Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Twilight Zone: My Top 10 Favorite episodes

      One of my favorite TV shows of all time is the 1950’s classic “The Twilight Zone”. Even though it’s years and years old, it’s still just as timeless as ever. The shows themes of Science fiction laced with horror, and deep, thought provoking concepts are still very intriguing, and in a way, I always feel a little smarter, or maybe a little wiser after watching an episode. There are hardly any other shows that can mix chills and intriguing subtext as well as this fantastic series. There’s no way I can do the show justice in a single review, because it really just needs to be experienced. However, I’ll go ahead and round up my personal top 10 favorite episodes, just to give you some small idea and maybe peak your interest. Also, I’m not going to spoil any of the twist endings.  


#10. Number 12 Looks Just Like You 

This episode takes place in a future where everything is way too perfect. Everyone is happy, no one learns things through books, and no one is ugly. There’s even a law that every young person must undergo a transformation that will make every man and woman look like the exact same good looking model without any flaws. However, a young woman resists having the surgery because she doesn’t want to lose her humanity. This episode reflects on how society tries too hard to perfect itself, when it forgets that it’s okay to just be OK. The lead girl in this episode is especially easy to sympathies with and it’s great to see her fight for her God given right to just be normal. While there isn’t a whole lot going on in this episode, it’s the subtext of the story that makes it one of my favorites.

#9. I Am the Night – Color me Black 

A man is to be hanged at sunrise for killing another man out of pure hatred, and now the towns people are all overjoyed to see this guy hang. But on the appointed day, the sun fails to rise and a strange darkness envelops the land. This episode has everything that makes a great “Twilight Zone” episode, there’s a mysterious phenomenon affecting a town, thought provoking themes and metaphors, plus some really tense, dramatic performances from the cast. Everything culminates into a simplistic, yet haunting metaphor regarding hatred and how it blackens the soul. It’s a chilling episode that leaves me thinking about humanity in general.  


#8. Living Doll 

This is one of the most classic episodes of the series, and one of the most haunting. A strict stepfather is physically threatened by his stepdaughter’s new talking doll. He’s a real jerk and causes lots of fuss with the family, but when he’s alone, that doll starts sending him some cryptic threats to clean up his act, or he’ll die. The tension in this episode is quiet effective, and the mystery surrounding the doll is ingenious. It really makes you wonder ... is the man losing his mind, is the family playing tricks on him or is Talking Tina really alive. One thing I’ll say is that despite all the Chuckey’s and Annabelle’s that have dominated the horror genera, the concept of a killer doll has never been more effective for me then in this episode. 

#7. A Passage for Trumpet 

Now here’s one of the more humble and beautiful episodes that the show has to offer. A down on his luck trumpet player has slowly lost his musical talents, has secluded himself from other people, spends most of his time drinking, and has basically become a no-body. His depression gets the best of him, and he tries to commit suicide by stepping out in front of a truck. He soon finds himself in limbo where no one can see or hear him, and thus he really discovers what it means to be a no-body. This episode is all about savoring the good things you have in life, and to make the most of what comes your way. Even when life seems to be at its worst, you can always climb out of the gutter and make something of yourself. It’s a wonderful message that’s conveyed very humbly and simplistically without ever coming off as preachy, and that’s something that this show always nailed.  


#6. The After Hours 

Here’s another episode with a very simple yet meaningful message. However, it’s the episodes atmosphere and style that make it a personal favorite. A woman makes a purchase on the ninth floor of a department store, but later discovers that the floor doesn’t even exist, because there are only eight levels on the building. The young lady soon finds herself locked in the store after closing hours, the phones don’t work, the doors are locked, and worse yet, she’s not alone. As she wonders through a maze of different shopping lanes, she begins to hear mysterious voices calling out to her. With a concept like this, it could have been very dull watching a single character walking around a department store, but it holds our attention very well, with some sharp editing, a foreboding mood, shadows and enough mystery elements to get you guessing what the outcome will be.

