This following is a guest post from Benny Wallace and contains spoilers for the entirety of Star Wars Rebels and the Star Wars Universe.
Star Wars, at the core, has always been about relationships. Luke Skywalker is frustrated with his farm life on Tatooine living with his Aunt and Uncle. Obi-Wan saves Luke’s life from Tusken Raiders. Informs him that he knew his father, that they were both Jedi Knights during The Clone Wars and that his uncle had been lying to him to keep him from going on some damned fools crusade. Luke’s Aunt and Uncle die tragically, and he is wrapped up in events unfolding with his friend and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. We unpack a lot in a short period of time here. Everything Luke has known about his world was a lie. The relationship he had with his Aunt and Uncle while loving and caring, was fundamentally false. Luke creates one of his first genuine relationships with Obi-Wan, and they meet Han and Chewie. Luke and Han meet Leia, rescuing her from certain death. Vader and Obi-Wan have unfinished business. Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to create a distraction for Luke and company to escape. Han saves Luke’s life in the Death Star trench run, allowing a decisive victory for the Rebel Alliance. Han saves Luke from freezing to death on Hoth. Han has a lot to learn about women. Han and Leia finally kiss. Luke meets and trains under master Yoda. Luke runs from his training to save his friends. Luke and Vader meet, Vader turns out to be Luke’s father. Luke saves Han and Leia. The Emperor, who is the pinpoint you can find at the crux of all the events mentioned, dies at the hand of his apprentice, Vader --sacrificing himself-- to save his son. And of course, all events are bound together by the Force
The Force Awakens did a good job at dealing with relationships, Rogue One did even better. Star Wars Rebels is one of the best cases of relationship building in the Star Wars Universe that we have. Of course, it has the benefit of dozens of hours of content that a movie just doesn’t have, nonetheless, Rebels is the answer to the question: where should Star Wars go
Dave Filoni and his crew started working on concepts from The Clone Wars originally with George Lucas, and there is something Filoni said that struck me He spoke of writing these stories in George’s vision. These aren’t the prequels, these stories are by someone who knows what Star Wars is, who is executing a masterclass in storytelling throughout the show, and especially so during the three episode series finale of Rebels
Our main protagonist in Rebels is Ezra Bridger, and his foundational relationships happen with Kanan Jarrus, Sabine Wren, and Hera Syndulla. They are the crew members aboard the Ghost, along with Zeb and Chopper - surviving Lesat warrior and droid.
Throughout the four-season run of Rebels, Ezra Bridger has been training to be a Jedi as an apprentice to Kanan Jarrus. Kanan is the prominent father figure in Ezra’s life. Post Order 66, being a Jedi is having a warrant for your death at best, and worst; captured, tortured and turned to the Darkside. The relationship that Ezra and Kanan build over time as Master and Apprentice are one of the most rewarding aspects of Rebels. Both of them are new to it, Ezra struggles to get the basics down and Kanan struggles as a mentor. At one point Kanan goes as far to mention while in dialogue with Yoda, I feel as if his abilities are growing faster than I can teach him. It’s Kanan who teaches Ezra to find a connection in the Force with animals, which is unusually strong. When Kanan is injured, Ezra uses the Darkside of the force out of anger to summon a mother Fyrnock to attack an Inquisitor allowing him and Kanan to escape. Kanan fears Ezra’s ease to tap into the Darkside, and as such we see Ezra communicate with Master Yoda, who is able to pull the truth from Ezra, that he is afraid of being alone again. A very real, and human condition, something that we can probably all relate to.
