It all comes down to this! Star Wars: Rebels has now aired its series finale — the finale The Clone Wars never got. As we say farewell to the crew of the Ghost and the good people on both sides of the microphones who gave us this series, I think it’s time to reflect on where the series has taken us as a whole. By that, I mean, what did Rebels mean to me as a Star Wars fan at this point in the timeline and in my own life at the time it aired? But we’ll get to deeper stuff later. First, it’s only right to talk about the final episodes. I’ll keep it brief because, in the end, I want to spend more time on the larger picture.
As always, there will be spoilers.
With Thrawn’s return to Lothal imminent, the liberation of Ezra’s homeworld must happen now. The intent is to show the Rebellion — and the galaxy as a whole — that the Empire can be defeated by local efforts. All of the crew’s markers are called in — Hondo, Visago… everyone!
Using Ryder’s betrayal as a lure to bring in Governor Pryce, With the help of the Loth-Wolves, Pryce is captured and forced to use her security codes to get the Rebels inside the Imperial dome. The plan is to launch it and blow it up, a symbol to the people to overthrow their captors. The plan, of course, is interrupted by the reappearance of Thrawn. The plan is reversed. With the Imperial troops now out of the way, bombardment of the city can commence… unless Ezra surrenders himself, alone. Hera won’t let him go, but Sabine distracts her and the others so Ezra can do what Kanan prepared him to do.
Ezra is taken to a portion of the old Jedi Temple, which has been rebuilt so Thrawn and his Emperor can study its secrets. There, Ezra comes face-to-face with a holographic projection of the Emperor himself, only this projection is a much kinder face, the one he might have had if the power he wielded against Mace Windu hadn’t taken its toll. The Emperor lures Ezra to a path where he can change fate and join his parents. As we’ve all learned from the prequel era, attachment is the path to the Dark Side, and despite the rather impressive and honeyed presentation, Ezra chooses to let go, destroying the temple remnant, and making his stand against the Empire in true Jedi fashion.
Meanwhile, the Rebels launch an attack to take back the planetary shield controls to prevent Thrawn from a total bombardment of the city. One of the clone troopers, Gregor, takes a fatal shot to the chest, declaring that it’s an honor to have served a cause he chose. I thought that poignant, given the original purpose of the clones. A secondary force brings in reinforcements courtesy of “frequency zero”: Ezra recruits the space whales we’ve seen in previous seasons. Attaching themselves to the hulls of the star destroyers, the great beasts constrict Thrawn and take the entire Imperial fleet to… somewhere. We don’t know where. We don’t even know for certain if Thrawn is actually dead as it’s not nearly as certain as Ruhk’s demise, though I would be surprised if he survived.
The dome is launched and destroyed as planned, and the people rise up against the remnants of the Imperial forces. According to the epilogue (it’s so nice to have one!), the Imperial reprisal they expected never happened. The fracturing of the Empire began here. Both Hera and Rex served at the Battle of Endor (reconfirming the fan theory that Filoni verbally confirmed that Rex was that trooper on the ground in Return of the Jedi). Zeb took Kallas to meet his people, the ones Kallas thought he’d exterminated. Kallas was welcomed. Hera’s son, Jacen Syndulla, became Specter 7 and potentially the first of a new generation of Force users following the war.
Ezra told Sabine he was counting on her, but she didn’t know for what. The reappearance of Ahsoka (looking classy in the white cloak and hood) changed that, as Sabine joined her to walk the paths between dimensions in search of Ezra, to bring him home.
The spark of rebellion was ignited four years ago. Dave Filoni had wrapped up The Clone Wars, but there were some hanging threads left unresolved in the wake of Revenge of the Sith, a side effect of the Disney buyout and the cancelling of the series. Sometimes what seems bad in the moment can be made right in the end. Rebels, while never quite to the level for me as The Clone Wars, covered far more territory in less time than I would have expected. Those hanging threads helped more than words can say to pull the tapestry of the saga’s story together across generations from the prequel era back, ever closer, to the time of the original trilogy. As a lifelong fan who never saw a separation, there was much about Rebels that I was excited for, and much more I honestly didn’t expect to see but did anyway.
Here’s the thing. George Lucas realized on The Clone Wars that the key to making animation look higher quality than the competition, above and beyond hiring talented animators, is to throw money at it so as to have the best graphics rendering platforms that can do the job. You can do that when you own the studio and don’t have to worry too much about making a profit. By reports, Disney gave Rebels half the budget, which sounds drastic, but it was still comparable to the best television had to offer. Even so, this, combined with having to build new assets (characters, ships, locations, etc.), meant that Rebels looked a little sparse by comparison, even right up to the end even though it definitely kept getting better every season. And that’s fine by me. It actually made it feel more original trilogy era. The prequels were bigger and more epic on purpose. They were always designed to be. Scaling it back meant the Empire had already taken the resources. Think of it as serendipity. Besides, the heart and soul of this series, just as with Clone Wars before it, is to my mind the voice talent and the script writers. I have nothing but admiration for all of the cast and crew of this series. It’s a feat on many levels that they pulled off here.