 #5. Jess-Belle 

In this special 1 hour long episode, a young woman named Jess-Belle has fallen in love with a young man who’s currently going out with another woman. Her jealousy soon leads Jess to a witch in the mountains who gives her a spell that will make the boy love her instead. However, this comes with a serious price, as every midnight Jess transforms into a killer leopard with a craving for human flesh. The premise is almost like a throwback to the 1942 horror movie “Cat People”, and it’s got all the best horror tropes that the show has to offer. The imagery is creepy, the atmosphere is heavy, and a feeling of impending dread just builds and builds to a thrilling finally. Anne Francis plays Jess-Belle and she really nails it, capturing the jealous rage, the somber regret and the fear of her unknown actions perfectly. This same actress was also the star of the previously mentioned episode “The After Hours”, and would be a big TV star for a while. Personally, I’ll always remember her best from the 1950’s Sci-Fi classic “Forbidden Planet”.  

#4. Eye of the Beholder 

Now here’s a very simple episode, it’s all about a bandaged woman in a hospital who’s going through some kind of surgery. There’s a lot of really sad moments as the lady fears she’ll be to deformed to be among normal looking people, and the setting never changes from the cold, and somber interiors of this hospital. It’s an episode full of great performances, some really crafty camera angles, and a twist ending that’s so simple, yet so profound that I dare not spoil any more. Trust me when is say that this episode represents “The Twilight Zone” at its finest. 

#3. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street 

Here’s an episode that warns viewers about the most dangerous monster of all, and that’s human kind itself. A power failure causes the residents of a suburban neighborhood to suspect one another of being monsters from outer space, or creatures planning an invasion. It may sound like a really silly concept, but it’s very truthful about how paranoia, and the unknown can suddenly turn close friends against each other. It’s also very clever for including real monsters, but they don’t actually attack the humans ... because the humans are already doing that to themselves. It’s every bit as intriguing as it is suspenseful and dark. 

#2. Walking Distance 

While waiting for repairs on his car, an ad executive under pressure from his job decides to take a little walk, and pays a visit to his old hometown in which he grew up as a child. The catch is that nothing has changed sense he left, and soon he realizes that he’s stepped back in time to witness his childhood. He embraces everything with sentimental longing but the world of the past doesn’t except him back. There’s nothing scary or tense about this episode, but it’s something I relate to on a very personal level. Everyone at some point wants to return to their past, and relive that time which was cheerful and care free, but the moral of the episode is to live your life in the present without dwelling on the days long gone. It’s just a very touching episode, with a humble message and it’s always stood out as one of the most special offerings from “The Twilight Zone”. 

Before I reveal my #1 favorite episode, here are my Runner Up’s

Five Characters in Search of an Exit
Night Call
Stopover in a Quiet Town
The Odyssey of Flight 93
Twenty Two
Still Valley
The Hunt” 

Night of the Meek

#1. The Jungle 

While this episode’s message isn’t nearly a thought provoking as any of my previously mentioned episodes, it was still the first episode to really captivate me, thrill me, keep me in suspense and it still stands as my personal favorite. An engineer has a curse placed on him by natives objecting to his building a dam on their land. Back in the big city, he slowly finds the concrete jungle to be more wild and spooky then he remembers. On his way back from work, the man gets himself lost, he can’t find the way back to his apartment, and he has the suspicion that he’s being hunted by a ferocious predator. It may sound extremely simple, but I personally think it’s the eeriest, and most suspenseful episode of the whole series. With very little visuals, this episode still creates an extremely haunting atmosphere, all thanks to its heavy shadows, it’s labyrinth like setting, and especially for it’s frightening sound effects. It’s actually on par with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, when Ichabod Crane was alone in the woods while stocked by a shadowy creature. Also, just like that story, “The Jungle” delivers a twist ending in which the man’s most comfortable, and safest location actually becomes the most dangerous place of them all. It’s a great episode, with a memorable payoff, and it’s always the first episode that comes to mind when I think of “The Twilight Zone”. 

                                                                         The End

                           Stay Tuned because my annual October Marathon is coming up next.   

Star Wars Rebels (2014-17) (TV series Review)

       It was October of 2012 when Lucas Film and Lucas Arts got bought out by Disney, and with the new ownership came the promise of a new Star Wars, both in TV and the movies. No one knew what to expect, some were very optimistic of this change, while other fans were dreading it. At the time, I was a little upset because that meant cancelling “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, which was one of the favorite TV shows at the time, and was on its sixth season with episodes still in development. However, that show had to be dropped in order for Disney to begin production of a brand new TV series titled “Star Wars Rebels”, a series that would take place 15 years after the events of “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, and 5 years before the events of “Star Wars 4: A New Hope”. While I was definitely upset over the sudden cancellation of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, I was also interested in a series that takes place between a span of time in the Star Wars cannon that we fans have seen very little off. So, I decided to see what this new series has to offer, and to my surprise, this turned out to be a great show. It proves that Star Wars has a lot more fresh ideas, and there’s no limit to the amount of fun space adventures it’ll have to offer. 

