This weekend, Star Wars Rebels upped the ante with its latest thrilling installment. “An Inside Man” provided a clearer picture of what’s in store for the rest of season three. Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus steal the plans for a new Imperial weapon. No, not the Death Star. They also learn the surprising identity of a rebel spy within the Empire. Meanwhile, Grand Admiral Thrawn makes another awesome and frightening show of force. Dive in with us as we examine the highlights of “An Inside Man.”
Thrawn, the Ruthless Teacher
With each appearance, Thrawn solidifies his reputation as one of the best Star Wars villains of all time. It certainly helps that Star Wars Rebels draws upon author Timothy Zahn‘s iconic vision for the character in Heir to the Empire. Thrawn’s appreciation for art figures prominently in “An Inside Man,” when he asks his underlings what they think of Sabine Wren‘s Starbird graffiti symbol. Ever myopic, Lieutenant Yogar Lyste doesn’t even recognize it. Yet, Agent Kallus recognizes the Starbird’s significance and says so. Kallus is thus an analogue for Captain Gilad Pellaeon, who served as Thrawn’s protégé of sorts in Heir to the Empire.
Thrawn is clearly drawn to Sabine’s artwork. A while back, Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo said it was a happy coincidence that Rebels brought in Thrawn (and his fascination with art) after the series had already established Sabine’s own artistic flair. Sabine and Thrawn make an interesting pair of street artist and art connoisseur, so it will be great to see what happens when their paths collide.
However, being an art connoisseur doesn’t make someone benevolent. As if we needed more reminders of Thrawn’s ruthlessness, he callously manipulates rebel sympathizer Morad Sumar into killing himself by riding a sabotaged Imperial speeder bike. Sumar’s death parallels how Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin swept into season one’s “Call to Action” by having the Grand Inquisitor execute incompetent officers Aresko and Grint. It’s an immediate reminder that there are real-life stakes for the rebellion.
This isn’t the first time rebel saboteurs have targeted the Empire’s assembly line. In the short story “Bottleneck,” Tarkin and his rival, Count Denetrius Vidian, investigate a manufacturing backlog that turns out to be rebel activity. Being an inside agent is perhaps the rebellion’s most dangerous job, for bringing down the Empire is fraught with consequences. Sumar’s violent death sets high stakes for the rest of the episode, as Kanan and Ezra enter a life-or-death game of cat and mouse to escape from Thrawn. It’s getting harder and harder for Ezra to travel back home.
Why Is Lothal So Special?
Lothal has been a central focus for Rebels, but it’s still not clear why. Sure, Lothal is the homeworld of Ezra, who is the series’ main character. That’s why Lothal was the main setting of season one. It’s also why it has been a recurring location ever since then. “An Inside Man” establishes that season three’s endgame is a major joint assault to disrupt the Empire’s control of Lothal. This season’s storylines are all building toward that endpoint, and it’s a fitting focus.
Yet, we still don’t know why the Empire has invested so much in Lothal. A season and a half ago, Minister Maketh Tua hinted that the Empire’s true interest in Lothal goes beyond its factory and resources. According to Tua, “There is another reason known only to a few and ordered by the Emperor himself.” However, Tua died before she could explain that secret to the rebellion, and we haven’t heard anything about it since then. Hopefully, we’ll finally get an answer this season when the rebellion targets Lothal.
The upcoming assault is what brings Kanan and Ezra back to Lothal, where living conditions have steadily worsened under the Empire’s occupation. The Empire is exploiting Lothal as a source of cheap labor, which has solidified a growing rebel cell on Lothal. It was nice to see Ezra reconnect with both Morad Sumar and ex-governor Ryder Azadi since both characters are tied to his childhood — and his late parents. Still, the question remains of what will happen to Lothal as Rebels continues.
