Written PostJosh Reviews the Series Finale of Star Wars Rebels!

Josh Reviews the Series Finale of Star Wars Rebels!

It is an incredibly rare thing these days for a popular ongoing story, in whatever medium — but particularly film or TV — to be given the opportunity for a proper ending.

This is something I have written about a lot on this site.  Generally franchises are either struck down before their time (by cancellation or some other situation) or continue long past their prime until they gradually peter out.  I doubt Star Wars will ever have an ending; not in my lifetime anyway.  It did once: the saga began with Star Wars and ended with Return of the Jedi.  I am thankful that Star Wars has expanded far beyond those original three films, and look forward to many future Star Wars movies as well as adventures in a variety of other media.  But the downside is, I doubt this enormous franchise will now ever get a true ending.

Back when George Lucas and Dave Filoni launched the first Star Wars animated TV series, The Clone Wars, I was intrigued and excited by the potential for stories that would expand upon the much-dreamed-about Clone Wars, a galaxy-shaking event first referenced in the original Star Wars (when Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that he fought with his father in the Clone Wars), that was, shockingly to me, basically skipped over in the time-jump between the end of Episode II and the opening of Episode III.  And, indeed, while The Clone Wars animated series had some shaky episodes, over-all it fulfilled that promise of bringing to life the many, many stories that together made up this galaxy-wide conflict.  But pretty early on, a lot of fans, myself included, began to be consumed with speculation as to how the series would end.  What would happen to the many characters introduced in the series, most of whom we never saw in the Original Trilogy?  What would become of the Clone Troopers that we were following throughout the show?  And, above all, what would happen to the young girl, Ahsoka Tano, introduced in the show as Anakin’s Jedi apprentice?  Yoda told Luke that “when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be,” so that meant Ahsoka couldn’t be around during the Original Trilogy, right?  Would the show really kill her off?  If not, what would be her fate?

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, they cancelled the Clone Wars show after its fifth season (out of a planned eight), meaning fans never got answers to any of their questions.  This was extraordinarily disappointing at the time.  And so, when a new Disney-owned Star Wars animated show launched, Rebels, I must admit I had a chip on my shoulder about it.  For this kids-focused show they cancelled the Clone Wars?  Even judged without that bias, looking back now, those early Rebels episodes were a bit shaky, but there was enough that I enjoyed that I stuck with the show and, by the start of its second year, Rebels had grown into a far more interesting and sophisticated show.

And now, four years after Rebels launched, Dave Filoni finally has an opportunity to end a Star Wars animated series on his own terms.  Would he and his team stick the landing?

The show drew to a close last night by airing its final three episodes back to back to back.  Taken together, this extended finale was a magnificent ending, thrilling and deeply satisfying.  It’s a fantastic ending to Rebels, paying off multiple character arcs and long-running story-lines.  Even more, to my unexpected delight, this finale also managed to answer almost every single one of the questions left hanging by the untimely cancellation of The Clone Wars, thus redeeming that cut-off-before-its-time show and bringing a wonderful end to a decade of Star Wars animated adventures… while also leaving tantalizing hints of further adventures to come.  I am deeply happy.

After the epic, mystical previous episodes that connected Rebels to the wider Star Wars saga (I am still blown away by the way “A World Between Worlds” incorporated audio from across all the Star Wars movies, including the recent ones, as well as from the history of Rebels and The Clone Wars), the start of this three-part finale felt at first like a shift back into far smaller-scale story-telling, as we follow the Ghost crew planning a mission to help Lothal.  After blowing my mind with “A World Between Worlds”, I was at first disappointed that Rebels would shift back into this very familiar type of story.  I was surprised and happy to see the amiable pirate Hondo Ohnaka back on the show (this character could have easily been annoying, but I’ve grown to quite like him over his many appearances through the years), but this humorous character also felt out of place after what had been a run of very epic, somber episodes.

I shouldn’t have doubted.  This finale successfully managed to maintain a sense of fun adventure that has always characterized the best Star Wars stories, and that lighter opening gave the finale room to build up to the heavy stuff that eventually went down as we reached the story’s climax.

Every member of the series’ main cast got moments to shine in this finale, and I was especially pleased that many of the series’ supporting characters also were given moments in the spotlight.  Rex and the other elderly surviving Clone Troopers had a major role to play, which made me happy.  I was also pleased that the finale gave time to Agent Kallus, the villain turned Rebel who has been with the show since the first episode.  And I was so happy that Ryder Azadi, the former leader of Lothal voiced by the great Clancy Brown, also had a big role in this finale.  The inclusion of all these supporting characters (and many more) helped elevate this story into a true wrap-up for the series as a whole.

Whenever a long-running show reaches its end, a big aspect of whether the ending works for me has to do with how satisfied I am with where the show leaves all of the characters who I have grown to love.  Rebels hit this out of the park.  (SPOILERS ahead, here, gang, so beware!)

