It is pretty much obvious that The Last Battle was a way for the makers to revisit the Clone Wars. A bit of nostalgia never hurts, I guess. What I see as a positive thing is that this virtual trip to the past wasn’t self-serving, but once again helped to sketch out more in detail some of the Rebels characters. Specifically, Captain Rex.
If Rex had been a supporting character throughout most of the series, here he appeared as the full third member of the Kanan-Ezra team. On a classic mission to get more supplies for the Rebellion from an old Separatist base, the male part of the crew run into a bunch of battle droids who remained active since the Clone Wars. It turns out that Kalani, a Super Tactical droid (and a character who appeared at the end of the Clone Wars series), had prevented the droid army shutdown on his planet, believing the order had been a ruse from the Republic. Well, he wasn’t that far from the truth, was he? Kalani is actually a very interesting character, he is shown to be very smart, which is part of his job, of course. But it was also part of his job to win the Clone Wars – and that’s what he forces the Rebels to do, to run a last battle scenario for him, or rather, against him.
If the Stealth Strike episode in the previous season made Rex and Kanan a team, in this episode we can see the mutual trust building up. Kanan also supports Rex and provides some counterbalance when it becomes clear that revisiting his past is at times too much for the clone commander. Ezra also learns what it meant to be in the war as a Padawan (and he doesn’t seem to be very keen on military discipline). However, it is him who provides a solution to the complicated situation, and he also raises the interesting question: if the war ended, who won?
It is remarkable that this particular question is voiced aloud, because I assume most people have just brushed it aside when watching Episode III: the main focus, after all, was Anakin, Padmé’s death, and the rise of the Empire. But one must wonder how did most of the average citizens accept the sudden resolution of the war. Maybe in a similar way to the film audience, the notion that “the war has ended” had overshadowed any possible further thoughts about the details. Which is, of course, what Palpatine would have wanted. But the intelligent ones – like Kalani – could ask themselves: what purpose, then, did the war really serve? Nobody (not even Ezra here) knew about the Sith plot, but Ezra came pretty close by identifying the Empire as the victor.
Overall, this episode gives a lot of food for thought in hindsight. It is a bit of a trip into the “what if”-universe (with stormtroopers, rebels, droids, Jedi and clones all in the same battlefield). It also has some splendid moments. For me, the most heartbreaking was to see Rex recalling his war experiences, up to the point of the reality blurring with the past (like calling Kanan “Cody” by accident). Especially the moment when he wakes up only to discover he has been once again captured by the droids is very powerful. His reaction reminded of the accounts of real-world war veterans or people who had experienced imprisonment and psychological traumas that can arise from that. Maybe Rex needed to revisit and replay “the last battle” even more than the droid who was programmed so, like when people with traumas revisit their experiences as part of their treatment.
Rebels may look like “a series for kids”, but it portrays real issues. And why should not even “series for kids” do that? I must applaud Dave Filoni and the whole team to keeping realism in this, especially when talking about war, which could in action TV series be otherwise shown just as a thrilling adventure. That, for me, is the greatest value in The Last Battle.