Over time, we see Ezra and Kanan need one another to reach their full potentials, save one another's lives time and time again, and throughout the peaks and valleys of the relationship, they become the closest bond in the series. One of the most emotional moments of the series when Kanan and Hera finally share their love for one another on the top of a fuel depot after getting Hera out of an Imperial prison. The moment an AT-AT steps on screen you knew doom was coming. Kanan gave his life to save Hera, holding back the exploding gas with all the Force power he had. Sacrificing for those he loves. Hera had to learn to go through life without her love, and Ezra had to learn how to continue on the path as a Jedi without a master
Sabine Wren, the Mandalorian weapons expert, and second youngest crew member of the Ghost, quickly becomes a point of interest for young Ezra Bridger. From the first time she removed her Mandalorian helmet, Ezra had a crush on her. Sabine did a great job curving the attraction he had for her and becomes one of the best friends Ezra has and trusts. Like an older sister, she doesn’t let him get away with all his antics and calls him out when he does something she disagrees with. As his powers in the Force grow, Sabine confronts his use threatening tactics, showing him there are better paths to follow. As he gets more aggressive, growing older, Sabine will shut him down with wit and solid criticism. On missions that are sometimes beyond the pale, and not known by other crew members of the Ghost, they have shown that they deeply care for one another, and both at times show they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the others safety. The mutual respect they share on screen is fantastic to watch evolve and really reminds me of Luke and Leia from the original trilogy if they only had more time to learn from one another
Hera Syndulla, captain of the Ghost, is the only reason Ezra survived long enough to join up with the crew and eventually become a Jedi. She felt bad for the young kid who was captured early in the series and convinced the rest of the group to go back and rescue him. Hera is really the glue that holds the entire show together. She’s the driving force behind the Rebellion that the entire team is fighting for. While serving as the mother like figure for everyone aboard the Ghost, it is especially so for her and Ezra. It’s Hera who sets clear boundaries for the youth and has him get his hands dirty when he’d rather practice his lightsaber training. Some of the toughest lessons Ezra learned in the series were from the scolding words to the reckless missions Ezra hatches on his own. They deeply care for one another, and over time build a nurturing relationship that we haven’t seen before in Star Wars
Relationships are the foundation for storytelling. If you cannot connect to your characters in a meaningful way, how will you stay interested in the events that unfold around them? The creative and writing teams behind Rebels truly excelled in this aspect of the show, and the characters they created are the reason for its success. While The Clone Wars was triumphant in filling in the gaps and providing us with unique points of view for characters we know and introduced a few we really enjoyed getting to know, Rebels really gave the spring Star Wars needed as we go into the future of the enterprise. Having Ahsoka Tano come back as an adult, leading parts of the Rebellion against the Empire was a wonderful tool and they fleshed her character out in ways I never imagined. Having her story come back, and being able to help Ezra and Kanan navigate the ways of a Jedi was paramount for both of their learning. Her epic duel with Vader, the reveal of her former Master on Malachor might be one of the highlights of the entire series. It’s her sacrifice to save her friends Kanan and Ezra which propelled the characters to new highs and lows.
Ezra has come a long way in four years and learned many lessons. From the orphan kid in the series opener on Lothal trying to just survive with the dusty heirlooms, he’s casually collected, to the series finale where we find him planning, and leading a mission crazy enough for only a Jedi to come up with and execute while keeping his friends and family alive. After a devastating battle rife with casualties and surprises, layers of complexity, and even moments of doubt, Ezra is given a simple choice by Grand Admiral Thrawn: surrender, or allow Lothal and it’s citizens to be destroyed by orbital bombardment. Simple choices aren’t ever easy, going to Thrawn means certain death for Ezra, and while Hera, Sabine, Zeb, and company are coming up with a plan to get out of this, flipping the cities shield generator back online in the process, Ezra slips out and heads directly for Thrawn to surrender
Quickly, it becomes apparent that Thrawn is not going to keep his end of the deal up, and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Thrawn is and has been, since Heir to the Empire, a tactical genius. He won’t be allowing anyone to survive or talk about this failure as long as he is in charge of the situation. Though even the military genius himself didn’t see what Ezra had up his sleeve. Much to the surprise of myself, the (what-I-thought-was-filler-content,) not very noteworthy episode way back when in Season 2 episode 15, entitled The Call, where Ezra demonstrates his fantastic ability to connect with the space whales called Purrgils on an emotionally deep level with the Force, had a lot more going on than I originally thought.
