaluable asset.
In 'Through Imperial Eyes', Kallus works to keep his true allegiance a secret from not only Grand Admiral Thrawn but Colonel Wullf Yularen -- a former Admiral in the Galactic Republic (having originally appeared on Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Kallus' mentor at the Imperial Security Bureau. It's a tough gig, but again, one that Kallus pulls off easily, masterfully manipulating the situation so that the hapless Lieutenant Lyste takes the fall for him. He even manages to orchestrate it so that he's the one to apprehend Lyste, turning him in as the spy and (seemingly) earning the admiration of Thrawn and Yularen.
Having Kallus as their man on the inside has been a great boon for the Rebellion, something that's only made all the clearer with his actions in this episode. He understands not only how the Empire operates, but the needs of those resisting its rule over the galaxy. It's only too bad he's facing a foe unlike any other.
No One Matches His Practical Tactical Brilliance
There was a great swell of excitement when it was announced Thrawn was stepping out of the defunct-EU and back into official Star Wars canon. And now it's clear why -- Thrawn is unlike any other major villain the Star Wars franchise has to offer. He is a brilliant tactician; he's brutal and ruthless but never hot-headed; he is an alien among typically human Imperials; and he is terrifying.
'Through Imperial Eyes' has a really interesting peek behind the scenes at Thrawn, and it's in a way reminiscent of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where there is that quick flash of Darth Vader without his helmet. Except, where that scene showed a weakness behind Vader's power, revealing the sick and damaged body under the armor, the scene of Thrawn fighting the assassin droids and easily dispatching with them (a scene actually repeated twice in this episode) reveals even more strength behind the already imposing Grand Admiral. Not only does Thrawn have a keen mind, but he's exceptionally fit and well-trained in hand-to-hand and armed combat. Thrawn is the full, frightening package.
As enjoyable as it was to see Kallus display his quick thinking and skillful manipulation, he is absolutely no match for Thrawn. All along, Thrawn was playing Agent Kallus, letting him make the moves he thought were covering his tracks but were, in fact, confirming Thrawn's suspicions. How can the Rebels ever hope to defeat him?
Twisting Fulcrum Against Them
Short answer -- they probably won't, at least not this season. As Star Wars Rebels season 3 progresses, it's only becoming more evident that Thrawn has been one step ahead all along. And no good will come of Thrawn being aware of Fulcrum's true identity. Undoubtedly, Thrawn will begin using Kallus to feed the wrong information to the Rebels, likely leading them to reveal even more about themselves and their operations in the process. That's been the key to his success, too, studying his enemy and using that knowledge against them.
In 'Through Imperial Eyes', it was almost too easy for him to connect the incident of the prisoner escape with the Rebels, again using everything he's learned about them -- in this case, Sabine's iconic art style -- to deduce their involvement. How much longer until he discovers that Chopper swapped out the true location of the Rebel base? Once he does, he'll have their true location and bring the full force of the Empire down upon them. With Fulcrum comprised, the future looks bleak for the Rebellion.
'Through Imperial Eyes' may not have felt as grand as the past two episodes, but Thrawn continues to prove himself a most dangerous enemy. He may not have the raw power of Darth Vader, but he more than makes up for it with his intelligence and keen understanding of his enemy. Plus, it isn't as if he can be so easily beaten in a fight, either. Just how does the Rebellion hope to stop him? They're going to need more help.
Star Wars Rebels season 3 continues next Saturday with 'Secret Cargo' @8:30pm on Disney XD.