          At this point in the Star Wars cannon, the empire has taken control over the whole galaxy, and there’s no galactic civil war of any sort yet. However, a small band of mercenaries decide to stick it to the Empire, and aide those in need wherever they can. Think of it as the Star Wars equivalent of the 2002 TV series “Firefly”, which I’m also a huge fan of. Actually, this series really ignited my nostalgia for both Star Wars and “Firefly” equally. As the show progresses, our small group of hero’s spark rebellion across various planets, the galactic rebel alliance is born, and their struggle with the empire has only just begun. The show also works great as a squeal series to Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, brings back many of the characters, and ties up several loose ends that it's predecessor couldn't before it's cancellation.

        Right off the bat, I loved the overall tone and feel of this show. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was an epic space opera with lots of grand scale wars, and intriguing character development, but it also had a really dark over tone, and could get very distasteful at times. “Star Wars Rebels” by contrast is much lighter, with simplistic story telling that can still be exiting and deep, but also really fun and light hearted. It’s the kind of show that mostly treats you like an adult, but it makes you feel like a little kid again while watching, and that’s when I know an animated TV series is doing something right. This show still has its dark moments, some violent action, and even some noticeable character deaths, but it’s not done in bad taste the same way other shows come off at times. The animation is spectacular, I love the overall design, and the color scheme is great. I also love the overall sound design, because every episode is chalk full of memorable sound effects from the classic series. Probably the best way to go about the show is to talk about each season individually, but before I do that, let’s first talk about the characters.  

        I have to say, it was a real breath of fresh air to get a completely original cast of Star Wars characters that we’ve never seen before. Some classic characters occasionally make appearances throughout the shows run, but for the most part we're spending time with this colorful cast of terrific new hero’s, and new villains alike. The shows main protagonist is a young boy named Ezra, who starts off as an orphaned street rat, but soon discovers that he’s in fact a child of the force, and has the potential to become a Jedi of legend. He meets an outcast named Kanan who was once a Jedi, and survived the massacre of order 66, which killed off most of the other Jedi. Together, they build on each other’s strengths and form a powerful bond of master and apprentice. Both characters are very good, and supply just enough character depth to balance out their high spirited personalities. Freddie Prinze Jr. supplies the voice of Kanan, and while I’ve never been a big fan of the actor, I have to admit that he does a really good job in his respected role. Both hero’s give the series its conflict and substance, but it’s the supporting cast that I really love. 

        Steven Blum supplies the voice of a character named Zeb, who’s the muscle of the group, and has an alien design that’s based on the original concept art for Chewbacca. Strait to the point, this guy is made of awesome. He’s tough and takes charge whenever there’s a fight, but he’s also chalk full of personality, and comes off like the kind of guy I’d want to hang out with. The only down side is that he's mostly kept to the side lines and doesn't always get the right amount of attention I felt he deserved. He dose have a personal character journey that's explored over the course of the show, and it's good, but again, I just wish there was more of it.  

Next is Sabine who’s the feisty weapons technician of the group, and has a talent for turning destruction into an art form. This is personally my favorite of the new characters in this show, and in my opinion is the shows true breakout character. She's got a lot of personality, and just enough compelling humanity to balance out. Sabin also has one of the best rounded story arc's of the group, and her individual episodes highlight the series at it's best. Her armor has a striking resemblance to the bounty hunter Boba Fett, just with a pink makeover, and it really helps give Sabine her own identity.    

       It’s also a real treat to finally have a tighter group of characters that all live together on one single ship called “the Ghost”, much like the crew of the Millennium Falcon from the original trilogy. As the characters hang out, and go on adventures together, they start to think of themselves as a family, and the titular mother of the group comes in the form on a green alien pilot named Hera. She’s the voice of reason, and it’s a real treat to finally have a Twi’lek alien as a main character. Star Wars fans recognize Twi’leks best from “Return of the Jedi” in which one of them was dumped in a monster pit by Jabba the Hutt. At last we have a little droid named Chopper, who’s the comedic relief of the group, and personally, I think he puts R2-D2 to absolute shame. Seriously, this little droid has a terrific personality that comes in the form of a cranky bedside manner, as he’s the one who always solves problems while no one is watching, and he just has so much more character on display then R2-D2 ever did. 

