Warning: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: Rebels' Season 3 finale.
Star Wars: Rebels Season 3 came to a triumphant close over the weekend, leaving fans reeling as Thrawn's genius dealt our heroes a devastating blow. They may not have suffered heavy casualties, but as Ezra said, they've lost everything, including the base they worked so hard to find and secure. Yet in spite of the defeat, 'Zero Hour' left Star Wars fans wowed. Perhaps that's because the whole thing will have reminded fans of the Battle of Hoth...
The Season Where the Villains Win
Generally viewed as the best #StarWars film to date, The Empire Strikes Back is easily the darkest moment of the franchise. Just think about the number of ways the bad guys win:
- The Rebels are defeated and scattered at Hoth
- Han Solo is captured, frozen in carbonite, and taken to Jabba the Hutt
- Darth Vader successfully lures Luke Skywalker into a trap, reveals a devastating secret, and almost kills him
- The cool new ally Lando betrays the heroes
Back in 1980, the film left audiences reeling. The idea of a movie bringing its heroes to a point of such utter, abject defeat was utterly shocking. And yet, #GeorgeLucas cleverly wove hints of hope through his narrative, with an oddly optimistic close that assured us the next film would be the fight-back.
'Zero Hour' strikes many of the same notes. Just take a look at the twists and turns in this episode:
- Lothal has been such a key location in Rebels, and yet the plan to liberate the world is left in disarray
- Season 3 has celebrated our intrepid band of adventures uniting with the wider Rebel Alliance — who choose to sacrifice them rather than reveal their hand to the Empire
- Finding a new base was a major arc, and now that base is exposed and destroyed
- Agent Kallus's treachery is exposed and used against the Rebels
- Commander Sato sacrifices his life
And yet, there are subtle hints of hope. The previous episode, 'Twin Suns', was perfectly timed to remind us of a teenager growing up on Tatooine, while 'Zero Hour' itself ends with Kanan reminding Ezra to hope. It's very much the same formula as The Empire Strikes Back.
How Thrawn's Attack Mirrored the Battle of Hoth
In fact, the similarities don't just work on a thematic level. Consider the overarching plot: The Empire discovers a Rebel base, and moves in. The Rebels hide behind a shield, then attempt to flee. The Empire launches a ground assault, with AT-ATs taking point. Yes, there are differences; Vader never launched a planetary bombardment, for example, and he didn't use Interdictors. But the similarities are pretty remarkable.
There's an even more subtle tie between 'Zero Hour' and The Empire Strikes Back. 'Zero Hour' uses a specific Rebel Alliance code: Code K-One-Zero. It's the code issued to the Rebel base at Atollon, and it's sure to leave Star Wars fans grinning. Code K-One-Zero has a very specific meaning: "Disengage and regroup". Alexander Freed's novel Battlefront: Twilight Company established that code as the one issued for the evacuation of Hoth. According to Chuck Wendig's Aftermath: Empire's End, Hoth was the last time it was used.
As you can see, the tremendous 'Zero Hour' episode has a lot of notable similarities to The Empire Strikes Back; the overall theme is the same, but the whole sequence of events is also so familiar to Star Wars fans. I love the attention to detail in using Code K-One-Zero, though; that feels like a subtle wink to fans, with Lucasfilm letting us in on the fact they knew what they were doing. Color me impressed.