Ezra has a connection with these animals and has a backup plan to broadcast to them for help if needed. This help was needed, and the Purrgils answered the call, destroying Thrawn’s blockade of dreadnaughts and Star Destroyers in orbit, capturing Thrawn’s ship - and with all his friends begging for Ezra to get out of there, he explains to them - I have to see this through to the end. It’s up to all of you now, and remember the force will be with you, always. The Purrgils activate themselves and launch into Hyperspace with Ezra and the Grand Admiral on board
It was an emotional moment, given the calamity of the battle, the loss of his Master and friend Kanan only a few episodes earlier, having to leave his only family behind to save their lives. Ezra is and always has been a hero
Rebels then has a time jump, all the way to the end of the Battle of Endor where the Rebel Alliance secured their victory against the evil Galactic Empire. The second Death Star is destroyed, Palpatine is dead, Vader is dead, and Anakin is one with the Force in redemption. Sabine looks over what Lothal has become, a sprawling beautiful city, where she has stayed to repel the Empire, should they had ever come back. Zeb travels with Kallus to Lesan, the adopted homeworld of the Lesat, where Kallus is able to find peace knowing he did not murder an entire race and is accepted to live out his days there. General Hera and Commander Rex continued the fight with the Rebellion, both participating in the Battle of Endor (Rex is 100% bearded old man with Han on the planet). Hera has a child, Jacen Syndulla. Son of Kanan Jarrus, he carries his father's eyes and his lightsaber and has his mothers passion for flying. Ezra has been gone since his fantastical departure over the smoke and fires of battle on Lothal, and neither he or Thrawn have been heard from since. With the Empire defeated, and Lothal safe from future invasion, Sabine teams up with none other than Ahsoka Tano - who is alive and well after the Battle of Endor, to find Ezra, and bring him home
The ending of Rebels was an incredible triumph, powerful and incredibly emotional. I was left out of breath and yes, there was definitely something in my eye
It wasn’t until seeing Rogue One that I realized Rebels was being placed in a canon fold for the universe of Star Wars, hearing the call for General Syndulla, and seeing Chopper on screen made this little cartoon much bigger, and I began to take in the gravity of where these characters will end up in the story -- and what their actual story is -- much more seriously. The crew behind Rebels had a hell of a story to wrap up. With Grand Admiral Thrawn being missing in action for so long, and why aren’t those Jedi Ezra and Ahsoka being spoken about in the universe? While those questions aren’t neatly wrapped up at the end of the series, I’m beyond excited for some of those questions to have paths to go down now. Wrapping up every question wasn’t what Filoni and the writers of Rebels ever sought out to do. This is a story about relationships, with lost-boy Ezra in the focus
Ezra goes from a smug young kid doing what he can to repel the Empire on his homeworld and evolves into a Jedi apprentice. He has the help of a wonderful adopted family and a master in Kanan Jarrus. The relationships he builds with people who others distrust, animals others fear and do not understand, and the connection with the Force itself, is what truly make Ezra a Jedi. He sees through the mask everybody wears and loves what is underneath. Accepting what is and only seeks to have an understanding and betterment, for both him and the focus of his attention. Tempted by the dark side of the force from Maul to the Emperor himself. Discussing the philosophies of the Force with Ahsoka and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Getting a lifetime of wisdom from Master Yoda. Walking through time, unlocking holocrons, facing Vader and inquisitors time and time again. Ezra even turns down an offer to erase all the hardships, and go back to his dead mother and father in a world where they still yet live. Through all of this, Ezra remains true to himself and his will to help. He seeks the void not with reckless abandon, but with a warriors focus, and love. Knowing to protect he must put himself in harm's way.
The story of Rebels has ended, but we have only just started to walk into what could be. We have hundreds if not thousands of stories left to tell with these characters. Hera, her son Jason, Sabine, Zeb, Ahsoka, and Chopper are still out there, and they’ve got to bring Ezra home. I can’t wait to see where they go and what they do.