        As the show went on, we’d see several familiar faces, and hear even more familiar voices. Frank Oz returned to supply the voice of Yoda, and Billy Dee Williams returned to supply the voice of Lando Calrissian ... need I say any more, it’s Billy Dee Williams back in the role of Lando Calrissian, that’s awesome! In the episode “Droids in Distress”, our hero’s team up with C-3PO and R2-D2, which was a great cross over, and it’s always a treat to hear Anthony Daniels as the voice of C-3PO. Obi-Wan Kenobi makes select appearances, and is voiced once again by James Arnold Taylor who previously supplied the voice in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Speaking of “The Clone Wars”, Anakin Skywalkers former apprentice known to fans as Ahsoka Tano becomes a regular reoccurring hero throughout the show, which is great because she was one of my favorite characters from “The Clone Wars” series. Plus, her character disappeared for a long time during that show, so it was a real treat to catch up on her story, and it was even more satisfying to see that she survived after the events of "Revenge of the Sith". Her new design is fantastic, and she’s the very first character to have pure white light sabers with no color. That’s because she doesn’t belong to either Jedi or Sith, but she still maintains her force capabilities.

     The best returning character by far is none other than Darth Vader, who’s voiced once again by the distinctive James Earl Jones. 
Not only was this a return of Vader, this was the return of bad ass Darth Vader, the one who ruled the galaxy with an iron fist, and stole every scene with ease. The show was very smart not to over utilize Darth Vader, that way it always felt special whenever he appears in an episode, and it’s just a real treat hearing James Earl Jones do the voice again. Another note worthy villain is Agent Kallus, who’s an imperial officer that’s taken it upon himself to bring our hero’s to justice. 

It’s cool to have an officer get this involved in the action, and it’s even more cool that the character is voiced by David Oyelowo, who’s a very respectable actor, and has starred in big Oscar winning films like “Lincoln” and “Selma”. Kallus would get the most character development of any villain over the course of the show, and make a full reformation by the end. It’s also a real treat to have the Empire as the villains again. Seeing the storm troopers, Ti-Fighters, Star Destroyers and Walkers in this show just take me back to the good old days when I was first introduced to the franchise. That just about takes care of the characters, so let’s move onto the individual seasons.  

Season 1 

The show began with 4 short little episodes that had a run time of 3 minutes. These shorts helped give us an idea of what the individual characters would be like before the pilot episode premiered. Everything first takes shape in the series premier titled “Spark of Rebellion”, and this was a promising first episode. It chronicles a series of events in which Ezra joins our team of hero’s aboard their ship, and he aids them on a mission to rescue a group of Wookies that were turned into slaves by the empire. While this wouldn't go down as one of the shows absolute best episodes, it is still one of the most nostalgic to look back on, and see how everything first took shape. The story was simplistic but engaging and the action was fairly good. The final scene in which Ezra decides to become one with the crew is a great moment, and got me really excited to see where things were going to go from there. This was also edited together as a short 40 minuet home movie, had limited theatrical screenings, and actually did a better job kicking off the series then “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” did with their real theatrical movie. Yeah, that one didn't turn out so well. There was an extended cut of this pilot movie that aired on ABC, featuring our first glimpse of Darth Vader, and a little tease to who the new main villain of the season one was going to be.   

      Every season features its own distinct main villain, and for season 1 it came in the form of a mysterious Jedi assassin only known as The Grand Inquisitor. He's armed with his own double bladed light saber, that’s equipped with far more capabilities then Darth Mauls ever did. The Grand Inquisitor is a really cool villain, and every time he confronts our hero’s, it usually leads to some great action. He has a great design, a sinister voice, and best of all is that his voice is supplied by the talented Jason Isaacs, who’s one of my favorite villain actors of all time. He’s been the bad guy in movies like “The Patriot”, “Peter Pan” and he’s probably best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter film series. As you’d expect, his vocal talents transcend The Grand Inquisitor from a generic one-note bad guy, into a villain with a captivating screen presence, and a very menacing overtone. Another note worthy villain to make an appearance in this season was Governor Tarkin, who was originally played by the late Peter Cushing in the classic first Star Wars movie. In this show he’s voiced by Stephen Stanton, who previously did the voice on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and he is outstanding in the role. In many respects, it feels like Peter Cushing himself has come back from the dead to play the character once again.

