Here we are, at the end of all things.
With “Fool’s Hope” and “Family Reunion – and Farewell”, Star Wars Rebels is finally concluded. The story we have been following for four years, from its humble birth to the epic heights of the finale, is over. But what a conclusion it’s been! All the characters received a proper ending – in one way or another. Thanks to the episodes’ extended length, everyone also got enough screentime (maybe with the exception of Chopper). Some of these endings were… surprising, to say the least. What did it mean – for Star Wars, for the future of Star Wars, for the past of Star Wars (some of its characters), or for Disney’s TV shows?
Neatly Interwoven Threads
Let’s start by evaluating the plot. The finale has concluded the most important, central storyline in a way that frames the narrative in a symmetric manner. With Lothal it started, with Lothal it ended. The finale neatly wove all the important elements into an interconnected network: everything from the fate of Thrawn, Rukh, governor Pryce and Lothal’s citizens to Ezra’s parents or even the Emperor. I don’t have the space to mention them all, but most audience surely noticed for example the parallel between “last temptation of Ezra” and Luke before the Emperor – and at the same the unique way in which it was handled.
The narrative’s “core elements” were connected to the “fringe elements” which, in turn, pointed outwards, to other storylines – such as that of the clones (with Rex being identified with the bearded commando in Return of the Jedi) or the entire quest of Ashoka and Sabine implied in the last scene.
In other words, Rebels are now firmly set inside the Star Wars universe. From each element, you can trace multiple threads connecting it to the Clone Wars, the original films, the story of Thrawn and everything else. As a worldbuilder at heart, I see this as a masterpiece.
Everyone Gets A Happy Ending
The finale was, generally speaking, on a happy note. Which is as it should be. In today’s era of Game of Thrones (nothing against its brilliant narrative) and similar grim, indeed hopeless stories, Rebels is not only hopeful, but it also did not resort to cheap, pathetic proclamations.
The few deaths that occurred during the finale were at the same time not purposefully heartbreaking nor pointless. The clone Gregor’s death was retirement after full life. The deaths of baddies (Pryce and Rukh) concluded their character arcs in some way (Pryce’s showed her devotion to the Empire, while Rukh’s wasn’t as interesting by itself, but Thrawn’s reaction to it was unusually personal for his usual detached manner – we don’t know much about their relationship, but Rukh clearly mattered much to Thrawn).
Of course, when saying “few deaths”, I disregard blowing up probably several thousand Imperials inside the Lothal dome. I think if somebody wanted to criticise, then stormtrooper deaths, especially in the few last episodes, were something terrible (pushed from cliffs, mauled by wolves, blown up inside an enclosed facility). But clearly, this is all for narrative purposes and Rebels handles stormtroopers mostly as “things” fully knowing what it’s doing. It is, after all, also a “children’s” show; you need to have the “mass bad guys” just as representation of the evil and not as individuals (unlike Thrawn or Pryce, whose motives we see). That said, I firmly believe that could be done better – and it isn’t only the case of Rebels (among its peers, Rebels actually handled this very well). But discussing it isn’t really the purpose of this article, so let’s move on for now.
It was definitely right to end the Rebels on a positive note. No more of the protagonists died, and the uplifting epilogue placed everything in the context of the victorious struggle against the Empire. We, the audience, were also reassured that Lothal was spared any further battles. That way, we knew the Rebels’ victory really mattered.
Purrgil Ex Machina?
Let’s stop for a minute at the unusual way the Rebels managed to defeat Thrawn. However unconventional Ezra’s means were, this wasn’t really “purrgil ex machina” (nor “wolves ex machina”, for that matter). Ezra’s connection to animals has been shown early in the series as something specific to him. Not only should we have seen it coming, but it was almost necessary to happen in order for his character arc to make sense.
It was also appropriate that Thrawn was defeated by “unnatural means” (or, in this case, exactly “natural”, but in a way that defied anthropocentric strategy). It was the one thing he could not account for in his strategising, just as he didn’t in the case of Bendu last season. The scene was, obviously, also callback to Bendu’s prophecy to him – “like so many arms around him,” indeed.
At the same time, it should be noted how remarkably cool Thrawn remained even under those unexpected circumstances. Not one time did he betray his personality.
