As first seen at the Star Wars Celebration panel, the new Star Wars Rebels season three trailer features teases like a droid army, a masked character saying “call me Wedge” and the return of a fan favorite character who will expand the universe.
And as revealed at the panel, Grand Admiral Thrawn will at long last rejoin Star Wars cannon; becoming a new antagonist for the Rebels team. Originally introduced in Timothy Zahn‘s Heir to the Empire — the first novel in what would become the Expanded Universe — fans have been speculating about the character’s possible appearance on Rebels for sometime.
Supervising Director Dave Filoni explained that the character has a special place in his heart as well. “There was a dark time when there wasn’t any new Star Wars movies and then there was a trilogy of books called Heir to the Empire and it blew our minds,” he said. “It was important to do it right.” Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Rogue One actor Mads Mikkelsen will voice Thrawn.
“I hope the fans are going to like what we’re doing with him,” added Filoni.
One person already happy with the work is Zahn himself. “I want to thank Dave Filoni and the incredible crew,” he said in a video message played during the panel. “I’m pleased with the direction they’re taking Admiral Thrawn.”
Zahn’s involvement with the character is far from over as he is currently writing a Thrawn novel set for release in April of 2017.
Other big reveals from the panel included Filoni announcing Fourth Doctor Tom Baker will lend his voice to a new character called the Bendu and a still of Sabine wielding the Dark Saber. While that “Bendu” may have meaning to those who’ve read early drafts of Star Wars or the Dark Horse adaptation of the first draft, Filoni said the new character embraces “the middle-way of the Force.”
“Tom’s going to get the quirky character,” he said of his decision to call the Doctor for the part. He also added that the character will be “different” from anything viewers have seen so far.
While actress Tiya Sircar could not say much about Sabine’s new gadget, she was happy to say the character will finally get her jet pack. “I’ve been wanting a jetpack since I found out I was playing a Mandalorian,” she said. Sabine will get ample opportunity to use it as a clip shown during the panel revealed she and Ezra will encounter a group of Mandos — in costumes based on the original Ralph McQuarrie Boba Fett design — who may or may not be her cousins.
Meanwhile, Kanan will continue to be blind going into the new season. Filoni said the choice was inspired by the Zatoichi film series. He also added that it will have a profound impact on making Kanan a better Jedi.
Darth Maul will also continue to hound Ezra, who he believes to be his apprentice. “The fun of this guy is that every time he shows up, we get to do something different with him,” said voice actor Sam Witwer, who also returns as Maul in the new season.
“He’s coming to grips with what his life is and he’s searching for a purpose,” said Filoni. “He’s fallen several times, [but] he’s still on the evil side.”
Witwer likened Maul’s ambitions this season to something like a stage-parent. “If he could nudge Ezra a little bit, he could achieve everything [Maul] wanted to achieve,” he said, adding that he is also looking for a brother in a sense.
“[But] It’s from a selfish motivation,” Filoni explained.
In a brief clip from an episode featuring the former Sith Lord, Maul holds the others hostage. Ezra and Kanan arrive at Maul’s new base, where Ezra is taken to see his friends. Kanan and Maul walk down a corridor and chat. He keeps referring to Kanan as “Master Jedi” and seems to apologize for blinding him, but then throws him out an airlock.
But one question hanging over the entire panel was the fate of Ahsoka Tano. Her fight with Darth Vader at the end of season two seemed to spell her end, but Filoni evaded all attempts to get a definitive answer. He did admit Ahsoka’s journey was planned during the production of The Clone Wars and it was something he discussed with Star Wars creator George Lucas as the series evolved.
“It’s likely that you might not have seen the last of Ahsoka Tano,” he finally admitted.
Later during the Q&A session, a young fan asked if she has become a Force ghost. Filoni responded that Ahsoka “would have to be aware of the technique that allows it to happen.” He doubted that she is aware of the discipline, but added, “I don’t know if we have to worry about that yet.”
Also during the Q&A, Filoni admitted Mara Jade will likely never appear on the show. He also added that Thrawn’s pet Ysalamiri creature will not be joining him as its disconnection from the Force seemed “unlikely.”
Filoni also addressed other old cannon hopes, saying Dash Rendar will not be the pilot of the Outrider-model ship seen in the season three trailer and that Cad Bane is still likely out in the universe.
And when he was asked for the identity of the person teaching Ezra through the Sith Holocron, Filoni said, “Great question, horrible answer: I know who it is, but I’m not going to tell you.”
Star Wars Rebels returns later this year.