        After the pilot movie, this season had a total of 13 episodes, and despite being a relatively small collection, they sure packed a big bunch. The episode titled “Out of Darkness” was like a direct tribute to the 2000 Sci-Fi movie “Pitch Black”, as it revolves around our two lead girls stranded on a planet that’s populated by savage monsters that can only come out in darkness. 

In the episode titled “Vision of Hope”, we meet a senator that’s supposed to be a voice of influence in dark times, but he reveals himself as a double agent working for the empire. The best thing about this character is that he’s voiced by Brent Spiner, the same talent who played Data back in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. In the two part mid-season finally that began with the episode “Empire Day”, we learn some important new things involving Ezra, including his missing parents, and the fact that he was born on the day the empire was created. It’s a great mid-season package, filled with terrific action, and character growth. One of my favorite episodes is titled “Path of a Jedi”, in which Ezra and Kanan visit an abandoned Jedi temple in which both master and apprentice face their fears, and their acts of faith are rewarded when Ezra receives a light saber of his own. This episode has all the good stuff, top notch animation, character bonding, and a deeper look into the mythos and lore of the Star Wars universe. 
The season final titled “Fire Across the Galaxy” is outstanding, and ends the first season with one hell of a high note. When Kanan is captured by the Grand Inquisitor, our hero’s mount a daring rescue, which leads into thrilling battles in space, and the return of characters like Asoka and Darth Vader. The final light saber dual between The Grand Inquisitor and Kanan is nothing short of epic. The music, the fighting choreography, the high stakes, it’s just a thrilling fight, and personally one of my favorite light saber duals in all of Star Wars history. It really took me by surprise that The Grand Inquisitor perished at the end, especially considering that he was marketed as this shows main antagonist. However, his death was earned, and proved the show wasn't afraid to take risks that paid off in the long run.


Season 2 

Season 2 kicks things off with one heck of a bang! The pilot episode titled “Siege of Lothal” is spectacular, and it’s a far stronger premier episode then what had come the previous year. In this season premier, our hero’s secretly land on a planet called Lothal in hopes to rescue an imperial minister that’s defecting. Unfortunately, Darth Vader and Agent Kallus kill her before she can reveal any secrets, and worse yet, our hero's are framed for her death. Now with the planet turned against them, and Darth Vader hot on their tails, the Ghost crew have to work together to find a way off the planet and warn their allies of a dangerous new threat. It's just a thrilling cat and mouse game with excellent action scenes, and it highlights Darth Vader in arguably his greatest appearance sense “The Empire Strikes Back”. It also features the very first light-saber dual between Darth Vader and our new hero's, which doesn't disappoint. At the end, both Darth Vader and the Emperor learn that Asoka survived the clone wars, and it really builds on our anticipation for when the master and apprentice inevitably re-unite.  

      As the season continues we get to see even more returning characters from the previous “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” TV series ... and it’s sweet! First of all, I can’t even describe in words how happy I was to see Captain Rex return in this season. He was my favorite character from “The Clone Wars”, no one had any idea what happened to him between the events of that show and “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, but now we know, and it does his character justice. Dee Bradley Baker still kills it in the role, and the character of Captain Rex has only gotten better in this series. He still has authority, but he’s also gotten older, wiser and has a lot of charm. Best of all is that he wasn’t just a one shot guest, he joins the cast as a main reoccurring character and it’s always a treat to see him. Another surprise treat was the return of the pirate “anti-hero” named Hondo, voiced again by Jim Cummings. He was really fun back in “The Clone Wars”, has only gotten funnier in “Rebels”, would continue to make appearances until the final episode of the show. Princess Leia even makes a special guest appearance in one episode titled “A Princess on Lothal”, and that was a very welcome addition. Seeing Ezra and Leia make friendly small talk was great, and went a littler deeper then predictable fan service.