Rebels has had some ups and downs. I can’t claim it was perfect; no series is. Since this was for Disney XD, and thus targeted more at kids than The Clone Wars (especially by the end as the timeline approached Revenge of the Sith), you’d see things like stormtroopers not getting shot. It somehow lessened the impact for me as a more seasoned fan. But at the same time, it does send a positive message to kids that there are other ways to handle things. It’s a bit of a mixed message since our heroes are carrying weapons, but I understand the balance. I hold that against none of the crew. And I’m happy to say that stormtroopers made contact with blaster bolts and lightsaber blades in the series finale. It was inevitable.
There are three things that Rebels did absolutely perfectly.
The first: character development. I groused about Sabine being a Mary Sue for a couple of years, and when she finally cracked and showed some vulnerability, her character really took off as the story around her locked into place. I was impressed. The other characters had more solid arcs from the beginning, and even more than Sabine, Hera provided a strong feminine presence. Really, as much as this was Ezra’s show (as Clone Wars as Ahsoka’s), I feel like Hera was the glue. Of the Ghost crew, she’s my personal favorite. We got some incredible arcs on the flip side too. Maul certainly had quite the journey, and Kallas defecting to the Rebellion was played incredibly well. Even in the greater scale where we saw old favorites like Tarkin, Vader, Rex, or Ahsoka, we got further development in their arcs across the board. It really felt like a complete journey, one that plays out to my mind even better in return visits and a bit of binge-watching than it does on a weekly basis. While I’m sad to see Rebels end so quickly, I am glad they didn’t make us wait each week for only one episode. The larger scope of the final season demanded larger chunks of story time to really maintain that level of intensity.
The second: resolution of those hanging threads… while offering new questions. How many fans were asking about Ahsoka and the clones? How cool was it to see Vader at the height of his Dark Side abilities facing down his former apprentice? A return to the Mortis deities! The return of Maul, and a resolution with Kenobi that echoed back to The Phantom Menace! To see Ezra’s journey with the animals finally play out was rather satisfying. The Loth-Wolves were a given, and I always loved the Loth-cats, but those space whales? Did not see that coming, and it played right in to the new questions opened up by the Mortis deities and the paths of the Force that Ahsoka turned her attention to once she was rescued by Ezra. And even then… in the end, it wasn’t the Force that ultimately liberated Lothal. It was everyday people rising up against everyday troops. It paves the way for Luke to do what he has to do, but the larger Rebellion is less about him now and more about the galaxy as a whole. His role within that is ever secure.
The third: new beginnings. As much as I’ve loved Star Wars from the very beginning and have defended it even through the prequels and beyond, I was lackluster on The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi really killed it for me. There was a clear lack of vision going on there, and with Rebels winding down, I feared there’d be nothing positive for me to latch on to for a while. There are a lot of new movies and shows firing up, but I haven’t heard anything to get me excited. Two things make me excited now. The first is that I know that whatever Dave Filoni and his team have coming will be incredible, regardless of what era it’s in. And the second is simply knowing that Ahsoka is still out there. That’s another one that surprises me still. Darth Vader was always my favorite character. It’s why I embraced the prequel era, to see the Clone Wars that Kenobi talked about, and the rise of the Empire, and the fall of Jedi known as Anakin Skywalker. I didn’t expect to love Ahsoka Tano nearly as much. That she quickly became as much a favorite of mine in equal standing to Vader — possibly more — is a credit to George Lucas and Dave Filoni for giving us this character and setting her on the path, and to voice actress Ashley Eckstein for bringing her to life. “Snips” has come a long way in a short time, and in many ways her journey for me has made her a greater avatar of the Light in ways that even Yoda or Luke never achieved. Much of her path echoes what Qui-Gon Jinn taught, but it also echoes some of the greater paths of the Force we’ve seen opened up, beyond just the path of the Jedi. Ahsoka has become so much more than anything I ever dreamed possible as a kid, and she stands to me as a testament to the idea that things turn out for the right reasons, just maybe not as you thought they would. Often, they turn out better. That may be the very lesson I need most in my world. For all of Anakin’s faults, he was a good mentor to her, pushing her to find out-of-the-box solutions in a world brought down by tradition. Her path, and now Sabine’s and Ezra’s, marks an entirely new kind of potential for the saga as a whole, even if we don’t see it come to fruition for a lot of years to come.
What really worked is that this exact idea is what the combination of Ahsoka and Kanan brought to Ezra’s training. That’s ultimately what makes Rebels so satisfying. It’s not just the parts, it’s the whole. Everything clicked at the end. Everything. It’s master level storytelling.
At this point, I feel like I’m just rambling, and I probably am because my emotions are overriding everything else. I’m riding a wave of joy that Star Wars has been hit and miss about offering to me in recent years as the new regime finds its footing on new projects. It’s not easy. I never pretend it is. That, too, is a credit to the cast and crew of Rebels. Uphill though it is, they make it seem effortless at times. It hit the right buttons on action, adventure, and humor. It fed the wave of nostalgia for old fans like myself while pushing things forward at the same time for new fans. It created a whole host of memorable characters and brought some wonderful talent into the family.
Rebels was good while it lasted, and I’ll revisit it from time to time as I do The Clone Wars. But I’m going to miss it. Endings like this are bittersweet. At least this time we got an ending. It feels like 40 years of storytelling have been rewarded. That in itself feels pretty amazing, all things considered.