“Zero Hour”

The season finale is here, everything we’ve seen so far this year has built up to this.  Phoenix Squadron is preparing for their attack on Lothal and they have enlisted the help of Massassi Group led by General Dodonna, but before they can get underway a message is received from Fulcrum.  Thrawn knows.

The season finale is two episodes presented together in an hour long format, and it is a relentless hour with barely any moments to stop and catch your breath.  Things go very bad, very quickly for our heroes.  Thrawn is able to track Kallus’ warning message to Phoenix Squadron and find the hidden rebel base, and he wastes no time in sending in the Imperial fleet.  Thrawn’s times for games and gambits is over.  Now, he is using all of his knowledge to crush them, and he very nearly does.

The battle of Chopper Base feels much like the battle of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back.  The battle begins in space as the Imperial fleet cuts off their initial evacuation, forcing the ships to ground, and then switches to a ground battle as Thrawn attempts to deliver the final blow.  The tone of this episode is also very similar to Hoth as the Rebels are soundly defeated, lose their hidden base and are forced on the run again.  The most the Rebels can hope for here is to simply escape.  They do some damage on their way out, but it’s not much more than a bloody nose for the Empire.

Once again, the Empire’s greatest weakness is their overconfidence and arrogance.  This time, even Thrawn’s plans can’t account for it.  Admiral Konstantine nearly ruins everything for the Empire when he goes for the glory and no longer follows the plan.  With Konstantine and Thrawn it’s hard to tell if this is a connection to the Legends era idea of the Empire being anti-alien, or if Konstantine just doesn’t like Thrawn and his methods.  Either way, Konstantine’s incompetence allows Ezra to escape to get Rebel reinforcements.

Ezra’s attempts to call in Rebel reinforcements to help does play into Rogue One and the attitudes of the various Rebel cell leaders.  Mon Mothma believes that it’s not yet time for full open warfare against the Empire and the defeat of Phoenix Squadron at Chopper Base would send a message to the other groups to make them very hesitant to move against the Empire at Scarif later on.

In these battles the might of the Empire is unquestioned.  I liked that the Rebels were not able to do much against the Empire.  The best they could hope for was to do just enough damage to run away.  Especially considering what we know of the Rebellion from Rogue One and A New Hope, the creators have done a good job of not giving our heroes too many or too large of a victory, and the price they pay for those victories is high.  Commander Sato sacrifices himself and they lost many ships in the battle.

I was honestly expecting a higher body count in this finale.  For losses, there are many faceless people lost and ships destroyed but our heroes mostly make it out unscathed.  Even Agent Kallus, who many had thought was a dead man walking in this finale, manages to survive and joins the Rebellion officially.  The largest casualties on both sides are Commander Sato and Admiral Konstantine.  I expected more, but this was a very demoralizing loss for everyone in the Rebellion and that can almost do more damage to them in the long run.

The last piece of this episode is Bendu.  He has been an enigma for much of the season, unclear what role he would play in the future.  Kanan tries to enlist his help and Bendu is not pleased by this.  He tries to maintain his neutrality, but as we’ve seen before in Star Wars, it’s impossible to remain completely neutral in war.  However, Bendu does not completely help Phoenix Squadron either.  Kanan basically goads him enough that Bendu gets angry and creates a powerful storm that helps to push both groups off the planet.  The final moments of the episode are a confrontation between Bendu and Thrawn that seems to rattle Thrawn.

This season has been a lot of build up and promises of what is to come, and this episode paid off on most of it.  I love the connections to the larger saga, both in the story and in tone.  The echoes of Hoth and Endor can be felt in the battles.  This finale does not quite carry the same emotional weight that last season’s “Twilight of the Apprentice” carried.  However, I think we got much of that emotional closure in last week’s “Twin Suns” with Obi-wan and Maul.  “Zero Hour” is a strong episode that gives us closure on the season but still leaves much open for the future.  It’s unusual to see a finale like this where our heroes are so soundly defeated, but they live to fight another day.

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