Maybe this is also the time to appreciate the fact that the finale contained a few details to please the old SW fans. Naming Hera and Kanan’s son Jacen (after Jacen Solo) was one thing, another was the call Thrawn made to captain Pellaeon (his old subordinate from Timothy Zahn’s original trilogy) and I would also say, ending the story by sending the epic characters (Ezra and Thrawn) somewhere into unknown space, just like it happened with Drew Karpyshyn’s Revan, was another nod in that direction.
Sabine’s Epilogue And Its Implications
And now to what I consider to be the most important part of the finale – Sabine’s epilogue and the fates of the crew afterwards. I have already appreciated their hopeful tone: they underlined the happy outcome. Showing Hera’s child with Kanan was one such case: Kanan’s legacy remained, after all, not only spiritually but also “physically”. Regardless of whether this was necessary to show, it gave us implicitly deeper insight into Kanan and Hera’s relationship just in one small scene.
Ahsoka’s reappearance – in person, showing her actually physically present and alive – was something similar. Indeed, all these short scenes – or more like images – were a masterful example of how to tell much in just one shot. For example, Ahsoka’s reappearance means: Ahsoka survived Endor. She outlived her master, Anakin/Vader. She lived to see his redemption. She lived to see his son (!) becoming a Jedi Knight. She, herself, had become something else, spiritually. Her bond with Ezra and Sabine lasted the years. And so on and so on.
The Korrasami Effect
Finally, let’s talk about one of the most touching, but also unexpected parts. The topmost point of Agent Kallus’s redemption arc, shown when Zeb took him to Lira-san. It was also a manifestation of how deep their relationship has become and how much genuine affection there is between them. All their interaction in this episode showed it (such as when Kallus worried about Zeb’s reckless, nearly suicidal attack), but the final scene in particular – the gestures, the closeness.
And one needs to say, given Kallus’s and Zeb’s history, this is an unexpectedly open hint about their relationship having also romantic dimension. When watching that particular scene, anybody who has seen the Legend of Korra is reminded of the final scene, “let’s go on a holiday, just the two of us”. If that was as far as a “children’s show” dared to go in portraying same-sex romantic relationship, then Rebels finale went equally far with this scene. It may be still ambiguous, but not nearly ambiguous enough to deny the plain fact. One is left to wonder how significant step this is in regards to Disney’s portrayal of such relationships in its TV shows.
This is remarkable for one more reason. At the beginning of Season 1, Ghost crew consisted of a man and woman of the same age, a boy and girl of similar age, a droid and a purple furry monster. Most people would expect the finale lead the boy and the girl together. Rebels defy all stereotypical expectations by that in the end, nothing happens between the boy protagonist and the girl, but the only couple featured in the final scenes are two middle-aged men, one of which is an alien. You can’t get less mainstream than that.
Where To Now?
The story has left the fates of Ezra, Thrawn, Ahsoka and Sabine open. The “search for lost Jedi in the Unknown Regions” is now becoming a trope in Star Wars (Luke in the new films, but it’s been made iconic years before in Drew Karpyshyn’s stories about the Old Republic). It is clearly also an open door for future stories. If so, then I say those should be handled by Dave Filoni and the respective actors, who have the personal relationship and love for the characters and their stories.
As for Thrawn and Ezra, I dare to make a prophecy – given Thrawn’s extra-Rebels history of adopting young men as his aides and establish “mutual learning”, I’m going to eat my shoes if being marooned in the middle of who-knows-where won’t lead to Ezra and Thrawn cooperating and beginning to understand each other (especially as Ezra isn’t the first Jedi Knight Thrawn has encountered and respected).
In any case, the setup of four characters who are established, yet not bound by restraints of canon (unlike Leia or Luke), in an area of the unknown space, likewise unrestricted, opens the possibilities for really, truly original take on Star Wars. I hope this chance, of all, will be used and will be used well.
The Curtain Falls
With the conclusion of Star Wars Rebels, Dave Filoni has proved that he is, at this moment, the best in carrying the legacy of Star Wars. His stories contain all the necessary traditional elements, spiced up with new ones that are at the same fresh and daring but not over-the-top. He does not hold back in experimenting, yet does not do things that would make the world seem un-Star Wars-y. Most of all, however, the genuine love for Star Wars simply radiates out of his creation. It does not stink of money, or the desire to appease the masses, and the fan-service is only minor.
It’s been beautiful four years with Rebels, and the end did not fail. Whatever happens, this story of hope, kindness and redemption has its place in the canon alongside the best films.