Yesterday morning, at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, attendees at the Star Wars Rebels Season Four panel learned that the upcoming season will indeed be the last. As we recovered (or rejoiced, depending who you ask), though, we were treated to the first half of the two-part season premiere, Heroes of Mandalore, which will air on Disney XD this fall.
About two-thirds of the way through the episode, I had the thought that I would be writing a review praising the episode as 22 minutes of nonstop Star Wars fun. Jedi and Mandalorians versus Imperials! A daring rescue mission with friends new and old! Then that third act happened.
Heroes of Mandalore is the darkest, most haunting Star Wars Rebels yet. In a press conference earlier today, Freddie Prinze Jr., the voice of Kanan Jarrus, remarked that the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi was the moment that Star Wars really hooked him in, because it was human. The heroes don’t always prevail, and even when they do, losses can be suffered.
There’s not much more I can say about this without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say that the climactic camerawork in this episode sold the emotional impact its events had on its central character. The episode takes place largely in open desert, so the lighting is pretty straightforward, but effective as always. The music of Kevin Kiner stands out during the introduction of a returning character from another Star Wars story, and the sound is well-done, particularly during the (very lengthy) fight sequences.
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa appears as a character we’ve heard about but not yet met, and his performance is stirring, yet comical when needed. Andrew Kishino (voice of Saw Gerrera from The Clone Wars) and Tobias Menzies also join the cast here as new antagonists, one of which certainly bears a grudge against Clan Wren for their actions in Season Three, and a familiar voice from The Clone Wars reprises her role to great effect.
This final season has many loose ends to tie up, and the premiere gives me hope (upon which, as we know, rebellions are built) that all will be resolved. Heroes of Mandalore should’ve been the finale of the prior season, in my opinion. It was climactic enough to conclude that season, which had a subplot which connected heavily to this episode (the title tells all…). The actual finale, Zero Hour, was captivating, but compared to the prior two finales, it felt somewhat flat to me.
During a press conference following the panel, executive producer Dave Filoni explained that the defeat in that episode is what scared the Rebel leaders away from any more frontal assaults, explaining their trepidation in Rogue One. This gives it a significance I hadn’t considered, but it still lacked the gravitas for our central cast that meeting Ahsoka or facing Vader on Malachor brought to the story. Heroes of Mandalore continues the evolution of Sabine in a massive way that sets the tone for a more brooding, dark final season. Fans of The Clone Wars know around the show’s third or fourth season, it seemed to gain the courage to tell more mature, realistic stories about humanity and war. I can say with confidence that Heroes of Mandalore brings that turning point in Rebels.