STAR WARS REBELS [Series Retrospective]: The Jedi Strikes Back.
This past Monday night brought an end to an era. On the series finale to Star Wars Rebels, Dave Filoni and his crew brought surprising and satisfying resolutions to not only the cast of characters that we’ve come to know over the past seasons, but managed to tie-up and even extend threads that have been running as far back as 10-years ago when their previous series Clone Wars made its debut. That’s the thing. This episode didn’t only successfully provide narrative closure for four seasons; it was more like ten.
When Filoni and his colleagues first introduced the character of Ahsoka Tano as a Padawan for our doomed hero General Anakin Skywalker back in 2008, many were initially doubtful that this staff of creative would be able to generate a new character that we could all invest in amidst the familiar cast of animated folks from the prequels who look mostly like Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman. Six years later, the universal acclaim for the show, and for Ahsoka herself in particular, was only surpassed by the collective gnashing of teeth when Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced that one final season of Clone Wars was going to get pumped out of Netflix. But the great new thing we really had heading our way was Rebels, a new show about a brand new cast of people who were doing something really important in the great empty space/time between Episode III and IV.
While this all sounded like it was going to be garbage, after only the pilot it was obvious that a tremendous amount of care had gone into crafting the crew of the Ghost: young Ezra Bridger, our POV character who will of course have to learn the ways of the Force; Kanan Jarrus, a stalwart Jedi who learned his master’s lessons well and survived the purge of Order 66; Captain Hera Syndulla, one of the best pilots in the galaxy; Sabine Wren, a young Mandalorian artist equally adept with a jetpack and blaster; Zeb Orellios, the hulking impatient chief of security basically filling the Wookiee archetype, and Chopper, a C1-10P astromech droid who has apparently gotten old enough/dodged enough system updates to have developed this deeply mischievous streak that takes him just barely over the line into being a straight-up asshole. Think our old friend R2-D2, only right when Han sits down behind the wheel of the Falcon to hyperspace-jump the crew out of the big mess, Chopper is the sort of fellow who pulls his seat out from under him and then laughs in his face after he falls to the floor. He’s the best droid ever.
From the beginning, this new crew faced their own unique challenges, centering on liberating Ezra’s home planet of Lothal from Imperial occupation and running afoul of the terrifying Sith Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs) and Imperial Agent Kallus (David Oyelwo) before eventually coming face-to-face with the ultimate big bad himself, with the great James Earl Jones returning to voice Darth Vader once again after all these years.
Along the way, throughlines from the Clone Wars series began to thread through these new stories. Old friends returned like Rex, the last of a band of clone troopers that viewers became seriously invested in over the course of that old series, or familiar voices in new roles, such as the great Clancy Brown as Ryder Azadi, the ousted governor of Lothal accused of treason for standing against the Empire. Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), who figured prominently in the middle section of Clone Wars, continued to make a series of memorable character-best appearances.
Most incredibly of all, though, was the return of beloved fan favorite Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), who everyone had spent most of the entire run of CW assuming was going to meet a tragic fate at the wrong end of her master’s lightsaber; but, who against all odds, survived not only that and the Jedi Purge, yet also the intervening years long enough to join the crew of the Ghost and become an integral part of Season Two. I won’t say where her story ends, but it was deeply satisfying for this long-term viewer. And just when it seemed like Filoni’s crew couldn’t dig any deeper, they brought in Frank Underwood’s old nemesis Lars Mikkelsen to voice Grand Admiral Thrawn from Timothy Zahn’s beloved trilogy of thirty-year-old Extended Universe novels. Mikkelsen absolutely knocked it out of the park here in the final portion of the series, delivering a ruthless, nearly reptilian performance as the brilliant military strategist in service of the Emperor.
All of this led to the final six episodes of Season Four, which Disney for whatever reason pumped out double-barrel two at a time so that we roared through the entire last stretch in a mere fifteen days, which was honestly a little bit faster than I found ideal. I prefer to savor the ending of stories I love. And I won’t get into the details of how everything went down because you really deserve to experience the magnificent ride for yourself. But, I will say that the writers scarred up so much scorched earth in the first five episodes that the viewer was left heartbroken at what had already happened and deeply concerned about the fate of the characters who were left.
That’s the other thing, this entire time, we’ve been expecting horrible things to happen to these people because –of course– they’re not running around with Luke and Leia live-action forty years ago at the point where their series ends and Episode IV begins. Also, there were three Easter-egg references to the crew in Rogue One that revealed that they participated in the Battle of Scarif, which we all know went very poorly for the majority of its participants. So, we’re going along and things are looking worse and worse and then, well hell, here’s the one person I haven’t been expecting that I absolutely should have all of this time, none other than Ian McDiarmid himself reprises his role as Emperor Palpatine to drop in all kinds of extra menace just when our heroes don’t seem able to bear another ounce.
Filoni and his crew bring the narrative to an immensely satisfying conclusion, both in terms of the four-season Lothal-based arc they set up with just this series and for the longer running previously mentioned threads, but here’s the real trick: this right here is so much more rewarding than just watching Vader so apeshit slicing through all those guys at the end of Rogue One. We’ve come a long way with these characters, and the end of their stories is earned and fulfilling while promoting positive moral values like love for one’s family and courage in the heart of even the greatest adversity and self-sacrifice for the greater good. But the best part is that all the stories don’t end and that it seems like even now, at the end of ten seasons, the greatest ones are still yet to be told and we are on the verge of plunging into them once more as long as we let go of our expectations and preconceptions and let them wash over us without resistance.