The Cost of Rebellion
“An Inside Man” is a good reminder of just how daunting the rebellion’s mission is. The rebellion doesn’t have near-unlimited resources like the Empire does, and often the rebels have scraped just to get by. The rebellion’s separate cells of fighters haven’t yet coalesced into a cogent, unified whole. We haven’t even seen any other rebel cells besides Phoenix Squadron, which the Lothal rebels joined.
However, since season three is focusing on a direct rebel assault on Lothal, it looks like we’ll finally see the rebellion in full. At the very least, we need to catch up with Wedge Antilles and Derek “Hobbie” Klivian, who have completely disappeared from the scope of the series since Sabine recruited them back in “The Antilles Extraction.”
Kallus on the Inside
Speaking of catching up, it was good to see Kallus finally confirm that he is the rebels’ inside man — Fulcrum. That’s been an open question ever since “The Antilles Extraction,” when he helped Sabine, Wedge, and Hobbie escape from the Skystrike Academy. Kallus is more and more living up to my hope that he would get an important storyline this season.
The one shortcoming of “An Inside Man” was that it didn’t have any character development. Certainly not as much as standout episodes like “Hera’s Heroes,” “The Last Battle,” and the season premiere, Steps Into Shadow. Nevertheless, the episode did an excellent job of propelling Rebels forward and setting up this season’s future story lines. Now, both the rebellion and the Empire are (rightfully) questioning whether Kallus is trustworthy. Where do his true loyalties lie, and how much will he sacrifice for them?
Things aren’t looking good for Kallus. He must hide his duplicity from Thrawn, who aims to turn the unidentified Imperial spy “from an obstacle into an asset”. Every action has a cost, and that’s true for the rebellion and now Kallus. Kallus won’t be able to hide from Thrawn for long.
Fellow Fan Contributor, Robert Mitchell, has helped gather more standout moments from the episode:
- Thrawn’s new TIE fighter model, the TIE/D Defender, is another transplant from Legends media. The TIE Defender first appeared in the 1994 LucasArts PC game TIE Fighter.
- “An Inside Man” had some awesome action choreography. There was a great moment during the climactic fight scene when Ezra and Kanan stole an AT-DP and took cover from an AT-AT behind another AT-AT’s legs. But the best action sequence by far was at the start of the episode when Ryder Azadi angled his speeder to fly under an AT-DP so that Ezra and Kanan could cut through the walker’s legs with their lightsabers.
- Among Thrawn’s art collection is a Jedi Temple Guard mask and a holoimage of a mural showing an ancient Mandalorian battle with Jedi, in a Cubist style à la Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Both subjects originated on Rebels‘ predecessor, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
- Speaking of Easter eggs, last week we neglected to mention that there was a Twi’lek Ark among the treasures that Azmorgian and Hondo Ohnaka were attempting to steal. The Twi’lek Ark is a nod to the Ark of the Covenant from another Lucasfilm franchise, Indiana Jones.
- Our previous recaps have discussed how Governor Arihnda Pryce may be an intriguing Imperial villain, but the show hasn’t utilized her properly. Some of her past appearances haven’t made sense since they fall outside of her jurisdiction as a sector governor. “An Inside Man” does a better job of using her and her duties, since Lothal is her seat of power.
- Captain Vult Skerris needs to be the first pilot to fly the TIE Defender. Otherwise, Rebels will have wasted his introduction back in “The Antilles Extraction.”
- It was a nice touch to have Zeb Orellios be completely unaware that Kallus is the new Fulcrum. In Zeb’s words, “I must have recruited him! You know, accidentally.” But that still doesn’t explain how Kallus became a Fulcrum agent in the first place. If Zeb didn’t recruit Kallus as an informant, then who did?
Maul and Dathomir will return in next week’s winter finale, “Visions and Voices”. After Ezra and Maul’s enigmatic visions back in “The Holocrons of Fate,” does this mean the series should finally feature a certain Jedi Master who is Maul’s main nemesis? (If you ask us, the answer is a resounding “no.”) Come back next week as we explore the final Rebels episode of 2016!