Star Wars: Rebels returned this week in a big way, which was to be expected as we make the push towards the series finale and the events of Rogue One / A New Hope. As always, spoilers ahead.
When last we left off, Hera had been captured by Thrawn, and Kanan was going to get her back. Slight change in plans. Kanan decides that his feelings for her are clouding the issue and endangering the mission, so he puts Ezra in charge of the rescue plan. Kanan will follow; the student takes the lead. Using gliders to impersonate Loth-bats, Kanan, Ezra, and Sabine make their way into the Imperial dome. Kanan rescues a badly-tortured Hera and her family heirloom while the kids secure a faster ride home. Once the truth serum wears off and Hera comes back to her senses, she finally admits her love for Kanan.
Thrawn, having been called away to meet with the Emperor in order to secure the future of his TIE Defender project, has left Governor Pryce in charge. Pryce, desperate to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, uses walkers to blow up the fuel depot where the team rendezvous is taking place. Using the Force, Kanan holds back the flames of the exploding fuel reserves with one hand and pushes Hera back into the shuttle with the other, then pushes the shuttle to safety as the explosion consumes him. In his final act, not only is his team saved, but the destruction of the fuel depot means there is no further production on the TIE Defender. To cover the defeat, Pryce holds a parade, which Thrawn sees right through.
With their Jedi Knight lost in action, spirits are down in the Lothal Rebellion, and Sabine and Zeb want to get even. Opting to give some back, they patch into the Imperial comm and learn of the extent of the blow they’ve dealt, renewing hope once they make it back with this information. Before they can, Thrawn’s assassin Rukh fights them in dirty combat, loses, and is painted up as a clown and sent back unconscious on a slow moving speeder bike.
Hera honors Kanan’s memory by adding a new piece to her heirloom in his honor. Meanwhile, Ezra is dealing with the Loth-wolves and a giant White Loth Wolf that towers over the others. The giant wolf reveals his name is DUME, the true name of Kanan, suggesting further connections (just as there are connections between Ahsoka and that little alien bird creature). The wolf says there’s a threat to the Jedi temple, that the secrets within must be safeguarded. When Ezra awakes from the vision, the tablet given to him is there before him. As he returns to base, the Rebels are ready to get back in action and free Lothal. Ezra holds up the tablet and says their first mission is the Jedi temple.
I knew going into this that as we made the final push, things were going to change. The writing is quite literally on the wall. I’d suspected Kanan would sacrifice himself for the good of the team, but I’d assumed it would happen in the finale. To have it come this quickly as the series returned from hiatus is… well, it’s harsh, but it’s totally a move a storyteller of Dave Filoni’s caliber would do. Because we know it’ll happen, it makes dramatic sense to surprise us with the timing. From here on, the Lothal Rebels fight in Kanan’s memory, in his name. They band together stronger because they have to in his absence. It’s classic Star Wars storytelling, which is so refreshing in the wake of the plot and character flaws of The Last Jedi. But then, I expect nothing less. After 9.5 seasons of quality Star Wars animation, I expect big things from Dave Filoni at all turns. Weirdly, while Kanan’s death caught me off guard, I felt somehow gratified it played out as it did, not at all like with Luke Skywalker. But then, I don’t have 40 years of personal baggage tied up in Kanan. The timing was interesting too, likely Dave using what he learned from George Lucas about how the story and character beats tend to rhyme in the larger mythos. I only know that Kanan went out in a blaze of glory, there was nothing cheap or cheesy about it, and the team is better positioned in the moment by his sacrifice. It will not be in vain.