Had the show ended with the liberation of Lothal, dayenu.  That was a thrilling action climax, filled with terrific spectacle and heartfelt character beats.  Everything with Ezra’s confrontation with the Emperor was terrific.  I loved that the Emperor’s hologram first appeared in the form of the kindly old man version of Palpatine.  (That was awesome in the moment, and made me wonder whether the Emperor used that trick with others who he had to deal with in his role as ruler of the galaxy.)  Ezra’s test in having to reject the temptation of forsaking his friends to be with his dead parents was a great moment and a solid payoff to Ezra’s journey as a character throughout the series, as well as his experiences in the previous episode in the Jedi Temple beyond time (where he had to learn Kanan’s final lesson, that he could not alter time for his own personal gain).  And when those red Imperial guards lept into the room??  My heart sang!

By the way, how great was the music in this finale?  Rebels has always had great music, but I loved the many ways this finale’s score quoted classic John Williams themes from throughout the saga, including the heroic Rebellion theme when the Ghost arrives to save the day when Governor Pryce has our heroes cornered; the Jedi theme when Ezra steps out of the shadows, Loth-Wolves right behind him, and silently ignites his green light-saber; the Emperor’s theme when Palpatine confronts Ezra, and so many more wonderful moments (particularly over the final minutes of the show).

While I had at times dreamed that Rebels would build up to the events of Rogue One (since that movie showed us, in a terrific Easter egg, that the Ghost participated in the Battle of Scariff), perhaps even showing the events of that film from these characters’ perspectives, I was happy that the show kept the finale’s action confined to Lothal.  This series began on Lothal, and it was fitting that it should end there.  It was also fitting that this NOT be the story of the Rebels’ victory over the Empire across the galaxy — or even just at Scariff or at Yavin.  That might have been fun, but those stories have already been told.  And that’s not ultimately what Rebels was about.  This was always a smaller-scale story, about this small group of friends fighting to help the people on this one planet.  I’m happy that’s how the series chose to wrap up, in the end.

Just as The Clone Wars made us wonder where Ahsoka would be during the events of the Original Trilogy, so too did Rebels make fans ask similar questions by introducing not one, but two new Jedi characters: Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger.  The show gave us our answer about Kanan when we saw his tragic yet heroic death a few episodes ago.  This finale had to give us a satisfying answer to Ezra’s fate, and I was pleased with the way the show handled that.  Ezra got to past his final test and become a Jedi (just as Luke did in Return of the Jedi when he refused to give into hate and kill Vader), and then to also go out in a blaze of glory that allowed him to save his friends and all of Lothal.  The show left just the right note of mystery to Ezra’s final moments, strongly suggesting that he is still alive.  And so the show managed to avoid killing off this character while also explaining why he was off the board during the events of the OT.  Well played.

(My only disappointment was that it’s hard to imagine how Thrawn might have survived that ending… and we also seemed to see the death of Rukh, both of which make me wonder whether this episode invalidated the post-ROTJ-set novels of Timothy Zahn that introduced those characters.  That would be a big shame.  Though, I suppose we didn’t actually see Rukh die… and if Ezra could survive that jump into light speed, I suppose Thrawn could too…)  (On the other hand, speaking of Timothy Zahn’s novels, who else laughed with joy when Thrawn called for Pellaeon there at the very end??  That was a lovely touch.)

So all that was great, and very satisfying.  But then came that time-jump.  Oh, genius!  Those final minutes of the show made me so, so happy.  To jump right over the events of the Original Trilogy to show us what happened to all these characters after the Battle of Endor was such a great idea, as it allowed us to see everyone’s (mostly) happy endings.  That was deeply fulfilling.  I was saddened that the Ghost crew appears to have gone their separate ways, but also so happy with where everyone wound up.  Throughout the finale, I kept asking myself how any victory the Rebels might achieve on Lothal could be anything but a phyrric victory, since surely even if they chased off every Imperial on the planet, the Empire could just return with a million more, right?  But the finale answered that well.

I loved the official on-screen acknowledgement not just that Hera Syndulla fought at Endor… but also that Rex did as well!!  So the fan theory that the old bearded guy on Endor was Rex was confirmed!!  Wowsers!!!

But man oh man, those final moments with an older Sabine, and the return of Ahsoka, were the most amazing.  I hadn’t forgotten that Ezra had told Ahsoka, in their final seconds together in “A World Between Worlds”, to come find him when she got back.  I was delighted to see that paid off, as well as to have confirmation that Ahsoka survived beyond the events of Return of the Jedi.  (Why she couldn’t help out against Vader of the Emperor during the OT is still a question, though.)  I was overjoyed at the sight of Ahsoka and Sabine, these two strong female characters, walking off into the sunset together to have more adventures.  I hope we get to see those stories someday.  Ahsoka, in particular, feels like a character whose story is far from over, and I hope that Dave Filoni will continue her tale in future Star Wars shows or elsewhere.

For now, I am delighted and happy.  This finale, and indeed this whole final run of episodes, was everything I’d hoped it could be.  It elevates the entire run of the show, and even manages to redeem the bruised feelings left by the abrupt cancellation of The Clone Wars.  There is much here for fans to enjoy upon rewatching this episode, and all of Rebels, in the future, and also much to wonder and dream about what future new adventures lie ahead.  The Star Wars saga continues…