“Zero Hour” isn’t a disappointing hour of Star Wars Rebels. It’s far from it. I will admit, though, I had pretty high (different?) expectations since the last few episodes were so unique and distinct. There was a sense the finale would continue that kind of narrative boldness–makings risky choices that would really change things. Instead, writers Steven Melching (Part 1), Henry Gilroy, and Matt Michnovetz (Part 2) provide their own epic Star Wars movie in miniature, telling a tale not of success, but of failure. It’s a somewhat slow moving story at first, with a prolonged space battle that sort of meanders and is hurt by some wonky direction and odd character beats. But by the second part, the chaos and craziness is ramped up to such a degree that the battles truly become engaging. Like the ending of many a Star Wars film, the final action sequence is split among several different scenes of various conflicts and objectives, each one as crucially important as the other. It helps that the second half is more personal and more grounded, which automatically raises the stakes.

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Let me be upfront: in general, I’m not a huge fan of the space battles. As more and more ships arrive and appear, only the most careful directors can provide clarity among the various spacecrafts; otherwisecome off extremely cluttered. Director Justin Ridge manages as well as he can, but the sheer number of ships and ship types seem to even get the best of him. As a result, viewers not intimately familiar with the those types may get lost in understanding where characters are and what exactly the obstacles are that prevent them from escaping. We mostly rely on characters shouting commands and assuming that the ships are indeed following suit. The sense of chaos is indeed effective, but it’s just hard to follow. It comes down to Thrawn figuring out where the rebels were located and unleashing a full scale assault, and the rebels playing defense so that Ezra can go into hyperdrive and retrieve help. There’s a clear sense that the rebels are truly getting demolished, all horrified faces and panicked voices. But it would have been better just to know where ships were in relation to each other.

Some character choices are suspect. I’m speaking specifically of Kanan’s decision to seek Bendu for help. How much do we know about Bendu to the point that Kanan would see the mystical spirit as genuinely helpful? It comes out of left field, and all Kanan does, really, is piss him off (which leads to another concern in the second half). This is an elaborate way to get a dead-end character involved just so they can dispatch him quickly. Similarly, Sato’s sacrifice, while powerful, doesn’t quite have the impact it should. There is shared history between Thrawn and Sato, but Star Wars Rebels never clarifies or personalizes it. The sacrificial moment also felt forced, instigated by Constantine’s weird jealousy/attempt for glory, despite never exhibiting that mentality, ever. The only moment that felt truly earned is the Kallus/Thrawn fight, which was set up in the latter half of the season. It’s a fun, exciting little beatdown, and Kallus even gets in a great line–“You talk too much”–before getting his own butt whooped. The first part of “Zero Hour” isn’t bad at all, but it is bogged down by heavy-handed table-setting, unearned emotional moments, and an unwieldy numbers of shooty-shooty space ships.

That second part though…

Bringing things down to ground level is just a marked improvement, in writing and in execution. Justin Ridge works better here, maintaining clear goals and sharp action across several different scenes, and he begins it all with an ”orbital bombardment”. A hellfire of laser blasts onto the base below, the attack is both awe-inspiring and terrifying, and all those sensations is visible on Hera’s face. She is the perfect focal point to emotionalize the scale and scope of what this attack means–a visual representation of massive rebel strides and successes reduced to the desperate need to survive. Hera, who truly believed in this cause being bigger than her, is now back to just making sure Kanan survived that bombardment. You can hear the emotion in her voice when Kanan radios in; she even calls him “love.” It’s been a long time since either of the two exhibited any romantic behavior towards each other. You could chalk that up to the writers forgetting it (or writing it out of the show), but I’d argue that both Kanan and Hera got so caught up in the rebellion and/or the Force-related drama that they’ve taken their relationship for granted.

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“Part 2” thrives on an assortment of characters doing the best they can to escape Thrawn’s onslaught, and it coalesce in the same way that previous Star Wars entertainment has. It exhibits shades from the finale of A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, Rogue One, and any number of Clone Wars episodes. Hera has to evacuate the remaining rebels at the base while Kanan, Zeb, and Rex attempt to reach them. Meanwhile, Ezra seeks Sabine’s (and the Mandalorians’) assistance, since Mon Mothma can’t spare any other fighters, lest she tip her hand and reveal more rebel factions to Thrawn. There’s a dangerous and welcome efficiency to the proceedings, which keeps the action flowing, and bits of humor flow out in soft relief instead of being forced. Not a single moment is fleeting; the standout may be watching Ezra and the Mandalorians battle Imperial troops on top of that final Interdictor. It’s just a really sharply directed conflict, combining the chaotic enormity of outer space aerial battles with the on-the-ground struggle that Ezra and Sabine is up against. Really, it’s just a lot of crazy action, and it’s just really well-done, and not quite as burdened down with questionable objectives, like Rogue One’s endgame.

Well, not as much–because Bendu’s literal deus ex machina arrival is almost too over the top. I guess credit should be given in creating a Bendu whose anger knew no side; it attacks both the rebels and the Imperial soldiers. In practice though, only Thrawn’s side was decimated–The Ghost crew got out without a hitch. And Boss Bendu was taken down remarkably easy. Everything involving this Force spirit is puzzling, really; he feels like a holdover from the divisive Mortis arc from The Clone Wars, but the writers never quite allowed him to stake his true significance. I wouldn’t say his actions hurt the finale that much though. He was a questionable, if inevitable, endgame to an episode that thrived on charismatic, bold action. The season was building to an epic attack on Lothal, a necessary strike to stir the rebellion into hopeful action. Instead, it was destroyed, and a via a slow camera take, we follow Kanan gently assessing the damage among the crew. It’s not good. But they’re alive. In true Star Wars fashion, even crushing moments are filled with potential–which can also be said for season four.

Stray observations

  • Ezra feels like he’s part of the overall team now instead of the lead. This is a smart decision for sure.
  • Jan Dodonna shows up. He’s a famous Star Wars character who basically planed the final Death Star attack in A New Hope. It’s a important cameo, but he doesn’t do much here in this episode. So he feels like a waste of a character.
  • The sheer number and variety of ships just blew my mind, and I mean that in a good and bad way. It definitely was breathtaking in scale, but also confusing. I had no idea there were two Interdictor ships, and it sort of fails to explain how Ezra managed to escape if Sato only destroyed one. (The ships possess the gravity well that blocks hyperjumps.) I’ll just chalk that up to the fact that the spectacle of the first one being destroyed shocked the Empire so much that the second got too distracted.

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