(contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars Rebels: Season 4. You have been warned.)
After the mid-season break, Star Wars Rebels is back with the final arc. With barely half a dozen episodes left (sped up by being released as doubles), we are rushing towards the big ending. Every plot is coming to a conclusion…
Such was also the case of this week’s episodes. With Jedi Night, the storytellers closed the story they left open before the mid-season break. Hera was captured by Thrawn, and the next logical step for the Rebels was to free her. Realising his feelings for Hera would only get in the way, Kanan entrusted the rescue plan to his young Padawan. With the help of Sabine, they used gliders to infiltrate the Imperial compound. After some insane feats and amazing scenes between Kanan and Hera, it came to what we have been dreading since, well, since forever. Governor Pryce blew up the entire fuel depot, trapping Rebels in the blast, and only with Kanan’s unbelievable sacrifice, Hera, Sabine and Ezra escaped.
So Many Elements
I will begin by stating the obvious. It was devastating. Devastating for the audience as it certainly was for the protagonists. But let’s leave Kanan’s death and everything that came after it aside for a moment, and let’s talk about everything that came before.
Because it was brilliant. The entire episode was well built-up. Kanan’s anticipation, his delegation of the task to Ezra as a way of passing the torch on. That would have worked, by the way, regardless of whether he had died or not. Kanan’s ritual of cutting his hair and beard, whereas making him unspeakably ugly, certainly served the purpose of marking the occasion and showing his resolve. And he was saving Hera! Already I am touching the tragic aspect of the story. After so much talk about “us” in the previous episodes, Kanan’s perspective seems to have shifted – he realised there is much more at stake than the capture of his beloved, that he might need to do “something” (if you still remember, he talked to the wolves before!), and for this, he might need to make a sacrifice. And, of course, just then, after being rescued, Hera starts showing her true feelings for Kanan and being serious about it. Like I said, a tragedy.
The entire rescue is, of course, brilliantly orchestrated. I found it hard to decide what was better, Kanan showing off or drugged Hera’s babbling. All that accompanied by really striking music. Up to now, music in Rebels tended to blend in with the background, but here you could hear it basically the whole time.
The symbolic level isn’t lost either. From the fact that Hera’s capture mirrored Kanan’s at the end of Season 1 (where he almost died), Kanan seeing Hera in his last moment (true to his promise before Malachor, “we’ll see each other”) or giving hints to the kids (“May the Force be with you”, mirroring Obi-Wan’s last words to Luke aboard the Death Star). And if I jump forward, in Dume, the giant wolf (named Dume?) bears the same symbol on its head that Kanan has on his shoulder pad. Whatever that means, we’ll have to see.
Did They Have To…
Let’s focus a bit on the unpleasant part now. I (and probably many other fans) have several problems with Kanan’s death. I am not denying its relevance for the plot (in his death, Kanan basically destroyed Thrawn’s plan) or the, let’s say, metaphysical aspect of it (a selfless self-sacrifice, with such a clarity as Kanan showed, is an element Dave Filoni himself pointed out as something he wanted to emphasise in the show, and the message is there). But all this being said, I think it wasn’t really necessary to kill Kanan. It feels partly like the laziest way to solve the “Jedi problem” (i.e. that no Jedi should be around by A New Hope), as well as possibly filling the “mandatory” quota of one death before the finale, so that the happy end isn’t too happy. That is the oldest cliché and is really bad. No matter what Filoni intended to tell us by it – as an isolated event, yes, it would be powerful, but in the context of the entire show, it loses some of its relevance.
It is mainly stupid because Kanan already had been in half a dozen situations where he could have died, which might have even made a bigger impact in the story (Maul killing him, for example).
A related issue is the character development, or rather character descent, of Arihnda Pryce. It seems as if, in the rush to finish the series, the creators decided to emphasise the difference between her and Thrawn. Something like that has happened before: when the show started making the other Imperials look more evil to prepare grounds for Kallus’s redemption. Thrawn isn’t going to join the Rebellion, but I predict he is going to leave the Empire after his TIE Defender project fails.
And Pryce is directly responsible for that. The decision to blow up so much value in order to kill one Jedi and General Syndulla seems absolutely out of proportion and makes Pryce look dumb. Combined with her delight in torturing Hera, she slowly gravitates away from a multi-dimensional person towards the archetype of an evil officer, the likes of which there are in every movie in multiple copies. I am not sure how her recent behavior corresponds with her long-term relationship with Thrawn and her personal history with Lothal (both of these also based on Timothy Zahn’s recent novel).
This all makes the fuel depot’s explosion and Kanan’s death seem like the worst moment in this season so far: It kills a character unnecessarily, based on a move that makes another character a fool.
Whether there is some positive element to it as far as the story is concerned, we’ll see. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any. The follow-up episode, Dume, didn’t really come up with anything definite on that front. Yes, Hera put Kanan into her family tree. Yes, Ezra is going to pick up the mantle. But neither of these is in any way surprising.
…and the aftermath
Dume was, overall, a very strange episode. If we are to see anything positive in it, it is the fact that it didn’t gloss over Kanan’s death and close the matter too quickly. It certainly didn’t close it – rather the opposite, it left it still too open for my taste. But the idea behind it is good: the tragedy has to be real. Even if Kanan were to rise from his grave in the next episode, the period of mourning for him needs to be real, and for that, we need time. And that is what Dume did. It gave us space to experience the tragedy the same way the characters do.
The actually entertaining thing about Dume was Sabine and Zeb’s fight against Rukh. First: it is rare for those two to get screentime together. Second: their dynamic was a nice contrast to the other characters, showing each of the crew have a different way of handling the sorrow. Sabine and Zeb just went to blow something up and beat somebody up. (On that note, I should point out that it was very beautiful that Chopper, known otherwise for his murderistic tendencies, didn’t come along but rather comforted his master, Hera.) Third, the fight had some nice elements – the homage to another classic sci-fi, Predator (cloaking device + thermovision) and probably also Lord of the Rings (the movie battle with invisible Gollum, not unlikely given Dave Filoni’s liking for Tolkien in general). It was a small thing, but nice. The conclusion of the fight was also satisfactory, when despite the original desire to just wreak havoc, Sabine stopped Zeb’s violent behavior and came up with a creative way to handle Rukh. I am looking forward to see Thrawn interpreting Sabine’s painting on Rukh’s body and deciding the course of action based on that.
The last, again a bit disappointing part, was the giant Loth-wolf’s ominous, slow, nothing-saying proclamation. I think this kind of “doomsaying” has been overused in contemporary fantasy and sci-fi, and it no longer evokes the sense it should. Maybe if it provided a little more specific information what to expect. But we’ve been hearing “Doom” for several episodes, and I have hard time imagining what could be more terrible than the things we have seen so far.
Regardless of its final failure, Jedi Night was a really spectacular episode. Dume less so, although it has to be said that it presented characters’ mourning in a way you don’t often see on-screen: realistically.
I will finish by saying that I hope the fact that this moment seems the lowest low of the final season was intentional, to make us existentially connect with the characters and set up something great and jubilant that follows. Up to Kanan’s death, this season has been flawless. I refuse to believe Filoni et al. would give up on us.