     The action scenes got bigger in this season, with stand out light saber duals, and battles involving the classic imperial walkers. There were a lot more episodes this season, and the side characters were all appropriately developed further.
Sabine had a heated confrontation with her people she descended from, and they are of course the armored solders that we fans know as the Mandalorians. Zeb, who was under the impression that he was the last of his kind soon discovers that some are still alive, and that he needs to lead them to salvation. My favorite story arc of the season revolved around Ahsoka as she discovered that her former master Anakin has become the malevolent Darth Vader, and now she doesn’t know what kind of action should be taken against him. I’ve been watching “The Clone Wars” for over six years, and felt that I joined Ahsoka on a journey. It was so exciting, even emotional to see her in this situation. A stand out episode of the season was "Shroud of Darkness", as it dived further into the mythos of the Jedi, and featured ghostly appearances from characters like the Grand Inquisitor, as well as Anakin Skywalker himself, voiced y the same talent from “The Clone Wars” series.
I feel this season played more to the emotional sides of the characters, and had some genuinely touching scenes. A stand out moment for me was when Captain Rex reunited with Ahsoka, which really got me in the "feels". Of course the big story arc of the season revolves around our two Jedi hero's Kanan and Ezra. In the mid-season episode titled "Legacy", Ezra learns the tragic truth of his parents ... they are in fact dead, and from that point a “darkness” starts to grow within him. Kanan comes full circle as a master, but he fears what may transpire with Ezra, and what may happen to him. This season also introduces us to several new Inquisitors who are on a mission from Darth Vader to hunt down our hero’s. These new villains are okay, they look cool and can put up a fight, but they just can’t fill the void left by the Grand Inquisitor from season 1.

     At last, the season 2 finale titled “Twilight of the Apprentice” is sensational, and to call it my favorite episode of the series is an understatement. Honestly, this episode alone is my second favorite thing under the “Star Wars” name behind “Return of the Jedi”. Holly cow, what an awesome ending, and what a great set up for the next season. In this epic conclusion of the second season, Ezra, Kanan and Ahsoka arrive at a Sith temple looking for knowledge on how to fight against Darth Vader and his Empire. However, Ezra is separated from the group and is encountered by a shadowy figure, who’s taking advantage of our young hero, and is building on his connection to the dark side. Soon, this shadowy villain is revealed to be none other than Darth Maul.
 Yes, Darth Maul is back, and he steals every scene he’s in. He’s sinister, he’s witty, he’s manipulative and we see him go back and forth between helping our hero’s and betraying them. While Ezra didn’t get converted to become Darth Mauls evil apprentice, he leaves a sting on the group that will be hard for them to recover from. In short, Kanan loses his sight and the dark side dose build up within Ezra. At the end of this final, Ahsoka comes face to face with her old master Darth Vader, and an epic confrontation ensues between them. This was haunting, dramatic and honestly quiet powerful to experience. Without a doubt, this battle between Vader and Ahsoka is my single favorite moment from any animated Star Wars production. There’s this incredible moment when Ahsoka destroys half of Vader’s helmet revealing a part of Anakins face underneath it, and things tie together so perfectly from where their relation left off back in "The Clone Wars". In the end, our hero's are changed, all the other Inquisitors meet their demise, the fate of Ahsoka is unknown, both Darth Vader and Darth Maul are at large, and I’m pumped for Season 3.


Season 3       

As the third season kicked off, we see that all the characters have changed and the villains are raising the stakes. I’ll admit, the events of this season felt like a step down from before, but in the plus column, I think season 3 has the best character development and arc's of the series. With Kanan’s eye sight gone, he has to find new ways of “seeing without sight”, and becomes a far more humble, interesting and mature Jedi master in the process. In general, Kanan was already a great character, but from this point on, he become one of my new favorite main hero's in all of Star Wars. Ezra meanwhile is slowly being pulled by the dark side, with Darth Maul constantly pulling him away from his master. My favorite character arc this season by far comes in the form of Sabin, who’s trying to win back her family honor, and prevent a civil war from igniting between her people. This arc was compelling, character driven, and was very mature. The Sabin centered episode titled “Trials of the Darksaber” was like a classic samurai film and featured some of the shows most emotional highlights. Also, the hero’s aren’t the only ones getting developed, in fact Agent Kallus got some much needed dimension and goes through a full reformation arc. In the episode “Through Imperial Eyes”, we see both the conflicts and humanity of Kallus finally take shape. By the end of the season, it was a real treat to see him join our hero’s and fight for the rebellion.

