When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2014, fans of the Star Wars franchise flipped out, as the passionate buggers are wont to do. The early decisions to both prematurely cancel The Clone Wars series on Disney’s rival the Cartoon Network and toss out all of the extended universe stories as canon set die-hard fans on edge. Everyone now remembers the culture moment and stunning success of the first new Star Wars film, but the first offering from “Disney Wars” (as the online haters dubbed it) was a new animated series taking place some years before the first Star Wars film. Tonight Star Wars Rebels ended it’s four-season run with bold choices that will surely cause controversy (but not as much as they could’ve).
Spoilers after the jump:
I am not going to recap the episode much, but rather point out the moments that are worth talking about, starting with the ending. As with any new story set before the events of the original trilogy, the question “where were these characters during the movies” hangs over everything. Of course the answer is “they weren’t invented yet because this is all made up and didn’t really happen a long, long time ago.” Nonetheless, to tell a good story these rules must be observed and one has to be clever about how they get around them.
In the coda to the finale, we catch up with the main characters after the Battle of Endor and the fall of the Empire.
The purple guy, Zeb (voiced by Steve Blum) isn’t around because he is on the secret planet where the rest of his species are hiding. He also takes the former Imperial who helped orchestrate a near-genocide on them to the planet. This villain, who changed his course during the arc of the show, is forgiven.
Hera Syndulla (voiced by Vanessa Marshall) was already revealed to have survived the series, after being name-dropped in Rogue One and part of a short in the animated Forces of Destiny putting Han Solo over a space-barrel. What is revealed, however, is that she has a son, heavily implied to be the son of Kanan (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.), who died in the penultimate episodes. He’s Star Wars first bastard child, and I couldn’t be happier. (So much so, that I am going to overlook how impossible inter-species reproduction like that is.)
One way that Rebels endeared itself to fans who were upset after Disney bought Lucasfilm was that it both brought back characters from The Clone Wars to wrap up their stories, but it also brought back some beloved characters from Legends. The most important one is Timothy Zahn’s creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn. It was always suspicious that the Empire’s greatest strategist was absent during the original films as well. Rebels gives us this answer as well.
The series always made a big deal out of Ezra’s connection to animals through the Force. This was paid off in a big way as the rag-tag group of rebels seeking to liberate a planet under Imperial control were reinforced by two groups of mystical animals. One group were the white wolves that popped up this season. The other group were these creatures called Purrgils, which look like a cross between a whale and a giant squid and can also travel through hyperspace naturally.
These latter creatures are the more important, because the fate of both Thrawn and Ezra is tied to them. These two characters, who — if alive — are conspicuous in their absence from the larger rebellion, are whisked away by these creatures in the end of the finale. Hera is ready to follow them, but she gets a deus ex message from Ezra telling her that he’s on a “path” chosen for him by the Force and he will make his way home.
Sabine is also told by Ezra that he’s “counting on her,” but she doesn’t know for what. During the Galactic Civil War, it appears she stayed on his home planet to help protect the people. (Interestingly, Dave Filoni — the co-creator and executive producer — said to EW that the reason the Lothal gambit works is because soon after this loss, the Emperor loses the Death Star and the backwater with the mystical portal to a place outside of space and time takes a backseat to Luke Skywalker and his pals.) However, once the Empire is gone, she decides that Ezra meant he was counting on her to come find him.
So, sporting a new haircut and armor paintjob, Sabine goes off to find her friend. However, in something of a twist, she is leaving with none other than Ahsoka Tano — the other character whose absence from both the original trilogy and even Revenge of the Sith is conspicuous — alive, well, and dressed all in white like Gandalf. When we last saw her, she was stranded on a dead planet filled with a creepy Sith temple and we still don’t know where she was when Luke and the gang were out their kicking ass.
Some may be upset about this ending, especially the Ahsoka bit, preferring instead that all of the characters perish in a grand sacrifice like the characters in Rogue One had the decency to do. However, this is still a cartoon for kids. (Albeit one with a high death toll. I think the bodycount is higher in the finale alone than some R-rated horror/action flicks from the 1980s. But the cartoons have never shied away from the “war” part of Star Wars.)
Our characters are given happy endings, of a sort, save for those who are given ambiguous endings because they both couldn’t be around for the original trilogy but are just too damn cool to kill outright. Part of what makes the new series of films so jarring for some fans is the need to put the characters in peril, to have them suffer from conflict and, yes, failure. What makes that difficult for us is that after Return of the Jedi we don’t get to see them being happy. They went from dancing with murderbears to an asteroid field of suffering so densely packed not even Han Solo would fly into it. Rebels does not make this mistake.
There is problem that exists in both Star Wars and modern super-hero films, and it’s a problem of stakes. In these films, the task given to the heroes is not just difficult or even heroic, but often the fate of the entire fucking world depends on them not screwing up. But what made superheroes so popular, and what we see all the time in the comic books, are these heroes also fighting street-level crime. They don’t destroy cities in an epic brawl, but stop armed robbers and rescue kidnapped children. In Star Wars, that problem is the same but switch out “world” with “galaxy.” Rebels is the story of a Jedi and some other misfits of the light side fighting a street-level fight, but still participating in the larger story just the same.
This series was a triumph, doing what Star Wars cartoons with Filoni at the helm tend to do very well: enrich the stories found in the movies, adding layers to them that allow us to appreciate them even more. It’s no accident that the once-reviled prequels are now defended by fans who didn’t just grow up with those movies, but The Clone Wars as well. Rebels deepens the mythos of the Rebellion-era time period, in fact much more richly than Rogue One did. While we can debate the value of the old expanded universe until some company buys Lucasfilm from Disney, there is no doubt that Rebels is a worthy addition to the canon of Star Wars.