      This season once again expanded on the Star Wars mythos and universe, with new worlds and new force based creatures. The most notable of all is the mysterious Bendu voiced by the great Tom Baker. This giant creature is one of the most unique to ever come from Star Wars, and he walks right on the line between good and evil. There are also some noteworthy Star Wars alumni characters that make appearances throughout the season. Most notable is Forest Whitaker reprising his role as Saw Gerrera from “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story”. Captain Rex gets a very good episode titled “The Last Battle”, which brings some finality to “The Clone Wars” series. It involves Rex leading his new team on one last showdown against some surviving Battle Droids. At the end, the two sides make peace and we have the privilege of seeing the battle droids fight the empire, which is like the best of fan fiction come true. 

    Darth Mauls arc is the only one I have mixed feelings about. His individual episodes this season were great, as it built on our expectations for what was to come, but I don’t think they reached their full potential. It just feels that Maul came and went without leaving much of an impact. His relation with Ezra throughout the season is good, but nothing seems to change our hero that significantly. At the end of the season, we get the episode “Twin Suns”, which was the most anticipated episode of the season by far. We see the return of the elder Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gets into one final dual with Darth Maul, and it’s great. This dose unfortunately lead to Darth Mauls death, but it’s handled very well, and is more character driven, rather than a flashy spectacle. It’s great to finally see elder Obi-Wan Kenobi again, and voice actor Stephen Stanton matches Alec Guinness from the first movie perfectly. We even get our first glimpse of Luke Skywalker, which was a nice touch.

      Of course the highlight of the season by far is the unveiling of the new main villain ... Grand Admiral Thrawn. Now this was my introduction to Thrawn, even though he’s actually one of the most beloved characters from the expanded Star Wars universe. He was the main subject of several popular novels, video games, and having him take the rains as the shows new main antagonist was a big deal. Well, he definitely lived up to the hype, and quickly became one of my new favorite characters. Unlike other villains in the Star Wars universe, Thrawn has a certain respect for both his adversaries and peers. He loves art, he isn’t driven by his ego, and while he’s ruthless, his actions are very unique, yet devastating. This isn’t a villain who lashes out and attacks in full force, he’s more calculated, strategic, and his greatest weapon is his intelligence. I also like that he’s present throughout the whole season, and the show dose a good job building up to how devastating he can be. It’s admittedly a slow burn, but the payoff is more than satisfying. In the season finally titled “Zero Hour”, Thrawn launches a massive invasion on the Rebel base, leading into the largest-scale battle of the whole series. This was like the “Helms Deep” of “Rebels” and further illustrated what kind of nuclear sized scale threat Thrawn represents. In short, season 3 didn’t leave quiet the same impact as before, but the characters were developed further, the arc's were all satisfying, and with Admiral Thrawn raising the stakes, things were getting very exciting.

Season 4

Things come to a close with the fourth and final season of the show and went back to a smaller collection of 13 episodes. The season premiered with a terrific two-parter titled “Heroes of Mangalore”, which revolved around Sabine bringing an end to the civil war on her home planet. Not only was this a satisfying conclusion for Sabines main character arc, but it also brought some much-needed finality to both events and characters held over from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. In the following two-parter titled “In the Name of the Rebellion”, both Ezra and Sabine find themselves roped into another adventure with Saw Gerrera, who’s on his own personal quest to expose the Empires dark secrets. The events of this two-parter directly tie into the events of “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story”, and illustrate that the show is catching up to the time line of the movies. The remainder of the season revolves around one big arc in which Ezra returns to his home planet of Lothal and with the aid of his friends aims to free in from the control of the empire. This season as a result feels the least episodic, and is more like one long story split into several chapters. This season also introduces us to a mysterious race of wolves that have their own unique connection to the force. I loved these wolves, as they added a new layer of mystery and wonder to the Star Wars universe. Their presence also lead to some memorable scenes, and exciting wolf attacks I never thought I'd see in a children's cartoon. 

    Grand Admiral Thrawn continued to be the shows main antagonist, got progressively more menacing, and more things from his original book series finally carried over into animated form. This season introduced Thrawns loyal assassin named Rukh, who’s voiced in this season by Star Wars veteran Warwick Davis, which is great. Rukh made for a terrific B villain for our hero’s to face, and proved to be quiet the dangerous foe. One minor problem I have with this season is that we barely see Agent Kallus, who betrayed the empire and joined the rebellion after the events of the Season 3 final. I was really looking forward to seeing more of him as a good guy, and how our heroes would interact with him. There’s definitely great moments, but there mostly walk-by cameo’s and I just wanted more of him than that. After all, this guy was the very first villain our heroes ever faced, and it opened so many intriguing possibilities to see him as a reformed hero.   

For the first half of the season, the show seemed to be running on fumes, but then the mid-season final landed, and from that point on, “Rebels” was on a role. Seriously, some of the shows absolute best outings all take place in the ladder half of Season 4. In the episode “Jedi Night”, Hera is being held prisoner by Thrawn, which forces our hero’s to embark on a dangerous mission to rescue her. It’s a very tense episode that pulls no punches, yet has some very beautiful and atmospheric moments that allow us to connect again with our heroes. It all builds to one of the shows most emotionally impactful highlights Kanan nobly gives his life to rescue both Hera and his friends from perishing in an explosion. This scene was shot, scored, animated and filmed with absolute perfection. It was a shock to see one of the six main hero’s die mid-way through the season, and it really resonated with us fans as both a heroic death, and the departure of one our favorite characters. Adding to the tragedy of the moment is that just before Kana’s sacrifice, Hera finally confessed her love to Kana, which was both satisfying and devastating all at once.

 After our heroes have some time to grieve the loss of their fallen friend, things take a shocking turn as the Emperor himself arrives on the scene, and is voiced once again by none other than Ian McDiarmid from the movies. As expected, he shines in the role again, but the character is given a new layer of menace, as he reveals a secret plan to excavate an abandoned Jedi temple and unearth a hidden secret that will give him the power to firmly secure his control of the galaxy. Ezra goes in to investigate and discovers a portal leading him to a mysterious world between worlds, where time has no meaning, and the user of this realm can alter or change any event in the Star Wars time line. It may sound a little too extreme to have time travel in Star Wars, but it’s actually handled very well, and the setting of this world between worlds is one of the most fascinating that the saga has ever explored. We also get some much-needed answers as to what happened to Ahsoka, and how she escaped Darth Vader from back at the end of season 2. Ezra soon has a thrilling confrontation with the Emperor, and it’s so cool to see these characters work off each other just like how Luke did back in “Return of the Jedi”. I never would have imagined that these two would meet face to face, but again, it’s executed flawlessly, and leads to some surprisingly emotional highlights.   

   In the series final episode titled “Family Reunion and Farewell”, Ezra leads the team, along with all his allies on one final mission to liberate his planet and banish the Empire from the system for good. It’s a very exciting final battle, with high stake action, some really good twists that I didn’t see coming, and it features appearances from almost every character established in the show. Both Ezra and Admiral Thrawn engage in one final confrontation, and it’s a riveting internal battle of military intelligence versus ones faith in spirituality, or more specifically his connection with his faith in the force. Ezra wins the day by making a similar sacrifice move inspired by his master and he’s launched into the farthest reaches of unknown space along with Grand Admiral Thrawn. Both their fates are unknown, but it opens the door for further things to explore in other media. The series then comes to a close with a spectacular and very emotional epilogue set after the events of “Return of the Jedi”. We discover that both Hera and Captain Rex fought in the final battle of Endor, Zeb went back to his home world with his former nemeses turned best friend Agent Kallus and Sabine teams up with Ahsoka on a mission to find Ezra, where ever he may be. In short, this was a perfect way to close the series, and probably my second favorite season of the show behind the second season. It left the door open for further animated Star Wars shows, but it’s perfect cap to the “Rebels” era.  

      Truthfully, “Star Wars Rebels” surpassed my expectations, and while I was sad to see it go, it had a great deal more closure then it's animated predecessor did. I'll admit that it wasn't as consistently strong as “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and featured some very mediocre filler episodes, but it was still a worthy follow up series. It had a great cast of likable characters, it looked great, and was very fun to watch. Even when the show was at it's weakest, I still enjoyed being with this particular group of characters, and made the experience worth while every time. It's a show that managed to make me feel like a young kid again, while treating me like an adult, and that’s no small accomplishment. Most importantly, I feel like this show expanded on the "Star Wars" universe in a way that I've never experienced before, and it's really been one heck of an adventure. I'm not sure what kind of animated projects we can expect from "Star Wars" next, but if they're anything like "Rebels", then you can count on me to tune in for another adventure in our favorite far-off galaxy.    

I give the animated TV series Star Wars Rebels”, as strong 4 ½ stars out of 5.